East Indian Rosewood

Pictured is East Indian Rosewood, scientifically known as Dalbergia latifolia.  Taken all together, the Dalbergia is a large genus, with somewhere between 100 to 160 species, comprised of small to medium sized trees, shrubs and even vines belonging to the pea family.  The genus is widely distributed with representative species being native to practically all tropical regions of the planet including South America, Africa, Madagascar, and Southern Asia.  Only about a dozen trees of the Dalbergia genus are considered the true “rosewoods,” and many other non-Dalbergia specimens may be sold under variations of the name of “rosewood.”

Geographical Distribution

Some of the Dalbergia are important timber trees, valued primarily for their decorative and often fragrant woods and their aromatic oils.  Brazilian Rosewood is now protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and it is not widely available.  The next most famous of the Dalbergia rosewoods is the East Indian Rosewood.  Despite its geographically suggestive name, East Indian Rosewood can be harvested from tropical Americas, Southeast Asia, and Madagascar, as well as in India itself.


General Characteristics of East Indian Rosewood

The heartwood of East Indian Rosewood can vary from a golden brown to a deep purplish brown, with darker brown streaks.  The wood darkens with age, usually becoming a deep brown.  The wood grain is usually narrow and interlocked and because of this some find it difficult to work with.  The wood is certainly quite hard and it may contain chalky mineral deposits.  Because of this, tools will rapidly become dull when working with East Indian Rosewood, so frequent sharpening, or the use of replaceable carbide cutters, is highly recommended to avoid tear out and rough edges to cuts.  Of course, this hardness makes the wood essentially invulnerable to insect attack.

Pricing of East Indian Rosewood

East Indian Rosewood is likely to be moderately expensive, depending on the size of the piece being purchased.  Pen blank sizes can be purchased for around $1.50 each while large bowl blank sizes of up to 3”x3”x12” can be purchased for roughly $50.00 from West Penn Hardwoods and potentially other exotic hardwood dealers.

Uses of East Indian Rosewood

East Indian Rosewood is used for extremely fine furniture, in inlay, veneer, and banding applications, for knife handles, and for turned decorative items.  Very high end musical instruments, especially guitars, may feature rosewood accents and parts, especially fingerboards.

Questionable Sources of East Indian Rosewood

Controversy has erupted as recently as 2009 over the logging of rosewood lumber in otherwise protected national parks in Madagascar.  Allegedly, rosewood logging was linked to criminal syndicates that shipped  logs through both Reunion and Mauritius, thus masking their origins, before being transported to China for processing.  Finished wood and furniture was then shipped to Europe and the United States. In November 2009 Gibson Guitar Corporation in Nashville was raided by federal authorities for its alleged use of illegally sourced rosewood.  The investigation is ongoing as of September 2011. In March 2010 the Malagasy government finally announced a ban of the rosewood export for a period between 2 and 5 years.

Health Hazards of East Indian Rosewood

Unfortunately, East Indian Rosewood can cause up to moderate allergic reaction in wood workers, primarily manifesting as skin irritation.  Personally, I have not experienced any such problems, but individuals with existing respiratory or skin difficulties, or those who have experienced other wood allergies in the past should use protective measures such as full body coverings and respirators when dust is likely to be generated.  A good source of guidance about possible allergic reactions to wood can be found at The Wood Database, which also offers information about protection from dust hazards.

My General Experience with East Indian Rosewood

Overall my experience with East Indian Rosewood has been completely positive.  I find the wood easy to work with, easy to sand and simple to finish.  I enjoy the consistently rich figure and heady fragrance when turning, sanding or drilling, and I look forward to continuing to work with this wood in the future, hopefully taking advantage of several bowl blanks size pieces in the near future.