Geographic Distribution

Those familiar with botanical naming conventions know the tree which yields the wood commonly known as Katalox as a member of the Swartzia genus, most likely S. cubensis although other species within the Swartiza genus might also be marketed under the common name of Katalox.  Given that there are over 200 named species within the Swartzia genus the potential for confusion is astounding.  S. cubensis is native to a wide range of territory from southern Mexico through Central America and into northern South America.

Several other members of the Swartzia genus are well known and valued hardwoods, including several species commonly sold as “Queenwood” which originate in Peru and S. benthamiana and S. leiocalycina which yield the wood commonly sold as either Wamara or Guyana Rosewood, which, despite the common name, also grows in the same areas in which S. cubensis is found, including but most certainly not limited to, Guyana.  Also, only members of the Dalbergia genus are generally considered “true” Rosewoods, although Swartzia spp. woods can be quite lovely in their own right.

Katalox – Sealed

S. cubensis may also be sold under several other common names, including, but likely not limited to: Mexican Royal Ebony, Bannia, Catalox, or Katalosh. On occasion, S. cubensis may be confused with S. benthamiana and S. leiocalycina and therefore sold as Wamara. However, the visual differences between these species should easily prevent confusion once it is understood what constitutes a true sample of S. cubensisS. cubensis, as we will learn, is almost black in appearance while a true “Wamara” is lighter in color and features stripes.

For the sake of simplicity and common understanding, I will refer to Swartzia cubensis from this point forward as Katalox.

General Characteristics

The most striking and desirable characteristic of Katalox is the coloration of the heartwood which ranges from a dark reddish brown to nearly black, hence the common name of Mexican Royal Ebony.  Katalox heartwood also sometimes features a strong purplish cast which allows it to compare favorably with the true Rosewood Dalbergia cearensis (Kingwood).

By way of contrast, the Katalox sapwood, which is sharply demarcated, is a pale yellowish white.  Some craftspeople especially value flitches of Katalox that include the sapwood because they can exploit the strongly contrasting colors in furniture and other wood craft applications.

Katalox Log

It is not uncommon for Katalox to feature curly or wavy grain patterns.

The grain of Katalox is usually straight but it can also occasionally be interlocked or otherwise irregular.

Katalox features a fine and even texture and once properly and finely surfaced, a good natural luster.

The endgrain appearance of Katalox is diffuse and porous with medium to large pores that are few in number.  There may occasionally be mineral and/or gum deposits present.

While there is some variation depending on the exact species in question, in general, Katalox displays a strong resistance to fungal rot, being rated as very durable.  Katalox heartwood is also known to be highly resistant to termites, although it is susceptible to marine borers.

Working Characteristics

Katalox is extremely heavy and dense, in fact so dense that once dried it may sink in water.  These characteristics cause Katalox to be considered as a difficult wood with which to work.

As might be expected from a wood of this density and hardness, Katalox as a pronounced blunted effect on cutter surfaces, so frequent sharpening, or the use of replaceable carbide cutters such as those found on Easy Wood Tools, coupled with patience, are critical for achieving success with Katalox.

If interlocked grain is present, tear out during operations such as planing are likely to occur.  There are expert opinions about how to best prevent tear out available elsewhere.