The Editors Mailbox

The Editors Mailbox

Should Woodworkers Say Goodbye to Ebony?

comments (0) June 7th, 2012 in blogs, videos

MKenney Matthew Kenney, senior editor
thumbs up 275 users recommend

Video Length: 13:22
Produced by: Taylor Guitars

This is a cool video from Bob Taylor, co-founder of Taylor Guitars. He discusses a subject that's close to my heart: Ebony. I learned quite a bit about the wood watching this video. You should watch it, too. I didn't know, for example, that Cameroon is the only place where Ebony can be legally harvested. And I didn't know that 10 ebony trees were being cut down to get just 1 that is pure black in color, and the other 9 are left to rot on the jungle floor.

I also find it interesting (and a bit worrisome) that Taylor Guitars (or at least Bob Taylor) is now part owner of the company that provides 75% of the legal ebony to other instrument makers. On the one hand, he's done something I admire. He's decided that every ebony tree cut down will be harvested for lumber, so there's no waste and the supply of ebony goes up. However, he is part-owner of an instrument making company. And now he has significant control over an important resource that his competitors need (or at least want). If he is as good intentioned and caring as he seems, I suspect there will be no problems. But you never know.

What I'd like to know is whether the ebony I buy from lumber dealers comes to the US through these same channels. I don't use a lot of it and I save every scrap, but I'd like to know where it comes from, whether it will still be available in the near future and whether or not I should start practicing my ebonizing skills.

EDIT (6/11/12)

Wow. I didn't expect this much response. And I certainly did't expect Bob Taylor to respond. Some of you might miss his response, because it's now burried in the middle of the comment stream, so I'm copying it here. Please read it. Also, one commenter thought I was implying that Mr. Taylor would somehow take evil advantage of his position with respect to ebony. I'm sorry to have given that impression, because I actually got the opposite impression from him. He strikes me as honest, caring and as doing this for the very reasons he says.


Here's what he wrote:


Hi All, I've been a woodworker for a long long time. I make a lot of furniture and love the community. I thought I'd add a few comments to help your discussion. I'm not a hype guy, although i've found in my forum experiences in the past that whatever I say, there are people who agree and people who think I'm lying. Well, I'm not lying, I'll start with that.

Here's a few things I thought i'd share after reading comments.

1. We, nor I, don't give to the Obama campaign. It's amazing how people post things like that who think they know. Blows my mind.

2. There are other legal places to get ebony, but they're not practical for a number of reasons. That ebony rarely makes it to the market.

3. There are many times the amount of legal wood that leaves Cameroon illegally, that is not permitted, rather bribed, out of the country. This is just a fact. Even the "legal" wood was bribed in the past to lower costs! We don't pay bribes. But this may answer where all that other wood you're wondering about comes from.

4. Find the film, "Madagasgar, Lemurs, and Spies" if you want to see a good inside look at the Madagascar ebony situation.

5. We have been granted 75% of the permits in Cameroon because we have real sawmills, with real locations, with real employees. 75 employees now, in two sawmills. You can find us, tax us, inspect us. The permitting board respects that and rewarded it. Other operations are mostly invisible.

6. Yes, I do want to "control" the ebony, but not in the way it's insinuated or feared. I want my ebony to be legal, and I want clients who share the same goal, and my promise to them is legal and ethical wood.

7. I have a Spanish partner named Madinter Trade, and they're a very good company with super high ethics and skills. They sell wood internationally to guitar factories. They're young and follow the current world rules naturally.

8. We have discovered for ourselves that the business model of the past required much illegal or unethical activity to lower costs. As we operate legally we have found it loses money. We'll correct that with improving the business over time, and eventually we will make a good business of it.

9. We can't really control our competitors with ebony, don't worry about that. We need clients. It's a business! It's not a toy to play games with, as some people worry about.

10. We seek to bring further transformation of the wood into the country of Cameroon. We'll invest in the factory and teach their people how to make semi finished parts that will have more value that can stay in Cameroon.

11. People want to know about reforestation. That is a very complex subject. Briefly, you have to start with legality. Think about it. We have to insure all the wood is legal. In the case of Cameroon we actually have to help fix the contradictions in their forestry laws. We've been invited by them to help with that. That will set the stage. Next, is to get an inventory so we know how much ebony there is. There are ways to do this, and there is motion on that project already. And then. replanting could occur, but the best way to replant is to simply not kill the forest, then it takes care of itself. That's what FSC methods ensure. We do not have a concession of land, but have to work within other's land. That's the law. I could say we planted tress and people would feel good, but the real work is what i just mentioned. I've learned a lot about it and we have very astute professionals working with us. Someday I hope to have very specific reports on the true, actual, health of the species in Cameroon.

To wrap it up, I enjoy your conversation here, and I hope this helps you have a good discussion. Wish us luck, if you have it in you to do so. We need it, it's hard job to be done.

Bob Taylor

posted in: blogs, videos, ebony

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