The wood most commonly marketed as Yucatan Rosewood is known in the botanical world as Dalbergia tucurensis. Many of the regular readers of this site, as well as those with knowledge of the botanical designations of trees that yield popular lumber, will recognize the Dalbergia genus as that which contains what are considered to be the “true” rosewoods. D. tucurensis is indeed considered to be “true” rosewood, although the Dalbergia genus also includes over 100 different specific and named species ranging from trees to climbing vines. Not every species in the Dalbergia genus is rosewood but all “true” rosewoods are in the Dalbergia genus.
D. tucurensis is a relative newcomer in the exotic lumber trade and is largely being exploited due to the scarcity and trade restrictions placed on other members of the Dalbergia genus. D. tucurensis is sometimes considered to be almost indistinguishable from the related, but highly regulated, D. stevensonii, commonly known as Honduran Rosewood, about which I have written recently.
As the common name implies, D. tucurensis can indeed be found in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, but also in the neighboring countries of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. D. tucurensis may range as far south as the South American continent as well.
Currently, the most significant exports of D. tucurensis are originating in Nicaragua, a development which has caused Nicaragua to petition the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to include D. tucurensis in their Appendices. I will discuss in greater detail later in the Sustainability section of this article.
Other common names for D. tucurensis include, but are certainly not limited to: Panama Rosewood, Nicaraguan Rosewood.
Note that some wood retailers label D. tucurensis as D. yucatensis. This is incorrect; there is no such recognized designation in the botanical literature and it is uncertain as to where this incorrect species designation originated.
For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to D. tucurensis as Yucatan Rosewood from this point forward.
The heartwood of the Yucatan Rosewood is most often a brown that some users say resembles cinnamon, but different individual trees can yield heartwood of quite different coloration including shades of brown that are quite light to browns that are best described as russet.
The sapwood is sharply demarcated and is a pale yellow color.
Overall, the appearance and general character of Yucatan Rosewood is quite similar to Honduran Rosewood and even professionals may not be able to distinguish between the two species without more sophisticated and in-depth testing. Such testing can take on significant importance given the restrictions on the export of Honduran Rosewood. I have mentioned this testing, and provided a link to the details, in the article on Honduran Rosewood.
The grain tends to be plain but on occasion the heartwood may present with darker streaks that add visual interest. On some occasions, the grain may even be swirled or curly, even to the point of being interlocked, although most often the grain is straight
The texture of Yucatan Rosewood ranges from medium to fine. The pores are large and open, which can cause an uneven feel, leading some users to fill the pores with pore filler to achieve a perfectly smooth texture and finish. The open pores are readily visible in the photographs I have included in this article.
Yucatan Rosewood can achieve a moderate natural luster when finely sanded and polished.
The end-grain of Yucatan Rosewood is diffuse to semi-diffuse and porous.
As mentioned, the pores are very large and in no specific arrangement.
On occasion, mineral deposits may be present.
While I can’t think that it would matter much given the most common uses for imported Yucatan Rosewood, it is considered to be durable in terms of resistance to rot as well as moderately resistant to insect, including borer species, attack.
Many experts and frequent users of the different rosewoods consider Yucatan Rosewood to be easier to work with when compared to other rosewoods. Most likely this is due to the lower density and hardness of Yucatan Rosewood, again compared to other rosewoods, for Yucatan Rosewood is certainly quite dense and hard, of greater density and hardness in fact than any native North American wood.
Yucatan Rosewood also has less oil than many other rosewoods so it is far easier to glue and finish due to this lack of oil. Oily wood can be quite difficult to glue and finish.
Lucky for me, Yucatan Rosewood is reported to turn quite well. It also can take a very nice polish once the turning procedures are completed.
Oddly, Yucatan Rosewood is considered by most to have little to no scent when being worked. Most of the true rosewoods are quite fragrant when freshly cut, and while I think I could detect the slightest hint of a familiar rosewood smell, it was certainly far less pronounced than was the case with the Honduran Rosewood that I had worked with immediately prior to moving on to the Yucatan variety.
Yucatan Rosewood is typically priced in the low to mid-range when compared to other imported tropical wood species and certainly when compared to other Dalbergia species. Yucatan Rosewood is certainly much cheaper to buy than Cocobolo or Kingwood, other members of the Dalbergia genus, but it is likely that the prices will rise as more users discover Yucatan Rosewood and exploit it as substitutes for the much more expensive, and now often restricted, rosewoods from Latin America. It remains to be seen if Yucatan Rosewood will be over harvested in the same way that other rosewoods have been. If over harvesting does occur, and restrictions on its harvest and export are put in place because of this, prices will certainly rise, potentially rapidly. If you want to work with Yucatan Rosewood, now might be an excellent time to stock up while it can be obtained for a reasonable price.
Most often Yucatan Rosewood is sold in turning stock sizes, ranging from pen blanks through to larger spindles and bowl blanks. It is also not uncommonly available in lumber format, especially in thin dimensions.
I always recommend both West Penn Hardwoods and Bell Forest Products as excellent sources of both domestic and exotic hardwoods. I have had multiple dealings with both vendors and have always been very satisfied.
West Penn Hardwoods has extensive stocks of Yucatan Rosewood in both bowl and spindle turning stock sizes, as well as pen blanks. They also stock lumber in stock and thin dimensional sizes. As a price example, a very large 8x8x3 bowl blank of Yucatan Rosewood currently sells for slightly over $30. However, special sales are common so check the website frequently and sign up for email alerts.
Bell Forest Products is, oddly, not selling Yucatan Rosewood in any size at this time.
While the two dealers above are personal favorites, Yucatan Rosewood is readily obtainable from other dealers in tropical hardwoods, probably including one near you. If you don’t have a favorite supplier that you have worked with extensively in the past, by all means shop around for the best prices and the best selection to meet your particular wood working needs.
Woodfinder is an excellent website that is dedicated to advertising exotic wood dealers. In your search for Yucatan Rosewood, this can be an invaluable resource provided you use multiple search terms to capture all the possible listings. I can’t speak to the quality of any of the listed dealers, but Woodfinder does have the advantage of allowing searches to be performed based on location which might allow an interested buyer to visit a listed wood dealer near their home in person to hand pick nice pieces at a comfortable price.
Yucatan Rosewood is used in many of the same applications as other highly desirable tropical hardwoods. Common uses for Yucatan Rosewood include, but are not limited to: turned objects, luxury furniture and cabinetry, as well as other small specialty wood objects such as knife handles, game calls, and the like.
Yucatan Rosewood is now being widely used as a tone wood for the manufacture of high-end musical instruments. This use is especially common for those items formerly manufactured from, or with, Honduran Rosewood as that species is now highly regulated and often not available. Guitars, albeit very high-end and expensive ones, are increasingly featuring Yucatan Rosewood in their construction.
The rapidly increasing demand for Yucatan Rosewood, especially for musical instruments as a substitute for Honduran Rosewood, has caused Nicaragua to petition the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to include Yucatan Rosewood in their Appendices due to concerns about over-harvesting and the potential for diminishing native stocks of the slow growing trees. CITES agreed to Nicaragua’s request and Yucatan Rosewood is now listed in CITES Appendix III.
Appendix III is not nearly as restrictive a listing as Appendices I and II, but it does impose restrictions in that all exports must be certified by a designated authority as legally harvested for export. While this requirement is not heavily burdensome, it does put an end to free-wheeling logging and export with no monitoring or restrictions of any kind as had been the case until the CITES listing. However, as long as demand exists, especially coupled with a population with significant amounts of poverty and potentially governmental corruption or incompetence, illegal logging and exportation of timber will occur. Ultimately it has to be up to consumers to be responsible in their buying and use habits if the destruction of the species is to be averted.
At this time Yucatan Rosewood is not listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
I purchased the pieces of Yucatan Rosewood that I have in stock long before I was aware of the increasingly over-exploited status of the species. Ideally, the loss of a species is slowed or halted long before it becomes necessary to include it in the CITES Appendices, but that would not appear to be the case with Yucatan Rosewood. Given what I now know about the status of Yucatan Rosewood, I may not choose to purchase it in the future, although its use is less troublesome than is the use of other more highly endangered and restricted rosewood species.
I also realize that inherent in working with wood is the killing of a part of the natural world that may be slow to return and if I become deeply concerned about this fact, I will have to find a new hobby. I hope that such a time does not come to pass or at least not any time soon. I am also very confident that the vendor from whom I purchased my stocks of Yucatan Rosewood sourced their material legally and responsibly. In part because I am concerned about legally and responsibly obtained exotic wood, I am reluctant to buy from sellers outside of well-established and known vendors. I am highly unlikely, for example, to purchase exotic wood from auction sites, such as Ebay, because of uncertain sourcing and documentation, as well as the potential, even likelihood, of material being misidentified in order to achieve a higher selling price.
It realize that many, if not most, wood workers do not have endangered species lists memorized, therefore I think it worthwhile and important to do even a small amount of research before purchasing any lumber, domestic as well as imported, to be certain of the potential impact you are having, even in a small way, on threatened or endangered populations. This information is easy to come by and takes only minutes to locate through any Internet search engine, including those you can access on your phone as you are standing in the lumber yard or store. Unfortunately, you simply cannot count on a vendor to tell you a product they are selling is endangered.
Fortunately, and unlike many other members of the Dalbergia genus which are infamous for causing allergic reactions, even severe ones, Yucatan Rosewood is not known to cause any ill effects in its users. Some believe that the lack of a scent in the wood indicates that the chemistry of this species is significantly different from that of other rosewoods, but this is not known with certainty at this time.
Appropriate protective equipment is therefore recommended, as always, when working with this, or any other, exotic wood, unless you have worked with the species before and are certain you are not sensitive to it. Complete information about health hazards associated with a wide variety of exotic hardwoods is available from The Wood Database.
However, the known risks posed by prolonged and repeated exposure to dust from any wood species are still present when using Yucatan Rosewood. Additional information about how to best use a dust collection system and personal protective equipment, such as respirators, can also be found through this excellent and comprehensive resource.
Fortunately, I experienced no negative side effects when working with Yucatan Rosewood.
My Personal Experiences
I immediately noticed the density and hardness of the Yucatan Rosewood, but I was not surprised as I had recently been working with closely related Honduran Rosewood. As was the case with the Honduran Rosewood, the Yucatan Rosewood cut fairly slowly but it also cut quite cleanly with my carbide cutter tools.
As regular readers are well aware, I favor carbide tipped tools because they never require sharpening, instead used cutters are simply rotated and/or replaced, an especially valuable trait when working with hard and dense woods, including rosewoods. As is often the case with clean cutting hard woods, I had much less sanding to do than would be the case with softer materials. I am always pleased when there is less sanding necessary.
I have finished other rosewoods with Watco Teak Oil and have been quite happy with the results, but in this case I chose to use the cream version of Shellawax, an Australian product I have used extensively before on smaller items, and I was enormously pleased with the lustrous result. The product couldn’t be simpler and easier to use. I simply dipped a clean lint-free rag into the cream and rubbed it all over the bowl, with the lathe off. Then with the lathe turned back on, I used the wet area of the rag to apply pressure while moving back and forth over the treated areas. The frictional heat created a very nicely glossy finish in seconds. The Shellawax, as the name implies, is a combination of shellac and natural waxes. I am beyond pleased with the results of this finishing product on the Yucatan Rosewood. The manufacturer assures users that it will work well with even the oiliest of woods, but I have not tested it on something as oily as, say, Cocobolo.
I enjoyed working with Yucatan Rosewood. I found the natural color, which in areas verges on purple, and the figure, especially in the interior of the bowl, to be quite pleasing. Yes, I had to work slowly, especially as the piece was rather deep, but patience is frequently rewarded with any species of wood, although it is essential with such a hard and dense material as Yucatan Rosewood.
I think Yucatan Rosewood is a quite lovely wood with which a wood worker with some reasonable experience and knowledge about the wood should be able to succeed, especially if potential challenges are known and planned for in advance. Any wood worker who would like to try working with Yucatan Rosewood, or any of the other rosewoods which tend to present difficulties due to the high oil content, should, I think, conduct additional research into how to best achieve their desired result with the wood. And given the conservation status of so many of the rosewoods now, it is essential to be as certain as possible that the source from which the Yucatan, or any other Rosewood is obtained is acquiring stock legally and in full accordance with international treaty provisions and regulations.
As always, I wish all my readers a great experience in whatever their wood working interests happen to be and to those who like working with lathes especially, do a good turn today!