Woods that sink

I don’t know why, but I’ve long been fascinated by the idea of wood that doesn’t float. I suspect it has something to do with busted expectations. I like it when my preconceived notions are shattered. “Wood floats” is one of those things that Everybody Knows, and growing up in the United States we’re given little opportunity to learn otherwise. There are very few wood species in the U.S. that are denser than water.

I’ve had an ongoing discussion with a couple members of my local carvers’ group about woods that don’t float. One of them insists that there are fewer than a dozen such species. I had read somewhere that there were over 100, but couldn’t produce the data. So this weekend I tracked it down.

I first ran across the Wood Database article, Top ten heaviest woods, which showed me that there are at least 15 different species that are more dense than water.

The Global Wood Density Database contains density information from 16,468 wood samples collected from all over the world. The data covers 8,412 species and 1,683 genera. Some species have multiple samples.

It took less than an hour to download the data, massage it, and output the following list of woods that are more dense than water–that will not float.

One might ask why I even care about wood density. Beyond curiosity, which I think is a perfectly valid reason all in itself, density is the best indication of how hard a wood is to cut. If I know a wood’s density, then I know which of my tools I can use to cut it, and how hard I will have to work. It’s also one indicator of how well the wood will hold fine detail, although it’s not a perfect predictor. Basswood, for example, is less dense than Black Walnut, but holds detail better.

A few notes about the list:

  • Adding the common names and links to information about each species is an ongoing project.
  • I find it interesting that the database does not include entries for Texas Ebony (Ebenopsis ebano) or Desert Ironwood (Olnea tesota), two species that I know are more dense than water. And, curiously, two of the very few such North American species. I wonder how many other species are missing.
  • By my count, there are 183 species with samples that have specific gravity greater than 1.0. If you count those that have a specific gravity equal to 1.0, there are 209.
  • Those 209 species occur in a total of 183 genera. It is definitely not true that the very dense woods are concentrated within a very few genera.
  • No, I do not have plans to track down samples of each wood so that I can say I carved them. I certainly won’t turn down donations, but I’m not actively seeking them.
Common name Binomial name Specific gravity range
Acacia acuminata 0.90 – 1.01
Acacia amythethophylla 1.01 – 1.01
Acacia aneura 0.86 – 1.04
Acacia brachystachya 0.97 – 1.01
Acacia cambagei 1.05 – 1.16
Acacia erioloba 1.06 – 1.06
Acacia grasbyi 0.86 – 1.05
Acacia omalophylla 1.06 – 1.06
Acacia papyrocarpa 0.89 – 1.07
Acacia peuce 1.23 – 1.23
Acacia ramulosa 1.01 – 1.01
Acacia rhodoxylon 1.10 – 1.10
Acacia shirleyi 0.86 – 1.02
Acacia subtessarogona 1.10 – 1.10
Acacia suma 1.21 – 1.21
Acacia tetragonophylla 0.87 – 1.00
Acacia xiphophylla 1.14 – 1.14
Allocasuarina decaisneana 1.04 – 1.04
Amblygonocarpus andongensis 0.83 – 1.01
Amyris elemifera 1.05 – 1.05
Anadenanthera peregrina 0.77 – 1.08
Andira micrantha 1.00 – 1.00
Aniba canelilla 0.90 – 1.03
Apuleia ferrea 1.09 – 1.09
Archidendropsis basaltica 0.99 – 1.03
Astronium balansae 0.95 – 1.01
Astronium concinnum 1.07 – 1.07
Astronium graveolens 0.73 – 1.20
Astronium urundeuva 0.69 – 1.21
Bauhinia carronii 1.20 – 1.20
Bauhinia hookeri 1.06 – 1.06
Bocoa prouacensis 0.97 – 1.11
Brosimum guianense 0.48 – 1.03
Brownea indet 1.21 – 1.21
Bulnesia arborea 0.82 – 1.01
Bulnesia sarmientoi 0.77 – 1.28
Caesalpinia coriaria 1.03 – 1.20
Caesalpinia ferrea 1.17 – 1.17
Caesalpinia granadillo 1.03 – 1.03
Caesalpinia indet 1.05 – 1.05
Caesalpinia paraguariensis 0.96 – 1.18
Caesalpinia platyloba 1.03 – 1.03
Caesalpinia sclerocarpa 1.39 – 1.39
Caryocar pallidum 0.68 – 1.00
Cassia ferruginea 0.50 – 1.23
Cassia marginata 1.28 – 1.28
Casuarina pauper 0.84 – 1.10
Chamaecrista scleroxylon 0.90 – 1.01
Coccoloba pubescens 1.00 – 1.00
Combretum imberbe 1.06 – 1.06
Conocarpus erectus 0.69 – 1.00
Cordia ecalyculata 1.08 – 1.08
Corymbia polycarpa 0.78 – 1.01
Corymbia setosa 1.02 – 1.02
Coula edulis 0.79 – 1.02
Dalbergia indet 0.89 – 1.11
Dalbergia melanoxylon 0.90 – 1.20
Dalbergia nigra 0.68 – 1.00
Desbordesia glaucescens 0.80 – 1.02
Dialium bipindense 0.88 – 1.00
Dialium guianense 0.48 – 1.12
Dimorphandra parviflora 1.00 – 1.00
Dinizia excelsa 0.60 – 1.15
Diospyros burmanica 1.10 – 1.10
Diospyros ferrea 0.65 – 1.08
Diospyros hemicycloides 1.01 – 1.01
Diphysa occidentalis 1.18 – 1.18
Diplotropis purpurea 0.56 – 1.00
Dipteryx alata 0.88 – 1.10
Dipteryx odorata 0.66 – 1.09
Dodonaea viscosa 0.84 – 1.05
Elateriospermum tapos 0.64 – 1.06
Erythrophleum chlorostachys 1.02 – 1.05
Erythroxylum pulchrum 1.07 – 1.07
Eschweilera coriacea 0.70 – 1.13
Eschweilera grandiflora 0.75 – 1.00
Eschweilera ovata 0.81 – 1.03
Eschweilera pedicellata 0.85 – 1.02
Esenbeckia grandiflora 1.08 – 1.08
Esenbeckia nesiotica 1.19 – 1.19
Eucalyptus brownii 1.02 – 1.02
Eucalyptus decorticans 0.94 – 1.03
Eucalyptus griffithsii 1.01 – 1.01
Eucalyptus intertexta 1.03 – 1.03
Eucalyptus longicornis 0.93 – 1.01
Eucalyptus melanoxylon 0.92 – 1.00
Eucalyptus normantonensis 1.05 – 1.05
Eucalyptus oleosa 1.01 – 1.06
Eucalyptus orgadophila 1.06 – 1.06
Eucalyptus petraea 1.01 – 1.01
Eucalyptus platycorys 1.09 – 1.09
Eucalyptus populnea 0.85 – 1.02
Eucalyptus shirleyi 1.06 – 1.06
Eucalyptus tectifica 1.00 – 1.01
Eucalyptus tetrodonta 0.88 – 1.01
Eucalyptus websteriana 1.02 – 1.02
Eucalyptus whitei 1.06 – 1.06
Eucalyptus woodwardii 1.00 – 1.00
Eucalyptus yilgarnensis 1.01 – 1.01
Eugenia pseudopsidium 0.62 – 1.30
Exellodendron cordatum 1.01 – 1.01
Exostema caribaeum 0.99 – 1.00
Goniorrhachis marginata 1.01 – 1.01
Guaiacum coulteri 1.10 – 1.10
Guaiacum indet 1.05 – 1.05
Guaiacum officinale 1.08 – 1.25
Guaiacum sanctum 1.08 – 1.10
Guibourtia demeusei 0.69 – 1.04
Guibourtia hymenaefolia 1.00 – 1.00
Gymnanthes lucida 1.10 – 1.10
Haematoxylum campechianum 0.78 – 1.04
Heritiera littoralis 0.69 – 1.04
Hortia arborea 1.02 – 1.02
Humbertia madagascariensis 1.13 – 1.16
Hymenaea courbaril 0.59 – 1.00
Hymenaea parvifolia 0.75 – 1.00
Klainedoxa gabonensis 0.78 – 1.15
Krugiodendron ferreum 0.95 – 1.35
Lecythis lanceolata 1.01 – 1.01
Lecythis usitata 0.80 – 1.00
Leptospermum scoparium 1.03 – 1.03
Letestua durissima 0.92 – 1.03
Librevillea klainei 0.85 – 1.04
Licania hypoleuca 0.84 – 1.01
Licania laxiflora 1.03 – 1.03
Licania robusta 0.77 – 1.02
Licaria cannella 0.84 – 1.04
Machaerium acutifolium 1.12 – 1.12
Machaerium allemanii 0.84 – 1.00
Machaerium firmum 0.90 – 1.09
Machaerium fulvovenosum 1.04 – 1.04
Machaerium incorruptibile 0.85 – 1.01
Maclura tinctoria 0.70 – 1.02
Manilkara bidentata 0.77 – 1.06
Manilkara chicle 1.04 – 1.04
Manilkara hexandra 1.06 – 1.06
Manilkara huberi 0.79 – 1.04
Manilkara mochisia 1.08 – 1.08
Manilkara salzmannii 1.03 – 1.03
Marmaroxylon racemosum 0.75 – 1.00
Melanoxylon brauna 0.90 – 1.16
Memecylon myrsinoides 1.00 – 1.00
Metrodorea stipularis 1.05 – 1.05
Mezilaurus synandra 0.70 – 1.15
Micrandra scleroxylon 1.03 – 1.03
Mimosa arenosa 1.01 – 1.01
Mimosa elata 0.96 – 1.08
Mimosa tenuiflora 1.12 – 1.12
Minquartia guianensis 0.61 – 1.04
Myrocarpus fastigiatus 0.96 – 1.02
Parapiptadenia rigida 1.07 – 1.07
Patagonula americana 0.54 – 1.15
Pentadesma butyracea 0.56 – 1.00
Pimenta pseudocaryophyllus 1.00 – 1.00
Piptadenia obliqua 0.84 – 1.11
Pithecellobium dulce 0.50 – 1.00
Platymiscium trinitatis 0.69 – 1.08
Pouteria cladantha 0.89 – 1.03
Pouteria eugeniifolia 1.08 – 1.15
Pouteria guianensis 0.83 – 1.01
Pouteria melanopoda 0.90 – 1.08
Pouteria torta 0.52 – 1.01
Prosopis kuntzei 0.99 – 1.10
Psidium acutangulum 0.74 – 1.02
Psidium cattleianum 1.12 – 1.12
Pterocarpus santalinus 0.97 – 1.07
Pterodon emarginatus 0.82 – 1.00
Qualea megalocarpa 1.01 – 1.01
Raputia magnifica 1.12 – 1.12
Recchia mexicana 1.02 – 1.02
Rhizophora mangle 0.81 – 1.05
Rhus pyroides 1.01 – 1.01
Roupala brasiliensis 0.67 – 1.12
Sapindus laurifolius 0.85 – 1.02
Schinopsis balansae 0.99 – 1.20
Schinopsis brasiliensis 1.23 – 1.23
Schinopsis indet 1.00 – 1.00
Schinopsis quebracho-colorado 0.90 – 1.04
Schistostemon retusum 1.00 – 1.00
Schleichera oleosa 0.76 – 1.08
Scutia buxifolia 0.70 – 1.12
Sideroxylon indet 1.23 – 1.23
Sloanea nitida 0.90 – 1.01
Stryphnodendron adstringens 1.19 – 1.19
Swartzia bannia 0.86 – 1.11
Swartzia corrugata 0.91 – 1.20
Swartzia grandifolia 1.03 – 1.03
Swartzia leiocalycina 0.91 – 1.03
Swartzia panacoco 0.82 – 1.03
Swartzia recurva 0.77 – 1.00
Swartzia ulei 1.00 – 1.00
Tabebuia chrysantha 0.92 – 1.14
Tabebuia incana 0.82 – 1.06
Tabebuia obscura 1.21 – 1.21
Tabebuia ochracea 0.78 – 1.01
Tabebuia serratifolia 0.81 – 1.08
Talisia esculenta 0.67 – 1.10
Tamarindus indica 0.73 – 1.28
Tecoma azaliaceae 0.92 – 1.14
Tecoma curialis 0.79 – 1.05
Tecoma insignis 0.94 – 1.02
Tectona hamiltoniana 1.02 – 1.02
Teijsmanniodendron ahernianum 0.92 – 1.03
Terminalia fagifolia 1.00 – 1.00
Vouacapoua pallidior 0.80 – 1.00
Ziziphus mistol 0.77 – 1.02
Zollernia ilicifolia 1.05 – 1.05
Zollernia paraensis 0.95 – 1.05
Zygia selloi 1.33 – 1.33

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