It doesn’t matter if you are looking to revamp your dining hall or add a new cupboard to your bedroom, you should always make an informed decision. It is important to know what kind of wood you will be using for your new furniture. It is a really important decision to make if you don’t want to find yourself spending more time and money replacing your furniture over and over again.
One of the most popular wood types that people use in residential homes is mahogany. Mahogany is a beautiful reddish-brown timber that looks amazing wherever you place it in your home. It has straight grains that make it look sleek and elegant. It comes from three main tropical hardwood species which is indigenous to the Americas. It is part of the Meliaceae family which has pantropical chinaberry types.
Related: All types of hardwood flooring
History of Mahogany
The word ‘mahogany’ for a type of wood was previously only used in the small islands near West Indies when they were under British control. Under French colonies, the wood was known as Acajou, and in Spanish territories, it was known as Coaba. Linguists suggest that the name could be a corruption of the word ‘m’oganwo’ used by the Ibo and Yoruba people in West Africa and refers to trees.
The first record of ‘mahogany’ in print was in 1671 where it was written in John Ogilby’s America. The tree was first considered as a type of cedar but was later classified as Cedrela Mahagoni in 1759. Until the 19th century, it was believed that all of the mahogany was the same and variations only formed due to the climate and soil. However, more species of the mahogany were soon discovered by biologists.
Major Species of Mahogany
Mahogany trees are grown around the world, which has led to many different varieties of mahogany wood. There are six main types of mahogany wood that you can choose from when you are thinking about getting new furniture.
1. African Mahogany
The Khaya anthotheca genus of the Mahogany species is commonly known as African Mahogany. It is found in the West tropical region of Africa. Trees are commonly huge ranging from 100 ft to 130 ft. The trunk diameters can be 3-5 ft. It has a Janka Hardness rating of 1,070 lbf, which is why it is perfect for furniture. It allows the wood to be easily shaped, but it is hard enough to survive wear and dents from everyday use.
African Mahogany has a heartwood ranging from deeper reddish brown to pale pink. It can have streaks of medium to dark reddish brown as well. As with almost all mahogany types, the color tends to darken with age.
If you are planning to get furniture made from this type, make sure to get it from a reputable place. The wood has a medium to a coarse texture which needs to be treated properly so that it feels smoother. The grain shouldn’t be interlocked either since that can increase the chances of tear out. If your manufacturer uses glue, this is fine since it won’t harm the wood at all.
The lumber from African Mahogany is readily available in all sorts of sizes include veneer and plywood. Prices usually depend on the quality and import costs of the hardwood.
Mountain Mahogany’s scientific name is the Cercocarpus. It is commonly found in Northern Mexico and the Western United States. The average trunk diameter is 1 ft, and it grows to be 10-20 ft tall, which makes it a medium sized tree. The Janka Hardiness Rating is 3,200 lbf, which means it is one of the densest woods that you can get. It can withstand dents and wear really well and even survive under immense pressure. However, this means that you will definitely have a hard time screwing, nailing, sanding, or sawing the wood as per your needs. This is why many manufacturers avoid this wood for furniture use.
It has reddish-brown heartwood while the sapwood is either pink or yellow. Mountain Mahogany darkens with age, which means your furniture will continue to get a deeper color as time passes. The texture of the wood is very fine and even, which makes it perfect for residential furniture. However, the price is actually a bit steep, which is why it isn’t often used to make furniture.
The price actually depends on the availability of the wood in your region. Mountain Mahogany isn’t really that rare but it isn’t generally harvested for lumber often since it can be hard to transport it. This is why prices for the wood are fairly high in domestic markets. That is why a 5-pound piece of Mountain Mahogany is worth $10.
The type of wood is mostly used as firewood in mountainous regions where other forms of fuel aren’t available. It can also be used to make smaller specialty turned wood objects.
3. Santos Mahogany
Myroxylon balsamum is also commonly referred to as Santos Mahogany. It is commonly found in South and Central America, as well as Southern Mexico. The tree size is usually quite large ranging from 65-100 ft with a trunk size which is 2-3 ft. It has a Janka Hardness of 2,400 lbf which makes it a really reliable wood type for flooring, heavy construction, and even furniture.
Santos Mahogany has a good variety in colors since you can get a light golden brown, darker purplish red, or burgundy. As it ages, the wood turns more towards purple or red. It has a medium to fine texture, which makes it a smooth flooring option for homes.
The price for the wood falls in the mid-range as with any imported timber. When compared to other exotic hardwoods like Ipe, it is actually significantly better to get Santos Flooring.
4. Cuban Mahogany
Cuban Mahogany is one of the most revered furniture woods in the world. It has been used extensively throughout history to make cabinets in the United States and Europe. It was almost harvested to the point of complete extinction, and conservation efforts had to be put into place to save it. In 1946, Cuba actually had to place a ban on the export of the wood due to high demand and overharvesting practices.
It is a beautiful wood found in Southern Florida and the Caribbean. The heartwood ranges from pale pinkish-brown to dark reddish brown. The older and denser the wood, the darker the color gets. Cuban Mahogany also exhibits an optical phenomenon known as Chatoyancy. It has really easy workability as well as strong stability which makes it perfect for furniture manufacturing. It has the perfect Janka Hardness of 930 lbf which means that it is pliant but reliable.
Very small quantities of the wood are currently available which means that it is hard to get. Even if it is being sold, it is usually at a really high price. The wood species is on the IUCN Red List and is listed as an endangered species.
5. Honduran Mahogany
The Swietenia macrophylla is also commonly referred to as the Honduran Mahogany. It is the most common substitute for the Cuban Mahogany which is hailed as one of the best woods for furniture. It is also called Genuine Mahogany, Brazilian Mahogany, and Big-Leaf Mahogany. It is called Genuine Mahogany because it is the truest form of the species and is often colloquially what people mean when they say ‘Mahogany’.
It is an extremely important timber in Latin America since it brings in a lot of money via export. It is now grown extensively in plantations and is widely exploited by the market. This is why it is included in the CITES Appendix II, due to the immense potential of it becoming a vulnerable species. Steps have been made to ensure that any export of the wood comes from a sustainable source. This stops many lumber retailers from exploiting the wood type.
It is commonly found from Southern Mexico to central South America. The tree size is huge, ranging from 150 ft to 200 ft. The trunk diameters can be around 3-6 ft. It has a Janka Hardness rate of 900 lbf, which means that it is a stable wood to work with. The easy workability also ensures that it can be molded into all types of furniture.
Honduran Mahogany is hailed as a really beautiful type of wood. The color of the heartwood ranges from a dark reddish brown to a pale pinkish brown. As with all mahogany, the color tends to darken with age, and it displays the optical phenomenon known as Chatoyancy. The grain is usually wavy, irregular, interlocked, or straight depending on the tree, climate, and soil. The texture of the grain is very uniform which means that it is perfect for furniture manufacturing.
It works very well with machines and tools, making it a prefered choice for a lot of people. Though, you need to be careful while working on sections which have figured grains since they can chip or tear out under the machine. It sands very easily due to its relatively lower Janka Hardness rating. It finishes, turns, glues, and stains very well.
The Honduran Mahogany is found readily available in markets despite the many export restrictions it has. You can easily get some in veneer or lumber form from sustainable plantations in Latin America. If you look for quartersawn or figured lumber, it may end up costing you more. You can use the timber for cabinetry, furniture, veneers, boatbuilding, carving, musical instruments, and turned objects.
The Eucalyptus robusta is also commonly referred to as the Swamp Mahogany. It is native to the region of Eastern Australia. It is widely grown in plantations in equatorial to temperate regions due to its tolerance and early growth rates. It is available in South and Central America, as well as many countries over the world in small regions. The plantation crops are harvested every 4-5 years for firewood and 30–60 years for large scale manufacturing.
It is found growing in waterlogged soils and swampy areas. It can reach a height of almost 100 ft, and the trunk size can be 2-3 ft in diameter. It has a thick spongy reddish-brown bark. The timber is usually used for general construction and firewood, meaning that you shouldn’t trust any furniture claiming to
be made from Swamp Mahogany. This is because the Janka Hardness rate of 1,250 lbf is too high to work on well with machines or tool.
Next time you are out shopping for furniture, you will exactly know what type of Mahogany was used to make it. Not only is this personally satisfying, it can help you make efficient and economical financial decision as well.