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NEWS BLOG

by the way, did you know...

Welcome to our blog where we strive to inform you about all things hardwood lumber, plywood. and woodworking. As distributors of hardwood lumber, plywood and equipment, we will give you a 'behind the scenes' view of the lumber industry.

 

Much of the content here is inspired by questions from our customers so feel free to drop us a line and ask a question. If we don't already have an article about it on our site, we may just write one in the future to address it.

NEWS DEDICATED TO
ALL THINGS IN WOODWORKING

 
Reprinted from The Brass Bell, Issue 1, 2021, with the permission of the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club.

 

THE MYSTIQUE OF IMPORTING MAHOGANY

 

By Sherry Johnson Guzy, Director of Marketing Communications

LL Johnson Lumber Mfg Co & Johnson's Workbench.


As a young child in the sixties, weekends spent at my grandfather's lake cottage were memorable. His neighbor owned a classic Chris-Craft. When it was taken out of the boathouse and moored to his dock, I couldn't resist sneaking over and running my small hands over the shiny, dark grained mahogany hull in absolute amazement. It was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. Today I get the same thrill when a load of imported marine lumber arrives in our yard. It is a visual treat of beautiful dark red/brown exotic hardwoods like African, Genuine, Meranti, and Sapele mahoganies, the warm golden browns of teak. It's no wonder these are the choice woods of boat builders. 

 

Over a century ago, Honduras Mahogany was the desired choice for many wooden boat builders. An international boat race changed that. In 1920 a boat christened Miss America I became the fastest speedboat in the world. Americans Gar Wood and Chris Smith – working in a small boat shop in Algonac, Michigan – built her. Gar Wood drove the boat to victory with an average speed of 61 mph, winning the world's preeminent speedboat racing championship – the Harmsworth Trophy.

 

All boat materials were required to originate in the country of the entrant to qualify for the race. Wood had been using English Honduras Mahogany, Honduras being a British dependent. Since the Philippine Islands were a United States territory at that time, Gar and Chris built Miss America I of Philippine mahogany. From then on, for Chris Smith, this mahogany from southeast Asia became required material in his boat shop, crafting boats with double-planked bottoms with the trademarked lumber. By 1927, Chris Smith's company, purchased a million board feet of Philippine mahogany at 15 cents per board foot.

"Philippine Mahogany became popular with builders making pleasure wooden boats, thanks to Chris-Craft." says Bob Laurie, Lumber Buyer for LL Johnson Lumber Mfg. Co. and Johnson's Workbench, "However, wooden boats are no longer made with the same Philippine Mahogany of the mid-1900s. Several years ago, we realized that trademark mahogany was not going to be available anymore, so we searched globally for a replacement. Currently, we offer African Mahogany and Sapele from Africa, Dark Red Meranti from Southeast Asia, and Honduras/Genuine Mahogany from Central/South Americas. With any of the replacements we found, you don't get the same lengths and widths you used to get 25 years ago. These African Mahogany trees average 100-130 ft tall with a 3-5 ft trunk diameter. People who want the bigger sizes usually get that with this species. It's what we sell the most of." says Laurie. African Mahogany quickly became the most accessible and affordable substitute. "However, for competition and show boats, builders need the Dark Red Meranti that we carry." Bob adds. 

Bringing exotic marine lumber, like mahogany, to the United States for boat builders and restorers is an essential part of ensuring that classic wooden boats' integrity and craftsmanship lasts for generations to come. Long before your wooden boat cuts gracefully through the waters, imported marine lumber has already had an extraordinary journey from the middle of dense tropical forests to sailing the sometimes-harsh seas.

According to one of our importers of African hardwoods, the carefully selected mahogany trees with their dimpled grey bark are felled deep in the humid forests. It is there that the striking deep pink heartwood is first visible. Mahogany heartwood is pink when initially exposed to the environment, eventually turning to its famous deep red-brown. 

It is quite a task to transport the enormous logs from forest to port. Native to tropical Africa from Sierra Leone
eastwards to Uganda and Tanzania and southwards to Angola and Zimbabwe, the trees thrive best in very wet lowland forests. This saturated ground poses challenges, met by floating and then trucking logs hundreds of miles down winding waterways and roads. Most rivers reach a fall line above the port cities. Floating the logs beyond that point are relatively hazard ridden due to the many rapids along the way. Logs are then trucked the rest of the way downstream to sawmills near the port cities to be milled.

Once the logs have been sawn into rough lumber, their beautifully hued heartwood is in full display. The raw wood must pass scrutiny from an importing agency representative for grade and quantity. The lumber is then loaded and transported from the mill to a port city. In Africa, a southern trade route centers on the Port of Dar es Salaam. A northern timber trade route supplying the international markets goes through Mombasa Port and Kigoma Port.

In port cities, preparing lumber for transport on the seas begins. Before lumber can be loaded onto the ship, it must be packed into containers. Over sixty years ago, before shipping containers first appeared, freight was packed in odd-sized wooden crates handled manually, a process mired with high costs—many delays and mishaps. In 1956, the first standard-size shipping containers were introduced, revolutionizing the process, paring down the expense, and increasing speed and shortening shipping time. Lumber now makes its journey sealed and safe, with minimal opportunities for pilfering and destruction.

Twenty-four hours before loading the ship at a foreign port, a representative from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) issues a certificate indicating the country harvesting the wood and ensuring compliance with the laws during harvest. CITES is a global agreement between governments to prohibit international trade in species under threat.

Loaded container ships leaving port cities are a sight to see. The largest cargo ship in the world ever constructed is the OOCL Hong Kong. Built in 2017, it's over 4 football fields in length and holds almost 4 million gallons of fuel.

According to BIFA.com (British International Freight Association), there are more than 6,000 ships carrying
containers worldwide at any point in time. While most containers arrive in a timely manner, the U.S. receives
several containers every year that have run into one or more delays ranging from severe weather and rough seas to more catastrophic and rare events like ship groundings, structural failures, and collisions. These can all result in containers lost at sea. A 2020 report on container losses by the World Shipping Council found that in the past 12 years, an average of 1,382 containers is lost at sea each year. 

We have been fortunate that the 2020 pandemic hasn't negatively affected the import lumber supply chain to date. Talking with our suppliers, the only effect they have experienced is short delays due to the Hurricanes. We feel fortunate since the Atlantic hurricane season produced six major hurricanes, the second-highest number of hurricanes on record for a season. The number one season for hurricanes was 2005 with fifteen storms.

Ports are sophisticated today with specialized equipment, such as gantry cranes and reach stackers for cargo handling. Once a vessel is docked at a Warf, the containers can finally be unloaded from the ship. At this point, it's time for another inspection. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) agents and specialists may flag and examine select containers such as imported wood and timber to ensure it is free of diseases and pests damaging to U.S. natural resources and agriculture.

The United States, with the other member countries, including most major U.S. trading partners, has adopted ISPM 15 as their international standard. As of March 2002, wood packaging material is required to be heat-treated at a core temperature of 133 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 30 minutes or chemically treated. This process eliminates pests found in wood, protecting crops and forests in other parts of the world. Shipments sent to one of these countries not marked ISPM 15 compliant will be delayed, refused, or destroyed.

Unfortunately, the U.S. and many countries worldwide have had numerous cases of invasive pests introduced into the country over the years. In 2002, the Emerald Ash Borer destroyed 40 million ash trees in Michigan and tens of millions throughout other states and Canada. The Asian Long-Horned Beetle appeared in New York around 1996, killing thousands of trees. The Dutch Elm Disease, first identified in the United States in 1930, destroyed over 40 million American trees. Most incidents can be traced back to shipments where the non-heat-treated solid wood packaging materials contained these destructive forest pests. 

Once the lumber arrives in our lumber yard, our inspectors examine each package for quality, quantity, and
moisture content. Our gold bar for wood moisture is between 8 – 10%. At that dryness, lumber becomes stronger against fungal attacks and rot risk. It has strength, shape, and color preservation that gives a guarantee of quality.

 

"An issue we watch for with African Mahogany," says Bob Laurie, "is a split that goes across the grain instead of with the grain. We call those windbreaks. Occasionally we run into problems we must clear with the importer before releasing the lumber for sale."


As a distributor of imported lumber, we must keep an eye on the sustainability of forest products. Africa takes good care of its hardwood forests. The long-term viability of their forestry resources holds a strong sense of responsibility. Hence certification and verification procedures have been established and are expanding across the country every day, making it easy to track lumber orders back to the tree's base, ensuring lawfulness and sustainability.

 

A vital program sweeping across Africa's rural communities assures villages that have secured management rights over the forest resources on their lands (Participatory Forest Management, PFM) keep most of the revenue from harvesting forest products on Village Lands. There are young but growing organizations established to help communities gain management rights over forests on their lands. One such group is the Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative, MCDI. 

 

In an interview with the Forest Stewardship Council (fsc.org), Abdullah Licheu, 62, a plumbing technician with five children, commented, "We were poor. Now we are earning money from the forests, and our living standards have improved drastically. Through working with MCDI and getting FSC certification, we've gained skills that help us manage our forests in a sustainable manner," Abdullah continues, "We have a program of reforestation, we participate in the security of our forest by doing patrols, and we do not cut trees without permission from our leaders. We harvest according to a plan so that we do not destroy our forests."

It's eye-opening the number of organizations and people in many countries working together to ensure quality imported marine lumber arrives in a legal, ethical manner and in good condition. We're consistently keeping our eyes on the shifting hardwood lumber import market to ensure we are ahead of the game when new sources are needed to help wooden boat builders and restorers retain their legacy.

 

 

Long before your wooden boat cuts gracefully through the waters, imported marine lumber has already had an extraordinary journey from the middle of dense tropical forests to sailing the sometimes-harsh seas.

 

According to BIFA.com (British International Freight Association), there are more than 6,000 ships carrying containers worldwide at any point in time.

 

Ports are sophisticated today with specialized equipment, such as gantry cranes and reach stackers for cargo handling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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