Guest column: Exploring the forest, finding new wood species

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by Laura Beaver

A little more than a decade ago our flooring vocabulary was limited to words like oak, cherry, maple, walnut and hickory. As tastes and design developed and the world shrinks and the forests began to give up her secrets, we expanded our vocabulary to include acacia, bubinga, jatoba, cocobolo, and wenge.

The more mysterious and exotic the sound the more we were intrigued and ready to explore. Over time we learned to appreciate their qualities, and craftspeople learned how to work with them to give us a highly prized piece of work.

Architects and designers are constantly developing new ideas and looks to please the eye, bringing about the need to find new species. Over the past decade, we have seen the demand grow for these unique, beautiful and durable species. That demand is not always easy to meet when the product originates in the depths of the Amazon forests. Given all the recent regulations such as the Lacey Act and other programs around the world, producers and importers are faced with new challenges to protect forests.

But the choices are still very abundant.

There are a number of companies today developing markets for new species to help satisfy the demand of an ever more selective customer base, and fill a void left by species whose supplies are diminishing. Over the past decade demand on certain Brazilian products has caused supplies to dwindle, creating higher prices.

There are two key reasons for this: Brazil is growing and woods that were once being exported are now being used for its own expansion. And, the rise in the Brazilian dollar is causing a rise in the costs of these products.

The development and discovery of new products will easily and inexpensively fill the void of these species. There are countries full of possibilities that haven’t yet been tapped and companies are moving quickly to fill that void.

One such company is New Horizons Hardwoods. With corporate offices in Springfield, Mo., we are working feverishly in other parts of the globe to discover species that will hopefully give the customer new, less-expensive and easier to find options, such as Cherry Sapele. This beautiful hardwood is appropriately named as it highly resembles African Sapele, with a rich cherry color that varies from light reddish brown to chocolate brown to maroon.

Here are a few more of the lesser-known species for you to watch for:

•Amendoim. Gaining popularity among architects, it has a warm medium reddish tan or brown color with swirling grain and small burl figures.

•Burkea Africana. The heartwood of this beautiful specie produces a durable, insect-resistant timber with a moderately fine, wavy grain that is dark to reddish brown.

•Timborana. Resembles teak; has creamy yellow and light to medium brown tones.

•Sucupira. Great for commercial or residential applications as it can stand up to high foot traffic, it has a lustrous chocolate brown color with golden striping.

•Red Mandioqueria, Madio. The International Wood Products Association has identified this to have significant market potential because of its physical characteristics such as medium to coarse texture and pinkish brown to reddish brown with a golden luster in some species.

We know several things for sure: Wood will never go out of style with consumers and designers, it is a renewable source and the world will always be looking for new ideas. There has never been a better time to “explore the forest.”

Laura Beaver is president and co-founder of NH Group, dba New Horizons Hardwoods, which harvests and manufactures both lumber and flooring for import to the U.S. To contact her, call 417.890.7000.

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