MEXICO – Rory Wood loves wood.

The 30-year South African timber merchant’s roots go back to his ancestors who immigrated to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, from Ireland in 1820 and established a timber business there.

He’s carried on the enterprise, selling more than 160 exotic and rare woods to craftsmen worldwide through his Rare Woods South Africa business in Cape Town.

He began in 1982 with 100 South African rands – the equivalent of $12.19 in U.S. currency today – borrowed from his mother.

Today, the business’ wood inventory is worth 150 million rands, or $18.1 million in U.S. currency, and it has nine warehouses, 75 employees, plus equipment and machining services.

In three months, Wood will tap into the U.S. and Canadian exotic timber markets with his newest distribution center in the United States: Rare Woods USA LLC.

Housed in the former J. A. Thurston mill off Route 120 in Mexico, Rare Woods USA will carry 168 woods, such as kingwood and tulipwood from Brazil, olive wood from South Africa, and fancy U.S. woods such as curly and bird’s-eye maple from Milo, and Douglas fir from the West Coast.

“The market is here” in North America, Wood said Saturday afternoon.

“There are 3½ million people in Cape Town and 90 percent of them are black and have no money,” he said.

Conversely, “there are 320 million people in the U.S. who own a table saw and, there are 10 million who call themselves woodworkers,” he said. “That’s such an enormous market. The wealth is in the States.”

Explaining his market, Wood said North American hobbyists are the No. 1 users. In South Africa, it’s shop fitters.

The No. 2 users in both places are boat builders, while the third and forth groups, respectively, make musical instruments and cabinets.

He will sell one piece or a thousand pieces, either by appointment only, via the Internet (www.rarewoodsusa.com), or telephone.

“The wood we carry is for people who are in love with wood,” he said. “Where else can you see six types of ebony?”

“You would think ebony would be black, but we have got it in orange and red, blue and black,” he added.

Leaning against walls in alphabetical order in the new showroom on Saturday were many planks of different stock, such as the bright red African padauk; dark brown Panga Panga from Mozambique; and the vibrantly purple purpleheart from British Guyana.

Eventually, the Mexico warehouse will have 400,000 board feet in stock at all times.

Two employees, plus Wood and his wife, who does the bookkeeping, will run it, but he expects to employ up to 15 people within three to five years.

So, why Mexico, Maine?

Wood credited that to Dr. Joe Martin of Rumford and the River Valley Growth Council.

Martin, he said, was building a yacht in Cape Town, and visited Wood’s business there seeking Maine curly maple. Wood has since bought 50,000 board feet of it in Milo for Rare Woods USA.

“He told us that Rumford was a beautiful mill town and that his son was going out with the Thurstons’ daughter and knew the mill was going out, and so we started negotiations for it,” Wood said.

Rare Woods USA is finally nearing fruition after a few years of hard work by Rosie Bradley and her growth council successor, Beverly Crosby, said Wood, who lives in Rumford and Cape Town.

Additionally, 15 different contractors are renovating the mill, nearly a year was spent getting work visas, and then months spent learning Canadian, federal and state trucking regulations to transport wood stock.

Eventually, Wood will have a kiln here and maybe a small sawmill.

“Fine woodworking was the start of this,” he said. “In the ’50s and ’60s, people made furniture to save money and now, people make the most finest furniture for leisure.”


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