Exotic Woods

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Forum topic by rbterhune posted 05-24-2010 11:01 PM 2440 views 0 times favorited 25 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View rbterhune's profile


176 posts in 3215 days

05-24-2010 11:01 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question cherry maple mahogany

I have a two part question for everyone regarding exotic wood species.

Part 1: A little background: I am by no means a ‘tree hugger’ (I work in the metal and industrial mining industry) however I do feel that we must apply conservation in a responsible way to help our planet…we all need this earth and its resources to survive. On my part, that means that I will avoid rain forest derived wood species, where we all know clear cutting is removing substantial habitat daily and depleting wood resources at an alarming rate. Although I love woods like mahogany, jatoba, etc., I’m trying not partake in their use…notice I say trying. I’m new to woodworking so I don’t have a lot of projects under my belt yet.

My question is this…How many of you have re-considered using these exotic woods from endangered forests?

(Please, this isn’t a righteous shame-on-you post, just a curious person interested in what people think)

Part 2: What is your favorite domestic wood for rich color? I like cherry as a replacement for jatoba or mahogany. Maple is cool too because although it is light in color, some of the dyes can look fantastic.

25 replies so far

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3068 days

#1 posted 05-24-2010 11:19 PM

I work with exotic woods quite a lot and I try to be sensitive to concerns about the environment and the depletion of the rain forest. I have stopped buying zebra wood because it is an endangered species. I buy blue mahoe from an environmental organization that is selectively harvesting trees in an environmentally favorable fashion.

The challenge is getting good information on what is good and what is bad with respect to the environmental ramifications of harvesting certain woods.

With respect to domestic woods with rich color – - I like walnut, mahogany and cherry (in the order). I hate using dyes and I dislike using stains. I want to see the natural beauty of the wood.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View interpim's profile


1170 posts in 3452 days

#2 posted 05-24-2010 11:31 PM

in any business, if the value is high, there will be illegal production of that product. Who is to say that the wood that you are sure is harvested selectively or from deadfall is actually that? We as human beings are fairly trusting, especially when we have no way of verifying for ourselves the truth. I’m not knocking exotics or their harvest methods. I personally can’t afford many exotics other than pen blank sizes, so typically stick to the domestics. My favorite by far is Walnut, and Cherry would be a close second.

Most of my projects lately have come off my lathe, so lately my favorite wood to use is firewood LOL. I can get enough wood for a dozen small bowls in a campfire packet of wood sold for $5 – $7 at the farmer’s market.

-- San Diego, CA

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 2980 days

#3 posted 05-24-2010 11:36 PM

I would simply like to point out that just because the wood is domestic, doesn’t mean it was harvested in the best means, either.

I will use any wood I can get – and try to stick to sources that stay environmentally friendly. My main source for wood is a sawmill that rescues fallen, damaged and weather-stricken trees.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View uffitze's profile


199 posts in 2949 days

#4 posted 05-25-2010 01:01 AM

You can get responsibly harvested exotics, and like Lis says, not all domestic wood is sustainably harvested. Unfortunately, even if you ask questions at the lumberyard, they may not be able to give you a good answer.

Around here, there are several small sawyers who seem to acquire logs a few at a time which at least gives the appearance of either thinning or using yard trees that would be coming out anyway. The added bonus for me is that these suppliers are generally cheaper than the big suppliers.

PS. If you are so inclined, and have $10,000 floating around, you can invest in a tree farm in Central America. You are basically buying x number of trees of one of the species that they farm. Provided, lumber prices stay where they are at, your $10k turns into something like $100k. (I can’t remember the specifics.) You are probably not going to end up using that wood, but the way I look at it is that you can use exotics and not feel too bad about it because you are replacing the wood that you are using.

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4119 days

#5 posted 05-25-2010 01:08 AM

The last exotic wood I bought was from the scrap bin at Luthier’s Mercantile, and the lady there who was giving the presentation for the meeting I was at talked for a bit about their efforts to conform to the Lacey Act. Without additional information about the ecological hazards of exotic hardwoods, that’s a vendor I feel comfortable buying wood from.

The rest of my stash of exotics come from the scrap bin at a high end deck place (Ipe, Massaranduba) and reclaimed lumber (a bunch of Peruvian mahogany reclaimed from box beams). So at the very least I think I’m not a primary motivator for illegal logging, at the prices I’ve paid for it I’m pretty sure they’re not making much of a profit. However, I do think a bit about where I’m getting my wood, and what my impact in purchasing those woods is, just as I try to pay attention to that with my food.

For domestic rich color, I’m all over cherry, when I can afford it. Most of my stuff is either light (I get a great deal on eastern hard maple that a local manufacturer considers “scrap”), or, at least right now, is coming from my aforementioned cache.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View rbterhune's profile


176 posts in 3215 days

#6 posted 05-25-2010 04:28 PM

tyskkvinna and uffitz…You make a good point…not all domestic woods are sustainably harvested either. Some of the larger companies then insult the public, in my opinion, by planting a pine tree forest after they’ve cleared all the hardwood. They say it’s replacing a tree with a tree…true, but far from the same.

interpim…You are also right. It’s not easy to confirm if your supplier is telling you the truth or not about their source. I guess this is where relationship building becomes important.

I suppose I’ll need to do a little digging in my area to learn what’s out there. (Nashville, TN)

View uffitze's profile


199 posts in 2949 days

#7 posted 05-25-2010 04:55 PM

It’s nice to see a self proclaimed non tree hugger complaining about replanting with a mono crop.

Maybe the world is changing.

View rbterhune's profile


176 posts in 3215 days

#8 posted 05-25-2010 05:03 PM

uffitze…not sure I understand your last post. Tree huggers are preservationists, I am a conservationist. Sure, let’s cut some trees, but if you cut a cherry, plant a cherry. The turnaround is longer, but the payoff is that we all get to use these woods in the future.

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 3887 days

#9 posted 05-25-2010 05:42 PM

I’m no tree hugger but I do try and avoid buying exotics but when it comes to a choice of feeding my family or buying an exotic log… wins.

I dont believe that exotics from asia, africa and much of central and south america are being logged sustainably. My guess is that its hack and burn. I would prefer a substantial tax leveied on the exotics where the tax is spent conserving tropical and sub tropical forests and helping educate the people where those forests are located.

2 cents

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View NewPickeringWdWrkr's profile


338 posts in 3007 days

#10 posted 05-25-2010 06:04 PM

Interesting conversation for sure. I have only bought 1 plank of purpleheart to date – But that’s mainly because I have had no demand for it right now. I’m builing mostly projects that will be gifts or used here at home. Because I am not recouping my costs, I’m sticking to domestics from a local sawmill. I also try to surf around on CL when I need to as there is generally a lot of wood available that way. I figure that if I’m not buying from a commercial supplier, I’m not adding to the demand.

If I were to start selling to customers that want exotics, they would have to pay the premium that they demand and then I would consider looking for environmentally responsible suppliers.

My domestic choices are walnut, cherry and maple for colour variation.

-- Mike - Antero's Urban Wood Designs

View rbterhune's profile


176 posts in 3215 days

#11 posted 05-25-2010 06:08 PM

Moron…that is my hunch as well…that none of the countries you mentioned are logging responsibly. I’m sure there are a few individuals or groups in a few small areas doing the right thing, but on the whole, I’m not so sure. By the way…love your Murphy bed project. The color of the walnut is perfect…not too dark.

View rbterhune's profile


176 posts in 3215 days

#12 posted 05-25-2010 06:18 PM

NewPickeringWdWrkr…I like that idea. Buy from someone who wants to dump their supply and in theory you’re not adding to demand.

View Dustin Ward (aka Tearen)'s profile

Dustin Ward (aka Tearen)

176 posts in 3944 days

#13 posted 05-25-2010 06:26 PM

I love using the exotics, but I only try to use it when I get it from Dumpster Diving (Note: I am a trained professional, do not try this at home.) or find a shop that is planning on scraping it in the future and get them to set aside their cut-offs or scraps from the run. It is amazing what you can get with a box of donuts!

I also get a lot of my exotics from pallets.

As for domestics, I love walnut and curly maple.

View Dustin Ward (aka Tearen)'s profile

Dustin Ward (aka Tearen)

176 posts in 3944 days

#14 posted 05-25-2010 06:33 PM

A little something for those of you who are concerned where their materials come from or how it is harvested:

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is the only independent, not-for-profit membership organization that promotes good forest stewardship by certifying the practices of those who harvest timber.

The FSC bases its standards on international principles of sound forest management, which are adapted at the regional level by local environmental and conservation groups, community and economic development organizations, the timber industry, and the general public.

All wood products from FSC-certified sources bear the mark of the FSC. It’s your assurance that the wood you’re using came from well-managed forests using practices to ensure long-term availability.

fsc logo To achieve FSC certification, a forestry operation must:

  • protect forest ecosystems
  • protect water quality
  • protect wildlife habitats & biological diversity
  • respect the rights of indigenous peoples
  • maintain the economic and social well-being of local communities
  • conserve the forest’s economic resources
  • engage in regular monitoring
  • manage plantations to alleviate pressures on natural forests

To find out more about the FSC, visit their website at

View rbterhune's profile


176 posts in 3215 days

#15 posted 05-25-2010 06:49 PM

Dustin…great info. I had not heard about FSC. Have you found many suppliers with the FSC certification in your area?

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