Genuine Mahogany, long a furniture maker’s dream come true, has also become a nightmare plaguing the lumber industry. While that might seem like just plain bad news, it’s really not. Like many of life’s reversals, when you realize the cause for problems, you can often avoid them — or at least learn to weather them more effectively. The reasons for the current issues relating to availability and grade are reversible. While the current situation looks bleak, change is on the horizon.
Why We Love It
The beauty of Genuine Mahogany may be obvious to the casual onlooker, but to the woodworker, its beauties transcend mere appearance. The ease with which it can be carved, sawn, and planed makes working with this South American species a true joy. Once finish is applied, the color and depth are truly amazing! Even with less availability of higher grades, furniture makers can often still utilize the lumber they find, because smaller projects allow them to easily cut around knots or other undesirable features.
What Happened To It
For those long-time Mahogany aficionados, the current selection and level of availability has been, no doubt, disappointing. Contrary to what you might assume, the primary reason for the shift is not poorly managed forests. While past issues with sustainable forestry management have certainly impacted the industry, CITES regulation has increased forest health by limiting the amount of Mahogany allowed to be exported. In addition, outside organizations have become involved by subsidizing sawmills and helping oversee regulations and concessions.
With that involvement, the complications of politics and business have caused some major mayhem. With the evolution of monopolies (grabbing the good stuff before anyone else gets a chance) and emergence of poor sawing practices (yielding a higher net loss and poorer overall grades), the result is a market flooded with common grade Mahogany.
How We’re Contributing to the Problem
The elitist issues within the North American lumber market contribute to the problems of availability within the lumber industry. When we reject B grade materials altogether, we are hurting the very industry on which we rely; Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars does an excellent job of explaining this issue, as it relates to the Ebony market.
We need to remember that we’re not dealing with plastic; wood is a natural material, complete with imperfections. It’s the most environmentally friendly way to build, though. While the North American market has resisted anything but perfect grades of tropical hardwood species, the rest of the world accepts lower grades, complete with natural character (which we think of as “defects”). The Mahogany currently being exported from South America is perfectly acceptable to the rest of the world, yet North Americans complain about the quality — or lack thereof.
There are solutions to this dilemma, but there are also recommendations that will perpetuate the problem. We’ll examine those issues in Part 2.
J. Gibson McIlvain Company
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.