Certified environmentally conscious, and then shipped straight from the rainforest, Brazilian Ipe (EE-pay) and Jatoba (jah-TOW-bah) are now available for area porches and decks.
Husband-and-wife team Mark and Diane Comolli recently brought Comolli’s venture, ForestWorld Group, to Millville. In doing so, they’ve opened a conduit between exotic hardwoods and local builders.
Ipe is the one of the densest woods on the planet, according to Diane Comolli (Jatoba only slightly less so). Carpenters who know don’t try to drive screws through Ipe without drilling first. And one shouldn’t attempt to cut Ipe with a handsaw — powersaws with carbide-hardened cutting edges are the tool for the job.
So yes, it’s a little more difficult to work with, but Comolli said they could offer some advice on how to go about it — and for the benefits, the extra work is worth it.
She compared the rainforest hardwoods to the treated timbers of, say, the Bethany Beach boardwalk. “This wood, when it’s properly installed, never mechanically deteriorates (never splits or splinters),” she said. Comolli said Atlantic City, N.J. recently went with the tropical hardwood option.
“And it’s not treated with harsh chemicals,” she added. Ipe and Jatoba weather to a natural grey, and whether or not builders decide to apply a clear finish, the rainforest hardwoods will last 40 years.
Ipe carries a class A fire rating — alongside concrete and steel — and is naturally impervious to mold or insect damage, Comolli continued.
However, for all these benefits, she said she doubted many U.S. consumers would be interested in the tropical hardwoods if they suspected they weren’t being harvested in an environmentally sensitive manner.
“We import under very strict environmental standards,” she pointed out. “We understand the objections and concerns associated with harvesting rainforest hardwoods, and that’s why we work to help the indigenous peoples in communities where these harvests take place.”
ForestWorld Group is working toward 60 percent Forest Stewardship Council- (FSC-) certified wood — Comolli called the council “without question, the most rigorous land management program on the planet.” Other woods are certified by various national forestry services.
She said her husband had worked with one of the FSC’s certifying bodies for several years (Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood program).
According to Mark Comolli, “This wood comes from landowners, in this case in Brazil, and the program works to increase yield and improving the quality of their operations,” he said. That means using current technology, like GPS, to locate individual trees for harvest without needless thrashing around, and replanting.
Environmental sustainability aside, Comolli said community involvement made up the other half of the equation.
“To get FSC certification, you have to give back to the community,” he said. “A lot of these folks down in South America, people who live along the Amazon, they don’t have a lot of opportunity to make money.”
Therefore, properly managed timber sales could not only leave the environment intact, but could provide much-needed resources for health and education, he said.
Mark Comolli spent many years working in the domestic woods market, in the Pacific Northwest. According to Comolli, “At that time, if you lived in Oregon, you worked in the wood business.”
He did that for 20 years or so, before moving into work with the Rainforest Alliance. “Basically, I went from the big industry side to the environmental side,” Comolli said. “Now we’re a combination of the two.”
His work with the Rainforest Alliance sent him to the Northeast in the late 1980s. “I met Diane, and I thought I’d better stay,” he said.
They moved down from Vermont five years ago, to be closer to Comolli’s family (and to the beach), and brought ForestWorld Group with them.
Both stood behind the super-dense hardwoods as a preferable natural alternative to plastic composites.
“Whenever we go to trade shows, the one thing everybody’s looking for is a maintenance free product,” Comolli pointed out. “Well, there isn’t a product out there that’s 100 percent, but these woods are a least as maintenance free as composites.”
While the hardwoods were more expensive than treated cedar or oak, as far as composites, he said the prices were comparable — and the natural planking was no more difficult to install.
So the only question was, according to the Comollis, who wouldn’t prefer real wood?
For more information about ForestWorld Group, call 541-4541, or stop by the shop, next to Solutions + Plus in Millville. There’s also a Web site — www.forestworld.com — with links to the FSC, SmartWood and others.