Widely Admired Stuff

Some new wood showed up yesterday, ‘beamed up’ from Pennsylvania:

The white columns you see behind are 8′ (244cm) apart.

There are actually two boards parked here:

There’s a little waviness to the resaw lines, but the pieces are pretty good otherwise, and not cupped.

The front one comes in at nearly 13′ (155″ or 394cm) in length, though what I in fact paid for was but a 10′ piece:

The board has a couple of splits in it, so they don’t count those portions in the tally.

The board in behind the front one has no splits and is over 11′ long.

And the width of these boards averages about 48″, being tapered from nearly 49″ at the butt end to 47″ at the ‘narrow’ end on one:

And thickness, though advertised as 5/4 stock, was closer to 1.375″. Nice!

I find it a bit mesmerizing to be in front of a piece of wood like this:

I needed help from 3 other folks to get these into the building from the parking lot. And then i sat there for the better part of half an hour just staring, slack-jawed in incredulity. Yes, many would testify that this is one of my more normal facial expressions, but here it was more pronounced than usual.

What is it? Would you believe this is Honduran Mahogany? It’s way old stock material, dredged out of some defunct warehouse, and was likely milled up into slabs 20 years ago or more.

There’s no more genuine mahogany like this coming down the pike. There no chance of mahogany like this ever being imported again to the US, as far as I can tell.

I remember when doing an early furniture project, my first paid furniture commission in fact (see here) around 2002 or 2003, and I had obtained several 8/4 planks of Honduran. One of those planks turned out to have a significantly darker purple cast to it, featured more white flecks on the board surface, and had a far richer, more delicious feel to it when pushing a chisel through a paring cut. The other boards were fine, but that purple-toned one was special. I’ve talked to other woodworkers and they remember the same sort of thing. But those boards are a thing of the past.

When I went back to that same hardwood dealer to obtain more Honduran for a follow on project, the ‘new’ shipment was in, and it paled in comparison to the one I had encountered but a few months earlier – almost like they had reached the end of the logging road. I had to change plans and that turned into my first meeting with a wood which remains a favorite: bubinga.

Later in 2003 Honduran Mahogany went on CITIES Appendix II. Since then the supply has been gradually drying up. Most of that species now comes out of plantations, Peru being the biggest supplier otherwise, and it is an inferior product in most respects, at least in comparison to the ‘glory days’ (which I only barely experienced). They’ve been cutting mahogany for a long time, and most of the good stuff has been gotten.

I greatly respect Honduran Mahogany as a wood, thinking it a superior choice for interior or exterior use. The Japanese lantern in my front yard (described in a series starting here) is constructed of this wood, and in 5 years of sun, wind, rain and snow, it has nary a check in any of the exposed portions of end grain, and next to no degrade otherwise. It takes aging gracefully to a whole new level. The mahogany frame of the tsuitate I built  in 2010 (see the first post in that thread here) in my living room similarly has aged to a fine dark chocolate color and is very well behaved through seasonal RH swings.

As a result of my deep respect for this wood, I’ve been hunting for nice boards for a while now, and pick them up when that serendipitous intersection of [right price] and [money in hand] occurs, which is not near as often as I might like. Good stock can still be found, namely pieces which were brought into the county some time ago and have been floating around in warehouses, garages, etc.

The boards shown above were a chance discovery while looking for something else, and caused me to change materials for the upcoming cabinet build. I had been planning to make the frame of the cabinet in mahogany, and was thinking figured shedua would look really nice for panels; trouble was, I couldn’t find figured shedua, which is quartersawn, any wider than about 13″, so forming a front door panel out of that stock would necessitate a glue-up, which I tend to avoid where possible. I really wanted to find some nice wide (@22″) panels of a wood which would go well with the mahogany frame, and if I couldn’t find something suitable, I was considering redesigning so as to not need wide panels.

One wood I was considering strongly was gonçalo alves, a wood from Brazil (mostly), however when I looked around the results were not scintillating. There were wide boards, and there were nicely figured boards, but a board combining both characteristics did not seem easy to find. And gonçalo alves is super hard and dense, much more so than bubinga, and the prospect of working it into panels did not intrigue me too much, other than perhaps as a masochistic challenge.

I looked and look and then I stumbled upon one of the above boards on Irion Lumber’s site. After rubbing my eyes a few times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating upon seeing such an enormous piece of mahogany, I sent my client an email suggesting that we go the monochrome route and make the cabinet out of mahogany for both frame and panels. he wrote back shortly thereafter and agreed that the board was magnificent and that I should proceed to acquire it.

A slab as wide as this one confers a beautiful visual in that the pair of front door panels present a view of a wide tree trunk, but as important to me is that a wide slab cut just above the pith of the trunk is a slab in which most of the width is composed of quartersawn material. Obtaining wide quartersawn mahogany otherwise seems a bit of a tough ask at this time. Generally this species seems to be cut through and through rather than for quartersawn grain.

Later that night, around 3:00 am, I couldn’t sleep just thinking about the crazy mahogany board and got back on the computer to have a look at the piece I had purchased one more time. Sometimes the interval between seeing and believing is not instantaneous, if you know what I mean. While drooling over the pictures once again, I noticed that they had a couple of other boards of similar size listed. After thinking it over a while, I sent another email to the client suggesting it would be wise to obtain a second board. While the first board was sufficient to the build, if anything went wrong with cut out, or the board had defects which added up to greater than anticipated losses, it would be really good to have some back up, and for all I know the stock could be sold out the next day. I suggested that any left overs from the project could be resold, or purchased by me, or utilized in a follow-on project. Once again, the client agreed with my thinking and that’s how I have ended up with two awesome boards of Honduran Mahogany. And added bonus is that the shipping for two boards turned out to be exactly the same as for one board, so a minor economy was realized too.

So, are these two mega slabs of Honduran mahogany the “uber special wood” I alluded to in the previous post? Uh, nope. Of course, they’re totally incredible pieces, but the ‘uber’ stuff, well that goes to another level of ‘special’. That material should be coming my way in about a week, and I’ll tell you that story when it gets here – let your imagination run wild in the meantime, if you like.

Thanks for visiting The Carpentry Way, and don’t be shy about saying hello if you feel so inclined.

17 Replies to “Widely Admired Stuff”

  1. WOW!!! This is awesome!
    I instantly thought “Those boards are the uber special wood, he talked about. And he is absolutely right!”
    I'm completely puzzled right now…..what can be better than that?
    Man, I wish I had the financial recourses of your client – luckily he is a man of taste.


  2. I had some 5/8 thick, 7 foot (yes 7foot) pitch black Gaboon Ebony for about 25 years. A few years ago I fretted, had many sleepless nights, thinking about cutting into it for long trim and stringing and some cabinet parts. Today I keep saying to my self ..How much would that stuff be worth today?
    But I realize that I was paid, enjoyed (sometimes) working the wood and a customer and his gets to enjoy the final cabinet for years to come. rather than sitting on my lumber rack collecting dust. ( still have one left, although it has many cracks and drying checks, I get to pull it out once in a while dust it off and admire it)

  3. I think this is the first of your build threads I'll be reading from inception, and I'm very excited to follow along on your journey. I have difficulty believing these amazing boards could be better respected and used than you will do.

    I too am eagerly anticipating the next special wood reveal.

  4. Hi Will,

    Hearne tried to sell me on some of their (very fine) Honduran Mahogany after I told them that I had decided to go with the two boards shown above instead of their shedua. The river harvested material seems to be largely spoken for now- at least I haven't come across any of that for sale in the past few years and Hearne didn't mention it as an option in our conversation. I'd like to get my hands on some though…

  5. I have for several years now enjoyed your incredible work, I know you will succeed in whatever you decide to do with this amazing material. Good luck and all the best, happy holidays.

  6. The last time I was at irion (4-5 mo) I saw similar (massive) planks set aside from the matched sets of mahogany they have on site and thought of your builds immediately. I can't imagine they would have lasted this long but whether the same boards or not. I'm sure glad they found their way to your shop. I trust your experience with the sales staff was better than the last one you detailed in the craftsmanship in wood forum? If you ever have a chance to visit it's well worth seeing their operation/stock in person.

  7. Hi rob,

    yes, I did have a better experience this recent time, as they were actually willing to sell me wood! They've improved their website too, so you can order directly online, however i ended up dealing with Myron in the sales office, and he was easy to work with.


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