By Jo-Ann Kaiser
By Jo-Ann Kaiser
OTHER NAMES HEIGHT/WEIGHT PROPERTIES In Mexico, the tree is called granadillo, but in most places around the world, Dalbergia retusa is known as cocobolo. Cocobolo timber is sturdy and yields some very interesting, beautiful figures. The wood is usually cut into veneers for use in inlay work and fine furniture.
In Mexico, the tree is called granadillo, but in most places around the world, Dalbergia retusa is known as cocobolo. Cocobolo timber is sturdy and yields some very interesting, beautiful figures. The wood is usually cut into veneers for use in inlay work and fine furniture.
Related to Rosewoods
Cocobolo can be found in the Pacific regions of Central America, extending from Panama to southwestern Mexico. The trees grow best in the drier uplands and tend to be small in stature. Cocobolo is usually shipped from growing areas like Costa Rica and Nicaragua in small, round billets. It is most often available in turning blanks or veneer.
The sapwood of cocobolo is so pale it is almost white, but the heartwood is a mix of brilliant colors ranging from deep reds to an attractive mix of streaks and markings of red, black, purple, yellow and orange.
World Timbers of North and South America describes the dramatic palette of cocobolo as "considerably denser than Brazilian rosewood. The color is remarkably variable; the bright hues of the freshly cut wood tone down to a deep-red, streaked or mottled with black."
Cocobolo's grain can be straight, but it is also sometimes irregular and wavy. The wood has a fine, medium texture.
Good Looks Matched by Toughness
Cocobolo contains natural oils that allow the wood to be polished to a finish resembling marble. Veneers, A Fritz Kohl Handbook describes cocobolo as "an absolutely superior wood. Due to its high oil content the surface appears dense with waxy luster."
Constantine Jr., writes that "if the smooth surface is rubbed with a cloth it will acquire a waxy finish without the use of any oil, wax, shellac or filler. Lengthy immersions in soapy water have little effect on the wood except for a slight darkening in color."
Beware of Wood Dust
Although cocobolo is a fine turning wood and most consider it easy to work with, sanding and machining the wood produces a fine dust that can cause dermatitis or a poison ivy-like rash. The dust can also cause orange stains when it comes into contact with skin.
Boston-area custom woodworker Eric Englander agrees that the wood's dust can be problematic. "People I know who use it wear a mask, gloves and long sleeves when they are working with it," he says.
Albert Constantine Jr., in Know Your Woods, expresses similar concerns about cocobolo's dust. "When working with cocobolo," he writes, "care must be taken to protect oneself from the fine dust, as it produces a poisoning similar to ivy poisoning. It can become very painful. When affected, a person usually has to remain away from work for a week and then may never again be able to be in a room where there is any cocobolo dust."
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