Mahogany Recovered

When the sailing ships first delivered mahogany logs to Europe, it inspired and delighted the cabinetmakers and became the premier wood of choice.  By the 1980’s, the trees were endangered and their extinction seemed possible, even likely.  By regulation, conservation, and certification, a sustainable harvest can now be imagined.  The article copied below from the Forest Stewardship Council Newsletter addresses this promising turn of state in Brazil, but it applies through much of the range.  With rare exception, we have purchased FSC certified mahogany from Central America for our furniture.  The wood delivered here is not the same old, slow growth wood from giant trees that so pleased the cabinetmakers of the past.  But the wood from younger, quicker growth trees that is delivered here retains much of the character: color, workability, strength to weight ratio, and durability outdoors.

Excerpt from “News and Views – FSC Newsletter 06/2016 – 22 March 2016”

Welcome Back, Mahogany!

Welcome Back, Mahogany! (© Agrocortex/Photo: Forest view)© Agrocortex/Photo: Forest view

Mahogany is back on the market with FSC®certification.

One of the most beautiful and famous Amazon timbers, the mahogany, will return to the market. Mahogany became a target of deforestation in the 1980s, after its beauty and strength attracted the attention of consumers. Due to intense exploitation, the extraction and trade of mahogany was prohibited from October 2001.

Now limited trade is being allowed again. Currently, extraction is only authorized by the Brazilian Government in areas of sustainable forest management, following strict criteria established by the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (known as the CITES agreement).

The return of the mahogany trade, this time with FSC certification, is an achievement for the Amazon and for all of us. Previously a symbol of deforestation and concentration of wealth with a few, today the restored trade in the mahogany shows that it is possible to responsibly manage native forests, with environmental and social benefits guaranteed.

In responsible forest management, the forest portion where trees are extracted is divided into several sections, called forest stands. Analyses are performed to define trees that are of adequate age and size to be harvested. This way, the forest cover is maintained and its value conserved.

FSC certification is one of the main tools to fight deforestation. It is also a powerful tool for the protection of biodiversity and maintenance of ecosystem services – such as carbon sequestration and storage, watershed services, and soil conservation. On top of that it encourages improved workers’ rights and welfare and better relationships with local communities and indigenous peoples, as well as adding value to products.



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A Natural History of Trees

My library is small.  I have culled it deeply (too deeply) several times and loaned or given many books that were worthy.  One of the books that has stayed with me for decades is A Natural History of Western Trees, by Donald Peattie.  I bought it new in the 1970’s.

Bob O’Brien, tree artist now ( and graphics artist for our print catalogs back when, called last summer to recommend a book, A Natural History of Western Trees.  After the call, I took the book down and reread the sections on trees whose woods I have worked or in whose shade I have walked. I remembered why I kept it.  Bob particularly praised the scratchboard art of Paul Landacre that illustrates the leaves, cones, fruit, seeds, and crowns.  Bob had made scratch board art for our early catalogs.

Three panels of our second “catalog,” circa 1995. gwblog0002

Scratch Board1

Jim Fish, webmaster, called last week to recommend a book…the same book.  He sent an audio file.  You probably wouldn’t think the text of a book appearing to be taxonomy text is worthy of an audio version, but this is far more than an aid to identification, a description of range, and a list of uses.  It is a character study.

Yesterday, I listened to the sections on the Sequoias.  I can relate.  At the time this book was written, my dad was building redwood fences (among his many endeavors), so as soon as I could help, I did too.  Redwood was abundant.  There were lumberyards that specialized in it and even the typical lumberyard had some dimensions and grades of it.  We built fences of soft, sweet, tight-grained lumber that even at age ten I knew was golden.  I listened to the reading in reverence, joy, and sadness: reverent for the majesty of the trees, joy in recalling the working of the wood, and sadness at our treatment of the forests.

I keep a few pieces of redwood in the shed and use it with great care and a bit of ceremony.

I went online.  There is a companion, A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America.  I found a good copy used.  It likewise will survive any future thinning of the bookshelves.  This new, old copy is in the showroom now, on a table by a rocker.  I have marked four chapters: those on black walnut, pecan, wild black cherry, and sugar maple.  I have told this story to my colleagues and have asked them to read the bookmarked pages.  Peattie reveals the soul in wood.  We work accordingly.

IMG_9487 - Version 2

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Refinishing a Porch Rocker

We have a mahogany rocking chair on the porch of the showroom.  Last summer, it had been outside for ten years.

For maintenance of this rocker, we had done nothing more than wiping it from time to time with a slightly soapy cloth for cleaning and an almost wet one for a rinse. We did this about three times in ten years. It went out new to the porch as the pale brown of fresh mahogany. In a year, it was a rich, red brown.  Over the years, it became grey brown. Between wipings, it would become unevenly soiled with patches of light and dark. Cleaning evened the color to a pleasing weathered grey–at least pleasing to us. In this photo, the seat has been wiped with a damp cloth, but the rest of the chair is the uneven color of benign neglect. The joints are tight.


Weathered mahogany, occasionally wiped down, would not appeal to everyone, so we decided to refinish this chair, beginning with a deep cleaning. We made a mix of water, Murphy’s Oil Soap, and a 1/4 cup of household bleach. Austin scrubbed the chair and rinsed it well.


We let it dry a few days and sanded it lightly with 220G.


Oiled it.











After the refinishing, we re-wrote the maintenance guidelines on the website,

Outdoor Furniture Maintenance Guide.

We build the seats of our mahogany rockers with openings as expansion joints and we leave the tenons through the arms proud, so that changes in humidity do not stress the seat or make an uneven surface under your hands. The contour of the chair and therefore the comfort for the sitter are the same in our rockers of any wood. Many of these mahogany rocking chairs are used indoors.

Mahogany Rocking Chair

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The Blanco River Flood of May 24, 2015

Recently, a woman came who was taking photos and collecting comments for a book on this town of Wimberley. She took some pictures and asked if we would write a few words or a paragraph on what we like about living here. I planned to write on the big cypress trees along the Blanco River. On the morning of May 25, they were almost no more.

The flood made the front page of the New York Times. One hundred or more houses were destroyed or completely washed away. Maybe fifteen hundred were damaged. More than a dozen people died. The stories of near escapes are chilling and so numerous that it is a wonder more people were not drowned. Most of the big cypress trees went down or lost their bark — thousands of them, some over five hundred years old.

Wimberley flood

Richard Mason Photography

Wimberley flood 2

Richard Mason Photography

Wimberley flood 3

Richard Mason Photography

John Michael who works with us was able to make two trips to the car with chosen items before he had to get away and leave his cabin to flood.

We’ve had floods before. They are a regular occurrence. Sometimes a few houses get water in them. But this one put four feet of water in houses that one would say were on the bluff — and took out the trees.

There is a lot of wood along the riverbank, some of it useable. But because there are few living trees along the river now, the downed trees are the bulwark against erosion and can be nurseries for new trees. Without woody plants along the river to hold the soil, normal floods will scour the soil from the banks and eliminate the possibility of a cool, shady river for those coming after.

We have been working on the effort to preserve and restore the riverbank. Will has skillfully managed a Facebook page: Blanco River Restoration Project. In the first 24 hours, this site had been viewed 40,000 times. There is a lot of interest in this cool, clear River.

Another good thing about this town is the people and their willingness to volunteer and help. The morning after the flood, many hands went to work cleaning up and salvaging. Gary Weeks and Company are today back to work, mostly.

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National Pi Day

This morning, I heard a piece on the radio about National Pi Day featuring a mathematicians speaking of pi and its utility. He said there could be no technological sophistication without calculations involving pi: no automobiles, no space flight. I realized there would be no Weeks Rocker, or any of the chairs we build or plan to build. Or at the very least, they’d be hard to build and likely wouldn’t fit together so well. This is a great day of celebration.

Our chairs, comfortable chairs, are forms of curves and profiles that come together, and fit, at critical points. These points and the relationship between the mating parts cannot be easily described in a way that makes the making of the chair a relatively simple process of precision rather than a more lengthy and haphazard one of “cutting to fit.” But by taking a section (finding a plane) within the solid form, mapping tangents to curves, and solving triangles using pi (and trigonometry), we can build very exact jigs, fixtures, and tools to make parts that meet in space, surface to surface, glue-line tight. I love pi.

This week, I was designing a curved bench for a patron. To find the number of slats in this drawing, I used pi to find the length of the arc described by the intersection of the seat and back slats — a simple use of the formula: circumference = pi times diameter. The drawings are handy enough to post here.

End elevation of bench

Section -- center of all benches

Plan view of curved benchPi calculations for curved bench

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Conference Room Furniture

The West Texas Rehabilitation Center provides a range of health care services and have since 1956. The mission of this non-profit “is to improve the quality of life of those we serve regardless of financial circumstances.” Over the last decade, we have given several rocking chairs for the annual fundraising auction. They are building a new headquarters in San Angelo. A member of the staff asked us to make a proposal for the furniture of the conference room. He gave us a floor plan drawing showing a 12 foot long, boat-shaped conference table, two buffets, and a wall of base cabinets with book cases above.   In addition, seating for 14 is needed. Mesquite is the wood of choice — for it is the tree, the scourge, and sometimes the delight of West Texas.

The budget is limited. WTRC is dedicated to spending for service, not administration. We can give and we will. But our best and their most dictated fewer pieces and a few compromises to features. The wood will be a mix of mesquite and red oak. (Red oak grows around too.) We won’t be building the mesquite, red oak, and leather rolling office chairs I sketched, only a couple of side chairs for overflow. The wall of cabinets will be simpler. The table will be simpler than our original notion as well. But that table will be the centerpiece of their organization and a challenge for this one.

Drawings made for the proposal:

conference room floor plan

conference table elevation

conference room bookshelf elevation

conference room buffet

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The New Website

Our website presents our work to the world. Most of our patrons find us in a websearch. We built a website early, 1998 or so.   Jim Fish, able webmaster, has managed it since 2000. We have made changes to its structure from time to time and have added to it continuously. We were still hearing compliments on the site, and it was working well enough, but by the beginning of 2014, it needed a major remodeling.

As I dug into the site, it began to remind me of a 100 year old farm house that had been added on to ten times by farmers of varying ability. It was necessary to tear down most of it and begin at the foundation. Here we had a choice to make: Should we continue to build a site from “scratch” using HTML code or should we use a template/content management system, as most sites are now using. We chose to stay with HTML — the more laborious method, but the method that permits a wider latitude of graphic control and, we hope therefore, enables an individual and distinctive presentation.

Simpler navigation, new categorization of products, consistent elements, more and better photos, clearer text — these were the goals. The tasks were myriad. I found that much of the tailoring of the presentation required an analysis of the business: its priorities, costs, and organization. New photos had to be taken and the photo archive had to be excavated, culled, and ordered. More than the site has been refreshed.

I wrote sentences, edited photos, and chose other elements to send to Jim with suggestions for placement. A quick count shows 517 emails, 97 word documents, and 600+ photo files sent to him from June 9 to December 26–the time it took. We also talked on the phone almost daily.

2014 remodel folder

This is a photo of Jim’s file of notes taken from email, word doc, and phone.

The process generated the thought that a two page, print friendly, catalog sheet of each product would serve the clientele well. And then I realized that these sheets will be our catalog of the future — easily maintained and changed. We have printed several versions of catalogs over the years, catalogs that were very nice in your hand, but shortly after ink hits paper one sees something to change — now we can.

The site at launch was 230 pages with 1,278 photo and 81 graphic files. Please have a look. (Note: if you have been to a page on the site recently, you may have to click your refresh button to see the latest version.)

The new homepage

The new homepage.

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