Good carpentry wood in the Yucatan?
September 12, 2018 9:31 PM   Subscribe

I have the opportunity to have custom furniture made for a house in the Yucatan. I am personally a fan of big solid pieces of glass and wood. What wood to use is the question.

The obvious choice is pine, but the termites here will go through it in seconds and I prefer something harder anyway as I expect to pass this furniture down.

Right now I've settled on cedar as it is a) relatively hard, b) less attractive to termites, and c) supposedly can be sourced ethically.

Before I commit myself I thought I'd see if anyone else has faced this question and what conclusions they've reached.
posted by Tell Me No Lies to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
You’re having the stuff made locally in Yucatán?

Ask the local craftspeople what they use. I would imagine they’ll have access to all sorts of tropical hardwoods, specifically some local flavor of mahogany.

Otherwise, I’d look at walnut, maple, and cherry.
posted by notyou at 10:37 PM on September 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I love cherry, darkens beautifully with age
posted by JonB at 10:53 PM on September 12, 2018

I do not have the local expertise you need (talk to locals as noted above) but would advise against cedar or other similarly soft timber. They do not wear well as table tops or edges and protective glass tops are a pain.
posted by deadwax at 11:13 PM on September 12, 2018

I should have been clearer, I want to make these from local wood. I am not aware of any varieties of walnut, maple, or cherry that grow here.

Mahogany is possible, but there are sustainability issues.

Unfortunately the craftspeople themselves (and their representatives) are happy to give me a price on any wood I name, but have little or no idea if it is being harvested responsibly.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:14 PM on September 12, 2018

An organization called the Forest Stewardship Council certifies timber harvesters that harvest responsibly. Back when I was making furniture (as a hobbyist) we would look for FSC approval. We didn’t investigate further — it seemed legit and we also really wanted to work with the stuff.

I think that would be a good place to start — are there FSC certified harvesters in the region, and will your craftspeople source through them?
posted by notyou at 11:45 PM on September 12, 2018

If the furniture is meant to remain relatively local, I'd probably go with the recommendation of the local craftspersons for longevity and overall durability. If meant to be eventually exported, it may be a bigger hassle determining if it can be exported to your intended destination.

If it is being sourced locally, it may be difficult to determine exactly what is really meant by being "harvested responsibly". Such things are often determined by international organizations very broadly, aimed more at consumption at much larger scale and/or for export. Some woods are plantation grown, some harvested from the wild. It can lead down a rabblit hole of research, which may or may not be worthwhile. Perhaps seeking out the advice of local academics versed in the field?
posted by 2N2222 at 3:53 AM on September 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

In response to the suggestion to look for certification, you may find that only the larger, and perhaps non-local, sources of timber are certified. Certainly if you want FSC certification here you'll struggle to find a local source, but that doesn't mean there isn't sustainable timber produced locally. Not much timber is required for furniture generally, it should be possible to get the story behind some of your locally available timber to a reasonable degree of certainty and make an informed decision from there. That is the route I'd take if local certified timber is not available (and don't trust certification blindly - a lot of timber laundering goes on).

See if you can talk to a miller or two rather than the furniture makers.
posted by deadwax at 4:13 AM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is termite-eaten furniture a thing you've actually seen, aside from some piece of furniture that was stashed in a garden shed for years? I don't live in a climate or ecosystem anything like the Yucatan, but termites in my area don't go after dry wood furnishings inside a house.
posted by jon1270 at 4:15 AM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have not seen any of the pieces in person but I have talked to multiple people who brought pine furniture from the states and have had it attacked. I have also seen in person the traces where termites dug through six inches of concrete to get at the pine.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:55 AM on September 13, 2018

I would call up the folks at Casa de los Venados in Valladolid. There is copious gorgeous custom furniture in a range of styles from rustic to refined. They have daily tours so you could look at the pieces yourself. The owners are Americans and extremely knowledgeable and interested in Mexican craft.
posted by wnissen at 9:19 AM on September 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

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