What Happened to the Good Mahogany?

Thanks to Kip Elder for letting us know that the teaser link to this Mahogany post was not working.  

What Changed?

Most of the Genuine Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) now being grown comes from plantations where the timber is being managed  under controlled conditions. They operate responsibly and sustain-ably. Geographically, we are talking about areas in Mexico, Fiji, Costa Rica instead of lush rain forests. The soils in these plantations are different than the old harvest areas. More minerals in the soil = more mineral streaks/color variations. The new plantations also tend to be in faster growing areas which means quicker turn times for getting lumber to market but the quality is not the same. Young trees + fast growth + not ideal climate = wide growth rings, weird colors, pin knots, etc. Much of the production we’ve seen out of Fiji has these issues. It’s the same specie as Genuine Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) but it’s pinkish red color as opposed to dark brown primarily because of where it’s grown. Dark, dense, uniform color mahogany can still be found.

How Do You Get the Good Stuff?

The options are:

  • Find a way to get some primo old-growth wood out of those restricted forests. * This is not an option for us but unfortunately not everyone shares this morality.
  • Track down some of the few remaining stashes that have been sitting dormant in warehouses for years. Wood people have a tendency to go wood crazy when there is money in the bank and they feel like they’ve found the mother-load.  I’ve known lumber baron-types who died leaving their estate with 7 figure sums of exotic woods to find homes for. It happens in smaller shops , too. When you suddenly find something after years of fruitless searching it’s easy to over buy. Who knows when the next opportunity will present itself? Thus, a stash is born. 
  • The third and best option is to align yourself with plantation producers  who understand the quality issues and have controls in place to deal address them.

Why Is So Much Sub-Par Wood Produced in Modern Plantations?

My theory is that the driving force behind many plantation operations are bean counters rather than lumber people. Unfortunately,few accountants outside of the industry  understand lumber well.  Accountants like SKU’s that are cleanly categorized. There are dozens of reasons why a SKU of Mahogany may be worth more or less than where an accountant pegs the value.  Rather than lumber quality, the focus is too often on cash flow, ROI, inventory turns, political stability, etc. These are important considerations but all mahogany is not good mahogany

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