Chess pieces made of cocobolo

Cocobolo is a tropical hardwood of Central American trees[1] belonging to the genus Dalbergia. Only the heartwood is used; this is typically orange or reddish-brown in color, often with a figuring of darker irregular traces weaving through the wood. The sapwood (not often used) is a creamy yellow, with a sharp boundary with the heartwood. The heartwood changes color after being cut.

The heartwood is dense; some cocobolo has a specific gravity of over 1.0, and will sink in water.


Because it stands up well to repeated handling and exposure to water, a common use is in gun grips and knife handles. It is very hard, fine textured, and dense, but is easily machined, although due to the abundance of natural oils, the wood tends to clog abrasives and fine-toothed saw blades, like other very hard, very dense tropical woods. Due to its density and hardness, even a large block of the cut wood will produce a clear musical tone if struck. Cocobolo can be polished to a lustrous, glassy finish.

Oil content

Cocobolo heartwood contains oil. This oil lends a strong, unmistakable floral odor even to well seasoned wood and occasionally stains the hands with prolonged exposure. The high natural oil content of the wood makes it difficult to achieve a strong glue joint and can inhibit the curing of some varnishes, particularly oil-based finishes. Acetone may be used to remove surface oils before gluing.[1] The oil can induce allergic reactions if inhaled or exposed to unprotected skin and eyes. A dust collection system, coupled with the use of personal protective equipment such as respirators, is highly recommended when machining this wood.


Cocobolo is yielded by two to four closely related species of the genus Dalbergia, of which the best known is Dalbergia retusa, a fair-sized tree, reported to reach 75–80 ft (23–24 m) in height and 3 ft (0.9 m) in diameter;[1] this is probably the species contributing most of the wood in the trade. Because of the high value of the timber, the trees yielding it have been heavily exploited, so they have become rare outside of national parks, reserves, and plantations. Only relatively small amounts of this prized wood reach the world market, and it is expensive.


Besides its use in gun grips and knife handles, cocobolo is favored for fine inlay work for custom high-end cue sticks, police batons, pens, brush backs, and musical instruments, especially guitars, drums and basses. Some woodwind instruments, such as clarinets, oboes, and bagpipes, have been successfully made using cocobolo instead of the normal grenadilla (African blackwood). Further uses include veneers, bowls, jewelry boxes, pens, duck and goose calls, and other expensive specialty items.


Logs, sawn wood, and veneer sheets from the Guatemalan populations of Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa), have been listed under CITES Appendix III since 2008. In 2011, Panama extended that listing to include all products except seeds and pollen and finished products packaged and ready for retail trade.

For the March 2013 CITES Conference of Parties, Belize has proposed uplisting Cocobolo to Appendix II.

In popular culture

Bob Odenkirk's character Jimmy McGill, on the popular AMC television series Better Call Saul (2015), expresses his desire to get a desk made of Cocobolo and eventually does upon hire at the Davis & Main law firm. He purchases this upon his departure from the firm for $7000.00. [2]


  1. 1 2 3 "Cocobolo". Retrieved March 29, 2016.
  2. "Recap: Better Call Saul Episode 7 "Bingo" - Channel Guide Magazine". Channel Guide Magazine. Retrieved 2016-02-16.
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