Especially with the current shortage of Ipe and the difficulties surrounding Genuine Mahogany, African Hardwoods are becoming even more attractive. While we may wish the South American situation were different, we’re encouraged by the prospect of African species such as African Mahogany, Sapele, and Utile. At the same time, though, we find it helpful to understand the great difficulties each stick of African hardwood must overcome, in order to arrive in our Maryland lumber yard.
What do African hardwoods have going for them? Many of them originate as sizable trees, making wide and long boards more available than other species. Most are also quite durable and hold moulded details well, making them ideal for a variety of applications, from millwork and flooring to windows and doors.
The size means that wide quartersawn pieces can be sawn for door and window manufacturers, as well. Unlike many South American forests, African hardwood forests are managed quite effectively, with certification and verification schemes that make legality and sustainability easy to track. The market is strong and is ramping up to continue meeting increased global demand.
Despite the strength of the African hardwoods market, it isn’t without challenges. First, the depressed lumber market has led to the scaling back of production since 2008. As the demand continues to rise, the mills need time to meet the supply. In the mean time, there’s plenty of bottle-necking that leads to delayed shipments and attempts to sell odd sizes and off-grade products to supplement the in-demand products.
The continent of Africa is a large land mass made up of mostly undeveloped countries constantly riddled with civil wars. Many still lack the skills and knowledge to efficiently saw logs into lumber and properly dry boards. The result is a rocky and unusual road that includes shipping logs rather than boards over hundreds or even thousands of miles to sawmills closer to ports. The lumber is shipped as logs, because the larger logs will net more profit.
Because of the Lacey Act and other legislation, however, buying sawn lumber is easier than buying logs. This added challenge adds to the already difficult journey, which includes floating and trucking logs to a sawmill in a port city. Often, the floating must stop at rapids, and the trucking is halted by unreliable roads marked by signs of civil unrest. The risks to driver safety and potential for hijacked trucks are very real throughout the Congo and other areas of Africa.
Despite the down sides, the African lumber market is strong and growing. While there are problems, for sure, for the savvy buyer who is mindful of sustainability, availability, quality, and cost, there is a gold mine of African hardwoods to be found.
Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company (www.mcilvain.com) is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.
As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums.
Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling (800) 638-9100.