Bocote is most closely scientifically known as a Cordia sp. There appears to be much confusion as to which actual species is being harvested and sold as Bocote with both Cordia elaeagnoides, a tree of up to 100 feet in height, as well as Cordia alliodora being identified as the most common contenders for the name Bocote. However, C. alliodora tends to have little figure or color and that is not characteristic of woods sold as Bocote. Alternatively, species in including C. dodecandra (usually sold as Ziricote), C. gerascanthus, C. goeldiana, C. abyssinica, C. millenii, and C. platythrysa may all be referred to colloquially as “bocote” making the actual species identification a matter for DNA analysis on the level of each individual timber specimen if certainty is required. In general, what matters is the appearance and performance of the wood, especially if it is sought as a tonewood. All of these species are native to Mexico and south through Central America.
Bocote is a particularly fine, beautiful hard wood that is fairly oily that features colors varying from light to golden brown and variegated irregular markings. It has an attractive ray fleck figure if quartersawn. Bocote is a strong lustrous wood, with medium and uniform texture and straight or shallowly interlocked grain.
Bocote’s bending strength is comparable to teak, and compression strength is comparable to mahogany. Bocote is a heavy wood, with a specific gravity ranging between 0.63 to 0.84, as well as dense (about 48 to 65 lbs. per cubic foot).
The dramatic coloring may change over time as the wood dries, however, fortunately, there are some well-known and relatively simple means by which color change in exotic lumber can be prevented or slowed.
It is easy to work, responds well to both hand and machine tools, is easily glued, and takes nails and screws well. It also polishes to a smooth finish, and stains and glues well. It can be somewhat difficult to dry, tending to develop surface checking and end splitting, but it’s also quite resistant to decay and to insect damage. Some specimens may have silica deposits that can dull tools, but this is variable. Some users report a scent reminiscent of dill pickles when working with Bocote! The high oil content of Bocote can cause sand paper to load quickly and become useless, but the use of a mesh system such as Abranet really helps to reduce or eliminate this problem. I have never found it necessary to pre-treat the wood prior to gluing because of concerns about the high oil content.
Bocote has become quite rare in many parts of its original range but retains relatively low pricing compared to the true rosewood. Pen blanks can be purchased for about $1.50 each, while a more substantial bowl blank size measuring 7”x7”x2” retails for slightly more than $20 at an exotic wood retailer such as West Penn Hardwoods, a reliable source for bowl blanks from many species at fair prices. Other exotic wood suppliers may also have Cocobolo in stock as it is a relatively common exotic wood in dealers stock. Woodfinder is a website that is dedicated to advertising exotic wood dealers and I can’t speak to the quality of any of them, but they do have the advantage of performing searches based on your location which might allow you to visit a wood dealer in person to hand pick what you want to work with at a price you are comfortable paying.
Sought for its great beauty and ease of working, bocote is in great demand for fine cabinetry, fine furniture, flooring, decorative and figured veneer, moldings, inlay work, joinery, turnery, gunsmithing (mostly for rifle stocks), and among other wood artisans.
Health Hazards Associated With Bocote
Bocote has been shown to cause cross reactions once an allergic sensitivity to certain woods has been developed in an individual. Woods that can cause this initial sensitivity include: Pau Ferro, Macassar Ebony, Cocobolo, and most Rosewoods.