A cocobolo desk is made from a rare type of wood called cocobolo wood (Dalbergia retusa) whose trees grow up to 25 m high.
The origin of this wood is in Central America, particularly Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica. Other names for this wood include Granadillo, Nicaraguan rosewood, Nambar, Palisander, Jacarandaholz, Pallisandro, Uruana, Caviuna, Pau Preto, and so on.
These trees are slow growers and take a few decades to mature. The rare beauty and high value of this exotic wood, which has led to heavy exploitation of these natural forests, makes it difficult to find. The natural forests have been depleted and they currently grow on plantations across Central America. Harvesters must first acquire a government license.
Unfortunately, cocobolo desks are not sustainable for mass production. In the past couple of generations, the population of cocobolo trees has reduced by over 20%. This puts the species on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List as ‘vulnerable’.
The wood grain of this lumber is straight to interlocked and showcases a myriad of colors including red, pink, yellow, purple, yellow, black, and blue. As the tree ages, its tone darkens. Experts advise the use of UV resistant varnishes to avoid darkening. It has an appealing and fine texture with a good luster.
The Cocobolo tree grows with several imperfections in its trunk, which makes it hard to get undamaged straight wood boards. This is another reason why a final product like a cocobolo desk is expensive. A single cocobolo desk can cost up to $15,000, although you can get it cheaper.
With the exception of desks, cocobolo wood is also used to make guitars, hardwood flooring, sculptures, carvings, and more. If you’re looking for a luxurious touch, and have a few thousand dollars to spend, this is the right desk for you.
The great thing about a cocobolo desk is that it is durable. Its oily nature makes it waterproof and resistant to scratching, insect attacks, rot, and age effects.
Mexican Cocobolo: This lumber features dancing and swirling patterns with dominant lines of black and dark purple and a background of red and orange. In a few cases, it’s the reverse.
Nicaraguan Cocobolo: This is a plantation grown lumber with a mix of black orange and red. They are not as appealing as Mexican cocobolo because they have fewer swirls.
Guatemalan Cocobolo: Although it’s almost identical to the Mexican kind, it’s less attractive due to its much lighter tones.
A cocobolo desk is a vintage item. Its never on-trend, but never off either. With the timeless beauty and unmatched quality of this desk, you may not need to buy another desk for several years, unless of course, you choose to. It will emit a sharp spice-like odor for many years due to the fact that it is very oily and dense.
Cocobolo responds excellently to most hand and power tools in the process of turning, planing, and moulding. Also, nail and screw joints hold up well although predrilling is a wise decision. This wood sands very well to a waxy smooth finish even without applying finishing materials.
If you’re having someone make the desk for you, instead of having a complete cocobolo desk, you can mix it with a different kind of wood for a unique contrast and aesthetic. For example, your desk could have drawers made from wood varieties like soft maple, cherry or walnut which are also beautiful.
Finding this type of desk at a decent price is not easy. This wood is in high demand but has a low supply. Manufacturers don’t make them all the time and they are very pricey. However, if you can find one who has access to the wood and can expertly design a custom desk for you, then you’re in luck.
The process of making a cocobolo desk is a somewhat dangerous endeavor. Like some other species, the cocobolo sawdust is toxic to humans and causes allergic reactions. Woodworkers that spend a considerable amount of time working around this lumber face all sorts of medical issues.
This lumber dust will cause eye irritations (pink eye), skin reactions, respiratory issues (asthma-like wheezing), and nausea. If inhaled into the lungs it may become lethal.
Anyone working with this wood should wear protective gear like masks, gloves and full bodysuits, uncomfortable but necessary. Also, thoroughly clean out your workshop area after working with this wood to avoid inhalation afterward.
Besides the health issues it presents, this wood is difficult to work with, in the gluing phase of production. The wood is very oily and little glue sinks into the grain. To form a strong bond, the glue needs to penetrate the wood.
Woodworkers have attempted to sort out this problem by sanding the wood to open up the grain. Freshly sanded pieces tend to glue easily. Another solution is wiping the surface with a solvent like acetone and gluing immediately.
Another challenge with this wood is that when you’re applying a finish, its color can easily bleed into any nearby wood. Interlocked grain can cause tear out while planning the wood. Also, the high density of this wood can cause a blunting effect on cutting tools, so they must be very sharp.
Craftsmen have mixed opinions when it comes to drying this wood. While some people believe that the wood dries excellently, other people disagree saying that it splits.
Some wood experts have advised craftsmen to season the wood in logs before cutting while other experts recommend air-drying after cutting, then kiln-drying. However, green wood taken straight to the kiln can get warped or checked.
No doubt about it, a cocobolo desk is a beauty to behold. Its swirling and dancing patterns coupled with several color tones make it a coveted piece. Its other fantastic features are its high quality and durability.
The downsides of this rare piece though include the difficulties in the manufacturing process, its high price, and difficulty in finding it on the market.