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The 10 Most Expensive Woods in the World

Andy Dilks

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The 10 Most Expensive Woods in the World

What are the most expensive woods?

The most expensive woods in the world can be found everywhere from South and Central America to Africa and Southeast Asia.

Their uses range from early European medical instruments to furniture and aromatic perfumes, with different woods affecting everyday life in various ways.

We’ve explored each continent to discover the most expensive wood in the world, from the cocobolo to the African blackwood.

 

The 10 Most Expensive Woods in the World

Our ranked lists are created by researching and rounding up information from the most reputable web sources.

Here’s our list of the 10 most expensive woods:

 

10. Cocobolo – $55 Per Board Foot

Expensive Woods - Cocobolo

The tropical hardwood cocobolo is found in Central America and belongs to the genus Dalbergia, with the average tree growing up to 24 meters in height and 1 meter in diameter.

Much of the tree, which tourists in Panama can experience in its natural habitat, is discarded, with only the heartwood used for the construction of furniture, musical instruments, knife handles, gun grips, and an assortment of other items.

This heartwood takes on a reddish-brown hue, with darker traces that weave through the wood, adding texture. Pieces can be polished to give a smooth final appearance.

Cocobolo also contains an oily interior that delivers a floral odor, and as this expensive wood darkens with age, additional black and purple streaks present themselves.

A variety of musical instruments are made from cocobolo, including oboes, flutes and clarinets, and this wood is especially popular with guitarists looking for wood with a bright tone and deeper resonance.

Cocobolo wood also makes a guest appearance in the popular television drama, Breaking Bad, with crooked lawyer Jimmy McGill — better known as Saul Goodman — paying $7,000 for a cocobolo desk for his new office.

Sharp-eyed admirers of rare wood may have spotted it in Jim Jarmusch’s movie, “Only Lovers Left Alive,” which depicts a bullet made from cocobolo wood and brass.

 

9. Ziricote – $60 Per Board Foot

Expensive Woods - Ziricote

Another rare wood from Central America is ziricote, which is native to southern Mexico and is the heaviest wood from the Cordia species (of which there are more than 250 varieties).

Ziricote was once considered an extremely rare wood but has since seen increases in production, bringing its current value to $60 per board foot.

While some appreciate ziricote for its ability to mimic the grain of Brazilian Rio Pallsander rosewood, it has a unique dark brown color which is popular for expensive wood furniture, musical instruments, and decorative touches around the home, including beams, trims and entrances.

Carpenters are fond of working with ziricote since it machines well with both hand tools and machine tools, and planing the wood can leave a vibrant luster.

The spider-webbing pattern makes this a visually appealing wood wherever it is used. In addition to instruments and interior decorations, it can be found in gun stocks and even upholstery in high-end cars.

Ziricote is also a flowering plant. The flowers are eaten locally as sweets, noted for their yellow-colored pulp which emerges during maturity, giving off a pleasant fragrance when eaten either fresh or in their sweetened form.

 

8. Koa – $62 Per Board Foot

Expensive Woods - Koa

Coming in at $62 per board foot, wood from the koa tree has been in use for centuries and can be found growing in the tropical forests of the Hawaiian islands.

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While koa trees can be found in relatively large numbers, only the dead or decaying trees found on public lands can be harvested, making this a valuable wood for high-quality instrument makers and other craftsmen.

Perhaps the most popular musical instruments made from koa are guitars and ukuleles, with the legendary guitar manufacturer Fender creating limited-edition versions of their Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars from koa wood.

In addition to making musical instruments from koa, artisans use this uniquely colored wood for fine furniture, small crafts and decorative veneer, crafting intricate patterns comparable to some of the most expensive coins available.

Koa trees grow in the volcanic soil of Hawaiian islands, including Maui, O’ahu and Kaua’i. The wood offers a blend of red and gold tones, giving it a more vibrant appearance than some other woods.

 

7. Macassar Ebony – $65 Per Board Foot

Expensive Woods - Macassar Ebony

Macassar ebony wood can be found in Indonesia and has a dark heartwood variegated with streaks of brown with wide stripes featuring hints of yellow and red-brown.

Costing $65 per board foot, this wood derives exclusively from Southeast Asia, where the government sets the annual quota for how much is allowed to be cut, ensuring demand is consistently high.

Macassar ebony has an incredibly high wood density with a striking veneer, which lends itself to high-end cabinetry and musical instruments, and is also a popular wood to use for billiard cues.

The wood is named after the Indonesian port-city Macassar, its primary point of export, and is endemic to this region of the world.

Macassar ebony has close links to Japan, which at one point was the biggest importer of this raw material, and used it for traditional Japanese houses as well as for fingerboards on some of the most expensive guitars in the world.

Its beautiful fine-grained striped ebony wood can sometimes be used for handheld items such as jewelry boxes, walking sticks, and tool handles.

 

6. Brazilian Rosewood – $70 Per Board Foot

Expensive Woods - Brazilian Rosewood

Our first visit to South America on this list of the most expensive woods in the world takes us to Brazil and the rosewood, which grows in the wet tropical forests found throughout the country.

Brazilian rosewood comes from the wood genus Dalbergia and is a hardwood noted for its varied appearance, ranging from dark browns, deep purple and reddish browns with dark, contrasting spider-webbing grain.

It’s also renowned for being easy to work with (as long as you aren’t using dull tools), turning, and finishing well, although the natural oils it produces can make it difficult to glue.

The strength and sturdiness of Brazilian rosewood make it an excellent wood for furniture, while its acoustic properties have led many to view it as among the best woods in the world for guitars and piano cases.

This crispness of tonality can be found in some of the greatest vintage guitars ever made, including the 1948 Martin 000-28, the 1959 Gibson Les Pauls, and the 1902 Fender Stratocaster.

While the trees from which this expensive wood derive grow to an impressive 40 meters high, excessive illegal logging has led to its inclusion in 1992 on the CITES list of endangered species.

 

5. Pink Ivory – $80 Per Board Foot

Expensive Woods - Pink Ivory

 Arguably the most uniquely colored wood on this list is pink ivory, an expensive wood from Africa which is sometimes referred to as red ivory wood.

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Pink ivory wood ranges across colors, including pale brown pink to a deeper red, with a fine texture and fiddleback grain pattern, making it a beautiful wood for a variety of uses.

Pink ivory is another expensive wood that is popular for billiard cues and knife handles, as well as delicate carvings, chess pieces, and other turned objects.

Historically, pink ivory wood was considered the royal tree of the Zulu people, and any non-royals caught using the unique wood from this national tree were put to death for their transgressions.

Pink ivory is another flowering plant that produces the edible drupe fruit, while other parts of the tree have been used for medicinal purposes.

At $80 per board foot, pink ivory isn’t the most expensive African wood available, though some have claimed it to be “rarer than diamonds.” 

However, the fact you can purchase pink ivory pool cues points to its relatively commonplace nature when compared to the most expensive wood in the world.

 

4. Agar Wood – $10,000 Per Kilogram

Expensive Woods - Agar Wood

While much of the most expensive wood is used for furniture, instruments or fine art pieces, others have their provenance in folk medicine, containing several natural oils with healing properties.

Agar wood is one such extremely rare endangered species, an aromatic wood that grows throughout Southeast Asia.

It comes from the aquilaria tree, which needs to be infected with mold before the tree’s defense produces the dark aromatic resin that eventually embeds itself in the tree’s heartwood.

Agar wood essential oil — known as oud oil — is one of the priciest raw materials used in perfumes and scented candles, and the global market for this expensive wood sits at around $12 billion and growing.

Out of all the most expensive wood in the world, uses for Agar wood trace back into the far reaches of history, mentioned in religious texts including the Sanskrit Vedas and the Book of Genesis.

Health benefits of Agar wood include anti-aging skin, weight loss and increased energy, as well as relieving symptoms from a broad selection of illnesses and disease.

 

3. Ebony – $10,000 Per Kilogram

Expensive Woods - Ebony

While ebony isn’t the most expensive wood from Africa, this extremely dense African black wood is perhaps the best known and has been in use since the times of the Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Greeks.

Located in Western Africa, ebony is most associated with luxury items. Its jet black timber is used for everything from piano keys and statues to ornate chess sets with a glossy finish.

Its durable nature and the ease with which ebony can be polished also make it popular for expensive furniture. In the sixteenth century, it was used for cabinets embellished with ornate pictorial panels.

Ebony’s status as one of the rarest woods in the world is compounded by unsustainable harvesting, which has led to its protection as an endangered species.

The high density of its wood makes ebony difficult to work, having a dulling effect on cutters, while the high oil content can make gluing tricky.

This difficulty to work with and scarcity combine to make ebony a truly special wood, with a high price of $10,000 per kilogram.

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2. Sandalwood – $20,000 Per Kilogram

Expensive Woods - Sandalwood

Sandalwood is another of the most expensive woods in the world.

It derives its core value from its plentiful medicinal properties and is believed to work as an anti-inflammatory while protecting against skin cancer and bacteria.

From the Santaium genus and found in Southeast Asia, sandalwood oil is drawn from the tree’s fine-grained wood, which is predominantly yellow.

When sandalwood is used for furniture and ornamental boxes, its aromatic odor is said to persist for years — a quality that contributes to its status as the most expensive wood for scent.

Sandalwood isn’t just prized by the leading perfumers in the world; it has long been used for religious ceremonies, with a number of religious schools of thought including Hinduism, Buddhism and Sufism all using the wood in their rituals and ceremonies.

Indeed, the history of sandalwood stretches back through history to pagan traditions going back millennia and is still widely used in the neopagan rituals of the present day.

 

1. African Blackwood – $100 Per Board Foot

Expensive Woods - African Blackwood

The most expensive wood in the world, African blackwood, is a dense and striking jet-black wood used for a broad selection of musical instruments due to its favorable density and machinability.

Woodwind instruments such as oboes, clarinets, piccolos and even Highland pipes are particular favorites for African blackwood, with the wood’s decay resistance increasing its prized status.

While predominantly black in color, this rare wood can also sometimes present in deep red and purple hues, with the best quality blackwood fetching $100 per board foot on the timber markets.

Its name derives from Ancient Egypt, despite the fact this wood technically belongs in the African rosewood category and was actually imported by the ancient Egyptians.

The Egyptians took advantage of the exceptional density of African blackwood to make tomb decorations, while in more recent times, Africans have used it to carve everything from utensils to carved statues.

As expected of the most expensive wood in the world, African blackwood is under threat of destruction due to fires used to clear agricultural lands, with some predicting it could become commercially extinct in a matter of decades.

 

Summary

Precious woods are found from the tropical jungles of South America to the wilds of Africa, each with unique properties which increase their scarcity and value.

The most valuable woods are prized not only for their rarity but also for incredible healing qualities and unique aromas, and are used to make everything from finely-crafted ornaments to the most expensive instruments in the world.

This list has covered the ten most expensive woods in the world, exploring their properties and uses, as well as the history which makes them a prized possession.

Here’s a quick recap of the 10 most expensive woods:

  1. African blackwood – $100 per board foot
  2. Sandalwood – $20,000 per kilogram
  3. Ebony – $10,000 per kilogram
  4. Agar wood – $10,0o00 per kilogram
  5. Pink ivory – $80 per board foot
  6. Brazilian rosewood – $70 per board foot
  7. Macassar ebony – $65 per board foot
  8. Koa – $62 per board foot
  9. Ziricote – $60 per board foot
  10. Cocobolo – $55 per board foot

Which one of the most expensive woods is your favorite? Leave a comment below.

Andy Dilks first got into tech with Laserdisc players and hasn't looked back since. When he's not writing he's deciding which room to convert into a home cinema.

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