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Shop Talk Live 23: Cuba's Forgotten Furniture Masterpieces

comments (8) January 11th, 2013 in blogs

thumbs up 27 users recommend

On this weeks episode of Shop Talk Live, senior web producer Ed Pirnik fills us in on a few furniture-related items he discovered while visiting family in Cuba over the holidays.
Finally home. This was a special trip for Ed, as he was bringing his mother, Loly, back to the island for the first time since she left at the age of 15, some 50 years ago. Here, Loly stands outside the gates of the home she grew up in, located in Havanas Miramar neighborhood.
Cuban mahogany everywhere. While in Cuba, Ed discovered a trove of Cuban mahogany furniture dating back to the 1920s, at the residence of his aunt and uncle outside Havana.
Have a look at the beautifully carved, beveled edges of the familys dining room table.
And here you can see just how beefy these mahogany timbers are. This leg was made from a blank probably measuring in at about 6-in. x 6-in. Apologies for the on-camera flash photography!
A happy ending. Eds mom, Loly, is reunited with her aunt after 50 long years apart.
On this weeks episode of Shop Talk Live, senior web producer Ed Pirnik fills us in on a few furniture-related items he discovered while visiting family in Cuba over the holidays. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

On this week's episode of Shop Talk Live, senior web producer Ed Pirnik fills us in on a few furniture-related items he discovered while visiting family in Cuba over the holidays.

Every two weeks, a team of Fine Woodworking staffers answer questions from readers on Shop Talk Live, Fine Woodworking's biweekly podcast. Send your woodworking questions to for consideration in the regular broadcast!


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Shop Talk Live 23: Cuba's Forgotten Furniture Masterpieces

On this week's edition of Shop Talk Live, Ed Pirnik fills us in on his recent trip to Cuba, with a special focus on furniture lost to the revolution and a house built of Cuban mahogany. Then it's time to address listener questions as we tackle everything from  when to choose a shaper over a router table, whether you really need a caliper for furnituremaking, and the merits and disadvantages of the radial arm saw. Plus, a brand new audio shop stumper offers listeners a chance to bring home a set of Rockler Bench Cookies.

Now I Know Why Cuban Mahogany is a Protected Species

Of special note this week was Ed Pirnik's holiday trip to visit family in Havana, Cuba.  Traveling along with him was his mother, who hadn't been back home since leaving the island at the age of 15, in August of 1960. While staying at the home of his aunt and uncle, just outside the Cuban capitol, Ed snapped some photos of furniture built during the waning years of the Cuban mahogany trade and learned--much to his surprise--that the roof of his family homestead was all built of Cuban mahogany in the 1930's. Heck, even the exterior siding was milled from the stuff! Get the whole story on this week's podcast.


Mike Pekovich 
FWW art director

Matt Kenney
FWW senior editor

Ed Pirnik
Senior web producer

 Listen to Previous Episodes

posted in: blogs, podcast, mahogany, shop talk live, cuba

Comments (8)

mgaav mgaav writes: BLASMALDO, I'm in Mexico too. Where did you go to woodworking school in Mexico?
Posted: 8:52 pm on January 26th

user-2388591 user-2388591 writes: We have been fortunte to do restoration or conservation work on Cuban mahogany furniture over the years. It is the finest wood to carve, work with and finish..
Posted: 7:26 pm on January 20th

BLASMALDO BLASMALDO writes: epirnik my question was if any of that caoba made it to mexico.
About the maker of the furniture i knew who he was my grandma lived next door to him.
Thinking about it i guess it really does not matter the important thing is that i get to pass on these works of art to the next generation and hope that they have the same appreciation for the skill and craftsmanship that these fine woodworkers had no matter their nationality.
Thanks again for having these type of discusions.
keep up the good work.
Posted: 2:05 am on January 18th

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: BLASMALDO: I'm no wood science expert so take what I say with a grain of salt. That said, the references I've found to "Caoba Centenraia" all seem to point to the Dominican Republic. At the end of the day, the wood species Swietenia mahogani grows all over the Caribbean, so I think one would be hard pressed to be able to figure out country of origin unless they could really trace a piece back to it's maker.
Posted: 9:12 am on January 17th

BLASMALDO BLASMALDO writes: I would like to ask if any of you know if some of this mahogany made it to mexico. Because i happen to be lucky enough to have had my grandmothers dresser passed on to me.
Since i was a kid, my grandmother would tell her story of how my grandfather saved all his pennys (i ment pesos) back in 1915 to have a dresser and a huge trunk made out of mahogany.
While attending woodworking school in mexico i took the trunk to class, thats were my teacher told me it was made of Caoba Centenaria.
Now could this be Honduran or Philippine mahogany or maybe cuban or dominican mahogany.
How can i tell them apart?
Posted: 2:15 am on January 17th

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: InNJ: Very interesting. At the time that my mother and grandparents left Cuba, they had my uncle go into their home (the one my mother is pictured standing in front of) to retrieve as much furniture as they could. Many of those old rococo antiques are still in my aunt and uncle's bedrooms. Unfortunately, the finishes have suffered greatly over the years, but it was fun to see mom's reaction to coming across all the old pieces that were in her bedroom as a kid. Cheers,

Posted: 11:01 am on January 14th

Fiveoaks Fiveoaks writes: Good show guys, my first but not my last. The segment on radial arm saws was interesting. I still own my old Sears and I have the planer head and router collet. This was my first big investment in equipment and it was a do all for me for many years. It now collects more dust than it ever makes.
Posted: 12:27 pm on January 13th

InNJ InNJ writes: Very nice shoptalk episode. Made me want to share my own fellow Cuban-American woodworker story. I'm a Cuban-American whose hobby is woodworking, and my wife's family background is Dominican. My wife's grandfather left her mother her great grandfather's Dominican mahogany parlor furniture set from the early 1900's, which we had shipped to us in the US a few years ago. It was manufactured by Pineiro Furniture, and the 6 pieces were well used and some slightly sun bleached from being in the entry hall, so I decided to restore the finish. Knowing of the rarity of the wood, and the familial connection, I approached the project with a sense of reverence. Though I didn't 'work' the wood, I truly enjoyed finishing it. The first thing that caught my attention was the grain as compared to the average mostly straight-grained Honduran & Philippine mahogany I'd previously worked with for shelves & molding. Sanding it created a soft red dust it almost hurt to vaccum! I decided to use a Sam Maloof finish and even called Maloof woodworking and spoke to Larry to confirm whether I was applying it right! They're better than new (and old) IMO.

While you probably can't claim your family's mahogany furniture from Cuba yet Ed, if you're ever in DR you might want to look for antique pieces made of what the locals know well as 'Caoba Centenaria', and bring a few pieces back with you to rework. It's certainly easier and cheaper than trying to get genuine Cuban or Dominican mahogany lumber. Not sure how you would ensure authenticity without really knowing the market, though. One man's junk...

Posted: 12:33 pm on January 12th

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Fine Woodworking magzine's biweekly podcast, Shop Talk Live, allows editors, authors, and special guests to answer your woodworking questions and connect with the online woodworking community.