Geographic Distribution

The wood most commonly known as Kingwood is known to botanists and other scientists as Dalbergia cearensis.  As those readers who are familiar with my series of articles about wood species are likely to recognize, so called “kingwood” is true rosewood of the Dalbergia genus, and thus, is highly desired, increasingly rare, and accordingly expensive.

D. cearensis is native to the “horn” of northeastern Brazil, found only in the states of Bahia, Ceará, Paraíba, Pernambuco, and Piauí. The D. cearensis tree is small and often features crooked trunks, so large sizes of lumber are quite rare.

Of course we wouldn’t be talking about exotic hardwoods if there wasn’t a potential complication to discuss, and in this case that complication is Dalbergia congestifloraD. congestiflora is native to the small Mexican state of Morelos, a lush green area to the immediate south of Mexico City.  The high fertility of the soil in Morelos is due, in part, to rich volcanic activity in the past, yielding the same types of soil found in other volcanic locales such as Hawai’i.

D. congestiflora, also true Dalbergia genus rosewood, is visually practically identical to D. cearensis. Therefore, some exotic wood dealers will sell both materials interchangeably as “Kingwood” while other dealers will specify D. congestiflora as “Mexican Kingwood” or “Camatillo” while reserving plain “Kingwood” for D. cearensis. Still other dealers may further qualify D. cearensis as “Brazilian Kingwood.”

In the end, given the similarity between the two species in terms of appearance, fragrance, and workability, it probably doesn’t matter a great deal which wood is which, unless, like me, you just care about that sort of thing. In this case, I was working with the Brazilian variety although I do have the Mexican version in my shop stocks as well.

And, for the sake of simplicity, from this point forward I will be referring to D. cearensis simply as Kingwood.

Kingwood Twist Pen and Letter Opener

General Characteristics

As is almost always true in the case of exotic tropical hardwoods, it is only the heartwood of Kingwood that is of interest, and what a beautiful heartwood it is.  Kingwood heartwood is a stunning dark purplish or reddish brown with darker black streaks running throughout.  By contrast, the Kingwood sapwood is a pale yellow material that looks like dozens of other woods.  However, in turned pieces that retain some of the sapwood to show contrast with the highly colored heartwood, the visual effect can be quite stunning.

The grain of Kingwood is usually straight.  However, on occasion, instances of interlocked grain can occur.

Kingwood is well known for its very fine and uniform texture coupled with an amazingly high natural luster when finely finished with micro-abrasives.

The endgrain of Kingwood appears as diffuse and porous with the small pores in no specific arrangement.  Occasionally heartwood deposits will be present.

While it wouldn’t seem relevant for the most common uses of Kingwood today, it is reported to be very durable in terms of its resistance to rot and decay due to fungus as well as resistant to termites.

Working Characteristics

Given the very high density and hardness of Kingwood it tends to be one of the more difficult woods with which to work.  Due to its hardness, Kingwood has a moderate blunting effect on cutters making frequent sharpening and patience essential tools when working with Kingwood.

In the event that twisted, interlocked, or otherwise irregular grain is present in Kingwood, tearing, especially during plane operations, can occur.  Authorities greater than I have addressed the issue of tearout with interlocked grain, so I will only add that razor sharp cutters, slower feed speeds, and carefully adjusted cutter head angles will all contribute to success.