Rosewood vs. Sapele: Which One to Use?

Rosewood vs. Sapele: Which One to Use?

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If you are looking to build something out of real wood, rosewood and sapele are two awesome options to consider. That said, these are two very different types of wood. Therefore, today, we are going to do a side-by-side comparison of rosewood and sapele to see what the major differences are to help you decide which one is the best to use for your next project.

What Is Rosewood?

First, we have rosewood, and here we are talking about Brazilian rosewood. Yes, there are other types of rosewood out there, mainly Madagascar and Indian, although Brazilian is much more popular and commonly used. That said, Brazilian rosewood is endangered and often sold illegally. Due to its rarity, it is extremely expensive, and because it is so expensive it is usually only used for small-scale applications.

One of the defining features of rosewood is that it smells like flowers or roses. In terms of its appearance, it’s usually very dark brown in color, like dark chocolate or dark coffee, along with a reddish-brown or purple hue, as well as dark contrasting streaks that sometimes form a spider web pattern. Brazilian rosewood also has a straight grain, uniform appearance, and coarse texture, although it may sometimes be spiraled or interlocked.

This wood is extremely hard, heavy, dense, and durable overall, and it is very resistant to moisture and pests as well. It is ideal for both indoor and outdoor applications, but due to its expensive nature, it’s generally reserved for smaller decorative pieces and high-end indoor furniture. It may also be used for musical instruments.

What Is Sapele?

We then have sapele, which is the type of wood that originates in North Africa, and it is named after Sapele, a city in Nigeria. This is a hardwood tree that can be found in many tropical areas of Africa and is technically a part of the mahogany family.

This wood is quite dense, hard, and durable, making it resistant to many types of physical damage. It is also very moisture, pest, and fungus resistant. In terms of appearance, sapele features a straight and sometimes interlocked grain. It’s also very tight, and it may have some waves or irregularities, combined with some gaps, knots, and holes.

This wood usually has a dark reddish-brown color and tends to get darker over time. This type of wood is also rather expensive, so it is often used for smaller applications, as well as for high-end pieces, such as for boat building, luxury floors, joinery, veneers, luxury furniture, and musical instruments.

Rosewood vs. Sapele: What Are the Differences?

Now that we know what both rosewood and sapele are, let’s figure out what makes these two types of wood different from each other.


Sapele features a Janka hardness rating of 1,410 lbf, whereas Brazilian rosewood comes in at 2,790 lbf. As you can see, Brazilian rosewood is almost twice as hard, therefore making it more resistant to physical damage such as denting and scratching.


Sapele features a density of roughly 42 lbs per cubic foot, whereas rosewood comes in at 52 lbs per cubic foot. As you can see, rosewood is therefore much denser and heavier, which means that it is also much more structurally sound, although because it is heavier, it is also harder to work with.

Moisture and Pest Resistance

If you need a good option to go with that is moisture and pest-resistant, sapele is a great choice, however, even better is rosewood. Brazilian rosewood is renowned as being one of the most pest and moisture-resistant types of wood out there. Although both of these types of wood are ideal for outdoor purposes, rosewood is the winner.

Overall Strength and Durability

When it comes to all of the categories that determine how durable a piece of wood is, such as the modulus of elasticity, bending strength, and compressive strength, Brazilian rosewood is the winner on all of these fronts. It’s just a more durable and structurally sound type of wood.


Both of these materials are fairly decent to work with, although because Brazilian rosewood is so heavy and dense, it can be more difficult and wreak havoc on your tools, especially your saws.

Appearance – Color and Grain

Another major difference here is that rosewood is the far darker of these two types of wood, and it usually has a coarser appearance, although most people would agree that rosewood is the better-looking of the two.


Sapele is going to cost you anywhere between $12 and $25 per board foot, whereas Brazilian rosewood is going to cost you up to $70 per board foot.

When to Use Rosewood?

If you are planning on making small pieces of furniture, decorative pieces, or any type of indoor construction that needs extreme durability, then rosewood is the way to go, although it is of course very expensive. Although it is generally considered too expensive for large-scale applications, it can also be used for outdoor applications.

When to Use Sapele?

Although sapele isn’t quite as strong or moisture-resistant as rosewood, a big benefit that it has is that it is much more affordable. It is still more than strong enough to be used for most purposes, and moisture-resistant enough to be used outdoors, yet also so affordable that it can be used for large-scale applications.

Alternatives to Rosewood and Sapele

If you just want some cheap softwood for basic needs, try spruce, fir, or pine.


Now that you know what makes sapele and rosewood different from each other, you can make an informed decision between the two. Both are very hard, durable, dense, and ideal for most purposes.