Mahogany

Honduran Mahogany

Honduran Mahogany. The words evoke majesty: a yacht sailing over smooth water, the round tone of a guitar as it is strummed, the perfection of a classic Chippendale.  Used for centuries by fine furniture makers, luthiers and ship builders, Honduran mahogany signals an adherence to quality and luxury wherever it is found.

Characteristics

Honduran mahogany ranges in color from a pale pink to a reddish brown, darkening with age. Though more commonly found with straight-grain, some samples display spectacular figure. These figured grains provide artistic interest through their crotch sections and the swirls and waves of curl, quilt, and mineral streaks.

Not only rot-resistant and very durable, mahogany displays remarkable stability. Because of the structure, this wood species resists warping and splitting. Mahogany’s stability keeps our joinery solid even when exposed to harsh weather.  Since the wood’s nature provides such exterior robustness, a finish isn’t necessary to maintain the integrity of the wood. A penetrating oil such as we use on our outdoor line allows the wood to breathe and gray with exposure and slows post-storm drying to keep the wood from cracking. Allowing such exposure to the elements increases the softness of the surface even as it turns the wood a silvery-gray over the years. This natural gray perfectly brings our Sunniva outdoor furniture into harmony with your landscape.

All of these factors combine to produce strong and well-formed furniture which lasts for centuries.

Honduran mahogany is included on the CITES Appendix II due to a decline in its natural range and exploitation. While a few old-growth trees are still sustainably harvested, most Honduran mahogany comes from plantations. As a result, most timber marketed as mahogany is actually African mahogany or Sapele. While Sapele has its own virtues, only Sweetenia Macrophylla (Genuine Honduran mahogany) fulfills all our requirements for our outdoor furniture.

Harvesting

Despite its rarity, we use old-growth Honduran mahogany in our furniture. We found a sustainable source through Greenwood, a non-profit organization which Brian Boggs helped found, whose mission is to foster self-sufficiency by promoting sustainable forest management.

Rather than the typical destructive approach of logging roads and heavy equipment, the light touch of mule-powered transport protects the rainforest ecosystem by hauling the precious cants of mahogany out of the forest on narrow trails that quickly disappear once a tree has been harvested. A trio of local sawyer cooperatives hand select these massive trees when they are 150 to 200 years old, just before their natural life cycle ends.

These co-ops harvest only five to six trees each year at most. Freehand, the sawyers chainsaw the massive four to five-foot diameter logs into eight-foot long half-logs, suitable to be resawn with the lightweight chainsaw mills hauled in by the mules. The size of the resulting cants is determined mostly by the limits of the mules.

During the trip, each of the twenty mules hauls only two heavy cants of mahogany from the back country to the edge of the river. At the end of the work shift, the mules must rest for at least two days before returning to the rainforest.

After transport from the rainforest, the eight-foot-long cants of mahogany are hauled to the village saw mill. Each piece is sorted, milled and tagged for different customers. Since the local market can’t maintain the cost of sustainable management, our support of this international market helps make this material profitable. Working this way, we assist in the preservation of a sustainable economy which depends on a healthy forest.  Without a way to make forest management economically viable, this community would be forced to turn to cattle farming, requiring clear-cutting for fields and eliminating the forest altogether.

Sustainable Sourcing

Discovering this source for Honduran mahogany was a journey all its own. In 1993, Brian Boggs joined his friends, Curtis Buchanan and Scott Landis, in an artisan training venture to support sustainable rainforest management. Their mission was to train people who depended on forest lands for their livelihood how to sustainably make a living building wood products manually. Beginning with the Pech tribe in Santa Maria del Carbon, Honduras, Greenwood developed projects in several Honduran communities.

Through partnerships developed along the way, Greenwood was cofounded.

As Greenwood investigated where to take their projects, they learned about a community who were using large mahogany trees to make a single cuyoco, or dugout canoe. Greenwood contacted a boat builder from Maine to help these artisans redesign their river boats and increase yield twelvefold.

When the boat builder began working with the mahogany, he realized this was instrument quality wood. Spurred by this discovery, Greenwood created an ongoing economic relationship between American luthiers and a trio of sawyers cooperatives through Madera Verde, Greenwood’s sister organization. With Brian Boggs Chairmakers willing to take delivery of the high quality wood as well, Madera Verde could insure the success of this sustainably managed rainforest project.

Final Notes

We use this mahogany for everything from dining chairs to tables to desks, with a special emphasis on our outdoor furniture line, Sunniva. The outdoor furniture gets a matte finish of rosewood oil, effectively protecting the wood and allowing it to age naturally in the sunlight. The aging process turns the wood from a rich red-brown to a silvery-gray, retaining its elegance through the years. The red-brown color can be maintained for a while. Following our care instructions helps to retard the aging process, as does storing the furniture under cover. The thin gray surface can also be sanded away before the reapplication of the rosewood oil.

When finished for indoor use, the mahogany retains its deep red-brown color, eventually darkening to produce a range of deep reddish brown tones.

From the long cants of wood carried by mule out of the rainforest to side chairs surrounding your dining table, Honduran mahogany fascinates us with its rich story and enduring beauty. We are proud to include this wood in our collection.