Rosewood is an exotic variety of wood that comes from the Tipuana, Pterocarpus, and Dalbergia genera of trees. It is a hardwood characterized by its aroma that resembles that of roses. It has a dark brown to reddish coloration and we consider it as one of the stronger and more durable varieties of hardwood.
Ebony is also an exotic type of wood characterized by its deep, black color. It comes from trees of the Diospyros genus and is an evergreen hardwood that is so dense that it will sink in water. Ebony polishes to a high shine and fine texture that makes it a popular choice for ornamental wood.
Both Ebony and Rosewood were historically popular hardwoods because of their deep color, rich grain, and durability. Unfortunately, both of the species have been over-harvested to the point where they are endangered and protected.
Below we compare the characteristics of both these exotic woods in an attempt to understand better facts about each one, its advantages and disadvantages. We also link to other more sustainable options.
Rosewood vs. Ebony
Rosewood can be found in Central and South America, Madagascar, and across various regions of Africa and South Asia. It is a hardwood that comes from angiosperm trees. Rosewood has a dark to reddish-brown color with darker veins spread across the grain which is close and dense.
This characteristic of the grain makes it strong and durable. It is good for making furniture and cabinets. Some varieties of rosewood, especially Honduran rosewood have excellent resonance, rendering it suitable for making musical instruments.
Although ebony doesn’t have any known tonal properties like rosewood, its dark black color and capacity to be polished to a high shine make it popular. Woodworkers covet ebony for the beautiful sculptures that it makes.
Both rosewood and ebony, however, are on the list of endangered species of wood, so you may not be able to acquire either of these wood types and if you do, you would do well to ensure that it has been legally sourced.
Rosewood is an exotic wood that woodworkers are ever trying to acquire, but genuine rosewood is difficult to come by due to its shortage its trading being banned in several countries. It comes from a deciduous angiosperm tree, like most hardwood trees, which means that it sheds its leaves and grows new ones annually. The shedding and growing of new leaves create layers in the timber which makes the wood dense and durable.
Because of the fine patterns and shades that you get in rosewood and the rose-like fragrance of the timber, it is a scarce and expensive wood. As we mentioned above, rosewood makes excellent furniture and even a variety of musical instruments.
Ebony is a type of wood in a class of its own. This wood traces its history as far as ancient Egypt and it has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. It is an evergreen hardwood but somehow manages to be one of the hardest and densest types of wood known to man. But the main claim to fame that ebony has is its rich, jet-black color. There are different varieties of ebony such as Ceylon ebony, Gabon ebony, Madagascar ebony, Mauritius ebony, and Indonesian ebony.
Ebony makes beautifully carved objects like crucifixes, chessmen, handgun grips, and even butts of pool cues. Although it doesn’t possess the tonal qualities of rosewood, Ebony serves a crucial role in making the black keys of pianos and even for fretboards of stringed instruments.
Ebony has been exploited well beyond its capacity over the years and therefore the use of ebony is severely restricted or banned. Hence, you may not be able to procure virgin ebony on the open market.
Rosewood vs. Ebony: Appearance
The color of rosewood can vary from golden-brown to purplish-brown with dark brown streaks. The wood itself becomes darker as it grows older. It has a medium texture with narrowly interlocked wood grain with fine pores.
Ebony, on the other hand, is jet black and you won’t see many variations in the wood grain but you may occasionally get a few grayish-brown streaks. It has a fine texture that takes on a high polish when waxed and buffed.
Rosewood vs. Ebony: Durability
Rosewood is a highly durable wood and exhibits a fair degree of resistance to attack from termites. If a suitable finish is applied to its surface, it can last for years without having to touch it up. However, cannot be used outdoors.
Ebony is also as durable and resistant to termites and other insects as rosewood. The advantage of ebony is its natural luster which eliminates the need of applying a finish other than sanding, waxing and buffing to bring out the shine in the wood.
Rosewood vs. Ebony: Maintenance
Both rosewood and ebony are low-maintenance types of wood. Rosewood needs a bit of cleaning from time and a bit of refinishing every few years. Ebony, however, can get away with just a bit of waxing and polishing now and then. You can use wood polish or there are also some effective home remedies that you could try.
Rosewood vs. Ebony: Price
Rosewood is scarce but not impossible to procure. It is an expensive form of wood so you can expect to pay a high price for even the cheapest varieties. Some of the imported types of rosewood can be prohibitively expensive.
Ebony is one of the most expensive types of wood in the world and the price ranges from highly expensive to outlandishly expensive. The high price of ebony can be attributed to its scarcity and the small size of the tree, which limits the size of the stock.
Rosewood vs. Ebony: Sustainability
Neither rosewood nor ebony is categorized as sustainable wood. Rosewood has been exploited to the extent that trading in the material including finished products is restricted. Ebony is listed as an endangered species and if you procure this wood, you need to be sure of the legality of its source. See these alternatives to Ebony or these Rosewood alternatives woods.
Rosewood vs. Ebony: Any other characteristics
|Golden to purplish brown
|Hardness (Janka Scale)
|As strong as teak
|Stronger than teak
|Needs regular maintenance
|Suitability for outdoors
|Suitability for wood carving
|Easy to work on
|Hard to work on but yields satisfying results for an experienced woodworker
|Slightly unpleasant odor when being worked.
|Difficult to procure
|Special features if any
|Has tonewood properties
|Exquisitely beautiful to look at
After highlighting two of the most exotic types of wood that you can find, you will now be more familiar with the difference between rosewood vs. ebony. Although you may find rosewood with considerable difficulty, getting hold of ebony would be a much more daunting task. But as a woodworker, having the opportunity to work on either of these two exotic types of wood would indeed be a privilege not to be missed.