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This link is to an article titled “Guitar Frets:Environmental Enforcement Leaves Musicians in Fear” was published today in the Wall Street Journal. It was sent to me by Mel Hancock,  a woodworker and one of our readers. Mel wrote, “While it doesn’t go much beyond the use of controlled or restricted woods for musical instruments, this is a subject that many woodworkers should be aware of.  We all have a responsibility to ensure we are using wood that is in compliance with all applicable laws for harvesting, especially exotic hardwoods.”

I agree with Mel, but I know that a lot of woodworkers are addicted to exotic hardwoods. I admit that there was a time when I was star-struck in the presence of a new and intriguing exotic wood. When I was turning a lot of tool handles, I always kept an eye on the sales my local Woodcraft in Rhode Island would have on 2″ x 12″ blanks of exotics. I wanted to see how the different woods turned on the lathe, but I was also a sucker for the gorgeous figure and rich colors of the woods. Exotics made great gifts, with a big “wow” when the gift was opened.

Is this something that has you concerned? Are you willing to pay a premium for responsibly harvested exotic hardwoods? Or will you be willing to give them up and only use domestic woods? Aside from lumber, as many of you know, many infill handplanes and other woodworking tools use exotic hardwoods. What are your thoughts on the responsibility of woodworkers with exotic hardwoods?

– Ajax Alexandre


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Showing 24 comments
  • Bugler

    This has nothing to do with wood and everything to do with government run amok. No one can possibly know whether or not he’s in compliance with all of the laws that supposedly regulate the use of exotic woods. Under these circumstances, enforcement becomes a purely political matter. Franz Kafka, call your office.

  • GunnyGene

    And guess who gave Mrs. Sarkozy a Gibson Guitar in 2009?

    But if it turns out that the Indian rosewood in question is illegal contraband in the eyes of Obama’s DOJ, then Michelle Obama is just as guilty of trafficking in it as Gibson. In 2009, Michelle Obama gave Carla Bruni-Sarkozy a Gibson guitar with a fretboard made of the material:

    Mrs. Obama presented Mrs. Bruni-Sarkozy with the Gibson guitar on Saturday before the first ladies visited the Cathedral de Norte Dame de Strasbourg, along with the rest of the NATO Summit spouses. The Gibson Hummingbird apparently hit the right chord with Mrs. Bruni-Sarkozy, as the Mrs. Obama’s office reported that the two women really hit it off and enjoyed a private lunch together that lasted for more than one hour.

    Mrs. Bruni-Sarkozy is a former model, and is also a singer/songwriter. She has released three albums, the last of which, As If Nothing Happened, was released in July 2008. She plays acoustic guitar on many of her songs.

    According to a list of the gift’s specs at Gibson.com, the fretboard was made from a “choice piece of Indian rosewood.”

    Does someone think she’s above the law? Looks like it. But, then, this isn’t the first evidence we have that Michelle thinks she’s the queen. http://hotair.com/archives/2011/08/29/michelle-obamas-gibson-guitar-gift/

  • GunnyGene

    Make no mistake, this isn’t just about high priced exotics. Read the Lacey Act Amendments.

    Here’s a presentation that explains what is covered:

    http://www.mtc.com.my/issues/images/stories/pdf/caitlin-clarke.pdf

  • liferjj

    I see things like “certified” wood. How do we really know the wood is actually legal to export? Being “certified” is just a term, doesn’t mean that it is legal for anyone outside the home country to use. And most certification just means it is plantation grown. Ebony, and many exotics are not anywhere in the world grown on plantations. I think it is within a country such as India or Burma, etc to restrict exports, but if it is exported, no one can really say it is “legal” or not. Impossible. I think others have just hit nail on head this is a totally political ploy by a government that has lost it’s morality. We can’t even “export” illegals who come here, let alone keep out wood.

  • woodhawk

    Our government is worried about illegal wood being brought into this country but does nothing about the illegal immigrants coming to this country. By going after Gibson will only cost more Americans their jobs. I sincerely hope our federal agents can find something more pressing to investigate at this time.

  • wooddoc

    Sadly this seems to be another purely political move due to support of one of our two primary political parties buy a business or its leaders. Yes, Gibson has been reported on the air, by talking heads that they are now singled out by the current administration, due to past political donations to the “other” side. I wish we could get all the “dead wood” out of Washington, since none of todays “politicians” are as intelligent as the Founding Fathers of this great country. We should throw these bums out and their pseudo-intellect along with them. We need more common sense in public service, like how to sand a board or make a good glue joint. Anyway, I hate to see a good company beat up for participating in what should be an average amount of support for those you may trust. I can’t trust those who would go after Gibson like this, even though all the other instrument makers buy in the same manner.

  • ggonos

    Why should this occur in the US? Is this another Democratic and Sierra Group ploy to dissolve American business and knowhow?
    http://www.redstate.com had a take on this including the DOJ telling Gibson to ‘outsource’ the manufacture of guitars.

    What is going to happen to the ordinary woodworkers when there are regulations on sawdust and machines!!

    I would have to agree that there is no control on the “certified” wood by the country that is the origin. The wood quality is less than desireable and you are paying a premium dollar for it. And if you outsource to a foreign country, how do you know that the wood they used is “legal” or contriband!! You don’t.

    I have worked for a company that outsourced their products and what we were getting back was junk that needed rework or got scrapped.

    GofAZ

  • Jon

    does the Martin Guitar company not use the same types of woods on their guitars? I don’t know, but is the use of certain types of woods the only issue in this story? There have been several reports that the owner of the Martin Company has been a Large donor to democrat campaign funds, including presidential campaigns. Gibson is also non-union, while I have heard Martin is not.
    Wood is the ultimate sustainable resource – but there’s nothing wrong with controlled harvesting of certain types of trees, particularly those that are slow growing. for some of the people living where these “threatened” species grow, the timber may provide their only current source of real income. how nice that the know-it alls in DC and Turtle Bay have decided they can direct these peoples’ lives better (into more misery and starvation).

  • Mike in Maine

    As I am newbie here I’ll start off simply. I’m in the process of starting my own woodshop in Maine. As such wood, per se, is not really an issue as far as species goes. But I am concerned that my customer’s might want me to build their item with a finish or, conceivably, a wood that is particularly nasty like yew, cocobolo or sassafras, that has a long term effect on both my and their health. As such, on the opening page of my product listing, I specifically state that I will refuse a job that requires me to use any environmental or hazardous materials, techniques or methods in the course of my production. I go so far as to require my Shop to refund the entire amount of either the deposit (15%0 or the gross amount of the purchase price to keep within my Shop Policy guideline’s.

    Their are at least 3 seperate websites that carry a running listing of tree species by type, by grain density, workability, type product’s made, and most importantly, known and documented health risks while raw, while being worked and after being worked and finished. I have all three printed out, and on the front counter, where my customer’s can see them, along with a copy of my Enviromental Policy. I presume we all want to work wood because we like to and because some of us can see where we can actually make a living from it. But I defy anyone to show me where they want to work wood to the point of committing suicide.

  • GunnyGene

    An interesting article about tropical woods and biofuel. I wonder how this will be handled in view of Lacey, etc. ?

    “LONDON Aug 30 (Reuters) – Rising global demand for cleaner energy from biomass could drive more land acquisition in poorer nations where food security and land rights are weak, an International Institute for Environment and Development report said on Tuesday.

    “If left unchecked, the growing pressure on land access could undermine livelihoods and food security in some of the world’s poorest countries,” the London-based non-profit research group said, calling for more public scrutiny into global biomass expansion plans.

    Biomass energy makes up 77 per cent of world renewable energy, and trees and woody plants account for 87 per cent of that biomass, the report said.

    As governments attempt to move away from fossil fuel-based power, they are increasingly looking at biomass, as new technologies now allow it to be converted competitively into liquid fuels and electricity.

    In Britain alone, plans to expand biomass energy will push demand for biomass up to as much as 60 million tonnes a year, compared with 1 million tonnes burnt or co-fired in the country’s biomass power stations today, according to the IIED.

    Local sourcing, such as using wood from forests near power plants, is favoured by countries such as Germany, France and the United States, the report said.

    However, with demand for wood set to outstrip supply by up to 600 percent in some countries, and high tree growth rates in tropical countries, it is likely that some developed countries will look at non-traditional suppliers in the South to plug the biomass gap, the IIED added.” Continued…
    http://af.reuters.com/article/energyOilNews/idAFL5E7JU27320110830?pageNumber=1&virtualBrandChannel=0

  • dym

    I recently was put into touch with a local craftsman in Guinea, Africa. I sent him patterns for three parts to make me and agreed to cover shipping for 100 units and pay him $5-15 apiece. He normally makes the equivilent of $5 a day. The parts were to be brought back to the states by a local international volunteer worker. No specific wood requirement just use something local and pretty. How does any traveler at a customs entry point prove the origins and species of the wood in a local made craft product? Endangered, threatened or prolific local trash tree? Deal off, i cannot take the chance of putting my friend in a spot at the U.S. border. So my money stays in the U.S., the wood stays in Africa, the local craftsman keeps struggling to survive…but he has some pretty charcoal to cook on now.

  • almartin

    For me “exotics” means I can’t easily identify the lumber from which the pallet was made. They’re pretty and all, but contrast between different types of domestics still make for a very visually appealing project.

  • David4444

    There is way too much in the way of politics on this subject for the truth to be evident. If you look and man made destruction of the oxygen belt of the planet and then add in natural disasters, it would appear that “law” by itself is impotent on the subject.

    Natural fire damage example: Sawmillers, land owners and lumber analysts say that the fires, which destroyed timber plantations in parts of the Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and, most notably, areas around Sabie and Graskop, the main timber-growing areas of Mpumalanga, were the worst conflagrations in the industry’s history – “and the fire season is not over yet”. (iolnews http://www.iol.co.za in south africa) as of Sunday Aug 28th (they are a day ahead of us))

    As per the FAO, “Globally, Africa suffered a net loss of forests exceeding 4 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2005, according to FAO. This was mainly due to conversion of forest lands to agriculture. Forest cover went from 655.6 million hectares (ha) to 635.4 million ha during this period.” (don’t forget that a “hectares” is 100 acers of land.) In other words a loss of 400,000,000 acres of loss EVERY YEAR. Since 640 acres = one square mile, then the loss is 625,000 Sq miles per year or an area the size of an area stretching from the Texas panhandle through Kansas and Nebraska to the Dakotas and the Canadian border. If that isn’t a shocker, I don’t know what is. And then you have “lawyers” and there pitiful attempt to justify their existence stating that “due to dangers of extinction…” when they do not attack the real culprit that plagues the planet at all. It kind of reminds me of USA politics these days. All of the politicians tell us what great things they will do, only to find “status quot” the real deal.

    We will have to trust that our suppliers are doing the right thing and following the mandates at hand. We have no way of knowing.

    Using exotics is really a matter of cost in my case. “Do I really want to put that much into this project, or can I use some domestic oak (or maple or pecan or any one of many other domestic woods that quite frankly look fantastic), and hold my costs down?”

    As you can see I’m not a proponent of either side. The fact that the lines are so “muddy” just tells one there has been a lot of politics over the issue and very little scientific force behind the laws that have already been established and already proven do not work.

    I could go on for another couple of thousand words, but I’m sure that would not be appreciated. Have a nice day all.

  • dreamcatcher

    Exotic lumber (and any material) doesn’t impress me much. I believe that [for the most part] the use of exotics is just plain vain. I see so many projects in books, periodicals, and especially presented in web forums that use rare and expensive materials in mediocre [at best] projects by generally amateur craftspeople. I’ve seen projects that use exotic woods that I’ve never even heard of which boast to be centuries old, pre-ban ivory, and even prehistoric bone fragments…… all which usually come together to construct a poorly designed and shoddily crafted ‘heirloom’ box or the like.

    I am far more impressed by what our ancestral craftsmen did with the most common of materials. Personally, I am a common man – nearly spartan in lifestyle. I love the great varieties of softwoods from north america (some of my ‘friends’ tease me about my love of Pinus). I am one of the minority of folks who would rather not paint poplar. Beyond that our [sustainably harvested] selection of american hardwoods is far better looking than anything I have ever seen come from the southern continent. Being one who has tasted every species of wood I’ve ever worked with (just a pinch between the cheek & gum) I can tell you that exotics taste bad and usually the worse the taste the worse the effects on the throat and lungs. But why gamble when the best wood comes from your back yard?

    DC

  • Jonathan Szczepanski

    Ajax –

    I have essentially sworn off of exotics. I think that the domestic lumber that we have is just as beautiful and interesting as the “exotics”. The only way I would use exotics is if a client specifically asked for it, AND I could guarantee that it was harvested responsibly.

    Jonathan
    ===============================

  • GunnyGene

    I’ve been doing some research on this, and I can’t believe how convoluted it gets with ties to other US Laws, Treaties, etc. I don’t see how anyone, especially the lone woodworker in his/her garage shop, can possibly be expected to comply with all this. We have no choice but to trust the companies we buy from, but the law apparently would treat us as criminals for having a chunk of Rosewood, Ebony, or many others in our stash if we can’t prove it came from an “approved” source. This is ridiculous. I also note that the Lacey Act does not require a search warrant. This kind of thing is totally out of control.

  • DocBunn

    If this is true for guitars, then what about our tools? I can’t identify the wood in them positively, nor say that it was the original handle for the tool, much less document it in any way. Do you have papers for that rosewood tote on your vintage plane you bought at a flea market? Really?

  • Steve_OH

    There are a couple of good online resources that provide information on the status of the many woods that we use (or might want to use). The drawback is that they both work better if you know the scientific name of the species you’re inquiring about, but that’s generally available via Wikipedia.

    The CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) website, http://www.cites.org/, gives information on treaty obligations; that is, the various CITES classifications describe the LEGAL status of a species. For example, Dalbergia nigra (Brazilian rosewood), is on the CITES Appendix I list, meaning that international trade is prohibited.

    The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, on the other hand, gives information regarding the SCIENTIFIC status of a species. IUCN uses a series of codes for this purpose (in order):

    LC – Least concern;
    NT – Near threatened;
    VU – Vulnerable;
    EN – Endangered;
    CR – Critically endangered;
    EW – Extinct in the wild;
    EX – Extinct;

    plus one more, DD – Data deficient, for species where there just isn’t enough information to assign one of the other codes, and another NE – Not evaluated, for species where no analysis has yet been undertaken. Examples are:

    Millettia laurentii (wenge): EN;
    Swietenia macrophylla (Honduras mahogany): VU;
    Dalbergia melanoxylon (African blackwood): NT;

    My personal rule is LC and NT are generally okay to use, EN or higher is definitely not okay, and VU has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. (For example, the greatest threat to most VU species is habitat loss for agriculture, not timber harvesting.) Species not listed in the IUCN Red List (e.g., most North American species) should be mostly okay.

    All of the above applies only to trees harvested from the wild. Trees in cultivation, such as Tectona grandis (teak) and some Tabebuia species (ipe) fall under different rules.

    -Steve

  • renaissanceww

    Awareness is something that is lacking at all levels from the lumber yard down to the weekend warrior woodworker. The startling fact is that the Lacey Act holds everyone accountable for legally harvested timber. Now reality says that the yard or importer is going to be pursued before the woodworker, but the last does state that everyone involved is liable when wood is harvested illegally. I wrote a post about this on my company blog that goes into more detail if anyone is interested

    http://www.mcilvain.com/the-lacey-act-holds-everyone-responsible-for-legal-lumber/

    In short though, ask your local lumber supplier questions. Where did this lumber come from? Certified lumber isn’t the only solution as there is plenty of documentation in the supply chain that will document origin and harvesting practices. Certified lumber may have to jump through a few more hoops and thus the increase in pricing, but it may not always be the best quality and often has not been harvested any more responsibly.

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