Just received some promotional literature about a new line of
hammers with rosewood handles… Ah well – rosewood handles.
These are very pretty-looking hammers indeed. But the woodworker in
me steps forward to say a few words about the use of rosewood for
Hammer handles want to be springy and elastic. Rosewood, while hard,
is stiff and brittle. It will not be comfortable to use. It is more
likely to shatter under hard use and to be just plain uncomfortable
and fatiguing in ordinary use. Better to stay with the traditional
choices; ash or hickory, for example.
Rosewood is a term used rather loosely. A number of species are
traded under that name and some of them are well known to produce
nasty allergic reactions in people. It’s not just woodworkers,
dealing with the dust of working with the stuff, but also people
using the finished objects who can develop severe and painful
reactions just to light skin contact. Cocobolo is one of the species
commonly sold as rosewood which is especially well-known for this
problem, but there are others. Sometimes even the manufacturers
aren’t really sure which species they have gotten from their
suppliers. Anyway, there are few activities more intimate between
human skin and wooden objects than holding a hammer handle in your
sweaty palm hour after hour.
By the way, this sort of imaginative or careless species
identfication is common, i.e. Peruvian Walnut, which is not walnut,
African or Phillipine Mahogany which are not mahoganies. While we’re
at it, there are probably a half-dozen species of fish sold as “Red
Snapper” and watch out for Chilean Sea Bass which is not a bass but
actually something that used to be called “Toothfish” and is severely
Which bringeth me to my last point about rosewood, or whatever
species it is. This is a wood which is rare and endangered itself,
along with everything else in the habitat where it is "harvested."
Unlike most woods which are sold by the board-foot, rosewood is
commonly sold by the ounce, like gold. I’m always sad and, to tell
the truth, often angry when I see a rare and precious material being
used inappropriately just because it is rare and precious. That is
common, garden-variety ostentation. It is bad design. 'nuff said.
There are some applications where rosewood is suitable - I’m
thinking of some musical instrument parts, for example. Let’s leave
it for the jobs it is best suited for. I’d hate to see some of the
last rosewood on Earth go to make bad hammer handles.
Marty the Happy Grumpy Grampa in Victoria BC