50,000-year-old wood available in U.S.
Two American entrepreneurs have partnered to bring an Ancient New Zealand wood to the U.S. Market. The species is kauri (Agathis Australis), and the imported softwood has been radiocarbon tested with results showing that the wood is between 30,000 and 50,00 years old. Farmers working in former peat bogs discovered the ancient trees in the 1970s.
“There's one guy who grew up in the area and he has been pulling them out for the last 20 years,” said Robert Teisberg, President of Ancientwood Ltd. and owner of Island Woodworkers in La Pointe, Wis. “For the most part farmers find them. Because these were old peat swamps, for whatever reason, the peat settles and the tree stays in the same place so the trees appear to come out of the ground.”
The amount of ancient Kauri buried on the North Island of New Zealand is unknown. The trees were knocked down and buried by an unexplained act of nature near the end of the last Ice Age. Some of the extracted kauri lived for nearly 2,000 years, and is enormous.
The ancient wood has an added benefit—it offers scientists a rare historical opportunity.
“The trees are 40' in circumference, 20' in diameter; that's not unusual and those are the big ones. I would say the average is 12' right now,” Teisberg said. “The can do borings in Arctic ice to have a picture of the environment back thousands of years from the ice age; to have it in a subtropical environment is virtually unheard-of. I don't know of any other opportunity for them to do that.”
Kauri trees still grow in New Zealand and are protected due to past clear-cutting practices. The ancient kauri has a broad range of color and a high amount of figure. It is popular for furniture, countertops, musical instruments and turnings. The wood is distributed by Ancient Kauri Kingdom in New Zealand, and arrives in the United States sliced into pieces ranging from 6” thick, 4' wide and 10' long, to 4/4 boards. The last order Teisberg received consisted of highly figured 4/4 stock that was 24” long.
“The thing that is different from Kauri today is it has this unusual iridescent characteristic in it,” Teisberg said.” “I've seen it in other woods but not nearly so common, and that doesn't really arrive in the grain of the wood until after it's been sanded with 600 grit and into the 1,000 grit. All of a sudden it iridescent character comes when you put the finish on – it's very interesting. If it's sanded to 220 grit and then a finish is put on it, it's not that spectacular generally.”
“It's extremely workable; it's not petrified at all. I compare it to the density and workability of cherry or mahogany, so it works quite easily. It seems to require more sanding, that extra effort at the end to make it really shine.”
When Kauri logs are hoisted out of the peat swamps they are soaking wet, and drying can be a problem if rushed.