What Is African Blackwood?

What is African Blackwood? Apart from being a type of wood for woodworking, many crafters may not identify what other value the wood brings. African blackwood has a wide array of uses that make it sought-after wood.

I did some research and here are my findings:

What Is African Blackwood?

African blackwood is a highly durable, leguminous, and deciduous rosewood that’s used for a wide range of purposes. Originated from central and south Africa, the wood is a dark tropical hardwood that appears lighter dark brown or purplish hue. It can be used to make furniture, doors, decks, jewelry, cutting boards, and more. The wood can also be used for carving, turning, and flooring musical instruments.

In this article, we’ll look at the following:

  • Properties of African blackwood
  • Uses, pros, cons, and price of African blackwood
  • Comparison of African blackwood with other woods in the same family
  • FAQs about African blackwood

Now, let’s get into the action.

Property characteristics

FamilyFabaceae or Leguminosae
Scientific name(s)Dalbergia melanoxylon
Origin/DistributionCentral and Southern Africa
TypeTropical Hardwood
OdorMild distinctive scent
Texture/GrainStraight, fine, even, good natural luster
Diameter20-30 ft tall, 2-3 ft trunk diameter
Log DurabilityVery durable
Specific gravity1.27
Janka hardness3,670 lbf
Rupture Modulus30,970 lbf/in2
Crushing Strength10,570 lbf/in2
Elastic Modulus2,603,000 lbf/in2
Coeff. of volumetric shrinkage7.70%
Total tangential shrinkage (TS)4.8%
Total radial shrinkage (RS)2.9%
TS/RS ratio1.7

Origin & History: Where does African Blackwood grow? 

African blackwood originates from seasonally dry parts of Africa. Specifically, it is a flowering plant found primarily in dry savanna regions of central and southern Africa. Much of it resides in Senegal, Mozambique, North of Nigeria, or Sudan. Tanzania regards African blackwood as their national tree. Other common names include mpingo (Swahili) or granadilla. It belongs to the legume family or the pea group.  

Color: black, dark brown, purplish hue

The color of the African blackwood is black, although it sometimes comes with a bit lighter dark brown. You may also find the wood in a purplish hue. It doesn’t feature any discernible grain when in its black hue. If you use the wood to make a guitar, you’ll notice the pale yellow sapwood showing up thinly in the pattern of the instrument. The heartwood is dark.


It’s easy to identify African blackwood given its uniquely limited color range of lighter dark, black, or purplish hue. The wood is also extremely hard, heavy, strong, and durable. It comes with pale yellow sapwood and dark heartwood.   

African Blackwood Tree

Durability and Treatability 

African blackwood is one of the most highly durable hardwoods on the planet earth. It can resist termites, even though it is susceptible to borers that attack standing trees. The high durability of the wood is the reason it is a superb option for making furniture, cutting boards, and acoustic guitar spines and sides.  


Generally, African blackwood can cause mild eye and skin irritation. It has also been reported as a significant concern for irritable respiratory issues. It is considered a sensitizer, meaning it can trigger serious reactions when people are exposed to the chemicals it contains. However, there are no severe reactions when inhaled.  


African blackwood is very difficult to work with. It doesn’t matter whether you use it with machine tools or hands, the wood causes a blunting effect on your tools. However, it works well when used on turned objects. It’s one of the best woods options for turning because it can hold intricate details, including threads. It looks metal-like in its working operations. 


The natural conservation method is the easiest way. However, due to the threat resulting from over-harvesting, conserving the wood is becoming increasingly difficult. Sustainability is a tall order except with the protection of the habitat. 

Black African Wood Pros and Cons 


  • Highly durable and with incredible longevity 
  • Resistant to termites and wear
  • African blackwood cuts smoothly and evenly
  • very hard and heavy for its purpose
  • versatile and valuable for a wide range of purposes
  • Used for turning, carving, making furniture, knife handles, musical instruments, and more
  • Fine and even texture
  • Superb tonewood for acoustic guitars and electric guitar laminate frames
  • Straight-grained
  • Works to a smooth, fine, and lustrous finish
  • Very low luster
  • Holds screw, nails, and glue tightly 


  • The sapwood of African blackwood is vulnerable to powder-post beetles attack.
  • Highly expensive
  • Relatively long drying time of 2 to 3 years
  • Can dull machine teeth steadily
  • Slightly oily

How long does African Blackwood take to grow? 

Generally, trees are slow-growing plants. On average, an African blackwood tree will reach 3 meters in 10 years. It may up to 100 years before the African blackwood tree will produce a trunk or heartwood good enough to harvest. The minimum height the tree can reach is 4m and the highest being 15 meters. 

What is African Blackwood used for? 

Furniture/Desk/Door: Because it is to apply nails and glues to blackwood, it becomes a no-brainer to use it for making furniture. The wood’s hardness and stiffness make it easy for hard nails and strong adhesives to penetrate and stay glued to the wood. 

Guitar/Flute: African blackwood is arguably the best tonewood for making the sides and spines of acoustic guitar. Thanks to its heavy yet balanced feature, it features a perfect fretboard raw material.

Jewelry/Cuff bracelet/Beads: African blackwood contains resins that make it a superb raw material for making jewelry, pendant, beads, cuff bracelets, rings, necklaces, and other personal ornaments and accessories.  

Flooring: Due to its matchless durability and longevity, African blackwood comes out superb as a material for hardwood flooring. It also features a golden tone and fine smooth-to-finish appearance. 

Knife handle: Generally, African blackwood comes as a colored wood that fits a turning purpose. The wood features a smooth finish that is ideal for knife handles. Besides, the wood is evenly textured to make your knife handle look sparkly.  

Cutting board: Whether you want it handcrafted or machine-made, cutting boards are best with African blackwood. The blackwood is generally popular for its amazing durability and capacity to hold out against wear and termites. 


How much does African Blackwood cost?

You can pay up to $9000 per log or $10,000 per kilogram of African blackwood, depending on the size. For instance, a board foot can go for $269 for a 3x3x18 size. In some cases, you can pay as low as $3 on African Blackwood Pen Blanks of ¾” 3/4×3/4×6. 

Is African Blackwood expensive?

Yes, African blackwood is one of the expensive woods. It is arguably the world’s costliest wood you can put your money on. Despite the cost, you will get the reward for every penny you spend on it.  

Why is African Blackwood so expensive?

The wood is not easy to work with, unlike many kinds of wood with good and smooth workability. Either with hands or machine tools, the wood poses some workability challenges. Secondly, wood is highly expensive due to over-harvesting and natural degradation of the natural habitat. 

How to cut African Blackwood? 

Cutting blackwood I extremely challenging. This is due to the presence of grime, dirt, and minerals. To say it mildly, ‘African blackwood is brutal on machine’ You’ll need band-saw blades to cut the wood. The best process to have a relatively easy way around cutting the wood is to first of all chainsaw it into 12-inch to 15-inch lengths. Thereafter, you can use a vertical band saw to chop them into desired sizes that you want. But truth be told, it’s tough to cut African blackwood. It poses serious workability challenges on your machine or hands.  

How to make African Blackwood shine? 

Naturally, African blackwood shines and is smooth to finish. However, you can add some finish to the wood. Either of water-based or oil-based finish would work. But it’s better to use water-based to avoid bleeding the color from the wood surface. Make sure you wash the wood surface with acetone to reduce the oiliness. 

  • To start, apply 320 fine-grit sandpaper to the wood
  • Clean the sanding dust off
  • The surface should darken up after sanding
  • Apply a water-based coat
  • Allow the coat to dry.
  • Bluff or finish off with paste wax. In place of paste wax, you can use floor wax. 

What is the difference between African Blackwood and other woods?

1. African Blackwood vs. Ebony Guitar

Although both ebony and African blackwood work well in finishing a lathe, African blackwood comes as a denser and harder option than an ebony guitar. The go-to wood for incredible tonal qualities is African blackwood. It offers a more fantastic combination of tones and higher density than ebony would do. Guitar with ebony won’t survive as long as African blackwood’s guitar would. But ebony guitar might look finer.

2. African blackwood vs. Brazilian rosewood

It’s really a close call and a dilemma of a sort when it comes down to choosing between Brazilian rosewood and African blackwood. They’re both great. However, African blackwood is in a league of its own when it comes to harmonic complexity, tonal qualities, and clarity. Its harder and denser properties make the wood the best pick when you’re looking for power and punch. It produces sounds that resonate more than the Brazilian rosewood.

3. African blackwood vs. Gabon ebony

Typically, both African blackwood and Gabon ebony are black, but the ebony is black striped. Besides, Gabon ebony also comes out gray, even though the gray part of the wood doesn’t show. They’re also considered a sensitizer and quite expensive, but African wood come at a higher price. African blackwood and Gabon ebony have specific gravities of 1.8 and 1.2, respectively.    

4. African blackwood vs. Grenadilla

Blackwood and Grenadilla have often been used interchangeably and considered to mean the same thing. Even though they’re both black and denser than water, there is a difference, and both also come from the same family and wood type. While African blackwood contains black sapwood and is related to Grenadilla is botanically related to rosewood. Grenadilla can come as a lighter brown and is more porous than blackwood. Blackwood is of the Fabaceae family, while blackwood belongs to Fabaceae or Leguminosae.

5. African blackwood vs. Macassar Ebony

While African blackwood can either be dark or slightly dark brown color, Macassar ebony has a range of beautiful lines and colors. By implication, Macassar has a more striking appearance than African blackwood. On the other hand, African blackwood is rosewood because it comes from flowering plants. Plus, it’s heavier, stronger, and more durable than its Macassar counterpart.   

6. African blackwood vs. Mahogany Wood

Mahogany wood comes in a reddish-brown hue. It originates from three tropical hardwood species. While Mahogany wood has excellent workability, it is difficult to work with African wood. Mahogany is useful mostly for furniture and cabinets; African wood is ideal for a wide range of uses, including musical instruments, furniture, carving, and more. 

7. African blackwood vs. Tasmanian blackwood

Tasmanian blackwood is food safe with straw to grey-white sapwood and golden brown heartwood. While it is mainly used for making wood panels, boats, fine cabinetry, inlaid boxes, African blackwood functions more in the carving, turning, and making musical instruments. African blackwood is dark.

8. Burmese blackwood vs. African blackwood

Burmese originates from Burma, South Asia, unlike African blackwood that comes from central and south Africa. Burmese blackwood has a range of colors, from medium olive to a darker purplish-brown. While it can also be reddish-brown, African blackwood is simply dark with either brown hue. While African blackwood is straight-grained with low luster, Burmese has an irregular grain with perfect luster.

9. Cocobolo vs. African Blackwood 

Cocobolo comes from central America and features an orange or reddish-brown heartwood. It has 1.0 specific gravity compared to 1.8 of African blackwood. Cocobolo is useful for making duck calls, knife handles, and gun grips due to its strength and heaviness.  

Black African Wood FAQs

Is African blackwood toxic?

Yes, African wood is said to cause a lot of irritation to the skin, eye, and respiratory system. Users of this wood have also widely reported that it is a sensitizer. It means it can aggravate allergic reactions in people once they are exposed to wood chemicals.  

Is African blackwood a hardwood?

Yes, African blackwood belongs to the class of extremely hardwoods. Its incredible stability and fine texture reinforce the wood’s solid and stiff property and high density. This is why it’s a good candidate for carving, woodwind instruments, custom pool cues, walking sticks, and knife handles. It won’t bend or break under extreme conditions. 

Is African blackwood rare?

Yes, African blackwood is becoming increasingly rare. There are several reasons for the rarity, one of which is the over-harvesting among users. There is also a poor conservation plan and process. The degradation of the soil system makes sustainable growth of the African tree a lot more difficult. It’s worth mentioning that the trees that produce African blackwood have low yields.  

Is African blackwood illegal?

Yes, African blackwood has come under strict international regulation and has been added to the list of protected trees by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It means that all import, export, and re-export trades in the wood will have to go through an authorized licensing system. Essentially, control and certification will come at a cost to the importer and grower of the tree. 

What is special about African blackwood?

There are a lot of reasons why carvers, crafters, and woodworkers would like to do their work with African blackwood. First off, the wood boasts of high specific gravity of 1.8. It’s also heavy, strong, hard, and stable under extreme conditions. African blackwood features a low luster and slight oiliness as a straight-grained and fine-textured wood.  

How well does African blackwood sound?

African blackwood has a snug but robust sound. It features a dark bell-like tinge, although with a slow response. The heavy sound is due to the wood’s dense and hard texture. It also comes with a powerful and brittle sound, making it a type of wood when you need clarity, punch, and power. 

Where will African blackwood grow in California, USA?

SacramentoCalifornia, is home to various trees, including African blackwood trees. The greater advantage it has over many others out there is that African blackwood has been grown in many African countries, including Western Australia, California, and South America. 

Why is the African blackwood tree endangered?

Many reasons have been adduced why the African blackwood species has become endangered. There is a growing over-harvesting tendency among growers and exporters of the wood. Over-harvesting causes a greater depletion of the trees that produce the wood. The destruction of the natural habitat resulting from the expansion of agricultural activities also exposes the African blackwood trees to decline.  

Final words

The deciduous African blackwood gives off many branches and fluted trunks and sheds its leaves once the dry season begins. Being a long-lived tree, the African blackwood produces oblong pods as fruits and can reach maturity as late as 60 years. In folk medicine, this wood can serve as a medicinal plant for many disorders, including diarrhea, common cold, and headache.

Although it originates from Africa, the wood has spread across many continents and is used by many for various purposes. For instance, In Russia, African blackwood is being used to produce cellphone casings. The wood can be converted to chess pieces, tool handles, musical instruments, and bobbins in other instances.

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