Snakewood: Properties, Colors and Workability

January 7, 2023

Snakewood lumber and log.

Imagine you are working on Snakewood and sweating it out to whip this wood into shape. Well, such an imaginative scenario might happen if you ever got access to Snakewood. But what is Snakewood, and why will you sweat a lot when cutting Snakewood? 

The reason is quite apparent. It is because Snakewood is very hard. It has a Janka Hardness rating of 3,800 lbf, which is way beyond the popular wood species you will find in the market today, like those of Hickory (1,820 Jankas), Wenge (1,630 Jankas), Hard Maple (1,450 Jankas), White Oak (1360 Jankas), and many other hardwoods.

What is Snakewood?

Snakewood has the scientific name of Brosimum guianense, a rare tree found in the Central and South American forests. It is very hard and a rare exotic hardwood, prized for its highly figured grains. Because of its extreme hardness, it is a challenge to work with, under the family of Fabaceae. Its Latin name is Piratinera Guianensis which means Guiana sea pirate. Other common names for Snakewood are speckled wood, Leopardwood, Letterwood, and Amourette. 

Snakewood is a small tree with a slender feature. It is only one foot in diameter and ranges in height from forty to sixty feet. It can grow bushy, spreading its branches with 2 to 3 primary gnarled trunks. These primary branches appear contorted and spread widely. 

Properties and Characteristics of Snakewood

If you intend to use Snakewood or have access to this wood, it will be best to know its succinct characteristics and properties. Below are the essential properties and features of this wood:

Color and Appearance

Snakewood, a rare exotic wood, has a reddish-brown tone with patches of darker brown or black throughout its surface. At first, the wood would look deep red after cutting but turns reddish-brown after exposure to air and sunlight. 

Grain and Texture

Snakewood has straight grains with fine and even texture. It also is characterized by a natural luster that you would love to have in wood. 


Snakewood, with a Janka Hardness rating of 3,800 Jankas, is highly dense. It belongs to the hardest woods on Earth. This hardness is due to its extreme density as wood. Thus, it is not a recommended wood for beginners in woodworking. It Modulus of Rupture is 28,270 lbf/in², which is quite high. 

Rot Resistance

Because of its high density and extreme hardness, Snakewood is also very durable. It also exhibits increased resistance to insect attack. Nevertheless, it gets seldom used outdoors. But you can expect it to be durable and resistant to insect attack. 

Snakewood is also highly resistant to decay and rot. Nevertheless, it is not often used in large projects. It is only often used in simple and small-sized projects like violin bows or inlays. 

Shrinkage and Drying 

Snakewood requires a meticulous drying process because if not properly dried, it will crack. Besides, you should not leave this wood in direct sunlight or overheat it. It exhibits high shrinkage at 4.7% radially and 6.0 tangentially. Its volumetric shrinkage is at 10.7%. 


As mentioned above, Snakewood is highly durable. It is resistant to decay and fungi attacks. It is also resistant to dry-wood termite attacks. Yet, its durability doesn’t necessarily translate to outdoor applications, for it is seldom used outdoors. 

Applications and Uses

Snakewood has several applications. You can use it to make furniture, parasols, bows of stringed instruments, pens, canes, bottle stoppers, tool handles, pool cues, and many other turned small objects. Nevertheless, you may find it hard to avail of Snakewood because experts consider it the rarest commercial wood worldwide. 

If you ever happen to get access to this wood, you are lucky because it is difficult to find a supply of this wood. Besides, the exportation of this wood is becoming more restrictive. So, you will seldom find large quantities of this wood. Moreover, it only comes in small sizes for wood turning and small-sized projects. 

Workability of Snakewood

Snakewood has many characteristics similar to Bloodwood. Snakewood is very dense and tough, making it challenging to work with. Because of its extreme hardness, it is not easy to work with. It also has a very pronounced blunting effect on blades and cutters. 

Snakewood tends to be very brittle, and when working with it, it can splinter with ease. Nevertheless, if you are fond of wood turning, you will find this wood easy to turn. Since it is splintery, it is challenging to cut. Much more, it isn’t easy to drill. Thus, it requires predrilling when nailing or screwing. The good thing about Snakewood is that it turns well and finishes nicely. 

Frequently Asked Questions on Snakewood

Aside from knowing the sterling characteristics of Snakewood, it will also help to be cognizant of the following FAQs about this wood, for they may also be the questions playing on in your mind:

How Much is Snakewood?

Snakewood is not a huge tree. It is only a tiny tree compared to other hardwood trees. Besides, it is rare, so it is reasonable to expect its price to be high. This wood is also exotic, with a snakeskin pattern that would enthrall those who see it. Thus, it is costly per board foot, although you can buy less expensive Snakewood with a less figured surface. 

The less-figured sections get usually sold with the name Amourette. You can buy this wood in half-log or full-log forms with both figured and non-figured sections. But you can never buy this wood at a low price. 

This wood belongs to the expensive woods; thus, it will break the bank if you want to utilize it. Besides, it might be the costliest wood commercially. It is not the rarest wood on Earth. But its beautiful and exotic looks and its rarity make it very expensive. 


Snakewood is still not listed in the Appendices of CITES. Besides, it is not on the endangered list of wood species and is of the least concern. Yet, it is rare and expensive, so many wood users seldom seek it. If you ever happen to have this wood, you are indeed fortunate.

If you’re a beginner, it will be best not to dream of using this wood, for it is dense and hard, and expensive. Instead, it is best to settle for softer wood if you only want to get the hang of woodworking. Of course, as you gain experience, you can always level up and try your hand at hardwoods.

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