Wood comes in hundreds of natural styles, from light-colored options such as pale brown, yellow-white, and pale pinkish brown woods to darker colors, including dark brown, reddish brown, and black.
It’s one of the reasons many people adore wooden items. Even better, you can bring out lighter or darker shades of certain wood species through finishing.
For instance, a few oils can transform a rich brown chair into a darker brown shade. Similarly, some wood stains transform white wood items into dark brown. The options are endless.
So, today, we want to highlight the best natural dark wood types you can turn to when you want something more classic or dramatic for your project.
What is the Darkest Wood?
Ebony is the darkest wood species. All its varieties, from Nigerian Ebony to the Cameronian and Cylon species, are very dark brown to almost jet black. However, the American black walnut species isn’t too far behind. Its deep chocolate tones make it almost black.
What’s a Dark Wood?
The term “dark wood” refers to wood species with a dark color. A color is “dark” if it has a low light intensity. This usually happens when the material absorbs much of the light hitting it.
So, technically, dark wood names range from naturally black species to dark brown or reddish brown woods. Purple, deep greys, and ultra-violets also qualify as dark colors.
Why Are Some Woods Darker than Others?
Identifying wood types involves considering four key factors that determine lumber color. Four factors determine the color of lumber. First and most important is the wood’s natural properties, especially lignins (the glues that bind cellulose wood fibers) and extractives (exotic compounds found in some wood).
These components determine the natural color of the wood and can cause dramatic changes to wood color as the tree grows and even as it dries. That said, dark wood trees will yield naturally dark woods.
Secondly, wood color depends on age. Generally, younger trees generate lighter-colored wood planks, but the same species produce darker lumber as they age. Strangely, the opposite is rarely true.
Not often do you find younger darker woods becoming lighter colored with age. Remember that age covers the wood’s whole life, including after it’s sawn.
The third factor is sunshine (light and heat). Sunshine affects wood color during the tree’s growth and even after turning the wood into furniture or other wooden items.
How? By altering the chemical composition of the wood. For instance, oxidation causes some woods to become darker and others lighter.
This color change is most noticeable between the time the tree is felled and when the logs are stacked for drying. However, this color change is typically less than 1/100th of an inch deep.
Finally, wood can also darken due to the treatment or finishing. For instance, walnut and cherry substantially darken when steamed. Similarly, red oak darkens considerably when treated with an insecticide or fungicide.
So, it’s up to you to decide what type of “dark” wood you want. Naturally dark wood types are the best for important projects.
Types of Dark Wood
Here are the best dark woods for woodworking.
- American black walnut
- African Blackwood
- Teak wood
- Jatoba black hardwoods
- Cherry wood
Pros and Cons of Dark Woods
Dark woods are attractive for many reasons but also unattractive in some circumstances. Here’s why;
Dark Wood Pros
- Strong and durable
- Outstanding pest and insect resistance
- Exceptional longevity
- They make gorgeous items
- Dark wood furniture is highly valuable
- They conceal scratches and defects better
Dark Wood Cons
- Difficult to source
- Typically expensive
- Hard and difficult to carve
- Typically dense and heavy
What is the Darkest Wood Species?
The following are thirteen of the best dark wood species to consider for your next project. However, beware that some of these wood species are very rare.
So, finding them can be tricky. Luckily, you learn how to darken wood naturally.
Let’s dive right in;
Ebony wood, native to Africa and Asia, is arguably the darkest wood on the planet. Indeed, it’s the most sought-after dark hardwood as some ebony species are completely black.
However, a few species are deep dark brown, often with darker streaks. It’s a highly prized wood because of its rarity, color, and strength. Ebony wood is also dense, heavy, and wear-resistant.
Above all, it has a smooth texture that enables smooth finishes. Unfortunately, it is very expensive. Moreover, finding ebony wood is very difficult.
2. African Blackwood
Another hardwood that’s often pretty much black is the African blackwood. Although it has yellow sapwood, the African Blackwood’s heartwood is often completely black, with no discernible grain.
Moreover, the sapwood is very thin. However, you may occasionally run into slightly lighter blackwood boards with a dark brown or purple hue.
Unfortunately, the African blackwood is even rarer than ebony. So, don’t expect to find it in your local lumber yard. It’s also very expensive, assuming you can find a few boards.
3. Black walnut
What if you’re only interested in a domestic dark wood species? In that case, you must overlook ebony and African blackwood as they’re exotic dark woods.
Instead, focus on finding the black walnut, a North American native. The black walnut (Juglans Nigra) is not exactly as black as the name suggests. However, it’s one of the deepest chocolate colors you can find.
The dark chocolate brown heartwood is rare and very expensive, though. Meanwhile, it has a pale yellow to nearly white sapwood.
Ziricote is one of the most visually striking exotic woods, with its “spider web” or “landscape” grain patterns particularly famous. However, the main reason it’s so popular is its unique color and physical properties.
It’s dark blackish brown, often with unusual black streaks, and boasts extreme strength and wear resistance. The good news is that Zirocote is not as rare as ebony, African blackwood, or black walnut.
But, unfortunately, it’s very expensive, typically costing $100+ per board foot. Also, you must place an order as the wood is in high demand.
We’re now in the deep brown or reddish brown wood territory, and what better way to begin than with mahogany? Mahogany comes in many colors, from reddish brown to dark red. It depends on the exact species.
However, mahogany is photosensitive and thus darkens with age. Therefore, deep brown mahogany items eventually turn almost black.
So, it’s the perfect choice if you’re looking for a more affordable extra-dark wood. However, beware that mahogany fades (becomes lighter) after prolonged sunlight exposure.
If you’re interested in enhancing the beauty of mahogany or altering its color for a specific project, you might be wondering how to stain mahogany wood effectively. Read our guide to lean more.
The cocobolo is an exciting wood species, particularly its color range. Though primarily a dark hardwood, it comes in a wide range of colors, from dark brown to purple, red, and yellow. Some cocobolo species even have dark orange-brown heartwood.
However, two things are certain about cocobolo wood color. First, it’s rarely a single color. You’ll always notice heavy streaks of a darker color. Secondly, cocobolo darkens significantly when stained.
Wenge is another unique wood species. Though primarily a medium brown wood, sometimes with a reddish-brown hue, the Central African wood often displays bands of deep and brown chocolate brown colors.
You may also find light yellow (or yellowish brown) stripes and black lines. These color combinations, combined with the wood’s physical properties, make it very attractive among woodturners.
However, the most unique thing about wenge wood color is that it darkens to almost black when finished, especially with wood oil.
8. Teak wood
Teak’s golden brown color is popular among woodworkers and homeowners. Using dark wood is best for making cabinets and furniture since it provides a stately appearance and instantly elevates the space. However, did you know you can also find teak in a darker, richer color?
Interestingly, it happens. For instance, teak has a dark and splotchy color when freshly cut. Afterward, the wood turns into a light golden brown or rich golden brown color. But it later returns to a darker, grey, or silvery color as it ages.
Sapele, the hardwood from tropical Africa, is also a good option when shopping for dark-colored wood types. It has a golden to dark reddish brown heartwood that sometimes ages to a dark bronze color.
Many people use it as a mahogany alternative because it’s easier to find and slightly more affordable. Moreover, Sapele is readily available in wide planks, often spanning 20+ inches in width. Figured boards can be expensive, though.
Purpleheart is highly priced for fine inlay works, especially in guitars and other musical instruments. It’s also a darling among woodturners. Unsurprisingly, many of these users love it for its striking color (or colors).
Freshly cut purpleheart comes in a wowing bright violet color that makes gorgeous items. Then within a few years, the color transforms into an even more beautiful deep purple hue. However, eventually, the wood ages to a dark brown color and stays so forever.
11. Jatoba black hardwoods
Jatoba, or what many people know as the Brazilian cherry, is an ultra-strong hardwood popular in dining tables and hardwood flooring. It mainly grows in central and South America.
So, how dark is it? We’d say medium dark. It’s pinkish red to medium orange when freshly cut. However, when seasoned, the lumber gradually transitions to a tan or reddish-brown hue.
More importantly, Jatoba is highly photosensitive. Therefore, prolonged sunshine exposure darkens the wood substantially.
12. Cherry wood
What if you’re looking for something easier to find and within a good budget, perhaps for your dark wood flooring project? In that case, we recommend cherry wood.
It’s a medium reddish brown or light reddish brown wood that gradually ripens to a rich reddish brown color.
More importantly, cherry grows abundantly in the US states of Pennslyvania, New York, West Virginia, and Virginia. So, it’s much easier to source than the exotic wood types. Also you only need cherry wood color stain to bring out the grain, rather than a heavy sealant.
Let’s round off with the wood with arguably the highest color variation across species – rosewood. Although primarily brown, rosewood comes in so many shades you may not believe the different species belong to one family.
For instance, some cherry species age into a dark brown color while others become reddish brown with age. However, two things are constant about rosewood colors.
First, secondary colors are always present, especially hints of pink and purple. Secondly, rosewood eventually darkens to a deep shade of brown.
Related: Yellow pine vs whitewood
What is dark black wood called?
The most common naturally dark woods are walnut, mahogany, ebony, rosewood, and some teak species. However, you may also know about blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) or, more commonly, the African blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon). It’s another famous type of black wood. However, it’s very rare.
What wood is naturally black?
Ebony is considered the most naturally dark wood. It’s pretty much black in its purest form. However, it’s a gorgeous, valuable wood that attracts a premium in the market. Two other dark types of wood that are almost pitch black are the African blackwood, native to Cameroon, and the black walnut, native to North America.
What wood is reddish brown?
Many hardwoods are reddish brown. For instance, mahogany comes in various reddish brown to dark red colors. Another good example is cedar wood. Most types of cedar wood are pinkish brown. However, walnut or red oak, and the cedar species, known for their distinctive reddish-brown tones, can develop a lighter silver or grey hue as they age.
Which are dark brown wood types?
Cocobolo, ipe, the Peruvian walnut, and African mahogany are some of the best examples of dark brown woods. Even cherry is available in dark brown hues though many cherry products are a reddish brown color. Birch is also dark brown, often tinged with red.
Dark colored wood types Summary
Dark-colored wood types are highly prized and for a good reason. Often, they are rare but hard, strong, and gorgeous woods that make valuable items.
In addition, many dark-colored wood types are fine-grained species with exceptional resistance to external elements. If you are shopping for one, African blackwood, walnut, and Ziricote are the finest options, according to our experts.