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Customer Stories

The Story

lignum-Vitae blocksMy first encounter with Lignum Vitae was in the early 80s. I was browsing through a high end tool catalog that was waxing poetic over the virtues of Lignum Vitae mallets. I was intrigued with photographs and description and paid the $35.00 in spite of other mallets offered at $12.00 to $15.00. When it arrived, I admired the woven, homogeneous grain, honey colored sapwood with 1 ½ inch diameter of heartwood coming in and out of the handle. The thing that most impressed me was the weight. It was three times denser and heavier than anything I had ever worked with. These traits, along with its incredible tenacity, told me this was something special, even after pounding out 1,000s of mortises. I was full time timber framing and spent many hours cutting mortise and tenons into oak beams. The typical home required hundreds of mortises 1 ½” wide, 10” long and 6” to 10” deep. A compact heavy mallet is a must and one that might last a lifetime was an added bonus. Unfortunately, that mallet was stolen some time later. My next encounter was while visiting a man that bought a home I had built several years earlier. Bill was a fisherman from the Florida Keys and told me of a wood used for boat bearings, Lignum Vitae. He showed me a 5 inch diameter cross section of a small log about 1 ¼ inch thick. This was one of the first ever boat bearings! Bill thought that the triangular recess housed layers of oiled leather that kept water from the rear of the boat.

lignum-Vitae blocksSome years later, a friend called asking if I would like to bid on 5,600 pounds of Lignum Vitae blocks from a boat maker’s pattern shop in Norfolk, Virginia. We bid on the material and won! When the materials arrived it was caked with decades of dust that stuck to the wax coating. I cleaned up the blocks and re-waxed them. During the cleaning process, I was able to grade them by size, clarity and quality. This process took several weeks, and I overheard my wife tell a friend that I was with my mistress, Lignum Vitae. Shortly after this, my world became possessed with this material. My wife took her yearly pilgrimage to the beach with her mother leaving me alone to research to my heart’s content. This proved to be dangerous. I found that records have been kept on the transfer of Lignum Vitae since 1964, and from then to present, 150 cubic meters have come into the US. I also found that this is one of the most rare and useful materials we have. From what I could gather, there were about 20 suppliers in the US and Germany that stocked from 1 block to 10 tons. After discussions with my son’s and wife, who all like to turn and work wood, we decided to create a small business around this incredible wood and named it Lignum-Vitae.com, which is the website name. From there I began to purchase every piece of high-quality material I could find to have stock in one central location that could serve industry and individuals needing the wood.

lignum-Vitae blocksShortly after starting the business, I was asked to go to Abaco Island in the Bahamas to look into the feasibility of building a timber frame home on the ocean. I was told to visit Hope Town while there for some R&R. Upon arrival to Hope Town, I was attracted to the local museum. In the front yard was a chain link fence 10 feet high with a sign giving the history and local significance of the tree inside, Lignum Vitae. Intrigued, I approached the front porch of the museum and found a beautiful millstone, which is another passion of the past. Feeling at home, I entered the museum and found the curator and another man looking at details of one of the most detailed, elaborate beds I have ever seen. I looked over their shoulder and said, “Wow! Where did you get the Lignum Vitae Bed?” Their heads snapped around and they asked, “How do you know that?” I told them of my experience with the material and stated that we could prove it by weighing it. I guessed 85 to 95 pounds per post, and sure enough, it weighed 92 pounds. After this, I was given a tour of the museum. Along the way, I was shown some classic antique timber frame tools and a mortise and tenon rafter peak made of heart pine. The curator informed me that this part of the Bahamas was settled by British Loyalists in the 1780s. These folks brought a timber frame tradition to Abaco from Virginia. Well, at this point, things were getting close to home considering my home is Virginia, my work is timber framing, I have collected millstones for 30 years, and my new love is Lignum Vitae. Lignum Vitae is the National Tree of the Bahamas. So from that point, my association with Lignum Vitae was complete. It is from this background that has nurtured my interest and appreciation of a wood that I consider one of the most useful and interesting materials that Mother Nature has provided. Please browse my site, ask questions or send a tally of your needs, and I will try to fill it.