Koa wood is one of the most beautiful natural materials on Earth, and while it’s very expensive, it makes wonderful gifts
Here’s an ironic fact to consider: the koa is the second most common tree in Hawaii, yet koa wood is among the most expensive woods on Earth. Partly that’s because it’s found nowhere else in the world; partly it’s due to koa’s beautiful reddish to chocolate-brown grain.
Some koa even possesses an odd property called “chatoyancy,” similar to the effect seen in cat’s-eye gemstones, which imparts a distinctive three-dimensional shimmer to certain grades of the wood. That’s pretty good for what’s basically an overgrown pea plant.
Ah, C’mon Now!
Seriously — the koa, officially Acacia koa, is a legume closely related to the everyday garden pea, and produces its fruit in long pods, like all acacias.
Back in the day, Hawaiians used koa for a wide variety of items, from dugout outrigger canoes to paddles to surfboards. The Hawaiians, who invented surfing, used it for their paipo, kiko’o, and alaia varieties of surfboard, preferring to use the lighter wiliwili wood for their special long boards, the olo.
Nowadays, if you want to purchase a koa surfboard, it’ll cost you thousands of dollars. Koa may be relatively common in Hawaii, but due to deforestation and cattle grazing, there aren’t many wild koa still growing on any of the islands. Most are farmed, behind high fences that keep both cattle and thieves out.
Koa farmers even collect the fallen branches for use in woodworking crafts, because it’s so valuable. Fortunately, while koa grows slowly, it tends to come back quickly once cattle are removed from the equation.
Curly and Musical
While all koa is highly sought-after, premium “curly” koa goes for the highest prices. Curly koa has a somewhat wavy grain rather than the more common straight grain, with more pronounced chatoyancy that manifests not just as a 3-D effect, but also as an illusion of short streaks running perpendicular to the grain.
An iPad cover made from curly koa wood will cost you a cool $250-300, minimum, and even a single unprocessed board less than five feet long can go for $150 or more.
Woodworkers who specialize in musical instruments also love koa because it’s a tonewood, i.e. a wood suitable for the construction of stringed instruments. Not surprisingly, it’s popular for ukuleles, as well as for acoustic and steel guitars. Country singer Taylor Swift sometimes uses a koa wood guitar.
The Bottom Line
There’s no way around it: koa’s expensive stuff. But it does make some wow-worthy gifts, from containers to furniture to statuary — so it’ll fit just about anyone’s wish list. If you’ve got a few thousand bucks burning a hole in your pocket, a koa wood armoire or bookcase might be just the thing!