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What is Cocobolo?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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Cocobolo is a tree found throughout Central America, particularly in Nicaragua, Panama, and parts of Mexico. It is a member of the Dalbergia genus, known for its various rosewoods. All of the rosewoods are beautiful timbers, with cocobolo being no exception. Like many of the other true rosewoods, cocobolo is greatly over-harvested and in danger of extinction in its natural settings.

Cocobolo is very dense, with a specific gravity of one, and has a number of features that make it extremely attractive to craftsmen. It has a very oily natural finish, and as such requires no sealer or final coat of varnish. It is highly water resistant, so it doesn't swell like many other woods and can be trusted in very damp climates.

Like the other true rosewoods, cocobolo gives off a smell similar to that of a rose when it is cut, and even after harvesting the wood retains a pleasant, fragrant aroma. Cocobolo is usually a rich orange in color, sometimes drifting more towards the red, and often develops interesting color patterns after being cut, with streaks of black and dark browns appearing throughout. The grain patterns of cocobolo are considered very attractive by most, and contribute to its popularity as a decorative wood.

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Cocobolo is used in a number of decorative applications. It is quite popular as a wood for musical instruments, though many acoustics experts have pointed out that, because of its oil content, cocobolo may result in reduced tone -- a price many are willing to pay for its appearance. For some instruments, particularly xylophones, the density and resulting resonance of cocobolo makes it an ideal choice. Cocobolo is also very popular as a wood for bird calls, primarily because of its oily nature and resistance to swelling in the presence of moisture.

Cocobolo is also highly prized as a wood for handles when aesthetic appearance and durability are both of importance. Cocobolo knife, gun, and brush handles can all be found in high-quality examples of their type. Boxes and bowls made of cocobolo are also often seen, usually of relatively small sizes because of the high cost of the wood. Cocobolo is now grown in tree farms, but the worldwide supply is still severely limited, and so costs are quite high. With growing demand and a decreasing base of naturally occurring cocobolo trees, prices continue to increase.

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