Wood Choices

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Listed below are the woods used by Woodall's Custom Workshop. Your choice of wood for your martial arts weapon will be based on the following factors:

Availability in the size you need.

o        Many exotic woods are only available in short lengths. More common woods are available in longer lengths. Our online store will show you your choices of woods for the weapons we make.

How heavy or light you want your weapon.

o        Weapons for strength training should be heavy. To build strength, you should start with a light weapon then gradually work up to a heavy weapon. If you jump directly to a heavy weapon and over do your training, an injury will occur and interrupt your training.

o        For kata or demonstration where speed is important, the weapon should be light for maximum control.

o        Tameshigiri stands need to be heavy to minimize tipping. We make them in Red Oak and Brazilian Cherry. Red Oak is slightly lighter than Brazilian Cherry and is less expensive. Brazilian Cherry is the heaviest wood that we make Tameshigiri stands from. That's why Brazilian Cherry is a popular choice of wood for Tameshigiri stands.

How hard or soft you want your weapon

o        This is weapon specific. Harder Nunchaku are better for striking so they impart the most damage. A softer escrima stick is more desirable so that the amount of energy transferred back to your hand (from the impact felt by your own escrima stick) is less. This results in less hand fatigue allowing for longer practice sessions. Ash is an excellent choice in that case.

How dramatic a look you want for your weapon

o        This is important for gifts and presentation pieces. Cocobolo, Bocote and Movingui are woods that can make some dramatic gifts.

·          Cost

o        This is directly related to the rarity of the wood and the difficulty of working with it.

Keep in mind that some of the above characteristics are mutually exclusive and some usually occur together. I can't think of any one wood that is very heavy, very hard, has incredible figuring and is inexpensive. On the other hand, many woods show the following properties:

·          Most woods that are heavy are also hard.

·          Most woods that are light are also soft.

·          Most woods that are hard are also brittle.
Most dark woods are heavy.
Most light woods are light.

Wood Grades

We at Woodall's Custom Workshop spend as much time choosing your wood as we do making your weapon. We understand that your weapon is important to you and that you are entrusting us to make it for you. We use over 27 different wood species and have learned how to select the best grades. We purchase the wood after physically inspecting it for soundness (no worm holes or cracks), color (not all Bloodwood sold is red - what's that all about?) and figuring.

Types of Finish

We have also researched and tested all the finishes that we use. Our online store gives you recommendations for the woods that you choose for your weapon. Such as:

·          We recommend Spar Varnish for Tameshigiri stands. Cutting water soaked tatami mats wets the stand and Spar Varnish (popular in the boat building industry) is the best protectant.

·          We recommend Lacquer for weapons like Nunchaku and Escrima sticks. Lacquer puts a durable high gloss finish on which highlights the wood grain. Weapons that will see a lot of use should not use Lacquer. Boiled Linseed Oil is better.

·          We recommend Boiled Linseed Oil for weapons that will see a lot of hand sweat. The finish tends to make the wood look somewhat blotchy but the Linseed Oil provides the best grip for those weapons that are used for endurance or strength training.

·          For weapons that are being made for gifts or presentation pieces, we recommend gloss Lacquer.

We also know that you might be trying a new kind of wood and may not know the best finish for it. We provide recommendations (in our online store) to remove the anxiety of trying new woods. For example:

The best and only finish recommended for Verawood is wax. Verawood is  already a waxy wood. Exposure to sunlight just brings more wax to the surface. Any additional finish, other than wax, will eventually peel off as the wax comes up from underneath.

·          Snakewood and African Blackwood have such incredibly small pores that Boiled Linseed Oil will not soak in. Within a matter of weeks the linseed oil will have come off leaving the wood exposed. The online store recommends gloss Lacquer as the recommended finish.

·          In general, if you just don't know what to use, gloss Lacquer is almost always a safe bet.

The bottom line is this:  this is an important purchase for you and we will not let you make a mistake in your choice of wood or finish.

Wood Species in Alphabetical Order

Ash (Americana fraxinux) comes from the North American continent and has white sapwood with light cream heartwood. It is strong and very shock resistant. Ash is a very popular wood in the sport and recreation industries because of its capability to absorb shock. Baseball bats and tool handles are some of the items made with Ash.

Below is a photo showing American Ash. The first and third photos are from Ash Nunchaku and the second is from an Ash Escrima Stick. The finish is gloss Lacquer.


African Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) is an exotic hardwood found in the vast savanna regions of Africa. The heartwood is dark purplish-black giving the general effect of being nearly black. African Blackwood is a very hard wood and very heavy at 88 pounds per cubic foot (heavier than even lignum vitae at 72 pounds per cubit foot). The grain is mostly straight with a fine texture and it is slightly oily by nature.

The primary use of African Blackwood is for making woodwind instruments such as flutes and clarinets and is considered superior to Ebony because of its oily nature and resistance to temperature and humidity changes.

All three photos below are of African Blackwood Nunchaku. The first is completely black while the second and third photos show a hint of purple grain. The finish on all three Nunchaku is gloss Lacquer, the recommended finish.


Bee's Wing Narra
(Pterocarpus indicus) is golden-yellow wood that contains a spectacular mottled figure more commonly known as Bee's Wing. It is a hard and heavy wood with a straight grain but can be slightly wavy with some interlocking. It takes an excellent finish and polishes to a high sheen. Bee's Wing Narra principally comes from Southeast Asia.

All three woods in the photo below are Bee's Wing Narra. The first photo has the figuring formally known as Bee's Wing while the second and third have a figuring which more resembles "Fiddleback" or "Tiger Striping" but this whole category of wood is sold as Bee's Wing. Photo one and two are Nunchaku and photo three is a Bee's Wing Narra Kubaton.


Black & White Ebony
(Diospyros embryopteris) is a rare and unusual specie of the Ebony family. It has heartwood that is creamy white with contrasting veins of distinct black running through it. The grain of the wood is generally straight and the texture is fine to medium. It finishes to an incredibly smooth, high luster. Black and White Ebony is principally available from Southeast Asia, Burma and Laos. Like Gabon Ebony, due to the extreme expense of Black & White Ebony we make it only into keychain kubatons.

All three woods in the photo below are Black and White Ebony Kubatons. This wood is cut across the grain rather than along the grain which gives the rather dramatic look of ovals and circles. The recommended finish of gloss Lacquer is shown and brings an incredible luster to the wood.


Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) is a tough wood with even but coarse texture, straight grained with occasional wavy grain patterns. The heartwood of walnut is rich dark chocolate brown to purplish black. Canada and USA are the two major sources for Black Walnut.

The photo below shows Black Walnut. The first two photos show Walnut with a high gloss Lacquer finish while the third shows the somewhat blotchey finish Boiled Linseed Oil provides. In fact, photo 2 and 3 were cut from the same board (notice the Tiger Striping on both) and the contrast in finishes (Lacquer on #2 and Boiled Linseed Oil on #3).


Bloodwood (Brosimum rubescens) is a tropical hardwood from South America that has light red or chestnut brown heartwood with greenish golden ribbon figure. Also known as Satine, its texture is rather fine and the grain is straight with a high golden luster. Bloodwood is a heavy wood with a density of 56 to 66 pounds weight per cubic foot. It is only slightly lighter in weight than Cocobolo (which has a density of 69 pounds per cubic foot). It is most commonly found in the country of Suriname.

The three photos below show why we handpick our wood. This is really red Bloodwood! The first photo is from an Octagon Tapered Nunchaku and the second and third are Round Tapered Nunchaku. All three are finished with gloss Lacquer, the recommended finish.


Bocote (Cordia elaeagnoides) is a Central American tropical hardwood that has dramatic patterning that varies from mustard yellow to golden brown to dark black. The texture is uniform and is considered fine to medium. The grain is straight and the wood is hard and stable. Bocote is heavy with a density of 50 lb/cu. ft.

The three photos below are Bocote.


Brazilian Cherry (Hymenaea courbaril) comes from Central and South America principally Suriname. It has a reddish brown color with mahogany-like grain. Just like American Cherry its color deepens with exposure to sunlight. If you are looking for a heavy Nunchaku, this wood is for you. It is denser than Hickory or even White Oak. This is one of the woods that we make Tameshigiri stands out of.

Below are three photos of Brazilian Cherry. Photo #1 shows the open grain that Brazilian Cherry can take on but 95% of the wood I get and work with looks like #2 or #3. The finish for Tamershigiri stands is Spar Varnish. The recommended finish for weapons is gloss Lacquer.


Bubinga (Guibourtia tessmannii) is a West African hardwood that is light red or violet with fairly evenly spaced purple stripes. The wood is fine grained, hard and heavy. It takes a high lustrous finish. Some logs are figured with a wavy, roey grain like that in photo #1 below. This special wavy grain is highly sought after and is known by various names including Tiger Stripe.  Photo #2, below, shows Bubinga with the Bee's Wing look and Photo #3 shows Quilted Bubinga. Bee's Wing and Quilted Bubinga are the two types of Bubinga which we can normally get in the manufacture of our Nunchaku. The region of West Africa that is the source of our Bubinga is Cameroon and Gabon, West Africa.


Burmese Rosewood  (Dalbergia olivera) - Like most rosewood, heartwood has variegated colors, from burgundy to light brown.  Hard and dense with medium fine texture and maintains its color well.

This wood looks very much like Cocobolo and those people who like Cocobolo but don't like the darkening that Cocobolo undergoes choose Burmese Rosewood because it does not darken over time. This wood is found in the region of Southeast Asia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

Below are two photos showing what Burmese Rosewood looks like. These are finished with the recommended finish which is gloss Lacquer.


Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa) comes from Central America and the heartwood is purplish-red and deepens upon exposure. This hard and heavy wood accepts a wide range of finishes. This wood is probably the most popular wood to make martial arts weapons with and is a wood most martial artists are well familiar with.

Below are a series of photos showing different types of martial arts weapons that we make with Central American Cocobolo. Photo #1 below shows an Escrima Stick made from Cocobolo, photo #2 shows a Round NonTapered (RNT) Nunchaku and Photo 3 shows an Octagon NonTapered (OCTNT) Nunchaku.


East Indian Rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia) - occurs in most of India except the northwest. The purple-brown heartwood has a handsome figuring of darker streaks often with a purple tinge. The grain is commonly interlocked producing a narrow ribbon figure on the quarter sawn surfaces. The texture is moderately coarse and uniform.

This wood should not be confused with Dalbergia sissoo which is also a native of India and abundant in Florida. It bears the common name of Indian rosewood as opposed to East Indian rosewood and is a much inferior wood.

Photos #1 to #3 below are all made from East Indian Rosewood.


Gabon Ebony (Diospyros dendo) is a wood that has uniform jet-black heartwood as seen in the photo below. The wood is very fine textured and has a metallic luster. Gabon Ebony is strong and hard with good resistance to bending and compression. It turns well and can be finished to a high polish. Typical uses for Gabon Ebony include inlaid work, musical instruments and piano keys. Gabon Ebony comes from Africa, specifically Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Zaire.

Due to the extreme expense of Gabon Ebony we only make keychain kubatons with it.


Hard Maple (Acer saccharum, Acer nigrum)  also knows as the Sugar Maple or Black Maple grows principally in the Eastern U.S., generally in the Mid-Atlantic and Lake States. The sapwood is creamy white with a slight reddish brown tinge and the heartwood varies from light to dark reddish brown. The wood has a close fine, uniform texture and is generally straight-grained, but under rare circumstances can also exhibit different types of figuring known as "Tiger Striping", "Curly", "Fiddleback", "Quilted" or "Birds-Eye" figuring. The wood is hard with good strength properties; in particular it's high resistance to abrasion and wear.

The figuring of Maple is difficult to see due to the uniform creamy white color of Hard Maple. The common practice is to stain or dye the wood a subtle color to reveal the figuring.  Below are two items that we make with Hard Maple. The first one is an Escrima Stick which which is dyed a subtle amber color to highlight the Fiddleback or Tiger Striping. We use AAAA grade Hard Maple to ensure a good Tiger Striping.

The second photo is a speciality Nunchaku we make (read more in the Nunchaku section) which is a replica of the Nunchaku Bruce Lee used in the movie Game of Death, 1972. This is a Hard Maple Nunchaku dyed yellow.  Other manufacturers make this reproduction Nunchaku by painting them yellow. Customers have told me that the yellow paint tends to come off during practice leaving paint flecks on their hands and the dojo floor. We came up with the idea of using a dye underneath the finish which won't peel or flake.


Hickory (Carya ovata) is the heaviest, hardest and strongest American wood in use. It has a color that is white to tan to light brown with fine brown lines. It has fine grain and is extremely resilient, quite hard and is only moderately heavy at 51 pounds per cubic foot. It is extremely resistant to shock and as such is good for high impact uses.

The two photos below are of 3/4" square Nunchaku (available in the speciality Nunchaku section of our online store) made in Hickory.


Holly (Ilex opaca) is a wood that is white or ivory with a low luster. It is moderately hard, close grained and tough. There is a total absence of figure; even the grain is difficult to see. The weight of American Holly is 38 pounds per cu. ft. Holly is used for piano, organ and accordion keys. It is commonly used for inlay because of its white color.
We at Woodall's Custom Workshop use Holly as an inlay wood when we inlay names, owner initials or Kanji onto our martial arts weapons. See the web page labeled "Kanji Service"  for more information.


Honduran Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) is one of the most beautiful woods to use. It has straight grain with a fine even texture and is relatively free of voids and pockets. It's color is reddish brown to medium red that, over time, darkens to a deep reddish-brown. The wood is strong and dense but it will dent with a sharp hit from a solid blunt object.

It is slightly less durability than Red Oak and for outdoor applications such as patio furniture and wooden boats this wood is an excellent choice for its combination of strength and rot resistant properties. The popular Chris Craft wooden boats were built from mahogany until the early 1960's when Mahogany was replaced by fiberglass.

Below are two photos of Nunchaku made from Honduran Mahogany. When freshly cut the Mahogany is a lighter color than normal (as seen below) and will darken over time.



Indian Ebony (Diospyros ebenum) has heartwood which is uniform jet black, sometimes with a wavy grain. It is a rare wood and is very dense and heavy and as its name suggests comes from India. When held up to the light, the surface of the Indian Ebony is pitch black but if you look at the surface under strong light at a very low angle, you can see the dark brown wavy grain which is typical for this wood.

A note about Ebony

A note about Ebony really needs to be made here. When a popular wood gets difficult to find you will find that manufacturers and lumber harvesters will look around at other commercially viable woods and choose other types which have the same appearance. These woods are then given common names which can create confusion. Ebony is a common name for at least six different species. Ask questions before buying anything with just the name "Ebony" in it. The scientific name must include the "diospyros" genus to truly belong to the Ebony family. We include the scientific names (genus and species) to give you an accurate picture of the wood you are purchasing. Below are other common names and the scientific names of true ebonies:

Gaboon or African Ebony (Diospyros crassiflora)

Indian Ebony (Diospyros ebenum)

Macassar Ebony (Diospyros celebica)

New Guinea Ebony (Diospyros insularis)

Mun Ebony (Diospyos mun)

There are other species of true Ebonies but the above are the most well known. Just make sure the scientific name has the Diospyros genus included.

Below are three photos - the first is an Octagon Tapered (OCTAP) Nunchaku, the second is a Round Tapered (RNT) Nunchaku and the third shows how to hold the wood relative to light to see the dark brown grain.

Gloss Lacquer is the recommended finish because Indian Ebony is a very fine grained wood and takes an excellent polish.


Kingwood (Dalbergia cearensis) - is one of the Rosewoods, with fantastic grain and color, but it suffers from being only a relatively small tree. The trunk is rarely wider than 10 inches in diameter. It is a tropical hardwood and also goes by other names such as violetwood and violet kingwood. The country of origin is Brazil and the color is pink or light red to rich dark brown, with yellow-cream sapwood. The texture is fine and even and the grain is straight but there can be inconsistency in the density of the growth rings

Lignumvitae (Guaiacum officinale) is a heavy and dense wood with irregular and interlocked grain. It has heartwood that is greenish-brown. The wood is especially oily or waxy due to natural gum resins that make up about 30% of its weight. The wood has a fine and uniform texture with a low luster.

It is extremely heavy and is one of the heaviest timbers known to commerce. Of hundreds of wood species tested, lignumvitae consistently ranks first in its resistance to indentation probably making it the strongest wood available. Lignumvitae principally comes from Central America and the West Indies.

Movingui (Distemonanthus benthamianus) is a West African hardwood that has light golden heartwood. The luster of the wood is high and the texture is fine to medium. The grain is interlocked which produces a dramatic ribbon pattern known as Tiger Stripe or Fiddleback figuring.

Movingui is in the same family, Fabaceae or Leguminosae (the legume family) as Bubinga, Zebrawood and Koa. In fact, the pronunciation of Movingui rhymes with Bubinga. Movingui weighs an average of 45 pounds per cubic foot, the same weight as hard maple and is comparable in strength to Oak.

Movingui is also called ayan, Nigerial satinwood and Ayanran. It is widely distributed though West Africa, mainly Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria.

In the photos below you can see the top piece of Movingui is a definite yellow, the third photo is a golden yellow and the second photo is somewhere in between. Subtle variations like this exist from board to board. If you order one pair of Nunchaku and later order another pair the chances are highly unlikely that the two pair of Nunchaku will match in color or weight. If you order two pair of matching Nunchaku at the same time we will always cut them from the same log to get the same color and weight. This is a good rule not only for Movingui but for almost every exotic wood we sell.

Gloss Lacquer is the recommended finish for Movingui.


Osage Orange (Maclura tinctoria) has heartwood that has a distinct yellow/orange color with a fine and sometimes wavy grain. Argentine Osage Orange maintains its color much better than domestic Osage Orange which is why we use it. Region: South America, Argentina

Padauk (Pterocarpus soyauxii) is a medium to hard wood and comes principally from West Africa. The heartwood is deep orange red that will age to an even deeper orange. It has a moderately coarse grain texture with straight to interlocking grain patterns.

Freshly planed Padauk has an orange color. After finishing, Padauk settles into a reddish-orange color (like below).


Purpleheart (Peltogyne paniculata) is a medium to hard wood with tight, fairly straight grain with moderate to coarse texture and comes from Central and South America. It is naturally bright purple when cut and darkens to a deep purple when exposed to air. When exposed to prolonged sunlight it will darken further until it is brown. However, Woodall's Custom Workshop applies a UV protectant which lessens the chance that Purpleheart will turn brown.

Below are two photos, the first is a Nunchaku which is Round Tapered and the second is a Purpleheart Escrima Stick.


Red Oak - (Quercus rubra) - is a temperate hardwood from North America. It is medium to heavy at 48 pounds per cubic foot and the color is reddish brown. The texture is medium to coarse and the grain is straight.  It lacks the patterning or figuring of rays that is found in white oak but it has deeper color.

We use Red Oak for making Tameshigiri (sword cutting) Stands (see photo below).


Sapele - (Entandrophragma cylindricum ) is a tropical hardwood which has a relatively fine and even texture and comes from the Western and Central region of Africa. The color is a medium red-brown with richer dark bands. The wood is similar to Mahogany and indeed belongs to the same Meliaceae family. It has similar color and a fairly straight grain.

Sapele is favored for use when the figuring is good. The most popular figuring, by far, is Quilting in which the grain can be interlocking and awkward to work with. Quilting is a figuring on the surface of the wood which gives a three dimensional appearance of ridges and valleys. Of all the figurings available for wood, Quilting is the most difficult to obtain and work with.

Sapele weighs 42 pounds per cubic foot just slightly heavier than Ash. It is categorized as a "Light" wood. Its Janka hardness is 1510 pounds-force which places it just harder than Hard Maple. This wood is a good choice for those who want a light pair of Nunchaku but something as hard as Hard Maple.

The Quilted Sapele which we use for our Nunchaku has been specially selected for its consistent quilting from the top of the log to the bottom. After much experimenting,
Woodall's Custom Workshop has determined that Lacquer is the best finish for Quilted Sapele and therefore will be the only finish offered for it. The Nunchaku seen below have been finished with Lacquer.


Snakewood (Piratinera guianensis) is truly a striking wood and the Snakewood that I use comes from sustainable sources in Suriname. Its markings, which resemble those of a snakeskin, give this small, relatively rare timber its name. It has straight grain, a fine, even texture and deep reddish-brown color with irregular, horizontal black markings.
It is difficult to work with due to its hardness and it is extremely dense. Snakewood comes in several grades but only the "highly figured" grade is used for our Nunchaku. Because of its fine straight grain Linseed Oil, Varnishes and Urethanes do not adhere to the surface very well. I highly recommend lacquer as the finish. It polishes well and provides a highly reflective and beautiful finish.

NOTE:  As of 2008, Snakewood is almost impossible to get anymore. We talk about Snakewood and show show photos for two reasons:  to educate people about Snakewood and to show what can be done with Snakewood IF it becomes available again.

All six photos below are Snakewood Nunchaku. Looking at the six you can see variations in color from deep orange with dark black stripes at the top to light orange with light stripes as the bottom. The density of stripes is different also, there is a greater density of stripes at the top and lower density at the bottom. This is part of the challenge in making Snakewood Nunchaku. Snakewood is not available as lumber, only small sticks. The challenge is finding wood which matches not only in color but also in stripe density.

Look at the six pieces of Snakewood below and try to match them for color and stripe density. We used #1 and #2 for one pair of Nunchaku and #4 and #5 for another pair. All six pieces of Snakewood below are finished with Lacquer.


Spalted Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) is a creamy white wood with spectacular background colors of rose, yellow and black spalting, which gives the appearance of an unpredictable landscape. Spalted Tamarind comes from Southeast Asia, Burma and Laos. The spalting process actually weakens the wood. As a result of that we offer Spalted Tamarind only in our keychain kubatons. It is too structurally weak to make into Nunchaku or any large weapons.

Below is a photo of Spalted Tamarind with gloss Lacquer finish.


Verawood (Bulnesia arborea) - This wood is found in the coastal region of Colombia and Venezuela, common on the dry foothills between Porto Cabello and Lake Maracaibo. The heartwood of Verawood is more or less striped and banded, varying in color from light olive green to light brown.

With a weigh of 78 pounds per cubic foot, Verawood ranks among the heaviest woods in the world and it is about as dense than its close relative Lignumvitae (which weighs 72 pounds per cubic foot). Verawood often exhibits a brighter green color and more attractive figure than Lignumvitae. Verawood has a high density and is exceptionally rigid but not particularity elastic. Technically, this defines a wood as brittle but compared to other woods Verawood does not break easily.

Verawood is fine textured, cross-grained and has a waxy appearance and feel and is mildly and pleasantly scented when warmed. Verawood is generally green in color and darkens to a deeper green upon exposure to mild sunlight. Since Verawood is already a waxy wood, Woodall's Custom Workshop just applies more wax which is then polished.

Photo #1 and #2 are Octagon Non-Tapered (OCTNT) Nunchaku, #3 is a Square (SQ) Nunchaku and #4 is a Round Tapered Nunchaku.


Wenge (Millettia laurentii) - has a dark brown color with paler veins that darken when finished. The grain is generally straight and the texture is coarse but even. It is hard and heavy at 55 pounds per cubic foot. It is very strong and can be bent. It comes from the Central African region.

The photos below are of three Wenge Octagon Tapered (OCTAP) Nunchaku with gloss Lacquer finish. 


White Oak (Quercus alba) is a wood found on the North American continent with a straight grain and a moderate to coarse texture. It is light tan with a yellowish tint and will darken to a deep color over time. All finishes hold well in White Oak. It is extremely durable and easy to work with.

Zebrawood (Microberlinia brazzavillensis), known as Zebrano in Europe, has heartwood that is a pale golden brown to pinkish brown color. It has pronounced dark brown lines interspersed with light and medium brown bands. The grain is moderately coarse and looks straight but often is interlocking and wavy. It is a West African tropical hardwood and comes principally from Cameroon and Gabon. Its weight is medium to heavy at 46 pounds per cubic foot. It is similar in weight to African Padauk, Hickory and White Oak.

Below are three photos of Round Tapered Zebrawood Nunchaku.


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