Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Some might call Rosewood "the king of exotic woods". Personally I think that would be a little silly, but someone might do it. Not me, though. I just call it "really neat", and have been known to describe certain bits of rosewood that I have come across as "not unlike a goddamn Van Gogh painting". Perhaps the most mystique-enhancing thing about rosewood is that it's an endangered species, and because of this, it's been illegal to import the stuff into the US since 1983. That hasn't stopped some people, of course, and it also hasn't stopped many people in the intervening years from calling some woods that are not in fact rosewood, rosewood. "Real" rosewood - the stuff I'm referring to in this post - comes from South America, mostly Brazil, hence the notation "Brazilian Rosewood" or "Rio Rosewood". This stuff also goes by the local names "Jacaranda" and "Palisander". Most of the impostor strains that I referred to earlier are in fact from Southeast Asia, and are more commonly referred to as "Indian Rosewood". These strains also include woods such as Cocobolo, which, while beautiful in their own right, are NOT rosewood and should not be referred to as such (in my opinion).
Indian rosewood strains tend to have much less active grain than Brazilian rosewood, with fewer "cathedrals" and virtually none of the contrasting sap grain that makes this table so exquisite:

The grain on this table is, in fact, quite unusual, and usually only shows up in high end Brazilian designs such as this. Presumably, not much rosewood of this caliber ever even made it out of Brazil, because despite the plethora of Danish Modern rosewood furniture made in the 1950s and '60s, it's extremely rare to see this type of graining on a Danish (or American, for that matter) rosewood piece. More common, and still quite beautiful, are pieces like this case sofa, designed by Milo Baughman. It's interesting to note that while thousands of these case sofas were produced in the 1970s, the quality of the veneers on them varies WILDLY, from highly figural and orderly, like this one, to crazy and surrealistic (not unlike a Van Gogh painting) to comparatively boring and static. I wonder if Thayer Coggin, the company that made most of these sofas, had a method for dealing with customers who saw a rosewood case sofa with beautiful, figural grain patterns in a showroom, ordered one, and ended up with a sofa that had grain that looked completely unlike the sofa that they saw in the showroom. With the variety that I've seen in these sofas, it really could have been problematic! Pretty much the opposite of the standardization that is desired by most manufacturing businesses!

Currently, I have several rosewood pieces for sale that I'm quite pleased with, as well as several more that are presently on their way out of the refinishing shop.

This dining table boasts a total of three extension leaves (one is pictured), and is almost unbelievably well made, especially by the standards of today's "cardboard" furniture. The construction is rosewood veneer over lumbercore, with solid rosewood legs that feel like baseball bats when you hold them. I've had a lot of Danish rosewood dining tables over the years, but none nicer than this one!

Also available is this rosewood framed mirror, inset with ceramic tiles produced at the Royal Copenhagen factory, and designed by noted Danish ceramicist Nils Thorsson. While the rosewood on this mirror frame isn't necessarily all that spectacular in and of itself, the juxtaposition of it with the abstract tiles (much more often seen on coffee table tops) and the mirror elevate the piece to greatness.

As always, full info on these and many other pieces can be found on our website, Thanks for reading.



Jeffuardo said...

Just to clear the air on the rosewood definition issue - Yes, the 40-60 defined and undefined species of rosewoods from Madagascar, the many rosewoods and some of the "Indian Laurels" that emanate from Asia, as well as the rosewoods from Central America (Cocobolo) are the same family as Rosewood from Brazil. They are true rosewoods indeed, as defined so by the scientific community, as Genus - Dalbergia.

Additionally, "Cathedrals" exist in all forms of lumber. They are not prone to be greater in Brazilian Rosewood at all. Cathedrals, known as flatsawn/plainsawn figure in the woodworking industry, results only from the orientation of the log to the sawblade when being milled. All species of wood can and do have cathedrals. Additionally, the contrast between sapwood and heartwood is the same for nearly all rosewoods. Again, it's only a matter of how one mills the wood. Cocobolo and Sonokeling indeed have truly white sapwoods.

A good way for a woodworker to tell if their wood is a true rosewood is to explore the wood when working it. Does it have and oily/porous surface with pockets of oil within the cellular structure that occasionally burst into a cloud of green smoke? Does the wood indeed smell like roses (where the name Rosewood came from)? Is it hard and brittle? Does it take a high polish?

Good article but perhaps explore what's wrong with the rosewood industry itself (google Rosewood Massacre to understand and appreciate the phenomenon of over harvesting the rare wood and see what species are gaining value under FSC protection).

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