NOTE: various reports on almost all aspects of this wood are so different that it would appear that there must be several subspecies that are radically different from each other, and that is supported by the fact that there are at least 3 separate "Cordia" woods that are listed as bocote. I'm no expert, so have included what I have found, with comments on my own experience. I got the impression while collecting the information below that this wood is somewhat like the crime scene report in which the detectives conclude that the suspect was a short tall man wearing a dull brown raincoat that was in fact a bright blue parka. My own experience over 20 years may have been limited to one subspecies (I don't know) but it has been very consistent and I add personal observations where appropriate.
In most of the wood descriptions on this site, I don't bother saying "it is reported that ... " because first, it is understood that what I'm saying is mostly 2nd hand reports, and second the reports are mostly in agreement. There is much less agreement about bocote and I have little faith in some of the information I present here, so I add the "it is reported that ..." caveat.
BOTANICAL NAME: Generally Cordia alliodora and Cordia elaeagnoides of the family Boraginaceae. Mostly reported as C. alliodora, so presumably that is the most common species. Other species have bocote as all or part of one or more of their common names but they are more generally known by other names (such as Cordia gerascanthus which is commonly called louro preto or Spanish elm and Cordia dodecandra which is called zircote/ziricote)
COMMON NAMES: amapa asta (mexico), amapa beba, amapa bola, anacahuite, anacuite, asta, baria (cuba), barl, bois de rose, bojon, bonom, canalete (colombia, Venezuela), canaletta, chackopte, copite, cordia, cupane, ecuador laurel, freijo, grisino, gueramo, habeen, k'an-k'opte, keopte, kopte, laurel, laurel de costa, laurel negro, loro negro (argentina), louro pardo (brazil), Mexican rosewood, Mayan rosewood, negra, ocotillo meco, palo de asta, pardillo del monte, peterebi, salmwood, siricote, siricote blanco, trompillo, varia, veria prieta, zac-copte, ziricote
although it is widely reported that this wood is sometimes called ziricote, there is another wood (Cordia dedecandra) that is more normally recognized, at least the the USA, as ziricote and even though it is related, it is very different in appearance from bocote and there would be no possiblity of confusing the two by sight.
COLOR: reports on color are all over the map, but the one that fits my experience is "ranges from tan to golden brown to pale golden yellow, with irregular dark brown streaks". Other reports say the streaks can be red, or green, or some say black, and that the heartwood is variously "tobacco" colored, dark brown, nearly white, red, and red brown, take your pick. With aging (as you can see in the pictures) I do agree that the heartwood can be tobacco colored or dark brown and the streaks appear almost black. The heartwood is reportedly rather sharply demarcated from the grayish or yellowish sapwood and that fits with my experience as well.
I personally consider bocote to be one of the most beautiful exotics, and I've seen a lot of comment indicating that many people agree with me, but a friend of mine once commented that it looks "ugly and diseased". Sigh ... we humans can't seem to agree on ANYTHING.
GRAIN: varies from straight to roey. On this there seems to be universal agreement. Some also say shallowly interlocked grain. Generally contains wonderfuly curvy lines and swirls. See the pics.
TEXTURE: variously reported as coarse to medium to fine, with a somewhat oily or waxy appearance and feel. I have not experienced "fine" texture; I'd say medium and I agree with the "oily or waxy" but it's not strongly either one. I've also seen comments that it is similar to teak, and I agree although I don't think it dulls tools quite as much as teak.
PROPERTIES / WORKABILITY: A strong wood that machines and glues well, although there are occasional reports that it is somewhat difficult to glue. In my experience, there is no problem gluing it. Turns, molds, planes, bores, sands, and carves quite well, and finished surfaces are generally smooth and clean. It is easy to work, responds well to both hand and machine tools, and takes nails and screws well, although I've seen reports that nailing may split it. Generally its turnability is easy to moderate and it dulls tools only slightly although with dull tools you can raise a bit of a fuzz on this wood. It polishes quite well, taking a fine naturally lustrous finish. Also takes stains and paints well, but anyone applying either one to this wood should be hunted down and shot.
DURABILITY: variously rated as moderately durable and highly durable and very resistant to marring and denting. My experience is on the high side. It is reported to be highly resistant to insects and decay. Reportedly resistant to preservative treatment in the heartwood, althought not in the permeable sapwood.
HARDNESS / STRENGTH: generally reported to be (and my experience supports this) a hard, heavy, strong and dense wood. Compression strength reportedly comparable to mahogany. "Possesses medium strength properties in all categories."
FINISH: will take a moderately high natural gloss and takes stains and finishes well, but anyone who stains it should be shot. Finishes well with wax. A polyurethane finish is also good since that highlights the yellow background and although there is a littel natural oil in the wood, it's nothing like cocobolo, for example, and polyurethane usually will dry on it fairly readily although not always. The yellow deepens with any finish, but not adversely so. LATER: OK, I take that back, the yellow can deepen to almost black if left in direct sunlight.
STABILITY: small to medium movement in service
BENDING: good steam bending classification, similar to teak
ODOR/TASTE: variously reported as "mildly fragrant" and "distinctive dill-like aroma" when fresh, with no distinctive taste
SOURCES: Central America and the West Indies, including Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica. Mostly, it is from Mexico. One report cited Northern Florida.
USES: Very popular for turnings and also for knife handles and pens, all because of the extreme figure available. Reportedly sometimes used as a substitute for mahogany, teak or walnut, but I find that hard to believe because those woods are very mild in appearance compared to most bocote. Widely used for specialty items where extreme figure is desired. Also, reportedly, used for an enormous range of items including the list below, but a lot of this seems a little unlikely to me --- given the extreme beauty, rarity, and high price of this wood, I just can't see anyone using it for, say, sub-flooring.
Still, here a list of items that it has been reportedly used for: balusters, beams, bedroom suites, billiard-cue butts, boat building, boat decking, boxes, building construction, building materials, cabin construction, cabinet work, cabinetmaking, canoes, chairs, chests, concealed parts (furniture), concrete formwork, construction, core stock, core stock, decks, decorative and figured veneer, desks, dining-room furniture, domestic flooring, dowell pins, dowells, drawer sides, factory construction, figured veneer, fine cabinetry, fine furniture, floor lamps, flooring: industrial heavy traffic, form work, foundation posts, framing, furniture, furniture components, furniture squares or stock, handles, hatracks, hatracks, heavy construction, inlay work, interior construction, interior trim, joinery, joists, kitchen cabinets, lifeboats, light construction, living-room suites, millwork, moldings, office furniture, paneling, parquet flooring, plain veneer, plywood, radio, railroad ties, rifle stocks, rustic furniture, sporting goods, stairworks, stereo, stools, stringers, sub-flooring, tables, tool handles, trimming, turnery, turnery, tv cabinets, utility furniture, veneer, wainscotting, wardrobes.
TREE: large canopy tree, with some specimens in the natural rainforest reaching up to 120 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter, with a straight cylindrical bole above a narrow buttress. Other reports say the tree is short and rarely gets bigger than one foot in diameter. Given what I have experienced regarding availability, I'd say the smaller estimates are more likely. I've never seen planks over about a foot wide advertised anywhere and the availability is mostly in turning squares up to 2" with occasional lumber up to 6" wide.
WEIGHT: variously reported at 34 to 65 lbs per cubic foot when dry, so it's either a light wood or a heavy wood, take your pick. My experience is that it is on the high end of this range, say 55 lbs/cft.
DRYING: one report says it dries easily without degredation, most say it is difficult to dry and readily develops surface checking and end splitting.
AVAILABILITY: readily available, but almost exclusively in small sizes. Veneer is sometimes available (more so than with cocobolo, for example, but not by a lot)
COST: moderate to expensive. Expect to pay about $15.00 per B/F for good quality. A 1.5"x1.5"x12" turning stick is typically $5 (and that comes out to $26/BF, but sticks for all woods are higher than BF lumber)
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Because the tree is small, available lumber is short and narrow.
Good substitute for Brazilian Rosewood (Jacaranda) for small projects.
Primarily used in a decorative roll as costs prohibit use for construction of large pieces.
This richly grained tropical hardwood is very scarce and is classified as rare or endangered throughout its natural habitat.
distinctive grain that is flowered to striped
" ... an attractive ray flecked figure if quartersawn" --- my own experience is that this effect is rare, not common as this quote would seem to imply.