#59: Cocobolo

Bird number: 91
Date: August 13, 2012
Wood: Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa)
Source: Woodcraft store

Cocobolo is another one of those woods that doesn’t just drop into one’s lap. It’s not exactly rare, but usually expensive. I managed to get a good bargain on this chunk because it had some defects that made it less than ideal as a turning blank. The wood is very hard, and denser than water. Like the Desert Ironwood, it doesn’t float. I didn’t even try to carve it with a knife.

Cocobolo is a member of the genus Dalbergia, which contains all the true “rosewood” species. It’s probably the most highly desired Dalbergia species, and as such the tree has been exploited. It’s not CITES listed, but the only trees you’ll find these days are in national parks where they’re protected, or on plantations that grow the wood for sale.

One look at the wood explains why it is in such high demand.

The stuff is absolutely gorgeous. My meager photographic skills do not do it justice. In natural light, the wood has brown, yellow, black, green, and red highlights. It also has the distressing tendency to show any carving or sanding mistakes–something that I didn’t realize until after I’d applied the finish. If I were to submit this piece for judging in a show, I’d probably sand the finish off, fix those few rough spots, and finish it again.

I’ve mentioned before that wood dust can be a health hazard. Some woods are worse than others, and Cocobolo is apparently near the top of the list. Everybody I know who has worked with Cocobolo makes a point to stress dust collection, wearing a mask, etc. The guy at the Woodcraft store recommended wearing long sleeves and gloves to prevent getting the dust on the skin. Some people have very strong reactions to Cocobolo. I took extra precautions to prevent inhaling the dust, but decided against the full exposure suit. I’ve not had any negative reactions to any wood dust, and didn’t expect any with the Cocobolo.

I had no trouble working with the wood. I took my time with the power carver to avoid burning the wood, and spent a little more time than usual on power sanding before I started hand sanding. Just wonderful stuff. I have a small chunk (about 1.5″ long) left over that I’ll do something with, but I probably won’t be getting any more of it any time soon. The wood’s too expensive and I have plenty of free wood to carve.

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