In antique period furniture, mahogany is king. Sure there are areas where walnut was a popular choice among wealthy patrons of the day, but for the most part, prior to the Chippendale period work in and around Philadelphia, mahogany was the wood that woodworkers wanted to work and the “well-to-do” desired. And swietenia macrophylla (Honduran mahogany) was, and is, the best mahogany.
Yes, we can get swietenia macrophylla today, but it’s not the same lumber used back in the day. In fact, any lumber used in the 1700s is different from what we have available today. Unless, that is, you get your hands on some of the original old-growth stock. Then you’ll experience the exorbitant number of growth rings per inch , I’m told the rings per inch in old-growth mahogany lumber can be around 40 , 60 (as high as 100) whereas the rings in mahogany harvested today, lumber that is considered very dense, stands near 25.
So how can you, as a reproduction furniture maker (or someone who wants to work with fantastic mahogany), get your hands on old-growth lumber? That’s what this entry is all about.
In 2007, a group of scuba divers, wood experts and businessmen formed a company in Belize to salvage exotic tropical logs from the country’s waterways. That company is Greener Logs Limited.
The logs being salvaged have been on the bottom of the waterways for up to 200 years and the supply is quite large. How large? In the day, trees were felled and held in the bends of the waterway to wait until a shipper, at the river’s end, was ready for a load. Then, the chains used to hold back the logs would be released and the logs traveled down the river to the shippers.
The owners of Greener Logs Limited came across Forest Service studies done in 1997 that compared original logger records to the shipper’s records to determine the number of trees lost along the journey. It’s suspected that as much as 50 percent of the logs harvested never made it down the rivers to the coast. It’s almost as if Mother Nature knew what was about to happen to the rain forests and created a stash for us to find centuries later.
Around August 8, 2009 the first 20′ container of logs was imported by Greener Lumber, LLC and made its way into port in Alabama. On the next leg of the journey, the logs were trucked to Cardwell Lumber, a mill in Central Missouri, where eight mahogany logs (along with some sapodilla, santa maria and bullet tree logs) were sawn for lumber. The logs produced 1,400 board feet of mahogany and 3,700 board feet of lumber total. A single piece of fiddleback mahogany came in around 19″ wide.
The lumber was actually steaming as it was sawn. That indicates that the logs shipped in at much higher moisture content than was expected, even after sitting out of the water since March. According to the sawyer, the drying process will be “low and slow” and it looks like mid to late October before the first load is coming out of the kiln.
Check back for more information. I’m getting regular weekly updates on this lumber. One of the questions I have, and I know you have, is about the cost of this lumber. I posed this question to my contact and am awaiting a response. I can tell you that you’ll have to get your hands deep into your pockets. I don’t expect this mahogany “gold” to be over-priced, just reasonably priced. And that’s not going to be $10 per board foot.
Looking for More Free Woodworking Information?
– Sign up for our newsletters to get free plans, techniques and reviews HERE.
– Like tools? We do! Read our latest tool coverage HERE.
– Looking for free project plans? We have hundreds. Click HERE.
– Want more videos? See all our free videos HERE.
– Get 8 years of Popular Woodworking on one CD. Click HERE.