Go Deloraine Stringfest! – a reply


I thought this recent comment to one of my earlier blogs was worthy of a more full response.

While I believe Gordon’s point of view might be an important point of view, it is certainly not the only point of view. In fact, I have some deep reservations about what Gordon is on about, not just about the future for instrument makers, but for craft and furniture makers in general.

Plantation timber is not ideal for every one, in fact, for some it is just plain wrong.

I believe it is of almost no interest to artistic wood turners, for example. They usually like the most gnarly, twisted, knotted, stressed and complex timber they can find, and it is almost totally without exception found to be old-growth timber.

Many users like their timber to be old, slow-growing, stable, rich, dark, and close in grain structure. I have never seen plantation-grown timber of any sort that looks like that. While some luthiers would definitely like straight-grained timber, there are plenty of others, such as the solid-body electric guys who want the most spectacular timber they can find, and I can give examples.

I would have less of a problem with Gordon if he were to not be saying that all the old-growth Blackwood forests should be locked up so that it could give a free kick to the fledgling Blackwood plantation growers – even John Gay did not ask for that!

Hi George,

Thanks for your comment. It’s great to hear from you.

Here’s my response to your concerns:

  1. No one has ever claimed that my views are supreme. I openly welcome other opinions and ideas.
  2. The wood qualities you describe “most gnarly, twisted, knotted, stressed and complex timber they can find” might appeal to a small number of artisans and craftspeople. But by far the major markets for blackwood – veneer, furniture, cabinetry, flooring, and commercial (as distinct from custom) instrument makers all prefer straight-grained wood for its uniformity, stability and ease of machining and workability. Feature grain such as fiddleback blackwood is also highly prized by these markets, but has only ever been available in very limited ad hoc supply anyway. Supply has never been guaranteed. New Zealand instrument makers are already using plantation blackwood.
  3. Plantation blackwood is my main focus because it is the best way to meet the dominant market demand and is the only way to expand and develop the blackwood industry. But I also have a focus on the remnant blackwood forest that exists on private land and how this can be better managed to improve productivity and value. With time (and perhaps even right now) this resource could easily supply the type of wood you describe including featured grain material. In fact it is already supplying the specialised craft and custom market.
  4. The genetic potential of blackwood is huge. A blackwood selection and breeding program could well provide improved, specialised wood properties of consistent quality to meet a number of different markets. These could be based around wood hardness, density and colour and perhaps even figured grain. Such genetic potential will only ever be realised once blackwood cultivation is well established and profitable. We are currently a long way from reaching that point!
  5. if he were to not be saying that all the old-growth Blackwood forests should be locked up”. George can you please identify where I have said this? I am more than happy for public native forest to be commercially managed PROVIDED it is done properly and profitably. I have certainly said that Tasmania has clearly demonstrated over the past 30 years that we do not have the commitment nor the skills to commercially manage our public native forests to meet social, ecological, political and commercial objectives. Every week our newspaper headlines scream this fact to the world. Many Tasmanians are thoroughly sick and tired of it.

I am not against your interests at all George. I want good professional, fully commercial and profitable forest management. I want a fair go and a “level playing field” for both public AND private tree growers. That’s all I want. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently it is.

Right now the policies and practices of the Government and Forestry Tasmania are deliberately undermining my attempts to build a private commercial blackwood venture. In fact your precious public native forest blackwood resource is being wiped out by overcutting! Does this concern you at all George?


When I look at the forest industry I look at as many aspects as I can, not just the quality of the wood resource. Right now there is very little about the forest industry and Tasmanian State forest policy that I find positive or useful. Unlike others I do not ignore the numerous political, social and commercial challenges facing the industry. I certainly do not support the use of taxpayer funds to log Tasmania’s conservation reserves for special timbers. Such stupidity will foment community conflict the likes of which we haven’t seen since the dark days of the Franklin River blockade.

The Deloraine Stringfest is a fantastic festival that in time will become a unique international event, highlighting the complete supply chain for stringed instruments from grower to artist. It has significant appeal to a wide audience. But while Stringfest sits within the current political, social and commercial malaise that is the forest industry in its current form, it will struggle to gain momentum and support.

It is well and truly time for fresh thinking and a new start.

That’s where I want to head George. A new beginning and a new vision.

Forestry is business. It is not about community service, or taxpayer subsidies whilst we are sacking teachers and nurses and closing schools. Forestry is about building wealth, not destroying it.

Go Stringfest!

FSC Certification Evaluation of Forestry Tasmania


SCS Global Services,

2000 Powell Street, Ste. 600


CA 94608 USA


Dear Dr. Hrubes,

RE: FSC Certification Evaluation of Forestry Tasmania

Thankyou for the opportunity to participate in the stakeholder consultation process.

As a forester and forest industry representative my submission to the Forestry Tasmania FSC Certification Evaluation focuses on just two issues.

1. Commercial Management


The forest industry in Tasmania is currently home to two mutually incompatible business models competing in the same marketplace.

The historical, traditional and still dominant business model is the taxpayer-subsidised, community service business model that frames current Tasmanian forest policy, and public forest management by Forestry Tasmania.

The fundamental basis of this model is that public forests managed for wood production are there to serve the community largely through providing regional employment. Good business, commercial management and profit play no part in this business model.

The second business model has always been present in Tasmania but has recently become more significant with the expansion of private plantations and the sale of public plantations to the private sector. This business model is used by private plantation and forest owners; it is the fully commercial, market-focused, profit-driven business model.

It is the same business model that will help drive my goal of establishing a Tasmanian Blackwood Growers Cooperative.

These two business models cannot succeed in the same marketplace. This situation is unstable and ultimately destructive to the entire forest industry. It is also a missed opportunity to realise and develop Tasmania’s significant commercial forest potential.

The traditional business model represents nothing more than a destructive antitrust, anti-competitive business model. It undermines the ability of the marketplace to function properly and put a proper price on forest products. It destroys the value of private forest assets and investment.

At the moment logs from public native forest are being transported to market at taxpayers’ expense, whilst private tree growers do not have access to any taxpayer subsidy. This is blatant antitrust behaviour.

Also please read this brief analysis of the deliberate decline in commercial focus at Forestry Tasmania over the past 20 years. Forestry Tasmania is a storm-tossed, rudderless ship:


The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) must not give its support to this antitrust behaviour. Forestry Tasmania must not be given FSC Certification until it is restructured and managed on a fully commercial profitable basis.


2. Public blackwood forest resource mismanagement


For the last 25 years Forestry Tasmania have been overcutting the public native blackwood resource that currently forms the basis for Tasmania’s iconic blackwood industry. Using Forestry Tasmania’s own data I have summarised this sad sorry episode.

Incomplete history 2



Forestry Tasmania perpetuates the message that the public blackwood forest resource is being responsibly and sustainably managed, when their own data (as shown in the above chart) clearly shows this is not the case!

The recently released Review of the Sustainable Sawlog Supply from the Blackwood Management Zone is a grossly misleading and inadequate document.


The fact that in 2010 Forestry Tasmania announced that henceforth blackwood and all other special timber species were to be managed on a “non-commercial non-profit” basis was a severe blow to the Tasmanian farmers and the blackwood industry.

Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) is Australia’s premier appearance-grade timber species. It is a common tree on farmland across northern Tasmania, most of which is unmanaged and until recently had little commercial value. But this is now changing.

The only way to build and grow Tasmania’s blackwood industry is by encouraging Tasmanian farmers to grow it, just as New Zealand farmers have been for the past 30 years. But Tasmania’s blackwood industry will be gone in 5-10 years due to the mismanagement and overcutting of the public resource by Forestry Tasmania. The local blackwood markets and industries will be gone before Tasmanian farmers have a chance to contribute. Tasmanian farmers will have to start the whole industry from scratch with no market price or demand signals.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) must not give its support to this blatant mismanagement of Tasmania’s public forest resource. Forestry Tasmania must not be given FSC Certification until it provides a full and correct report on the nature of the blackwood resource, and manages that resource on a fully commercial, profitable and sustainable basis.

From my perspective as a forest industry representative and stakeholder there is very little positive that can be said about the current state of forest industry policy and practice in Tasmania. The industry is continuing to go backwards year after year. This comes as no surprise to me at all.

Major review and reform is desperately needed.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) should not add its support to this mess by granting FSC Certification to Forestry Tasmania; not until major reforms are implemented.


Yours Sincerely,



Dr. Gordon Bradbury

14th October 2014

Maton Guitars update

It’s been a while since I’ve done a story on Melbourne-based guitar maker Maton, renown for it’s blackwood guitars. Here are two good stories.

Firstly some eye candy.

The recently (?) released Maton BB1200 DLX is an absolute beauty.


Check these out –

Maton BB1200DLX


Maton BB1200DLX 2

[Click on this image to see the larger view and appreciate the real blackwood beauty!]

This guitar just screams the beauty of blackwood. Yes it’s Victorian Otways blackwood but blackwood nevertheless. Here’s a video review.

Imagine your farm-grown blackwood ending up here, looking this good! Something to be proud of!

Secondly Maton Guitars are now also using Tasmanian as well as their traditional Otways blackwood. The new Maton SRS 70 acoustic guitar is an example.


Some images:

Maton SRS70 1 Maton SRS70 2

And a video review:

Do Maton’s want to help secure their future supply of blackwood? Now how do we transmit this blatant market passion for blackwood on to Tasmanian farmers?

Any ideas?

Deloraine Stringfest is for farmers

Stringfest Logo

The 2015 Deloraine Stringfest will be on the 20-22 March.

The new Deloraine Stringfest website is now online.


This website will be updated as the program for the 2015 festival develops over the coming months. Check it out!

Stringfest is for sawmillers, foresters, luthiers, wood merchants, retailers, artists and people who just appreciate beauty, craft and music; and that’s a mighty big audience!

But I believe it will be Tasmanian farmers who eventually become the real heroes of the Deloraine Stringfest.

The men and women who make the 30+ year commitment and investment, who have the interest and passion, to plant and grow the trees that eventually become the tonewoods and the instruments.

Without these people Stringfest (and the tonewood/luthier industry) has an uncertain future.

Sell your existing trees

At this year’s Stringfest there were tonewood merchants displaying and selling their timber. But they were also buying! They were getting offers of trees and logs from quite a few people.

So if you have trees that you think may have value as tonewood come along to Stringfest and talk to the tonewood merchants. Even some planted exotic trees may be of value. For example the tonewood industry is looking for redwoods and any of the true (Atlas/Lebanon/Deodara) cedars. Good quality blackwood is always in demand.

Learn how to grow blackwood

Blackwood is Australia’s premier tonewood. Come to Stringfest and find out how to grow blackwood in plantation, or turn that patch of degraded remnant blackwood forest into something of real commercial value.

There is great potential for growing commercial blackwood in northern Tasmania. Help secure Stringfest’s future. Plant a tree (or 2)!

Come to Stringfest and find out more.

I’ll be there to answer questions about growing commercial blackwood.

There will be a portable sawmilling demonstration on how to identify/select a tonewood log, and the issues involved with sawing these logs into tonewood billets.

There will also be a ½ day field visit to a successful private blackwood plantation. Places for this field visit are limited so contact me soon to reserve you place.

See you at the 2015 Deloraine Stringfest!

Island Roots

In Taylor Guitar’s latest customer newsletter (Wood & Steel) is a magnificent 6 page spread on the Fall (Autumn) Limited Edition guitars with a major spiel on Tasmania and Tasmanian Tonewoods Bob Mac Millan.




It’s a great read and a terrific promotion of Tasmania and our timbers.

Island Roots

The article called Island Roots runs pages 18-23. Also on page 27 is an article by Taylor’s master luthier Andy Powers. Here’s an extract:

Tasmanian blackwood is a material I first encountered at a local exotic wood dealer. It was love at first sight. The first board I picked up said with a nearly audible voice, “I want to be a guitar.” I could see its beautiful color variegation, as warm as cinnamon, its straight, even grain, and feel it’s perfect density. It came back to the shop without ever leaving my hands and turned into as wonderful a guitar as it first suggested. Blackwood and I have enjoyed a great relationship ever since. Over time, I became interested in learning where this wood came from and meeting its family. I wanted to know the condition of the forest where it grew. I soon discovered that blackwood had forest friends that also wanted to be made into guitars. My interest led me to meet Bob Mac Millan, another woodworker who had been charmed by Tasmanian woods. I learned more about his timber operation and how the wood was being harvested. In our first conversation, Bob said something like, “Ah, so you’ve fallen for the blackwood, too…. You should come down and have a walk out in the bush and take a look. I’m only on the other side of the world; it’s not far.” Spoken with typical Aussie understatement.

Well, I’ve had a look. And I like what I see as a guitar maker and a timber fanatic. I see fantastic instrument wood being collected in a selective and low-impact way, and with a mind toward a healthy future forest. Although blackwood is a relatively unknown guitar wood in comparison to the familiar faces of India’s rosewood, or central America’s mahogany, or even Hawaii’s koa, which is a cousin, this may have more to do with Tasmania’s distance from large guitar makers. The familiar woods have a long history of importation for furniture making and have been available to guitar manufacturers for decades, so naturally they were used. Although blackwood hasn’t been a regular attendee at the guitar party, it surely isn’t for lack of good sound. This wood sounds better to me now than years ago when I first worked with it. In fact, I haven’t heard a blackwood guitar yet that I didn’t like. Sure, I’m biased because I like guitars, but I’m still a fan. It’s immensely rewarding to get to know the personality of a material like blackwood, or a newcomer like sassafras. As a builder, I notice the ways the wood’s physical properties contribute to the musical values of volume, tonal color, sustain and balance of a finished instrument. There are common traits among woods to be sure, yet there are unique subtleties inherent to a particular timber. I often find myself lacking words precise enough to describe those traits, so I end up comparing them to other woods to provide a relatable reference. Yet this seems insufficient. It might also seem to imply that the wood is an inferior substitute, which is far from true. There is uniqueness that radiates musicality in many woods, both well and less known, which makes each board a unique treat that deserves to be valued and savored.

This season, we’re thrilled to be making instruments with blackwood and sassafras from Tasmania, as well as blackwood’s Hawaiian cousin, koa. We’ve been savoring the process of preparing and building these guitars with these precious woods. These instruments are a real treat for both the woodworker and the musician who can appreciate the aural and visual beauty of the wood. This treat seems to resonate even more sweetly when I know the forest is healthy and trees are harvested in a way that closely agrees with all that we as wood lovers value.

Clearly Andy Powers is a big fan of Tasmanian blackwood. Many Tasmanians will know exactly how he feels. I don’t agree with everything that’s written here but never mind. Progress is being made and we will get there eventually.

One day Tasmanian blackwood will be recognized as a sustainable premium tonewood the world over, proudly grown by Tasmanian farmers.

MacMillan Powers Cosgrove3

L to R: Andy Powers, Bob Mac Millan and Chris Cosgrove.

Trees on Farms videos (featuring blackwood)

I’ve recently realised that the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association has posted videos on their excellent website featuring farmers who grow blackwood.

http://www.nzffa.org.nz/farm-forestry-model/species/blackwood/#Trees on Farms videos

Two of these videos are particularly good.

One features Malcolm McKenzie who is a passionate farmer and blackwood grower. Trees are combined with dairy support grazing on this 57-hectare block, with trees occupying the steeper land. Malcolm grows top-quality blackwoods as well as poplar, cypresses and radiata pine. Markets for blackwoods are discussed.

The other video features Northland farmer Brian Simms. Brian’s farm combines grazing with high value trees. Tree species planted include radiata pine, blackwood and silky oak (Grevillea robusta). Brian plants for erosion control and beautification of the farm, while also producing high value timber.

The passion and enthusiasm of these farmers is clearly evident. All of these videos are well worth watching. Much of the country reminds me of areas in northern Tasmania. Excellent farming country with pockets of steep and difficult land very suitable for growing high value timber such as blackwood.

Now how do we encourage Tasmanian farmers to copy their Kiwi peers?


Latest IST blackwood tender results

The latest tender results have been posted by Island Specialty Timbers. These tender results provide the only publically available open, competitive prices for blackwood logs.

The September tender had 26 parcels.

24 of the 26 logs and timber lots sold at fair to very strong prices, including a record price for one black-heart sassafras log, $3800 / m3.

Great news!

The one blackwood log in the tender was a mixed blessing. The log contained both fiddle-back and tear drop figure. But these attributes came with issues: fluting, spiral grain, severe log taper, with holes and limbs. Generally a difficult log, but [as IST described] contains excellent material for turning blanks or a low recovery of figured timber.

It looks a monster!

IST 0914 log20

Length 3.6 metres, butt diameter 95 cm, head diameter 73 cm, volume 1.99 cubic metres.

And this mixed blessing sold for $1,000 per cubic metre or just under $2,000 for the log.

A great price!

Remember this is a mill door equivalent price, not a stumpage price.

The one blackwood log tendered at the previous IST tender in August failed to sell. It too was a difficult log but with plain rather than figured grain. Clearly the market for figured blackwood timber will pay any money for any quality log whatsoever.

The last IST Geeveston tender for 2014 will open on Monday 27 October and close at 4.00 pn on Monday 10 November 2014.   A range of logs, slabs and sawn timber will be offered.