Last Updated on September 5, 2023 by Web Operator
We are all familiar with certain kinds of wood that we tend to use for the majority of our projects. I’m thinking about pine, fir, redwood, oak, and so many others. But also, what about exotic woods? I’m thinking about Bolivian rosewood, Peruvian walnut, Padauk, Bubinga, Tigerwood, Gaboon ebony and Bloodwood.
However, that’s not an exhaustive list. Instead, there are many other wood species out there that can certainly give your project a completely different look. In particular, I’m thinking about species of wood that tend to be viewed as more exotic in both their appearance as well as where they come from.
But there’s also a problem when dealing with exotic wood, and I’m not just talking about you perhaps never having heard about it before.
By knowing little about the wood, it does make it harder to then decide on the projects it could be used for. I find that sad because some of the more exotic woods out there just look amazing, and they can offer so much character to your project.
So, I’m going to try to help you out here. I’m going to take you through just seven examples of exotic woods that I think you should really know about.
But I won’t simply tell you about the different kinds of wood and leave it at that. I’ll also advise you on some of the projects you could end up using the wood for. After all, I think it’s best if you have some sort of an idea as to where you could go with the wood.
So, let’s start going through my list of exotic woods and see if any of the options leap out for you and sound appropriate for the project you have in mind.
Why Use Exotic Wood?
But first, why use exotic wood in the first place? The answer here is obvious. Exotic wood will often have a different color or pattern to the grain than what you will find with the more common examples. It stands out from the crowd, and I find that exciting.
Look, I admit that I love all of the common kinds of wood you find yourself using in various projects. I love they don’t have to cost a fortune, are easy to get my hands on, and I know what to expect when I use them.
But exotic woods are different. There’s often a sense of the unknown, and that’s the part I find to be exciting and interesting about them. I know it does kind of involve a leap of faith with these different wood species, but I firmly believe it will prove to be worth it in the end.
After all, part of the fun of woodworking is experimenting and seeing what you can come up with. We do that with projects and common types of wood, so why not go that extra step and incorporate some exotic wood into the process?
1. Bolivian Rosewood
I’m going to start off with Bolivian rosewood, and this wood species is not only exotic, but it’s also extremely beautiful to look at.
This wood species comes with a dark brown color, and it’s topped with black stripes throughout to give the grain some extra detail and to really stand out. Actually, it’s often the color variation throughout the wood that draws people to it, as it comes across as almost multi-dimensional, and it’s just a fantastic thing to see.
But this wood is also hard and very dense, so durability will not be a problem should you wish to use this form of rosewood on your projects. The grain is fine and tightly packed together, so that does add to the solidity of the wood. In addition, it shouldn’t prove to be too difficult to work with either.
However, you should know that this wood does tend to lighten as it ages. So, it won’t have that same dark brown color in a few years. This is certainly something to keep in mind for your projects, especially if the color is the reason why you opted for the wood to begin with.
But the other main thing that stands out for me is that this wood often comes with black striping in the grain. I feel that adds a lot of character, no matter the shade of the wood, and that black striping does remain quite prominent throughout.
When Would You Use Bolivian Rosewood?
I see this wood as being highly useful for a number of projects. It works well as a veneer if you want to cut costs a bit compared to a solid piece of wood, while it’s also very easy to use for finer furniture projects.
You should have little in the way of problems with cutting and shaping this wood. Also, think of the grain and coloring as this allows you to then come up with various projects where the color and character would add so much to the finished result.
For me, I see these points as standing out regarding Bolivian rosewood.
- It has a gorgeous color to it
- It works exceptionally well as a veneer
- You have no issues with durability
- Cutting and shaping is not a problem
- This wood packs a lot of character into it, which can be great for different projects
2. Peruvian Walnut
I know I’m staying in South America here, but Peruvian walnut is another exotic wood that I feel I have to mention. I get that some people will think that all walnut is the same, but that’s not entirely true, as I will now explain.
This wood actually grows in an area starting from Mexico in the north and down through Central America and into South America. It does tend to be more expensive than the walnut you would typically use, but I have to say that the price is not sky high to the point where it would understandably put you off using it.
One thing you will quickly notice with Peruvian walnut is that it does have a tendency to come with quite a deep chocolate color to the wood. It’s darker than regular walnut, while it still has the same depth of character courtesy of the grain, and do look out as some examples have a slight purple tinge to the wood, which is beautiful to look at.
But there is also a slight difference in the way the grain tends to flow when compared to your more regular walnut.
While the more common walnut has a tendency to come with various swirls and a lot of movement in the grain, that’s not always the case with Peruvian walnut. Instead, the grain will still be tightly packed together, as it is with the more common version, but it will also be straighter.
As a wood, it copes pretty well with rot and insects. That’s important to know for some projects, but if you intend to only use this on an indoor project, then you should have no problem in doing so.
I’ve also found that people feel it’s a relatively easy wood to work with. It’s very easy to glue it together while it sands down reasonably well to a good finish. Adding stain is straightforward as the wood does absorb the stain relatively easily, and it will undoubtedly enhance the character of the wood.
When Would You Use Peruvian Walnut?
This wood can be used for veneers, and it would certainly add a depth of character to any project when used in that way. Also, it means you don’t spend as much money since it is more expensive than other species of walnut you may have previously considered.
I do feel it will work in the same projects as any other walnut. That means it’s perfect for furniture, and that’s where I would tend to use it.
So, to recap regarding Peruvian walnut:
- The grain is more tightly packed compared to other types of walnut
- It’s perfect for furniture
- It sands down beautifully
- It does tend to be pretty expensive
Tigerwood is also known by various other names, including Brazilian koa, Congo wood, and Bototo. Also, you will fully understand why it is known by the moniker of Tigerwood as soon as you set eyes on it.
This wood comes with a reddish/orange color mixed in with dark stripes that run through the wood. That does make this wood extremely distinctive, and there’s no doubt its appearance will largely determine the projects you would then use it for.
But it’s not just the color of the wood that stands out. The grain will also prove to be an adventure all on its own. It varies from straight to swirls and swoops, so the depth of character of this wood is not something that can be ignored.
Another thing you cannot ignore with this wood is the fact it’s resistant to rot. That could make a difference when it comes to the projects you may wish to work on with this wood.
Yet, one thing to note is that tigerwood is hard. It comes in with a rating of 2,160 on the Janka rating, and that’s pretty high. However, I don’t see you running into too many problems with the correct power tools.
When Would You Use Tigerwood?
Tigerwood can be a fantastic option when it comes to flooring. This is because it doesn’t rot or warp even over time, and it’s also going to give you a gorgeous floor to look at as well.
But aside from that, it’s a great wood to use as a veneer over a cheaper inner wood. It can give your projects a polished finish and a completely different appearance compared to the more common kinds of wood you may use.
As it’s so hard, I would avoid using tigerwood for any sort of intricate work. Sure, you could manage to do it, but I feel it would involve you using a lot more energy and time than you need to expend.
In saying that, it can work well for large pieces of furniture. It’s going to cope with dents and bangs, so if you have the budget, then a dining table would look stunning when made from tigerwood.
For me, these are the key points to consider regarding this wood.
- It’s very hard
- It is highly resistant to rot
- It’s not ideal for intricate work due to its hardness
- It does cope with dents very well
- It’s expensive, but so are most exotic woods
This African hardwood is probably one you have never heard of before, and that means you miss out on a species of wood that is capable of being used in more ways than you ever thought possible.
Also known as African rosewood, it comes in a range of colors starting off with a pink/red tinge through to a dark red/brown. In addition, it can often come with streaks through the wood that can be either black or dark purple.
I see Bubinga as being very close to the rosewood you may be more familiar with. It comes with a reasonable figure on the Janka rating at 1980, so you shouldn’t have too many problems with cutting or shaping. You certainly would not require any special power tools.
When Would You Use Bubinga?
I know this comes across as a common theme, but this wood works well as thick veneers, as it will add a lot of character to a project. That does also mean you reduce some of the cost associated with the wood, but it’s not only suitable for this particular type of project.
What you should know is that this wood works well with glue, so that gives you an idea of some of the projects you could work on with this species. Also, it stains easily, but be aware that it could damage some cutters as it is pretty tough.
To recap regarding this wood:
- It does glue together well
- It is easy to stain
- It’s tough, so be careful with your blades
- It’s perfect for veneers
I know the name could put you off using the wood, but I’d argue against that. Instead, this is a gorgeous wood that actually covers several tree species that all manage to produce the same type of wood when cut.
Also known as Satine, this wood does have a natural vivid red color, which is no surprise when you consider the name, and the color is not finished there. When exposed to light on a continual basis, the red does change, and it will start to take on something of a darker and deeper color. That’s certainly something to consider when thinking about the projects you have lined up.
I admit that this wood is tough. It has a Janka rating of 2,900, and yet it’s still something you should have no real problem working with when you have the correct tools.
From a grain perspective, you will find it to be straight and with little variation. The grain is tight, which adds to the strength part, and it is pretty durable.
However, it can also prove delicate at times, and this is shown by the way it can come across as brittle at times. This is why only an experienced woodworker should try to handle this type of wood in order to get the best possible end results.
When Would You Use Bloodwood?
Even though this wood is hard, it is exceptionally easy to work with, and it’s a popular choice when it comes to carving. But that’s not all.
Thanks to the coloring, it also works well as a trim on other items. The color helps the trim really stand out, and I think it’s a fantastic way of incorporating this wood into projects. In addition, it can be a good wood to work with if you love wood turning, as it does come alive at this point.
It could be used for furniture, but I would probably use other woods for this project unless you plan to keep it small.
To give you the main points regarding this wood, I’d focus on the following:
- It’s very easy to work with
- It work well with wood turning
- Your tools need to be at their best to cut the wood with ease
- You can carve it as well
Padauk is another gorgeous exotic wood you may wish to incorporate into your projects. Found in parts of Africa, it starts off with something of a pinkish color blended with orange, which then moves across through shades of red into something darker. This array of colors does work well when it comes to the range of projects you can use it in, and you should know this wood also darkens as it ages.
From a grain perspective, it tends to be predominantly straight, but there’s also some interlocking going on, which adds to the overall character of the wood. Seen as being pretty durable, it does have a resistance to rot, which is excellent news depending on your project.
On the Janka rating, it comes in at 1970, so there should be no real issues when it comes to cutting and shaping this wood. Also, people with previous experience of using the wood do state it’s straightforward and not too complex either.
When Would You Use Padauk?
I see this wood as being perfect for a number of different projects. It has been used for flooring on a number of occasions, and it’s certainly one area I would explore if I planned on using this species of wood.
But that’s not the only way I would use Padauk.
Instead, it’s also a gorgeous wood to use when it comes to turned objects. The grain and color of the wood really come to the fore here, and I would have no problem recommending it for those types of projects.
In addition, some people use it for furniture, and I accept it can work well with those projects. This is helped by the fact it’s relatively solid and easy enough to work with. However, I just feel that the grain and coloring lend this wood more to hobby style projects rather than a more functional piece of furniture.
So, for this wood, I’d suggest keeping the following points in mind:
- It’s perfect for hobby projects
- It’s very easy to work with
- It’s resistant to rot
- It can work for furniture, but it’s better used in other ways
7. Gaboon Ebony
I’ve included Gaboon ebony in my list even though I do accept it’s one of the more expensive exotic woods out there on the market. However, it’s a gorgeous wood, and it will look perfect for the correct project.
Found in west Africa, this wood is pretty much completely black with very little in the way of variation of color. Also, thanks to its dark coloring, the grain is difficult to see, and if you do see the grain, they are often more of a dark brown color, so they end up coming across as pretty faint.
But I need to warn you that this wood is dense. It has a high Janka rating of 3080, and there is a risk of it blunting some of your tools if they are not in perfect condition. Also, you cannot afford to hammer this wood too hard, or it will fight back and make your life more challenging.
But here’s another key point. Gaboon ebony does contain a relatively high level of oil in the wood. While that’s good from a preservation perspective, it does mean gluing this wood together can sometimes prove difficult. You certainly need to give the glue time to set by clamping things together to stand any chance of it holding.
Overall though, it’s the color of this wood that draws people to it, and if you manage to get your hands on some, then I’m sure you will understand the appeal.
When Would You Use Gaboon Ebony?
Due to the cost of this wood, I would certainly avoid any large-scale projects. Also, it’s just too dark for larger projects, and it then manages to lose some of its impact.
That is why this wood is best used for smaller items. It’s no surprise to find that it is often included in piano keys as it’s highly durable and has the dark effect you are looking for.
However, I admit not everyone is going to be designing and building a piano in their workshop.
And yet, it can be used for at least parts of other musical instruments. It has also been used to create a pool cue, which is seriously cool to look at, but you are mainly looking at specialist items rather than anything that is too major.
To recap, I think the following points stand out.
- It’s extremely expensive, so keep that in mind
- It’s very hard, so could damage some tools
- It’s better when used for small items due to the cost
- It’s very dark and the grain can be tough to see
And that’s my list of seven exotic kinds of wood that I feel every woodworker should know about. I know it’s a drop in the ocean compared to what’s out there, but my intention has been to open your eyes to using alternative kinds of wood and not just the same old wood species you would usually go for.
As you have seen, these exotic woods can indeed have some different properties that may make them a more suitable option for various projects. However, before you go ahead and buy some new wood, I suggest checking out these different articles on the site.