Canadian Woodworking
Bois de Rose

Bois de Rose

Dalbergia maritima

Author: Peter Mac Sween

I remember my first and only encounter with Bois de Rose. I had just started working at a respected wood dealer and they had some in stock. I was amazed at the deep translucent purple of the heartwood. It was a real stunner and my fascination with the rosewoods had begun.

Bois de Rose is a rosewood from the island of Madagascar. It is one of many species of Dalbergia (true rosewoods) found on that island. It is a small tree, like most rosewoods. Bois de Rose grows to about 60 feet in height with diameters of 1 to 2 feet.

It is diffuse-porous with large pores scattered irregularly giving the wood a fine uniform texture. The grain is usually straight, occasionally wavey. It is a fairly dense wood and is probably very durable. Much needs to be learned about the structural and mechanical characteristics of this wood.

The colour of the heartwood is a rich red or purplish red, often with dark streaks. It oxidises to a deep purple and sometimes to an inky black. The sapwood is a pale white that is sharply demarcated from the heart. The colour of Bois de Rose, like all rosewoods, is rich with a clarity that few other woods approach.

Bois de Rose

Bois de Rose

Bois de Rose

Bois de Rose end-grain

Working with Bois de Rose presents few problems. There may be some tear-out on wavy grain, but it is usually amenable to machine and handwork. Particular attention must be paid when gluing Bois de Rose. The oils present in the wood may interfere with some glues. Woodworkers often wipe the wood with solvents to remove the oils immediately before applying glue. Other craftsmen use epoxy glues.

Bois de Rose finishes well. I doubt you will stain it, so most makers use a clear finish such as a lacquer or a French polish. The oils which give the wood its distinctive odour can also cause skin or respiratory irritation. Use protective equipment until you establish if you are sensitive to it.

This story has an unfortunate ending. Like all rosewoods, Bois de Rose has been designated as a CITES level 2 species. This restricts the trade of these species, due to the massive overexploitation of all rosewoods.

Bois de Rose was used for all sorts of decorative items and turned objects; the small lumber sizes available and its rarity limited its use in furniture applications. It was used for inlay and decorative stringing. Bois de Rose also excelled as a wood for musical instruments, particularly wood winds and guitar backs and sides.

The rosewoods have always been in extremely high demand due to their appearance and rarity. Rosewood trees are also on the small size further limiting the amount of the wood available. The demand for the rosewoods has accelerated as the economies of more and more countries created middle- and upper-class citizens demanding furniture and objects made from the rosewoods. While the CITES designation hopefully offers Bois de Rose and other rosewoods a chance to recover, what does all this mean to the woodworker?

Trade in the rosewoods between countries is restricted. This has driven up the price and made a scarce wood even harder to source. If you live in Canada, you can buy Bois de Rose (or any rosewood) with no restrictions if you purchase it within Canada. The purchase price will be high, of course.

If Canadians find some Bois de Rose in the United States, it is a different story. Paperwork is required. It is expensive to generate and will have to be vetted by relevant authorities on both sides of the border. Most American vendors won’t ship across borders due to the expense and hassle.

But in the end, that is what the CITES designation is all about. It’s to create breathing room for Bois de Rose and the other rosewoods stocks to recover. Unfortunately, woodworkers of today may not be able to use these beautiful woods. I’m OK with that, if it gives future woodworkers a chance to experience working with the beautiful Bois de Rose.

More about Bois de Rose

The Wood Database specifications: Bois de Rose
Last modified: January 13, 2023

Peter Mac Sween - [email protected]

Peter's woodworking journey began with a career in carpentry followed by a decade buying and selling veneer. His spare time is spent abusing his guitars and exploring the great outdoors.

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