Demand increases, but supply gets tighter as regulations multiply

purpleheartSales of imported exotic hardwoods are on the rise, which lumber suppliers interviewed by Woodshop News attribute to an improving economy and a renewed interest by woodworkers to use unique materials.

But combine increased demand with tighter supplies and you get higher prices.

“Some of the very exotic species are getting difficult to get,” says Fabs Corte of Cormack International, an importer based in Weaverville, N.C. “You start thinking about certain ebonies and certain types of rosewoods and the more exotic ones, there are a lot of new regulations with CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and permits, not only with cutting but also exporting. There are a lot of new checks and balances in place because of new regulations that were issued last year.”

Corte also notices that with certain exotic species falling out of the loop, people are looking for alternatives and that is putting a strain on other species. He says the mainstay species remain as popular as ever, particularly the mahoganies. For example, prices for sapele have increased 8 percent in the last four months.

rosewood“The woods that remain popular are your true rosewoods, cocobolos and tulipwood, which you can’t get at the moment. All of these species that three to four years ago were available are no longer available, but the demand remains,” says Corte. “We’re also seeing a lot of calls for species such as bubinga, purpleheart and padauk.”

Younger customers, in particular, seem more interested in exotics. While woodworkers were happy to use oak exclusively 20 years ago, the next generation likes variety.

“I think the uptick on exotics continues to climb,” says Corte. “We’ve been in the U.S. since ’97 and I remember in our area in North Carolina, a lot of the locals would only stick to domestics, like cherries, walnut and oaks. Today contractors come in looking for things more unusual that they’ve probably seen in a magazine. I guess people are being more educated and exposed to it.”

According to Clayton Eisenbrand, owner of Eisenbrand Exotic Hardwoods in Torrance, Calif., buyers now appear to be more comfortable spending money on beautiful woods.

padauk“We sell a lot of ebony, rosewood, pink ivory and that sort of thing. We have so many different kinds of customers who buy it for making fine furniture or one-off pieces,” says Eisenbrand.

Prices are hard to pinpoint for exotics because they’re constantly changing. According to Corte and Eisenbrand, material pricing depends on the supplier, date of shipment and whether it’s a retail or wholesale purchase. They say suppliers who’ve stored certain species for several years might sell their product for much less than a recent shipment.

Corte says ebony, for example, used to retail for $40 to $50/bf, but over the past three years he’s seen it go for $100 to $140. Eisenbrand has seen African padauk climb from $8 to $12/bf. 

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue.

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