Rosewood Alternatives – In Search of Rare Wood Substitutes

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Since 1992, rosewood in its various forms began to disappear from the market. In January 2017, it became officially banned, particularly Brazilian rosewood, that wood that we treasured for making guitars over the centuries. As a result of the ban, initially many people who weren’t aware of the ban even had their instruments destroyed.

This unfortunate turn of events left lovers of rosewood high and dry. Fortunately, a few alternatives exist which can serve a similar purpose to Brazilian rosewood for making musical instruments and fine furniture. In this post, we take a look at some of the viable alternatives to Brazilian rosewood.

Rosewood Alternatives

There are many types of wood like Indian rosewood for example that come close to Brazilian rosewood. Here are a few wood types that you could use. Some are also rare and on and off the endangered wood species list, but none of them is as rare as Brazilian rosewood. Here’s the list of those woods and their characteristics:

East Indian Rosewood

Back of a guitar (a Martin D-28) with East Indian rosewood
Image Credit: Jud McCranie via Creative Commons

East Indian rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia) grows in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The trees grow to a height of 100 feet and the wood is hard with a Janka hardness of 2,440.

East Indian rosewood is golden to purplish brown with darker streaks. The wood darkens over time. It has a medium texture with a tight grain, narrowly interlocked. The wood is highly resistant to rot and termite attack.

East Indian rosewood is a bit difficult to work with due to its tight grain and extreme hardness. It can also be harsh on cutting tools. But it glues and finishes well. East Indian rosewood has a distinct rose-like fragrance when being cut. It is an expensive wood as it is not easily available and is on the endangered wood species list.

East Indian rosewood plays a prominent role in making veneer, musical instruments, fine furniture and turned wooden objects.

Morado/Pau Ferro/Bolivian Rosewood

Pau Ferro Lumber
Image Credit: Sondich via Creative Commons

Pau Ferro (Machaerium scleroxylon) is a native of South America, mainly Brazil and Bolivia. The trees grow up to a height of 100 feet and the wood has a medium hardness of 1,960 on the Janka scale.

The color of the wood varies from reddish, orange or dark violet-brown with contrasting darker streaks. The sapwood is pale yellow. The grain is straight and irregular at parts. The wood is smooth with a high luster.

Pau Ferro is highly durable but can be attacked easily by insects. The wood is fairly easy to work with, but blunts tools rapidly. The wood is also prone to tearout while turning due to points of irregular grain.

Pau Ferro is cheaper than rosewood and other rosewood substitutes. It is not on the list of endangered wood species. We use Pau Ferro in cabinetry and flooring, and to make veneer, musical instruments and a variety of indoor uses.

Chechen/Caribbean Rosewood

Chechen Rosewood knife handle
Image Credit: BDMillan via Creative Commons

Chechen or Caribbean Rosewood (Metopium brownei) grows in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, Guatemala, Belize, and southeastern Mexico. It also goes by the names of chechem and black poisonwood.

The trees grow up to a height of 115 feet and the wood is quite hard with a Janka hardness of 2,250. The wood varies from shades of red to orange and brown, with dark brown stripes. It darkens with age and the sapwood is pale yellow.

The wood mostly has a straight grain but some interlocking does occur. The wood surface has a fine texture with a natural luster. It has high durability and shows moderate resistance to insect attack. The wood is fairly easy to work with, but there is the risk of tearout while machining. There is no particular odor, nor any allergies reported.

Chechen is much more readily available than other rosewood substitutes and is moderately priced. This wood is not on the list of endangered wood species. It is commonly used to make cabinets, flooring, furniture, veneer and turned objects.

Macassar Ebony

Macassar Ebony
Image Credit: Böhringer via Creative Commons

You will find Macassar ebony (Diospyros celebica) growing in Southeast Asia. It also goes by the names of striped ebony and Amara ebony. The trees grow up to a height of 65 feet and the wood is extremely hard with a Janka hardness of 3,220.

The wood looks a lot like zebrawood due to its striped appearance. It is yellow to reddish-brown with darker brown stripes. The sapwood is pale, golden brown. The wood has a straight grain punctuated with occasional interlockings with a fine, smooth texture and a natural luster. It is durable but less resistant to insects, particularly borers.

You will find it difficult to work on Macassar ebony because of its extreme hardness and density, blunting cutting tools frequently. The wood is also prone to splitting and warping after drying. It emits a slightly unpleasant odor while cutting it.

Being from the ebony family, this wood is rather expensive and also not readily available. Although not on the list of endangered wood species it is listed on the IUCN Red List.

Macassar Ebony makes cabinets, billiard cues, musical instruments and specialty wooden items. The name of the wood comes from the Indonesian city of Makassar from where it is exported.


Ziricote Cordia dodecandra
Image Credit: Friedrich Böhringer via Creative Commons

Ziricote (Cordia dodecandra) grows in Central America and Mexico. The trees grow up to 65 feet and the wood is medium-hard with a Janka hardness of 1,970. The wood is medium to dark brown and you will sometimes notice a purple or green hue featuring dark bands. The woodgrain pattern of ziricote is unique, earning names like “landscape” or “spider webbing.”

There is a slight interlocking in the wood grain, with a smooth texture and natural luster. The wood is durable and has a natural resistance to decay. You will find Ziricote easy to work with although defects could develop at the end of the planks on drying. The wood turns, glues and finishes well, and has a slight scent on cutting.

Ziricote is expensive, often more expensive than rosewood. However, it does not find a place on the lists of endangered wood species. You can use this wood to make cabinets, gunstocks, musical instruments, cabinets, veneer, furniture and specialty wooden items.


Bubinga (Guibourtia demeusei, pellegriniana, and. tessmannii)
Image Credit: Jacques via Creative Commons

Bubinga (Guibourtia demeusei, pellegriniana, and. tessmannii) grows in equatorial Africa. The trees grow up to 150 feet and the wood is extremely hard with a Janka hardness of 2,410.

The wood may be pinkish red to reddish-brown marked by black or purple streaks. The sapwood is pale yellow. The grain is straight and sometimes interlocked. The durability of the wood varies in line with the species, but we generally consider Bubinga fairly resistant to rot and insect attack.

You will find it easy to work with Bubinga but tearout tends to occur during turning at the interlocked sections of the grain. You may find it difficult to glue together because of the high natural oil content and high density of the wood.

Bubinga smells unpleasant when wet but the smell soon disappears once the wood dries. This wood is not very expensive and is easily available. It exists on the lists of endangered wood species.

We use Bubinga to make inlays, trim, fine furniture, cabinets, veneer, furniture and specialty wooden items.


If you are working on tropical hardwood lumber it can be challenging, especially if you are dealing with rosewood and its alternatives. There are international rules and regulations, and you need to take care to be on the right side of the law while procuring these rare woods.

Knowing rosewood alternatives is a great advantage, and while some may even be more expensive and rarer than Brazilian rosewood, others can be well within your reach. We hope that we have featured enough rosewood alternatives for you to procure suitable wood for your woodworking projects and not be constrained by its short supply.

Happy Woodworking!