View Full Version : Reclaimed Mahogany - Oh my (kind of a long rambling story)

jeff pierce
03-15-2002, 01:27 AM
There have been some discussions in the past here about acquiring lumber on the cheap (or free) from unusual sources (shipping crates, etc). I thought some of you might appreciate hearing the story of my latest acquisition. If there's a lesson here, I suppose its just keep your eyes open and accept any and all free lumber people offer you.

Several months ago, a co-worker who heard I was building a boat asked me if I'd be interested in some scrap mahogany. I said 'sure' and the next day he brought me 15 or so thick, short blocks, roughly 2.5" x 4.5" x 2' each, covered with peeling red paint, graffiti, and filled with nail holes and some spots of rot. He implied he had more that he might part with. He said the wood had been window sills and door frames in an old school house, and he had salvaged it from a scrap heap during demolition. I wasn't sure what I would do with such short pieces in what appeared to be not so good condition, but I thanked him and took what he gave me.

The pieces sat in my garage for a while until I began looking into mahogany planking for the deck of my runabout. It occurred to me that the 2.5" thickness was perfect for the width of the planks, so despite my original misgivings, I bought a thin kerf blade for my table saw and set about slicing up one piece. The wood inside was quite attractive and for the most part quite sound.

Just for the heck of it, I took a piece of it (still rough cut) to the sink and poured water on it (to simulate a finish). I was stunned. The color of this mahogany was like none I had seen before. Darker than any Honduran I had seen, with deep red/auburn accents. I suspect it is not Honduran but "West Indies" mahogany (Swietenia Mahogani)which is virtually extinct now. I decided I had to use it. I would scarf together as many short pieces as I needed to make my deck planks.

I told my co-worker of my intent and he said, "oh, do you need longer pieces? Come over and get some" When I got to his house, he said, "I'm never going to use this, why don't you take it all". "All" turned out to be almost 200 bd ft of the stuff, all a generous 10/4 thickness in lengths up to 6 feet. Most had no nail holes, rot or other defects.

I asked him several times as we loaded it in my van, "are you sure you want to give me this?". He told me he had tried to give it away several times (once even to a boatyard) and nobody wanted it! Unbelievable. I made him promise to call me when he started building his new garage so I could come and help, its the least I could do.

03-15-2002, 05:45 AM
The labor to resaw 6' orless pieces is why boatyards probably didnt want it. Also dealing with an unknown wood on a boat you are building for someone else. Mahogony darkens with age. You have some very nice wood if you can use it, make sure you take your coworker out for a sail so he can see the finished product.


03-15-2002, 03:31 PM
Cha ching!!!

03-15-2002, 03:59 PM
Sounds like a great find to me.

Speaking of reclaiming lumber I've been thinking here lately. Around these parts there are a whole bunch of old barns in various states of dis-repair. The wood on them has turned gray. I've been wondering if that wood off of these old barns is salvageble. It would need to be resawn and planed and you would have to be very careful of nails. One of the older guys here at the office says that a lot of them old barns were built out of locust. Reckon it would be worth it?


Chadd Hamilton
03-20-2002, 11:41 AM
Yeah, isn't trash wonderful. There is a huge house going up in our neighborhood and every few weeks or so the construction dumpster will have a mahogany crate in it. The wood is rough sawn 3/4" X 5" in varying lenghts(usually about 6').

Of course, the people of the community frown upon dumpster diving, but it really benefits everyone when we reuse our natural resources.

If they only made those crates from teak...

jeff pierce
03-20-2002, 01:24 PM
Originally posted by cs:
I've been wondering if that wood off of these old barns is salvageble. It would need to be resawn and planed and you would have to be very careful of nails. One of the older guys here at the office says that a lot of them old barns were built out of locust. Reckon it would be worth it?
I think so, but it depends on your definition of "worth it". As Rick pointed out in response to my original post, the labor to de-nail, plane clean and resaw my short pieces of mahogany is probably not "worth it" in a commercial sense. However, it was very worth it to me for several reasons: 1. I was getting a quality (and maybe even species) of wood that may not be generally available in the market today. 2. I don't consider my labor a factor. I consider this work part of the process of building my boat, of which there is nothing I would rather spend my time doing. 3. Its important to me that my acquisition of this lumber did not cause another mahogany tree to be cut down in a rainforest somewhere.

Reclaiming those barn beams may even be a commercially viable venture, not that I suspect thats what you're going for, since we are talking about large beams of old growth stock. There is a growing market for "antique" lumber, and there are already several outfits making a living reclaiming lumber. Around here, the barn beams reclaimed and sold generally seem to be chestnut.

Art Read
03-20-2002, 02:17 PM
The guy I bought my hull planking from would probably agree with Jeff. He's got a nice little side business going with the Port Orford Cedar he salvaged from an 80 year old bridge that was torn down in Oregon someplace. He put a little ad in the back of "WoodenBoat" and re-mills it himself to whatever dimensions are called for. I don't know how much of this stuff he got, but he's been running those ads for a few years now and it seemed to me he keeps pretty busy putting small orders like mine together. I don't know how he works around chewing up his blades on hidden fasteners, maybe some sort of metal detector? But the wood itself is lovely. Old, old growth with the tightest growth rings I've ever seen. Once cut it "looks" and smells like it came out the forest last week. And God knows, it's certainly "well seasoned"! The only downside is that you do have to pick and choose your pieces pretty carefully to work around the fastener scars. (I wound up with a few "dutchmen" where I couldn't avoid 'em without wasting the whole plank.) I also wonder what, if any effects the great age of this particular species might have on the wood's "resiliency"? Something I never thought to investigate before I used mine. It certainly seemed "fresh" enough. And I only managed to split one plank bending it in around the turn of the bilge. Maybe you can pry out a "sample" from your barn and experiment with it?

Billy Bones
03-21-2002, 10:33 AM

You've made a great find! And you have great friends, even better.

Just a note: I work almost exclusively with sw. mahagoni and can tell you that while it is quite hard and durable, it is also VERRRRY brittle. Don't use it in any structural application. The older it gets, the more brittle it gets. (It isn't nearly extinct, BTW, it just isn't cultivated in any quantity that would support trade. It grows like a weed, though. 3' trunk in 40-60 years, max age <100y.)

B. Darrah Thomas
03-21-2002, 01:59 PM
Went through something similar about 2 years ago. I had a friend in charge of maintenance at a local brewery. When the "carpenters" messed up on a couple sheets of mahogany veneer ply, my friend called me over to pick up the scrap. Turns out there were 2 sheets still over half undisturbed, meranti w/ mahog veneer & about 15 bd. ft. of hardwood honduran. I rapidly loaded my truck, brought it home & shelved it. Later I built: http://www.darrahwoodworks.com/compcab4.jpg
I still have several pieces of the ply & hardwood. Every now & again I throw a piece or 2 into a project for detail & silently thank my buddy.