Record price for blackwood sawlog at tender!!!

The results of the August 2015 tender at Island Specialty Timbers have just been posted.

Two small blackwood logs were included amongst the 27 lots tendered.

One of the logs (Lot 23) was a plain-grain Utility Grade (NOT Cat 4) blackwood log. The description read:

A good straight log, several bumps, attractive dark stripes in growth rings at butt end. Length 2.7 metres, large end diameter 64 cm, small end diameter 50 cm, volume 0.68 cubic metres.

IST 0815 log23double

This small log sold for the incredible price of $850 per cubic metre!

This is by far the greatest price ever paid for a plain grain blackwood log.

Remember that a commercial blackwood plantation aims to grow sawlogs that are 6.0 metres in length and an average volume of 1.5 cubic metres. The above tendered log would represent the lower half of such a plantation-grown blackwood log.

In other words at this price a single plantation blackwood log could be worth $1,275!

At 300 cubic metres sawlog per hectare that equates to $250,000 per hectare at harvest for a blackwood plantation.

Remember these prices are equivalent to mill-door delivered prices, so harvesting and transport costs need to be deducted to approximate stumpage paid to the grower.

And this is only one small, low quality log sold at tender in Smithton, north west Tasmania.

The other Cat 4 blackwood log sold for $550 per cubic metre.

This is an extraordinary price for a small plain-grain blackwood sawlog and again demonstrates the commercial potential of farm-grown commercial blackwood.

Is anyone interested?

Ooops! Not such a success


For the past few years Taylor Guitars have been heavily promoting Tasmanian blackwood as the great new sustainable tonewood.

But it seems the promotion plan has come off the rails.

This commentary is speculative but from what I know it fits the available evidence.

After the big release by Taylor of the 2014 Fall Limited Edition (FLE) models things appear to have come unstuck.

The Taylor 2014 FLE models put Tasmanian blackwood up against some serious competition in the way of Hawaiian koa and Tasmanian black heart sassafras, and without too much surprise, the competition appears to have won this race at least.

Sales of the koa and sassafras models were apparently so good that the all koa GS mini is now part of the standard GS mini range. Taylor then came back to Tasmania for a second order of sassafras timber which has now been included in the 2015 Summer Limited Edition (SLE) models.

No such joy for Tasmanian blackwood however. Clearly the 2014 FLE blackwood models failed to ignite the market.

Without too much hindsight this result isn’t a surprise.

The fact that the Winter 2015 Wood & Steel magazine from Taylor had a major focus on future tonewood supply but made no mention of Tasmanian blackwood, reinforces the likelihood that Taylor have shifted the focus away from blackwood.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Taylor Guitars are a great company and they make fantastic guitars. But everyone makes mistakes. I’m no marketing expert but here’s why I think the Tasmanian blackwood models failed to fire the market:

Too much serious competition

Of the four styles on offer for the 2014 FLE models, the blackwood models were by far the plainest and least visually appealing. Two of the models featured koa which is a well established quality tonewood in the American market. The Tasmanian blackheart sassafras, whilst new to the international commercial guitar market, was just so visually stunning and unique. Without any tonal heritage sassafras stole the show like a supermodel on the catwalk. Do I guess the premium acoustic guitar market is dominated by men? But who can blame them for being visual slaves. Of course not everyone wants a visually stunning guitar. Some people prefer the plain and unadorned. But that’s definitely not the dominant market.

Taylor sassafras 2014LTD

Product development and design.

Even ignoring the competition the blackwood design in the 2014 FLE lineup was just ordinary especially by Taylor’s very high standards. Taylors have a very strong sense of the aesthetic. So what happened?

If Taylor uses the limited editions to test new products in the marketplace then the 2014 FLE models merely reinforced existing market preferences for the rare, the visually stunning, and the familiar. In terms of pushing Tasmanian blackwood into the international tonewood market it failed.

So how do you introduce Tasmanian blackwood to the international tonewood market?

How do you introduce a plain grain premium tonewood to a market addicted to feature grain and visual appeal?

Here are some ideas:

  • Don’t introduce the product in competition with other products that already have an obvious market advantage;
  • a clear price differential is needed between plain and feature grain to reflect the fact that feature grain tonewood is a rare commodity;
  • if market resistance to new product is expected/encountered then perhaps introduce the product at a lower price bracket. If the product is good it will quickly move up into the premium market;
  • if introducing a new “plain” product into a premium market then extra effort is needed in product design, development and marketing.

Tasmanian blackwood has the potential to become an internationally recognised profitable, sustainable, premium tonewood but the road ahead remains uncertain.

I hope one day Taylor Guitars come back to Tasmanian blackwood.

Hooray for Peter Adams

The Talking Point in today’s Mercury newspaper by furniture designer/maker and artist Peter Adams is a rare and much welcome alternative opinion in the ongoing nonsense around special timbers and the prospect of logging the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.


It is just so rare for someone within the forest industry to come out and publically challenge the current industry and policy orthodoxy.

From today forward, all timber workers, myself included, have to re-examine their use of speciality timbers.

That said, what I will never do is use any timber cut within the boundaries of a World Heritage Area. Nor should anyone.

My suggestion to Peter Adams and others (including consumers) is to:

  1. Use only farm-grown Tasmanian timbers;
  2. encourage Tasmanian farmers to grow more quality wood;
  3. pay Tasmanian farmers a price for their wood that reflects its real value and encourages more tree planting;
  4. support organisations such as mine that seek to encourage and teach farmers how to grow commercial blackwood in both plantations and remnant native forest.

Wood is not a taxpayer-subsidised community service. It is a commercial product.

Planting trees and managing plantations and forests costs real time and money.

The only way for Tasmania to have a successful forest industry, and realise the vision of Peter Adams, is for tree growing to be blatantly and transparently profitable.

Only Tasmanian farmers can make this happen; farmers who are passionate about growing a quality product.

I was up in the north west of the State this week for the first time in a while, and driving around imagining a rural landscape dotted with well managed forest remnants and plantations of blackwood. Instead I saw opportunities being wasted. Most farms have wet gullies, steep slopes and small areas too difficult to manage. Good land going to waste. These areas are just ideal for growing commercial blackwood.

One of the key things missing is the right commercial and political context to get these areas planted.

Peter Adams points the way to the future.

Award winning Tasmanian blackwood double bass


Sydney-based double bass luthier Matthew Tucker has recently won the Silver Medal for Tone at the 2015 International Society of Bassists (you didn’t know such a group existed did you??) Convention in Fort Collins, Colorado.

As the website says double bass judging consists of two quite different but very important factors: workmanship and tone. Certificates and Silver Medals are awarded in each class.

For an instrument to receive the coveted Gold Medal, it must have been recommended by all judges for a Silver Medal in both the workmanship and tone categories. In the history of the ISB Makers Competition there have been only four Gold Medals awarded.

So a silver medal in Tone is a huge vote of support for Matthew Tucker and for Tasmanian blackwood as a quality bass tonewood.

I took the bass over in June and entered it into the international makers competition, in a field of 25 makers. The Silver Medal is the highest award given in that category.


Here’s what the Judges said:


“Very easy to play. Lovely upper register G string, with a refined sound, excellent projection and good balance overall across the strings … the solo quality is striking. Although delicate, the sound has wonderful bottom to reinforce it.” – John Clayton


“Beautiful, clear and compelling tone, good consistent dynamic range and seamless response. Truly exceptional ergonomics … too easy to play! A fantastic, versatile bass” – Or Baraket


“This is a wonderful, easy to play travel bass especially for solo, jazz and chamber group.” – Nick Scales

 The bass is now on sale and can be played at AES Fine Instruments in New York.

Congratulations Matthew! Fantastic result.

Some more pics of this beautiful instrument:

Labor backs special timbers logging in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area


State opposition leader Bryan Green today announced a policy for Tasmania’s special timber industry, supporting logging within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA).

After a brief hiatus the Labor and Liberal parties are once again in lock-step on forest industry policy in Tasmania.

Once again forest industry policy in Tasmania is driven by politics, waste and community conflict.

“tread widely, tread lightly”

The politicians want us to believe that special timbers is only about fairy land, a magic wand and elvish forest management.

There is no mention of UNESCO, the World Heritage Committee, Forest Stewardship Council, taxpayer subsidies, sacking teachers and nurses, or the last 30 years of politics, waste and community conflict.

Nor is there mention of private blackwood growers.

Instead our politicians will wave the elvish wand and middle earth will magically appear.

It’s just rubbish and deception.

Forestry is not a taxpayer-funded community service!

Nor is this middle earth!

Last month, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee urged the Australian and Tasmanian governments to ban commercial logging within the TWWHA.

So in good old fashion style our State politicians are once again joining forces to wage war over our forests.

The Tasmanian community will once again be the losers.

With classic political vote winners like “long-term security”, “consultation” and “striking an appropriate balance” we have heard it all dozens of times before.

Absolutely nothing has changed for our pollies.

Except now a lot more Tasmanians are sick and tired of the conflict and nonsense around the forest industry. Not to mention squandering $millions of taxpayer dollars and sacking teachers and nurses, and charging electricity users to help subsidise the forest industry. A lot more Tasmanians will express extreme displeasure if this nonsense continues.

Specialty timber groups believe they were left with an extremely restricted resource after the Tasmanian Forest Agreement was finalised in 2013 and new tracts of forests were declared off-limits. The agreement was repealed by the current Tasmanian Government in 2014.

What absolute rubbish! So called specialty timber groups were left without a (public native forest) resource because of 30+ years of failed forest industry policy; a policy that tied the industry to the election cycle and gave everything to industrial woodchipping leaving nothing but platitudes and tears for the specialty timber groups.

I must say after listening to this sort of rubbish for 30+ years I’m getting pretty sick of it. The culture of entitlement within the forest industry that former Gunns CEO Greg L’Estrange mentioned recently is certainly prevalent within sections of the special timbers industry.

The forestry wars are well and truly heating up once again.

Stand by for the media/community backlash.

The special timbers industry is on a hiding to nothing.

When will Tasmanian get a fully commercial and profitable forest industry?

Blackwood sawlogs achieve record price at auction REVISITED


Since it was first posted this blog has consistently been one of the most frequently visited by readers of this website.

Clearly it says something that readers find compelling.

In terms of its message and impact on the forest industry, State forest policy, the farming community or the media however there has been little response.

Profitable tree growing and transparent, competitive market processes remain completely irrelevant to State forest policy and the forest industry.

If we treated our dairy, beef and vegetable industries in such a manner Tasmania would be in serious trouble. But the forest industry remains a victim of its heritage dominated by politics, a public resource and a community service ethos.

Does Tasmania want a forest industry? If so then the price of logs and profitable tree-growing must be at the centre of policy and management.

So how can Tasmania move towards a fully commercial and profitable forest industry?

The industry does not need more behind-closed-door deals, nor more reports and strategies. The industry needs to demonstrate serious commercial muscle, and a burning desire to leave the politics and conflict behind.

So tell me readers, why is this blog of such interest to you?

PS. Here’s a thought bubble!

Imagine what the forest industry would look like today if 100 years ago we had included prizes (trophy or ribbon) in our regional agricultural shows for the best sawlogs, in the same way we have prizes for livestock, wool fleeces, fruit, veges, etc. Farmers who managed their forest or plantations would bring in their very best dressed sawlogs to get judged. All of the entries could then be auctioned off.

Imagine a rural community that took as much pride in forest/plantation management is it does in beef, sheep, wool, vegetables, etc. That of course would depend on the marketplace supporting and rewarding such a community attitude, as the marketplace does for most other primary industries.

What do you think? Comments?

Sunday morning eye candy

Here are some beautiful photos of a top-of-the-range Maton acoustic guitar from the Guitar Factory in Parramatta, Sydney, featuring some stunning fiddleback blackwood.

Designed as a tribute to our founder, Bill May and to bring the best of our heritage and our guitar making skills together, the W.A May is a guitar for the connoisseur.

Victorian Blackwood (in our opinion the best tone wood available) back and sides combine with blackwood neck and AAA spruce face to produce a huge sounding dreadnought guitar. Add to that our unique Custom Shop voicing and craftsmanship, you have a guitar worthy of the name W.A May

That it features Victorian blackwood is fine by me.

It’s almost too good to play!