Wood IDs #15: African Blackwood and conservation

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 06-26-2009 03:12 AM 3017 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 14: Figured out what kind of Eucalyptus it was that I found Part 15 of Wood IDs series Part 16: The American Woods - 350 N. American species specimens »

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

4 comments so far

View Karson's profile


35267 posts in 5367 days

#1 posted 06-26-2009 04:10 AM

Thanks for the info.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View bowyer's profile


340 posts in 4362 days

#2 posted 06-26-2009 01:31 PM

Good job on the research. Commen sense may soon catch on


-- If at first you don't succeed...Don't try skydiving

View Stilts's profile


10 posts in 4250 days

#3 posted 06-26-2009 04:14 PM

Common sense really isn’t all that common. It’s not just these third world countries that sell their assets for immediate financial gain not thinking about future generations, it happens right here in our own backyard.

Here in Chicago, our mayor is selling any asset he can just to balance the budget, no worries about what our kids are going to do when they run into budget issues. He has sold a major toll road, city parking garages, and one of our major airports. Since then, our tolls have gone up 50%, our parking fees have doubled, and who knows what will happen with the airfare. Oh well, I guess all that matters is that he looks good by not having to cut jobs. It doesn’t matter we already have the second highest taxes in the country.

Sorry for my rant, I know it’s not the same thing as saving the rainforest but the comparison just popped in my head while reading your blog.

Nice job Gary.

-- Chad from Chicago's North Shore

View mmh's profile


3680 posts in 4689 days

#4 posted 02-26-2010 09:46 PM

Thanks for the information. I often wonder how sustainable these exotic woods are. I am always on the hunt for beautiful, unusual woods, but don’t want to be part of the cause for extinction of a tree. Keep up the excellent blog!

-- "They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

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