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The Maya Forest is a lowland tropical rain forest boasting 375 plant species found nowhere else on earth. It stretches from the Caribbean coast of Mexico, through Belize and into Honduras and the Peten region of Guatemala.
In 1965, within the heart of this jungle, a group of loggers came across an exceptional mahogany tree. Measuring 10 ft wide at the mid-trunk and 50 at the base, it had a spiraled back. This was a sign the wood could be highly figured.
The loggers camped at the base of the giant and felled it with axes. But they were robbed of their prize by fate. On the way down, the tree twisted and landed in a steep ravine. Two D7 tractors were brought in to extricate the fallen tree, but to no avail.
So there it lay until 1971 when a sawmill owner called Robert Novak heard of the giant figured mahogany tree. In 1983, after some searching, he found the log. The tree was halved then quartered with the resulting eight pieces were dragged, carried and floated for 200 miles to a steam powered bandsaw mill.
Novak outbid several veneer manufacturers to saw the logs into timber. The cutting operation lasted 12 days and yielded 12,000 board feet of lumber of which one third was a bilster/quilt figure, another third had a waxy quilt figure and the remaining length, a combination of the two. This wood was air dried to 35% on site then kiln dried in Miami. Half the shipment was sold direct from Miami and the other through Handloggers Hardwood in California
A lot of interest was generated through Mark Berry’s article in the sept/oct 1985 issue of Fine Woodworking. Mark, now a noted Classical and Flamenco luthier, had purchased wood for several projects during his time in a woodworking firm.
Today, boards of this striking tonewood continue to be sawn and used by luthiers such as Breedlove guitars, R Taylor Guitars, Brock Poling and Ken Miller. Ken has worked several sets of the tree mahogany [see sidebox] says “it’s more brown than red and is denser and stiffer than usual for mahogany. It sounds closer to rosewood than mahogany.”
© Terence Tan.
R Taylor Guitars, Jay Howlett, Ken Miller, Breedlove guitars, Wikipedia
Original article “Quilted Mahogany” by Mark Berry in 1985 Sept/Oct Fine Wood Working magazine
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