Sandalwoood - crafts

Sandalwood can be finely carved and has a beautiful scent. The most common carvings are of Hindu Gods. Hindu pilgrims might buy one of these figures as a souvenir when they have visited a shrine. Craftspeople carve blocks of wood by hand, spending years learning how to make the intricate designs. Sandalwood is also made into animal figures, boxes, cabinets, trays, chess sets and even walking sticks.

Sandalwood carvings

A photograph of a sandalwood necklace or rosary housed in Kew's Economic Botany Collection.
Image: The beads on this necklace, or rosary, are carved from sandalwood

Sandalwood is also used for a variety of small carved articles, such as boxes, cabinet panels, jewel cases, combs, picture frames, fan handles, pen holders and card cases etc.

A large amount of craftwork is exported or sold to tourists. This provides an income for many people in India, who often form craft and trade co-operatives to support each other. Different regions in India have distinct styles of carving. For example, in Surat and Ahmadabad carved foliage tends to be large and deeply cut, while in Mysore the sprays are more delicate.

Sandalwood is so valuable that it is accurately weighed in grams when being sold. It has a very even texture because it is close grained. There are very few knots in the wood. It is the heartwood which is used most, as it has a scent that lasts for years and the yellow/brown colour when first cut gets darker with age. Sandalwood sapwood is white or yellow and not scented, although it can still be made into craft objects.

Conservation concern

Unfortunately too many sandalwood trees have been cut down, and conservation is a serious concern. It is illegal to export whole pieces of timber from India, and the Indian government controls how sandalwood is used within India. However, there is a great deal of smuggling. Craftsmen can get licences allowing them to buy sandalwood from government wood yards.

Not only has the amount of sandalwood decreased, but the quality of the wood has decreased as well. Most of the larger old trees have been cut down, so the trees now being used are smaller or may be diseased with hollow trunks. This reduces the size of the blocks that can be carved. The scarcity is forcing carvers to change to other woods such as rosewood. In some cases lack of raw material has led to artisans becoming unemployed.