Acacia – A very widespread category of trees, The wood of many acacias used for weapons by the aboriginal people of Australia, including boomerangs, spear throwers, fighting sticks, punishment spears and tapping sticks They are among the hardest woods in the world, and also quite strong in other parameters:
- Acacia Prickly (Acacia nilotica) – Janka Hardness Scale – 3120
- Boree AKA Weeping Myall (Acacia pendular) – Janka Hardness Scale – 3370
- Brigalow Spearwood (Acacia harpophyllia)
- Kurara (Acacia tetragonophylla) – Janka Hardness Scale – 3420
- Gidgee (Acacia cambadgei) – Janka Hardness Scale – 4270
- Knob Thorn (Acacia nigrescens) – Janka Hardness Scale – 4290
- Mulga (Acacia aneura) – Janka Hardness Scale – 3820 (NOTE: I’ve seen many references to this wood being used as a weapons wood by original Australians)
- Lancewood (Acacia sherleyi) – Janka Hardness Scale – 3350
- Oak Desert Australian AKA Australian Dogwood (Acacia coriacea) – Janka Hardness Scale – 3480
- Snakewood Australian (Acacia xiphophylla) – Janka Hardness Scale – 4150
- Spearwood Brown (Acacia rhodoxylon) – Janka Hardness Scale – 4100
- Waddy (Acacia Peuce) – Janka Hardness Scale – 4630
- Wattle AKA Australian Ironwood (Acacia excelsa) – Janka Hardness Scale – 4050
- Wattle Lakewood (Acacia enervia) – Janka Hardness Scale – 4150
(NOTE: Albezia, a different species, is also referred to as acacia as a trade name – I discuss albezia procera in the section on white sirus).
African Blackwood (Dalbergia Melanoxylon) – Dark purple brown, with black streaks, sometimes almost midnight black. A very hard, dense wood, “tough and strong in all categories.” Jonathan Bluestein writes: “One of the loveliest-looking woods on earth. A most incredible specimen. It is jet-black with faint hints of brown patterns in the background. One of the heaviest woods out there, the rhino of the lumber world – three times as heavy as Oaks, sometimes more. I lie to you not when I say: this wood smells like high quality chocolate pudding! Delicious indeed, and expensive accordingly. Good luck finding a piece of that wood big enough to make anything beyond the length of a Hanbo (90cm).”
- Bending strength – 29,057 psi
- Maximum Crushing strength – 10,474 psi
- Shearing strength – 2847 psi
- Janka Hardness Scale – 2940
Akeake (Dodonaea viscosa) This small tree, which grows in various areas of the southern hemisphere, has a slender truck of 15 -60 cm, is often barely more than a shrub. The wood, black, with creamy-white stripes, is most tough and durable native wood in New Zealand, and it was traditionally used by the Maori for weapons and tool handles. In fact, its name, referring to its durability, means “forever and ever.”
Australian Woods Needing Further Information
There was a very illuminating discussion of Australian woods for weapons at this discussion group. I will caution those interested that you should only use woods grown in Australia. Eucalyptus, in particular, grown outside Australia, is not subject to certain wood-boring parasites. The trees respond by keeping their grain much tighter to keep the bugs out. Therefore, non-native native Australian woods will be flawed. I have not included any woods that, although hard, have other properties that rule them out as impact weapons. Examples would be the brittle karrah and the Tasmanian Blue Gum, the latter having frequent “growth stress problems” that make its lumber poor for weapons. Any type referred to as ‘mallee’ is a particular species where relatively small ‘saplings’ emerge from a bole–therefore, they will not likely be a source of usable lumber. Others, such as wandoo and satinheart are ruled out because of their rarity. Here is an article from a 1929 newspaper, describing several woods for tool handles that the writer names as superior to hickory. Specific woods that appear promising are listed separately. Here is a site that sells recycled (already cured) varieties of Australian hardwoods.
Azobe (Ekki, lophira alata) – a very strong, coarse textured wood from Africa with a tight interlocking grain. Colors range from red to chocolate-brown to even purplish. It is hard to dry so that it keeps it’s integrity, but wonderful potential. It is used in railways for special situations where both regular wood and concrete fail – on heavy- duty curves, bridge ties. During a trip to Europe, I checked on the availability of Azobe, and in the Netherlands, at least, it’s very expensive.
- Bending strength – 20,956 psi
- Maximum Crushing strength – 9945 psi
- Work to Maximum Load – 17 in-lbs./in3
- Janka Hardness Scale – 2940
Bulletwood (Manilkara bidentata) – This, a rich ruddy wood, is one of the toughest in the world. It is also called beefwood (for its ruddy color), and macaranduba or massarasanduba. Although not rare, it is not exported much because the tree is valued for latex. We found a lumberyard in Amsterdam which has a lot of bulletwood. It is used to make park benches there.
- Bending strength – 25,609 psi
- Maximum Crushing strength -11,619 psi
- Shearing strength -2798 psi
- Toughness -260 in-lbs.
- Work to Maximum Load – 17 in-lbs./in3
- Janka Hardness Scale -3190
Dalbergia hupeana – this is a Chinese wood from the rosewood family. One of my informants found references from around 1700, that this wood, along with blue oak, was favored for making staves. The wood is not well-known outside China. The only reference I was able to find notes that it was excellent for spokes for wheels and tool-handles, probably the two main ‘tests’ of a wood suitable for weaponry.
Dogwood (Cornus florida) – Flowering dogwood has a creamy off-white wood, with a very dense grain. It is among the hardest, most flexible woods in North America and Europe, and hence, would probably make a fine practice weapon. Stiff and finely textured, the wood weighs as much as hickory, yet is harder! In fact, when used as a chisel handle, dogwood resists crushing and mushrooming from hammer blows. And because dogwood wears smoother with age, it has known service as knitting needles, pullies, and sled runners. However the tree is very twisty and it is unlikely that you will find any planking. It is conceivable that one could cut a heavy branch, debark it, and very slowly air-dry it. Just possibly, one would end up with a naturally curved piece of wood that could be fashioned into a weapon.
- Bending strength – 18,539 psi
- Maximum Crushing strength – 9785 psi
- Work to Maximum Load – 21+ in-lbs./in3
- Static bending strength – 10,691
- Janka Index 2150
Doussie (Afzelia Africana) – a golden-brown wood, similar in properties to karri and other eucalyptus. It has an interlocked grain, which makes it strong, but subject to tear-out when planing.
Bending Strength (Modulus of Rupture) = 17,740 – 19,175 psi
Density = 49 Lbs/Ft3 or 785 kg/m3
Janka Hardness = 1810
Hardness = 2,103 lbs. or 953 kg
Impact Strength = 30
Maximum Crushing Strength = 10,459 psi or 735 kg/cm2
Shearing Strength = 1941 psi or 136 kg/cm2
Stiffness = 1,888,000 psi or 1,132,000 kg/cm2
Work to Maximum Load = 11 inch-lbs/in3 or 0.77 cm-kg/cm3
Indian Woods Needing Further Information
The woods of the Indian sub-continent are largely unknown to any of my sources. I am aware of one group in Southeast Asia that has made practice weapons out of Pyinkado (xylia xylocarpa) and praises it very highly. I have included the link for the Wikipedia page on Indian Woods. I will add data if I can acquire any information on any of these woods.
Jarrah – (Eucalyptus marginata) – a beautiful red wood, used in various parts of the world for railroad ties and for decking. When used as flooring, it does tend to splinter under heavy traffic. One report I’ve read is that it tends to be somewhat brittle and breaks with powerful impact. It is a medium strength wood. There are many stronger Australian species available.
- Bending strength
- Maximum Crushing strength – 9600 psi
- Shearing strength
- Static bending
- Toughness .
- Work to Maximum Load
- Janka Hardness Scale – 1860
Kanuka (Kunzia ericoides) & Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) Two trees from New Zealand that the Maori used to make weapons and tools, including adze hafts, spears and other weapons.
Karri (Eucalyptus diversicolor) – A straight grained, mahogany colored wood – a eucalyptus from Australia.
- Bending strength – 19,142 psi
- Maximum Crushing strength – 10,266 psi
- Shearing strength – 2159 psi
- Static bending – 11,368 psi
- Toughness – 261 in-lbs.
- Work to Maximum Load – 19 in-lbs./in3
- Janka Hardness Scale – 2010
Katalox (Swartzia cubensis) – I’ve no personal experience with this wood. It is being sold for bokken Here are portions of a report from Jonathan Bluestein:
Leadwood (AKA Black Ironwood – Krugiodendron ferreum)
This wood grows in southern Florida, the Caribbean and Central America. It was used by the Maya to make lances and other weapons. It has a straight even grain, and it is very hard and very dense. This looks like it could be a wonderful wood, with the heartwood ranging in color reds, oranges, violets, and browns. Pale yellowish white sapwood is clearly demarcated from heartwood. However, it tends to be a very small tree, little more than a shrub, so it’s not sold commercially. It’s mostly sold in small pieces–it is most likely that you will only find a piece suitable for a tanto or kodachi
- Maximum Crushing strength – 9940 psi
- Static bending – 18,200 psi
- Janka Hardness Scale – 3660
Lemonwood – I’ve only seen one weapon of lemonwood. It is a pale wood, and I recall it as being dent resistant, heavy and hard. There are several very different woods by the same name – an African Wood called Degame is likely the one that I held.
- Bending strength – 21,893 psi
- Maximum Crushing strength – 9909 psi
- Shearing strength – 2185 psi
- Static bending – 12,181 psi
- Toughness – 247 in-lbs
- Work to Maximum Load – 23 in-lbs./in3
- Janka Hardness Scale – 1816
Oak (Live) – Live oak is an evergreen variety that grows in the Southern United States. Logic dictates that if one can find a straight grained, properly cured plank, it will be great for weaponry. During the American War of 1812, the USS Constitution, affectionately known as “Old Ironsides,” made of Live Oak, allegedly warded off cannon balls that struck her sides. As one commentator wrote: “What makes live oak so different is the twisted grain. It is impossible to split, which was an advantage when it was used for sailing ships such as Old Ironside… that is supposedly how the ship got its name, as the wood did not split and shatter.”
It is not a cultivated wood – the massive twisted trees are very slow growing. However, with the recent devastating hurricanes in the south of the United States, it is very likely that there are many downed trees. Live oak is an untapped resource for North American martial arts weaponry. Per a Wikipedia article, “Because of the trees’ short height and low hanging branches, lumber from live oak was specifically used to make curved structural members of the hull such as knee braces. In such cuts of lumber the line of the grain would fall perpendicularly to lines of stress creating structures of exceptional strength. Live oak was not generally used for planking because the curved and often convoluted shape of the tree did not lend itself to be milled to planking of any length.” This same curvature may make such trees ideal for bokuto. However, some other commentary states: “Live oak warps like crazy, so it is generally not used for lumber or furniture.” This may merely mean that it will take an incredibly long time until it is stable, but it may mean that it continues to warp, as it differentially absorbs moisture.
- Bending strength – 18,032 psi
- Maximum Crushing strength – 8722 psi
- Shearing strength – 2607 psi
- Static bending – 7840 psi
- Work to Maximum Load – 19 in-lbs./in3
- Janka Hardness Scale – 2783
Olive – Olive, a beautiful, silvery-leaved twisty tree is used in much of the Mediterranean and North Africa to make walking sticks. Clive Nicol, who worked as a game-warden in Ethiopia a number of decades ago, dealt with people who considered guns a tool only to be used to slaughter animals. To fight – or kill – a man, one used a blade or one’s walking stick. He was threatened frequently and attacked with such staves. The grain is quite wild. Reportedly, stick-fighting arts from Sicily and southern Italy used olive wood staves. Because of its commercial uses, olive timber is quite rare. Janka hardness of East African Olivewood (Olea hochstetteri) is 2740, Olea europaea is 1540
Pau Ferro (Swartzia benthamiana) – dark wood with occasional dark streaks. It has a very dense grain, and polishes beautifully. It polishes quite smoothly. Some people report an allergic reaction to the wood sap. I still don’t have comprehensive reports on impact resistance, but one informant states, “I did accidentally take full impact against a purpleheart and osage orange in quick succession but the Pau Ferro took it extremely well. While this was only one instance, there were no dents, and the impact felt more a force against the entire body than the bokken itself. Just through feeling the bokken during instances of impact and looking at its grain, I’d say it would most likely break than splinter into many pieces.”
- Bending strength – 20,956 psi
- Maximum Crushing strength – 9945 psi
- Shearing strength – 2694 psi
- Toughness – 251 in-lbs.
- Janka Hardness Scale – 3616
Persimmon (Diospyros virginians) – related to ebony, it was once used for golf club heads. Although very hard, it reportedly cracks and warps easily, and thus must be cured with considerable care. It has been used to make drumsticks and traditional wood bows. The heartwood is dark brown, where the sapwood is pale in color. I have a huge plank of American persimmon heartwood laid away with a wood weapon’s worker. We are waiting for it to arrive at the ideal moisture content, before experimenting making a number of weapons. Of persimmon, one authority writes: “The bending strength qualities of this species in the air-dry condition is very high, far superior to those of Mahogany. Compression strength parallel to the grain, or maximum crushing strength is very high – higher than in Teak or Hard maple. . . . It does not mar or dent easily, and the wood is very dense. Japanese persimmon (kaki) of which there are few rating numbers, was rarely used for wooden weapons or tool handles, although it was used to make traditional musical instruments. Perhaps this is either due to the value of the trees, or that, cultivated as fruit trees, few grew straight and broad. Nonetheless, persimmon wood was referred to as tetsuboku (iron wood) and I do have one report of a Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu shihan around 1910 whose favorite practice implement was a nine shaku persimmon naginata.
- Bending strength – 18,228 psi
- Maximum Crushing strength – 9330 psi
- Shearing strength – 2117 psi
- Work to Maximum Load – 15 in-lbs./in3
- Janka Hardness Scale – 2254
Puriri (Vitex Lucens) Found in New Zealand, it is a very heavy wood: one of the few that sinks. It was used both for weapons and tools by the Maori, and for fence posts and railway sleepers by the English. “The Maori used Puriri timber for garden tools, weapons, defensive forts and palisades. It has been said that when these palisade walls were fired upon, shotgun shells would ricochet off the dense wood rather than lodge within it.” The wood, like black locust, is extremely resistant to environmental factors (“ground durable”). Old fence posts are reported to be grey on the outside and almost black inside. “There are still Puriri fenceposts today that are nearly 100 years old and in Northland there are water pumps that still run on Puriri bearings.”
Quince (Cydonia oblongata) Quince wood was reportedly the favorite wood of the Portuguese practitioners of jogo do pau and the juego de Palo practitioners of the Canary Islands. A senior practitioner wrote: “It usually doesn’t break. After long use its coats start pealing off, though slowly.” A beautiful creamy colored wood. In urban areas, they allegedly preferred a more flexible wood, palo blanco. Traditionally, the jogo do pau stave was about five feet or more long, with one end much thicker than the other. They use very hard impact in their training, so the wood must have been strong. The main group is using a lot more composite plastic these days. One woodworker describes it as hard, extremely stable and works to a glass finish. I am curious about this wood, given its use, historically, in high impact training. Janka Hardness Scale ????
Red Bloodwood (Corymbia gummier) – Lumber from this wood is not all that common, but it was reportedly used by various aboriginal groups in Australia as a weapons wood.
- Bending strength – 14,380 psi
- Maximum Crushing strength -8480 psi
- Janka Hardness Scale -2450
Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) This is a tough shrub has a much stronger wood. Vine maple wood is tough, not brittle. Per one scholar, vine maple is harder, denser, and closer grained than big leaf maple, but its trunk does not grow large or straight. There is not much lumber in a vine maple tree. It usually grows one foot in diameter, and straight logs ten or twelve feet long but logs like that are exceptions. A typical vine maple trunk is less than six inches in diameter and curves sinuously.
Wandoo (Eucalyptus wandoo) – a very dense, tough and hard wood
- Janka Index: 3700
White sirus (Albizia procera) – [Trade name: Acacia] – As can be seen, this wood is referred to as an acacia, and is so listed on the Koryu Bokken website. It is, in fact, an entirely different species. The wood has a yellowish to brown color. It is about as dense as hornbeam, but somewhat more resistant to denting. It is roughly comparable to hornbeam and jotoba.
- Bending strength – 14,272 psi
- Maximum Crushing strength – 7946 psi
Xylopia – A genus of trees and shrubs in Africa, with yellowish to brown African wood that is heavy, hard and straight-grained. It is used for making bows and cross-bows; house-posts; and for timbers when large enough. Its resilience and toughness make it suitable in small sizes for purposes requiring elasticity with strength, such as for tool-handles, pestles, spear-shafts, canoe-paddles.