African Blackwood: Properties, Characteristics, and Applications

December 31, 2022

African Blackwood

African Blackwood is indeed one of the densest and hardest hardwoods on Earth. Besides, it is one of the most expensive woods, given its remarkable hardness and other properties. Because of its incredible hardness, working with it becomes a challenge, especially if you are a beginner, whether you are using machine or hand tools. 

African Blackwood is worth having, not only because it is expensive, but because it is very stable and warp resistant. In fact, it has a very durable rating and is exceptional for its resistance to decay. Its grain is fine and straight, and it has an even texture. Plus, it exhibits excellent natural luster. 

What Is African Blackwood?

African Blackwood belongs to the group which we consider exotic wood. It is native to Africa, specifically in Eastern Africa, like Mozambique and Senegal. Thus, it gets often referred to as “Senegal Ebony” or “Mozambique Ebony” because this tree grows well in these two countries. As a tough wood, it is stiff and strong. Besides, it is very stable while featuring an excellent texture. 

African Blackwood is a sought-after wood. As such, its availability is limited. It exhibits a dark brown to purplish heartwood characterized by dark streaks. As a wood, it gets used for making woodwind instruments, custom pool cues, walking sticks, knife handles, and carving. It gets also rated as one of the finest woods for woodturning. Plus, you can polish it well, letting its lustrous and smooth texture come out.

The scientific name of African Blackwood is Dalbergia melanoxylon. It gets also referred to as grenadilla or mpingo. It is a flowering tree belonging to the Fabaceae family. Moreover, it thrives in seasonally dry areas or regions of Africa. It is an important timber species in these areas. It gets used for making fine furniture and manufacturing musical instruments. Because of the absence of conservation planning, this wood species is greatly threatened due to overharvesting. Besides, it is a low-germinating species, making it difficult to mature fast.  

African Blackwood is a small tree ranging in height from four to fifteen meters. It has grey bark with spiny shoots. Since it is a hardwood, the tree from where this wood comes is deciduous, meaning it sheds its leaves during autumn. Additionally, its flowers are white and come in dense clusters. Its fruit is also three-to-seven cm long and contains 1 or 2 seeds. 

Characteristics and Properties of African Blackwood

If you ever intend to use African Blackwood, it will be best to know its unique characteristics and properties before working with it. Its color and appearance, for example, are entirely black, and you will find it hard to discern its grain. You will also find occasionally lighter African Blackwood with a purplish to dark brown hue. Its thin sapwood, however, has a pale-yellow color. It is also well delineated by its darker heartwood. 

When it comes to its grain and texture, it has a typical straight fine grain. It also exhibits even texture with an excellent natural luster. It is very durable and very dense. It is also tough and is not susceptible to rot. Besides, it is resistant to insect attacks, compared to Australian Blackwood, which is stable yet, susceptible to insect infestation. 

Of course, its sterling quality is its resistance to decay and rot. Its heartwood has a very durable rating relative to decay. Nevertheless, it is not mildly resistant to borers and insects because its lighter sapwood often gets attacked by borers and powder-post beetles. 

Applications and Uses of African Blackwood

If it is your first time seeing an African Blackwood, you will notice that it is very dense and lustrous, ranging in color from pure black to reddish. You will also find it in small logs or billets and will notice a sharp demarcation between the sapwood, left on, to aid in the drying process and prevent cracking. 

You will also find that the A-grade African Blackwood has a high price. It is expensive because of its density, machinability, stability, and moisture resistance. Such properties are essential for wood types used for woodwind instruments like oboes, clarinets, transverse flutes, recorders, piccolos, and other instruments. In John Hartford banjo models, it gets used for making the tone ring. 

In ancient times, the Ancient Egyptians valued this timber very much. Some tales said it had been used for the trading ship’s ballast. Besides, some Northumbrian pipe makers used these ships’ old and discarded ballast to make pipes. It has also been used to make handles for knives by German knife manufacturers because of its high moisture resistance. 

Workability of the African Blackwood

The African Blackwood, being so dense and hard, is challenging to work with. Its use can lead to extreme blunting of your cutters. Nevertheless, you can turn African Blackwood, one of the favorite woods for woodturning. 

It can hold threads well and allows for intricate details. The wood is also processed using metalworking equipment to produce wood instruments. Metalworking equipment gets used when working with this wood due to its extreme hardness comparable to metal. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Aside from knowing the innate qualities and properties of African Blackwood, it will also help if you are cognizant of the following FAQs about this wood to know more about this wood:

Is African Blackwood Sustainable?

Because African Blackwood has sterling qualities, it is a highly sought-after wood for many woodworking projects. This led to the overuse of this wood, which severely threatened its existence, especially in countries like Kenya, Mozambique, and Tanzania. 

The harvest of this tree is at an unsustainable rate. Thus, the use of this wood is not sustainable. Besides, this tree’s cultivation takes time, necessitating several decades before this wood matures. As such, African Blackwood is a threatened wood species, and its harvest needs to be moderated. 


There are many organizations involved in conserving the African Blackwood. These organizations are trying to arrest this exotic tree’s dwindling number. Replanting this tree is necessary, and the local populace should be involved. These organizations likewise promote awareness of the conservation of this wood species. 

The good thing is some small growers of this tree are successful in growing this wood in Naples, Florida. Besides, the growth habits of the Florida trees show taller and more significant growth rates. This might be due to ample soil nutrients and the longer growing season in that place. Thus, we hope that the use of this wood will be sustainable in the years to come.

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