I picked up another box of 20 exotic wood turning blanks from Rockler. It’s been on a big sale for a long while now, and I had free shipping going, too. I have an idea for possibly turning it into some saleable items, and running the numbers, it was a very good deal.
One of the woods it includes, of which I have now 4 1.5”×1.5”×12” pieces is African Blackwood. The tree, – Dalbergia melanoxylon, found primarily in Tanzania and Mozambique, though native to, and probably spread beyond at least 26 African nations – is known by Swahili-speaking locals as “Mpingo.” It looks like a scraggly desert tree on the outside, but under the pale sapwood is a gorgeously dark heartwood (see also). There are some more nice pics at the bottom of this page of the logs and cross sections. They didn’t make them clickable links, but you can right click on them and ‘View Image,’ or similar to see some of them larger.
I feel a bit bad about having these blanks, though, as it’s threatened. It’s a highly valued tonewood – ~$50/BF – used especially in the making of oboes, clarinets, and bagpipes, though I’ve seen it in everything from knives, pens, and pipes, to flutes and guitars. And of course, carvers in Africa make all manner of art sculptures to sell, like these giraffes. Gresso even makes a luxury phone encased in it.
However, it’s a slow-growing tree, and it’s being over-harvested, and supplies are dwindling, which might be why places like Woodworker’s Source list it, but don’t have any in stock. I feel for the people in those areas who don’t typically think of it as a non-renewable resource, and just want to make some money, but that money will run out when the trees are all gone. That’s why I was glad today to find The Mpingo Conservation Project. On the front page is a link to a PDF of an April 30th press release about what’s being done now to save mpingo as a resource. It’s only 2 pages, but to sum up the points that made me smile:
Two communities in Tanzania are working with the Mpingo Conservation Project to start properly managing their blackwood resource. By following the guidelines, they’ve received a certificate from the Forest Stewardship Council, which, under the Participatory Forest Management system – part of Tanzanian law – grants the community ownership and control of the land, which in turn grants them profit rights from timber sales provided they manage them sustainably. Now instead of about $0.08(USD) for a log, they’re getting upwards of $19, or about 250x more than they were making doing things non-sustainably. The certificate tells responsible purchasers of the lumber that they’re buying from a group that isn’t destroying the resource.
Hooray for small victories.
-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator