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Dalbergia melanoxylon

My favorite observation about this wood is that it "turns like frozen butter" --- I don't know that it is quite THAT nice to turn but it IS wonderful to turn and what felicitous phrasing.

my samples:
NOTE: these pics were all taken in very bright incandescent lighting ("soft white" at 2700K)
colors will vary under other lighting conditions

small plank --- end grain enlargement below, but there is no visible grain in this piece --- what LOOKS like horizontal grain lines in the butt end pic below is orbital sander marks. This piece clearly shows the typical sharp demarcation between heartwood and sapwood.

end grain closeup of the piece directly above --- the lines of small circular marks that are clearly visible in the 2nd enlargement are orbital sander marks, and all of the other lines you can see in this are sanding marks. This butt end was fine sanded and feels like oiled glass to the touch, despite the scratches that show up in this magnification. The 2nd enlargement does show pores a little bit, but see the update below for more detail.

END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above --- I have lightened this so that the pores will show up more clearly

African blackwood, small "planks" and closeup --- the sapwood color is accurate (light greyish tan) and note that the bottom piece actually shows some grain, which does occasionally happen with this wood, although not always (see the piece directly below, for example)

very small plank with a very well-lit and well-focused pic that shows the futility of taking pics of this wood, since all you usually see is black. This one was sanded only to medium fine so does not show the absolute glassy surface you can achieve on this wood.

two small slabs, one of which shows some grain on the face (see below)

face grain and end grain closeups from the pieces directly above. As usual, the end grain closeup is just an exercise in showing a really well-focused pic of a bunch of sanding scratches.

NOT A RAW WOOD COLOR --- both faces of this sample have a light coat of clear paste wax (although in this case I don't think it really matters much)
both sides of a sample plank of African blackwood / Dalbergia melanoxylon--- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by Mark Peet whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.

end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above

END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above and a seriously overexposed shot of the same area. I was hoping that the overexposed shot would show the end grain more clearly but while it did show more of the pores, there is still no grain visible.

another small plank, showing accurately colored sapwood and the sharp demarcation between heartwood and sapwood. Medium fine sanded, this piece does not show the glass-like surface you can obtain on this wood.

plank with highly visible grain pattern --- there is a red tint to this pic that is false (the wood is almost pure black) but the grain pattern is a contrast of pure black and dark grayish black

a couple of sticks and end grain --- very clear grain pattern show up a little better in the enlargements; color is very accurate.

end grain closeups of the stick directly above --- color is accurate; I did NOT lighten these to make the grain pattern show up.

a couple of sticks, one of which shows some sapwood that is more orange than what I usually see in this wood

end grain closeups of the sticks directly above, but with such a poor sanding job that really all you see are the sanding scratches (and the sapwood color, which is accurate)

small plank and end grain; this particular piece is jet black throughout ... even better than many pieces of gaboon ebony that I've seen. I did not do an end grain closeup for this piece since, as noted elsewhere on this page, that would just have been a really well focused pic of sanding scratches on a pure black background.

I cut open the piece directly above and as I expected, the inside shows the typical grain pattern of this species.

a small irregular chunk and a face grain closeup

end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above

all of the pieces in this section are a batch of flawed cut-offs that I got fairly cheaply just to take some pics for the site. Although it isn't immediately obvious from the pics, these all have major cracks, mostly on the sides away from the camera.

the batch

a corner piece with sapwood and a couple of closeups. Although these are not fine sanded, you can see some grain.

fine sanded version of the middle shot directly above, showing the grain pretty nicely

piece and face grain closeup on which you can clearly see some grain lines in the enlargements, particularly in the middle of the pic. The 3rd pic is with fine sanding and the grain is even more clear.

piece, end grain closeup, and END GRAIN UPDATE showing how this species sometimes just does NOT show grain lines

piece, end grain closeup and END GRAIN UPDATE. The grain is vague but somewhat visible in the update.

piece, end grain closeup, and END GRAIN UPDATE. The grain is somewhat visible in the update.

web pics:

a piece showing the typical abrupt change from heartwood to sapwood, which I also noticed on my own samples.

logs --- based on what I believe to be reliable statements regarding the relative thinness of the sapwood in the tree, I judge these to be quite small logs or even just branches.

the end section of a blackwood log. "mpingo" is a local common name for the wood where it grows. The heartwood as seen here looks to me to be a little more orange than is commonly the case but that may just be an effect of the pic.

two log quarters with each one showing the wood and then the underbark --- enlargments are present

slabs listed as African blackwood / Dalbergia melanoxylon

a pair of 6 foot long slabs listed as African blackwood / Dalbergia melanoxylon and a closeup of one of them


slabs, all from the same vendor

here I have done something I almost never do, which is DELIBERATELY make the color of a wood incorrect. When I got this pic, all you could see on my monitor was pure black, but when I played with the color I could begin to see the grain pattern, so I have deliberately posted this pic with the color enough off of black that you too can see the grain pattern, particularly if you click to enlarge it.

planks listed as African blackwood / Dalbergia melanoxylon and covered in wax

portions of bowl blanks listed as African blackwood / Dalbergia melanoxylon and covered in wax

turning stock and bowl blanks all from the same vendor, listed as African blackwood / dalbergia melanoxylon, all heavily waxed and all with at least the first enlargement. The last piece is the sapwood side of a bowl blank.


plank with a lot of sapwood

plank and closeup

planks with sapwood --- I'm confident that in both cases, the ribbed figure is from the saw or planer, not inherent in the grain.

burl slabs


turning sticks

pen blanks

turning blocks

turning stock, all from the same vendor. I believe that the purple tint in these pics is an effect of the pics, NOT a reflection of the true color of the wood, which I assume to be black.

guitar sets listed as African blackwood / Dalbergia melanoxylon

scales of African blackwood crotch

guitar back

African blackwood bowl made from a piece with unusually visible grain


spoon made by Richard Carlisle

goblet by Steve Earis; very large enlargements are present

three views of a 6" bowl by Steve Earis; thanks to Steve's excellent photography, very large enlargements are present that really show the grain well

bowls by Bryan Nelson (NelsonWood). Bryan fine-polishes his bowls with 1200 or even higher grit sandpaper while they are spinning at high speed on the lathe and then finishes them there with a friction polish of his own devising, thus achieving a shine and color vibrancy that is beautiful to behold. I'm not sure of the size of the first bowl, but the other two are 5" across.