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post #1 of 16 (permalink) Old 05-14-2009, 05:08 PM Thread Starter
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Default Mahogany


Any discussion of Mahogany may be complex and confusing because there has been a lot of change in the past few years and the term "mahogany" has been applied to several woods for marketing purposes. There is no botanical connection among these different woods. I will try to keep this short and to the point but there is a lot of information available.

Today the primary "mahogany" in the marketplace is

African Mahogany, Khaya spp.

African Mahogany has been on the US market for a long time but its use dramatically increased after 2003 when South American Mahogany, Swietenia macrophylla was listed in CITES. African Mahogany became the most available and affordable substitute. Today this is the most widely used wood called "mahogany". It is not related to South American Mahogany but has a similar look and even though it is more brittle it has acceptable working properties.

There are several species of Khaya. The most acceptable as a substitute is K. invorensis. This species makes up most of the African mahogany on the international market. While this is the most desirable species it maybe sold in a mixture with other Khaya species including K. anthotheca , K. grandifoliola , and K. senegalensis. Origin of lumber can sometimes help identify specific Khaya species. This may be valuable information since differences in some properties can be appreciable. Supplies of African Mahogany lumber are abundant, and it can be found in a wide range of sizes at moderate prices. It is also available in veneer and plywood from many lumber suppliers. African mahogany is frequently used to replace South American mahogany because it is cheaper, easier to obtain, more abundant and can be used for the same applications.

In general this wood works quite easily in all operations, but if the grain is interlocked it may be difficult to surface without tearing out. HERE is our wood library page for more information.

Other woods that may be marketed as mahogany are:

Sapele, Entandrophragma cylindricum, a much larger African tree and more widely distributed than Khaya. It is a good working timber with a finer grain texture than Khaya. Some wood experts believe Sapele will become the African mahogany of choice in the future.

Sipo, Entandrophragma utile, another good working wood from Africa but grows more slowly and is more sparsely distributed than Sapele. Sipo is the European favorite.

South American Mahogany, Swietenia macrophylla
This wood is from Central or South America and may be named Mahogany, Honduras Mahogany, South American Mahogany, American Mahogany or Genuine Mahogany. For the past 200-300 years this species was the choice of furniture makers. Originally stock was harvested from Honduras; however, during the twentieth century Brazil provided most of the material but the name Honduras Mahogany continued to be used. Most current stock comes from Peru or Central America.

Effective Nov 15, 2003 Mahogany came under the international trade restrictions for items listed in CITES Appendix II. Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. Consequently, additional permits are required to harvest and export the wood, supplies of lumber have decreased and the price has increased dramatically. South American Mahogany will continue to be available but supplies will be limited and prices will be much more than they were just a few years ago.
For more information on CITES go here: Welcome to CITES.

Genuine Mahogany ranks among the finest cabinetry wood in the world. Its working characteristics are outstanding for all processes, including cutting, shaping, turning, and sanding. The grain is moderately open so filling is required to obtain a glass smooth finish. Since the CITES listing the woodworking community continues to search for a substitute for Swietenia macrophylla but no other wood has the exceptional grain and working properties.

Cuban Mahogany, Swietenia mahagoni. Early American furniture makers preferred this species. Today there is no commercial source for this wood but some comes on the market from time to time due to hurricane damage.

Philippine Mahogany, Shorea spp. This term is not used much anymore but was quite common 50 years ago. This large family of trees produces wood with somewhat of a mahogany look, it is widely distributed throughout the Pacific islands and is inexpensive. Meranti and Lauan are the names generally used.

Lyptus, A plantation hybrid of Eucalyptus, has been developed in South America by Weyerhauser as an environmentally friendly alternative mahogany substitute. Here is more information.

Other woods, Santos mahogany, Andiroba mahogany, Mountain mahogany and others, are not related to either Swietenia or Khaya, but are attempts to pickup on the mahogany name or promote a wood as a mahogany substitute. I expect we will see more of this in the future and the confusion will increase.

For your next project consider African Mahogany. It is economical, works well and takes a fine finish. If price is no issue, consider Genuine Mahogany, Swietenia macrophylla, by what ever name it is available; otherwise, consider Sapele or Sipo. Try Lyptus for a unique and sustainable wood. South American Mahogany is best for outdoor applications.

Please tell us about your experience with Mahogany or just add a comment.

Keith Stephens
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Last edited by Woodworkers Source; 05-14-2009 at 07:51 PM.
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post #2 of 16 (permalink) Old 05-14-2009, 06:38 PM
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Another good article, thanks. I did not know that there were so many flavors of mahogany. Then again, haven't used any in quite awhile. I used to work with it in the sailboat fitting business, making all sorts of covers, trim, and fixtures. It was a superior wood for saltwater environment. I do have a piece of Honduran Mahogany I've been saving. It is a 2"+ piece that was destined for a guitar body. That project has been on hold for a long time. Your species article reminded me of it and maybe it's time I put that in the queue

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post #3 of 16 (permalink) Old 05-14-2009, 06:46 PM
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The is a great article, has anybody made a project with African Mahogany. We would sure like to hear from you. Please post your experiences here in this thread.

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post #4 of 16 (permalink) Old 05-14-2009, 08:27 PM
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Good article, until you got down to the Philippine mahogany, I was wondering if perhaps I had lost it somewhere. When in school I did a project out of Philippine mahogany. Don't remember much about it other than the color. Sometimes I think I have lost my mind but then I remember that it is backed up on hard drive somewhere.

Again good article.

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post #5 of 16 (permalink) Old 05-14-2009, 09:59 PM
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Thanks for the info Keith. I've allways heard lot's of talk about Mahogany, but never had any to work with. I have had a little Sapele, since my local lumber yard has been loaded with it lately.


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post #6 of 16 (permalink) Old 05-15-2009, 06:04 AM
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I haven't seen a piece of Phillipine or Hondurus Mahogany in quite a while. Just not available around here anymore. What I have been substituting is Sapele, which Keith describes above. Very similar in appearance though in my opinion a bit softer. It's the wood I used on my daughters jewelry box project, and I use it frequently in drawer construction as it makes the dovetails pop when used with drawer fronts.
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post #7 of 16 (permalink) Old 05-15-2009, 01:16 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by jmg1017 View Post
I have been substituting is Sapele, ... Very similar in appearance though in my opinion a bit softer.
Every board is different but I am surprised about Sapele seeming to be softer than South American Mahogany. The Forest Products Lab tech sheets show hardness ratings as follows:

Mahogany 740 green; 800 dry
Sapele 1020 green; 1500 dry

The higher the rating the harder the wood. Mahogany is quite variable depending on where it was grown but Sapele is usually quite a bit harder.

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post #8 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-31-2009, 02:07 PM
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Most of my experience working with hardwoods has been limited to red oak. After reading the write ups that Keith Stephens posted on Mahogany, Ash and Lyptus I decided to use all three of them in a project to get some experience working with them.

I posted a thread with pictures of my mahogany, ash and Lyptus box project here:

All three of the woods machined nicely, but without a doubt the African mahogany was the nicest of the three to work with. It seemed to be a lot less dense than the ash and lyptus and the tight grain structure machined beautifully with absolutely no tear out. Iíll definitely be using it again in other projects.

The white ash actually machined almost identically to what I am used to from my experiences with red oak. In fact the grain structure in the piece I was working on looked a lot like the oak that I am used to.

The Lyptus was the most challenging of the three to work with. At first I got a little burning and tear out on my initial cuts with the router, but after cranking up the speed and adjusting my feed rate I was able to correct those issues.

I really enjoyed working with all three of the woods and I appreciate Keith taking the time to post the write ups.

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post #9 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-03-2009, 05:36 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for posting your experience with these woods. Part of the fun of woodworking is that each species has its own characteristics and challanges.

You detailed explanation and pictures make your write up very useful for others. Nice box too!

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post #10 of 16 (permalink) Old 10-20-2009, 02:16 PM
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I've had a lot of experience with Lyptus and African Mahogany. I much prefer African Mahogany for it's look, machinability, color, weight, and finishing characteristics. That being said, at the time Lyptus was cheaper, so we used a lot of it too. Lyptus is very hard, and was hard on our tools. The cutters had to be cleaned daily to remove the resin left behind. It is also very heavy and hard to cut. We had to do a lot of experimenting to get the right feeds and speeds to produce good quality cuts with out CNC's and moulders. And did I mention that it was very heavy? lol I got that one from the guys every day...
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