Red ivory hardwood has to be one of the world’s most beautiful hardwoods. It is sought after for its formidable hardness, workability and, above all, pronounced pink to red colouring.
In our article, we cover:
Below, we also offer details of the red or pink ivory that ProSono supplies.
Red ivory was once reserved for use by Zulu royalty.
The Zulu kings marked their authority with a knobkerrie – a traditional weapon in the form of a stick with a round knob at one end – made of pink or red ivory hardwood. Before 1818, Zulu chiefs are said to have used similar knobkerries.
Zulu royals also wore jewellery made of red ivory.
After the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879, Zululand fell to the British and certain traditions, like the royal use of red ivory, gradually lost their significance.
Red ivory is no longer the preserve only of royalty. Nonetheless, it remains one of the world’s most sought-after and precious hardwoods.
Red ivory comes from South Africa – predominantly from the north, in the province of Limpopo. Some trees may also grow in Botswana, along the South African border.
To our knowledge, this hardwood is not available in Zimbabwe or Mozambique. Over a period of several years, our suppliers in those two countries have confirmed that no red ivory is present.
Red ivory (botanical name Berchemia zeyheri) has sapwood that’s yellowish in colour. The heartwood ranges from pale pink through to a deep, crimson red.
The hardwood is extremely hard, with a density of 1.1 t/m3 when air-dried.
Although red ivory is hard and heavy, it works well on a lathe or with a chisel, and is ideal for turning and carving. Because the wood has a comparatively high oil content, it dries slowly and doesn’t slit easily.
Red ivory also has exceptional sound qualities, making it ideal for use in musical instruments.
The “tap tone” of a properly dried pane of red ivory hardwood offers a good indication of this. Simply tapping the wood yields a clear, sweet ringing tone.
Red ivory isn’t currently listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
However, red or pink ivory was recently added to South Africa’s list of protected tree species. Harvesting of the hardwood is therefore subject to licensing.
We welcome greater regulation of harvesting, especially of slow-growing hardwood species. Unfortunately, ground-level enforcement of these policies remains difficult.
Please note that ProSono harvests hardwood only subject to strict permit requirements and in a careful, sustainable manner. For more details about our approach, please see our page on what we stand for.
Red ivory hardwood is used to create attractive turned or carved items; marquetry or inlay work; and musical instruments.
Red ivory turns and carves well. It’s used to create a range of items, both useful and decorative – from knife handles to beads, bowls, small boxes, pens and curios.
Pink or red ivory is used in fine inlay and marquetry work, to beautify items ranging from custom-made furniture and guitars to jewellery, billiard cues, walking sticks and even kitchen tools.
Red ivory hardwood is sought after for custom-made acoustic guitars. It’s used for guitar backs and sides, and for decorative marquetry work on guitars.
See our recent article on pink ivory for acoustic guitars for more images of beautiful guitars, as well as videos in which luthiers discuss the hardwood and demonstrate its musical “tap tone”.
Red or pink ivory hardwood is used to create beautiful flutes, as well as whistles and other folk instruments.
Based in South Africa, ProSono is the leading supplier of pink and red ivory hardwood.
We offer red ivory turning squares, bowl blanks, knife scales and project wood. Please see our red or pink ivory page for the dimensions of the parts we aim to keep in stock.
We also offer exceptionally high-quality pink and red ivory for musical instruments, including guitar backs and sides (a waiting list currently applies for these) and red ivory for woodwind instruments such as oboes, clarinets and flutes.
The red ivory hardwood we supply is properly dried (a process that takes a very long time), cut to required dimensions and carefully packed before it’s shipped to our customers. For more details or to discuss your requirements, contact us at ProSono.