Which Exotic Woods Should You Avoid?

Which Exotic Woods Should You Avoid?

It goes without saying that you want your woodworking project to be as beautiful as possible. Part of achieving this comes through choosing the right types of wood and there really are so many out there.

While exotic woods might look nice, there are problems with many types since they are either endangered or contain toxins. This is why it is important for all woodworkers to know which exotic woods they should avoid.

In this guide, we will take you through some of the woods you’ll want to steer clear of and why. Do keep in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list since there are simply far too many types of exotic wood to list in one go.

What Do We Mean By Exotic Wood?

The term exotic wood covers a range of woods from different trees. These woods can be found growing all around the world. However, when you refer to exotic woods, these are usually those that can be found in tropical regions.

Reasons That You Should Avoid Certain Exotic Woods

There are two main reasons that we will discuss for steering well clear of some types of exotic woods. Some woods are toxic while others are endangered and since we’re all keen to do our part for the planet, we don’t want to use trees that could soon go extinct. Be very mindful when it comes to rosewood as this is known to be the most illegally traded in the world at the moment.

Toxic Woods

The primary reason that you should avoid using some types of exotic wood is that many of them contain toxins that can cause nasty reactions. It’s well known that there are a lot of things in nature that could be toxic but some of the woods that we will discuss later in this guide may come as a surprise to you.

Now, when you think of something being toxic, you would normally imagine the effects it would have in the event that you ingested it. You’re going to be building a table or set of drawers so why would you eat the wood? Well, let us tell you that this isn’t the only way that you can fall victim to toxins. It is also possible to inhale the particles and in some cases, just touching the wood could cause a problem.

Of course, there are lots of different types of irritation and while some might only have minor effects such as a headache or skin rash, others can cause much more serious problems. For example, did you know that coming into contact with some exotic woods could affect the nervous system and even cause cardiac arrest?

Even for woods that have to be consumed, such as eating the sap, there’s still a risk of experiencing issues just by touching them. Think about it; you’re working on a project and handling the wood and then you go on to eat your lunch without washing your hands. You could inadvertently transfer some of the toxins into your body.

While all of this does sound a little scary, the good news is that most of these toxic exotic woods are not for sale.

Endangered Woods

Protecting yourself against potential toxins is one thing but what about looking after the planet? Humans are realising more and more the importance of being sustainable and yet by using certain exotic woods, you’re going in the complete opposite direction. That said, this doesn’t stop the illegal trade of these woods so while they might not be widely available on the market, it’s not impossible to get your hands on them.

When it comes to buying wood, we would always suggest comparing this against the index of endangered woods as listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This list is made up of three levels; Appendixes I, II and III which put exotic woods into different categories according to how endangered they are. Those in Appendix III are considered to be as good as extinct.

Even when looking at this list, you will notice that it is still possible to purchase these types of woods. The CITES appendixes so prevent international trade but at a local or national level, there are currently no laws in place to stop people from selling these types of timber. As a result of this, you won’t land yourself in any hot water by buying locally but it is worth considering how this would affect you on a moral level.

Types Of Toxic Exotic Wood

With all of the previous information regarding toxic woods in mind, we have put together a list of some of those that you should absolutely avoid.


You might be surprised to see cedar at the top of this list as this is quite a common wood but people also eat pufferfish sushi and that can kill you when it isn’t prepared properly. Just because something is seen everywhere, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be careful.

Cedar comes in many different varieties but the most common to cause problems with toxicity are the western red cedar, the aromatic cedar and the Australian red. They are associated with many symptoms including severe headaches, breathing difficulties, stomach pain and changes to behaviour. In the most severe cases, cedar can affect the central nervous system.


If you have asthma, then it is essential to avoid Bosse as this is known to bring on symptoms of the condition. It can also make you feel nauseous and cause symptoms such as headaches. Bosse is considered to be one of the most irritating toxic woods.


Ebony is a beautiful dark wood that is highly sought after but not many people are aware of how toxic it can be. On top of this, ebony is also highly endangered which is another good reason to leave it well alone.

If you are exposed to the dust from ebony then this can cause pink eye but you may also find that this moderately irritating wood causes a range of other symptoms.


Another wood that is known to cause pink eye is cocobolo. But this isn’t the only thing that this highly irritating wood might do. When exposed to the dust, you may also find that you begin to feel nauseous and those with asthma may experience heightened symptoms.

Pau Ferro

Pau Ferro is a type of exotic wood that grows in South America. While it does have a stunning appearance, it should be avoided since it can cause extreme irritation. Moreover, if you are already sensitive, the reaction could be a lot worse.


Considered to be a moderate to strong irritant, greenheart may exacerbate symptoms associated with asthma. In the worst cases, splintered greenheart that gets into the body can cause sepsis, cardiac problems and issues with the stomach and intestines. Out of all of the types of toxic exotic hardwoods, greenheart would have some of the worst symptoms.


Earlier, we mentioned that rosewood is the most widely traded material illegally around the world but it’s also one of the most toxic types of wood. It can cause incredibly strong irritation that may bring out rashes, hives and other skin irritation. Rosewood can also cause breathing difficulties, especially for people with existing respiratory conditions.


Coming into contact with Laburnum can result in serious poisoning. The symptoms of this might include things like nausea and vomiting as well as headaches.


In tribal communities, mulga is sometimes used on the tips of spears owing to how poisonous it is. When you come into contact with it, you may experience lesions, nausea and vomiting.

Milky Mangrove

If you are unfortunate enough to ingest the sap of the milky mangrove then you could experience some incredibly serious symptoms. In the worst cases, this can cause temporary blindness but even in mild poisoning cases, milky Mangrove may result in blisters and burning in the throat.

Poison Walnut

Walnut is a stunning type of wood and while there are many types that are used in woodworking, poison walnut should always be avoided. The clue is in the name!

This type of wood contains a highly corrosive sap and the poison can bring on symptoms such as nausea and vomiting as well as severe headaches.


The symptoms associated with Tambootie poisoning are extremely varied. In the best case scenario, you might only suffer from sickness and diarrhoea whereas in more severe cases, temporary blindness is not uncommon.


Pretty much all of the oleander plant is considered poisonous and should be avoided at all costs. Symptoms may include gastrointestinal issues but the good news is that this wood is not harvested for trade.

Types Of Endangered Exotic Wood

Some types of exotic woods should be avoided because of their being endangered. There are many different types but as we discussed earlier, while they are prevented from international trade, you can still buy them locally. The question is, should you?


In the CITES list, ebony is considered to be an Appendix II wood and has been since 2007. This means that while it isn’t yet close to being extinct, it is endangered so we should be careful to avoid using it. That said, there are some local restrictions in certain areas including Mun and Madagascar where overharvesting has led to ebony becoming critically endangered.


Alongside Ebony, brazilwood was also listed back in 2007 within the Appendix II of the CITES categorisation.


Merbau may not be considered as at risk as some of the other woods on this list but it is considered to be vulnerable. To avoid things getting worse for this wood, it’s best not to use it.


It can come as something of a surprise to see mahogany on this list since it is everywhere in the woodworking trade. That said, it largely depends on where the wood is sourced as there are some places where it is more endangered than others. For example, you want to avoid getting mahogany from places like Mexico, Brazil and Cuba.

Parana Pine

The Parana pine is within the critically endangered category and therefore should not be used even when it is available locally.


Back in 2008, Honduran rosewood was listed in Appendix II which means that it is considered to be endangered but not yet critically so. Following this, in 2013, Siamese rosewood also made its way onto the list. But since rosewood is considered toxic, it’s probably best to avoid it anyway.

Monkey Puzzle

The monkey puzzle tree is certainly one of the best-looking trees out there so if anything, we want to preserve it for how beautiful it is. But while the timber is sought after because of its resistance to fungus and for how durable it is, this call has led it to become severely endangered.


Wenge is a stunning dark brown wood that is popular since it doesn’t need treatment. It is naturally resistant to the elements and to termites and is incredibly hard. However, it is now considered to be endangered so should be avoided.


Teak is one of the most popular types of wood in the world and woodworkers are crying out for it. Teak is incredibly resistant and durable so it’s no wonder but we have gotten through quite a lot of it and as such, it is now on the list of endangered woods.


While Sapele is not considered to be as endangered as some of the woods we have discussed, it is now in the vulnerable category. In order to prevent the wood from becoming critically endangered or even extinct, we should avoid using it.

Why Use Exotic Wood?

It goes without saying that there are a lot of exotic hardwoods that you should avoid. But there are some that are suitable for woodworking and won’t pose a risk to you or the planet. Mahogany is one of the most popular and while it did feature in our list of endangered species, this doesn’t apply to all types of mahogany. Make sure that you only buy from reputable suppliers that are FSC certified.

When you find suitable exotic wood, you will notice a whole world of benefits and there’s no denying that these are some of the best woods in the world. Here’s what you can expect from them.

Low Maintenance

Once you have finished creating your woodworking project, the last thing you want is to have to keep touching it up. But that’s one of the main attractions of exotic woods; they’re so low maintenance. In fact, depending on the type of wood you go for, there may be no need for any maintenance at all!

The only thing you will need to do is to keep the wood clean and this involves nothing more than vacuuming or wiping. 


It is no wonder that exotic woods are so popular when you think about how durable they are. Compared to other types of wood, they really can stand the test of time. In many cases, you could expect exotic wood to last well beyond a century, provided it is well looked after.

But these types of wood aren’t just durable in the sense of being hard wearing, the colour is also incredibly long lasting. Lots of exotic woods have outstanding colouration and this will take a massively long time to fade.


There are so many great things about exotic wood including how attractive and durable it is along with being very low maintenance. As a result of this, it is one of the more valuable types of wood so if you’re using it for something like flooring, a staircase or doors then it will add significant value to your home.


When choosing an exotic hardwood for flooring, you not only get something that is highly durable but also a wood that naturally acts as an insulator. Normally, wood will hold warmth better than other types of flooring but since exotic woods are harder and thicker, they do an even better job of this.


Because exotic wood is so durable this means that it can be used for a whole host of different applications. As we have mentioned, it is perfect for flooring but is also ideal for furniture making, permanent wooden fixtures and so much more. There aren’t many other types of wood that have this degree of versatility.


One of the main reasons that exotic woods have remained so popular is that there is such a good choice. From super hard dark woods like wenge to lighter woods like Sapele, you are literally spoiled for choice.


Exotic woods certainly have a lot going for them; they’re attractive and durable and don’t require a lot of maintenance. However, there are some species of exotic wood that you should avoid, for two main reasons; they’re either endangered or they’re toxic.

There are some types of exotic wood that are illegal to trade internationally because of their endangered status. Details of these woods can be found on the CITES Endangered Wood List.

Which Exotic Woods Should You Avoid?

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