Furniture from blackwood
Graeme and Betty Benjamin, New Zealand Tree Grower August 2006.
Customers visiting the Everwood Furniture showroom in Mount Maunganui love furniture made from blackwood timber according to Graeme Benjamin. Graeme and his wife Betty have owned Everwood Furniture for a good number of years now, and never have any problem selling pieces made from blackwood.
The firm manufactures traditional and contemporary solid wood furniture, including dining suites, bookcases, bedroom furniture, display cabinets, tall boys, coffee tables and bathroom vanities. The business is a family affair, with son Lyall working as foreman.
The blackwood Graeme uses is generally supplied either by Moxon Timbers, or from his other preferred supplier, Rarefind Timbers in Hamilton. Only timber sourced from New Zealand, or Tasmania is fit for its purpose according to Graeme, who finds timber from the Australian mainland bland in comparison. Getting hold of enough timber, and timber of consistent quality and colour, is the biggest challenge the company faces, and a major constraint on the quantity of blackwood furniture produced.
Colour can vary from light gold to a dark red-brown, but customer prefer darker, redder colours. The efforts made by Rarefind Timbers to match pieces for colour are much appreciated by Graeme.
When timber merchants with less rigorous quality control systems are used for blackwood supplies, Graeme has to order 25% more timber than he needs for a particular job, simply to ensure a good colour match.
Another challenge with blackwood is the variability within pieces. The grain can change direction within the same board. This makes life difficult for those machining the wood, as it tends to chip out during machining. Stability is not a problem as long as the timber has been dried down to about 12% moisture content. Finished products are either lacquered or oiled.
Lots of waste
The lack of consistency within and between pieces tends to mean a lot of waste, even at this very last stage of the production process. With waste comes high costs. However, the reaction of customers to blackwood is so positive that Graeme sees it as a definite alternative to heart rimu. The price of blackwood products made by Everwood is comparable to those of heart rimu, around a third more expensive than mahogany, but unable to command the premium of timbers such as cherry, maple and black walnut. Because of uncertainty of supply, Graeme says he is reluctant to push blackwood products because of the fear of then having to disappoint customers or keep them waiting because of lack of timber supply.
Graeme and Betty Benjamin are owners of Everwood Furniture, Mount Maunganui