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 or home project. It is a really important decision to make if you don’t want to find yourself spending more time and money replacing your home items and furnishings over and over again.
One of the most popular wood types that people use in residential homes is mahogany. This is a beautiful reddish-brown timber that looks amazing wherever you place it in your home. It has a straight wood grain that makes it look sleek and elegant. It comes from three main tropical hardwood species which is indigenous to the Americas.
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History of Mahogany Trees & Uses
Mahogany trees have been around a long time but it wasn’t until the era of colonization that it became widely known to the rest of the world. Mahogany trees are indigenous to the Americas and are members of the genus swietenia.
There are only 3 swietenia species that are classified as being “genuine swietenia mahogany”, whereas the remainders of the meliaceae species are classified as “true mahogany”, though they are mostly khaya species (khaya species are the African genera of mahogany trees).
The word mahogany was previously only used in the small islands near the West Indies while 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,” which was used by the Ibo and Yoruba people in West Africa. The word refers to the trees that produce the wood.
New World wood
The first record of the word “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 mahogany were soon discovered by biologists.
Major Species of Mahogany
Mahogany trees of the swietenia genus and khaya genus are now grown all around the world, which has led to many different varieties of mahogany wood. There are six main types of mahogany wood.
Mahogany wood is an extremely important lumber type for commercial uses. It is one of the best options available on the market, and it is highly valued for its overall durability, tone, and of course, beauty.
Mahogany is the optimal choice when it comes to wood flooring or decking, panelling, furniture making, cabinetry, boat construction, and especially musical instrument making. You’ll learn in the following section which mahogany wood type is the best choice for your home project.
Mahogany wood will overall have a very even and straight grain. It is prized because it is free of pockets, knots, and voids. The color itself is extremely attractive. Beginning as a red brown color, it will slowly darken over time. It is also known for being wonderfully resistant to wood rot, and will keep for centuries.
Solid mahogany can stand the test of time. It is durable, resistant to decay, and will also stand up against water damage. For this reason, mahogany has traditionally been used for boat making and other marine utilities.
1. African Mahogany
The khaya anthotheca species of the mahogany genus is commonly known as African mahogany. It is found in the western tropical region of Africa.
The African mahogany tree is huge, ranging from 100 feet to 130 feet in height. The trunk diameters are 3-5 feet around. African mahogany wood has a Janka hardness rating of 1,070 lbf, which is why it is perfect for fine furniture. This wood can be easily shaped but it is hard enough to survive wear and tear from everyday use.
African mahogany, khaya ivorensis, sometimes has an interlocked grain pattern and a heartwood color 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 of African mahogany lumber tends to darken with age.
Texture and grain
This wood has a medium to coarse texture, which needs to be treated properly so that it feels smooth. The grain shouldn’t be interlocked, since that can increases 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 and types, including veneer and plywood. Prices usually depend on the quality and import costs of the hardwood. The African variety is often used for mahogany floor boards and cabinetry.
2. Mountain Mahogany
Mountain mahogany’s scientific name is the cercocarpus. It is commonly found in northern Mexico and the western U.S.
The average trunk diameter is 1 foot and it grows to be 10 to 20 feet tall, which makes it a medium-sized tree. The Janka hardness rating is 3,200 lbf, which means it is pretty much one of the most dense woods you can get.
It can withstand denting, intense pressure, and overall wear and tear because of its hardness. However, this means that you will have a hard time screwing, nailing, sanding or sawing the wood. This is why many manufacturers avoid this wood for furniture use, for its low workability.
It has reddish-brown heartwood, while the sapwood is either pink or yellow. Mountain mahogany darkens with age, which means your furniture, cabinets or floors will continue to get a deeper color as time passes.
Texture and grain
The texture of the wood is very fine and even, which makes it perfect for mahogany furniture. However, the price is actually a bit steep, which is why it isn’t often used.
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, since it can be hard to transport. This is why prices for the wood are fairly high in domestic markets — average 5 lbs piece of mountain mahogany is worth $10.
This wood species is mostly used as firewood in mountainous regions where other forms of fuel aren’t available. It is a valued fuelwood because of its density — it burns evenly and at a very high temperature. It can also be used to make smaller, specialty wood objects.
3. Santos Mahogany
Myroxylon balsamum is commonly referred to as Santos mahogany. This species is commonly found in South and Central America, as well as southern Mexico.
The tree size is usually quite large, ranging from 65 to 100 feet in height, with a trunk size of 2-3 feet. It has a Janka hardness of 2,400 lbf, which makes it a really reliable wood type for flooring, heavy construction and furniture.
Santos mahogany – which may also be marketed as South American mahogany – has a good variety of colors, from light golden brown to darker purplish-red or burgundy. As it ages, the wood turns more purple or dark red.
It has a medium to fine texture, which makes it a smooth flooring option.
The price for this species of wood falls in the mid-range. When compared to other exotic hardwoods like Ipe, it is actually significantly more affordable to get santos mahogany flooring.
4. Cuban Mahogany
Cuban mahogany, swietenia mahogani, is one of the most revered fine furniture woods in the world. It has been used extensively throughout history to make cabinets in the U.S. 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 swietenia wood due to high demand and over-harvesting practices.
It is a beautiful wood that is 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, which may also be marketed as West Indian mahogany or Caribbean 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 durable.
Very small quantities of swietenia wood are currently available, so it is hard to get. Even if it is being sold, it is usually at a really high price because of the rarity of the wood. Most Caribbean mahogany pieces you can find will be vintage.
5. Honduran Mahogany
Swietenia macrophylla is also commonly referred to as Peruvian mahogany, big leaf mahogany, bigleaf mahogany, Honduran mahogany or Honduras mahogany. It is the most common substitute for Cuban mahogany, which is hailed as one of the best woods for furniture.
This species 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 Honduras the rest of Latin America, since it brings in a lot of money via export. This species 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 Honduran mahogany comes from a sustainable source. This stops many lumber retailers from exploiting this wood type.
It is commonly found from southern Mexico to central South America. The tree size is huge, ranging from 150 feet to 200 feet. The trunk diameters can be around 3-6 feet. It has a Janka hardness rating 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.
Swietenia macrophylla 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. A term often used to describe gems, chatoyant means that an item has a rich, multi-toned luster.
Grain and texture
The wood grain is usually wavy, irregular, interlocked or straight, depending on the tree, climate and soil conditions. The texture of the grain is very uniform, which means that it is perfect for furniture manufacturing.
This species of wood works very well with machines and tools, making it a preferred choice for woodworkers. Though, you need to be careful while working on sections that have figured grain, as they can chip or tear-out. Honduran mahogany sands very easily due to its relatively lower Janka hardness rating. It finishes, turns, glues and stains very well.
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 quarter-sawn or figured lumber, it may end up costing you more. You can use the timber for cabinetry, furniture, veneers, boat building, carving, musical instruments and turned objects.
6. Swamp Mahogany
Eucalyptus robusta is also commonly referred to as the swamp mahogany. This species is native to eastern Australia. This wood 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 all over the world in small regions. The plantation crops are harvested every 4-5 years for firewood and every 30 to 60 years for large-scale manufacturing.
This species of mahogany is found growing in waterlogged soils and swampy areas. It can reach a height of almost 100 feet and the trunk size can be 2-3 feet 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 tools.
You know more about the types of mahogany wood but there’s still a lot you don’t know about this amazing material. Get answers to all the most commonly asked questions about mahogany and become an expert on how to buy it, how to clean it and how to live with this incredible, beautiful wood.
Where does mahogany wood come from?
Mahogany wood comes from hardwood trees that grow in tropical regions, mostly in Central and South America. Trees that produce mahogany wood also grow in southern Florida, the Bahamas and throughout the Caribbean. Trees producing the wood were planted more than 200 years ago in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and continue to thrive in these regions.
What does mahogany wood look like?
Mahogany is most distinctive for its color, a warm reddish-brown tone. The wood has a fine, long grain that is usually straight and may have a slight wave to it.
What is mahogany good for?
Mahogany is one of the most prized and used woods in making furniture because it’s strong and beautiful. It also takes stain very well. However, mahogany can be used for all sorts of purposes, from hardwood flooring to interior trim to cabinetry.
Is mahogany wood water-resistant?
According to Hunker, mahogany has excellent water-resistance. This wood resists shrinking, swelling and warping so well, it is often used in boat-building.
Is mahogany termite-resistant?
In one study of various woods, mahogany showed some resistance to termite damage, with more than 75 percent of termites dying before they could damage the wood. However, the wood did show some signs of very slight damage due to termites.
Is mahogany wood heavy?
By nature, mahogany is a dense hardwood so it is heavier than woods that are lighter in density. The Wood Database says that mountain mahogany is so heavy, it will sink in water. This makes this type of mahogany heavier than other types of the wood and heavier than many other types of wood, too.
Is mahogany wood durable?
Because the wood has a close, straight grain, mahogany is considered to be a very stable wood. It resists twisting and warping. It’s also a hardwood, which makes it naturally tougher and more resistant to dents and scratches than softwood types.
Can mahogany be used outdoors?
If you’re looking for outdoor furniture options, mahogany is an excellent choice. This wood resists splintering and shrinking, so it will stand up well against the elements. Over time, the wood will develop a grayish patina.
How should mahogany be cleaned?
Mahogany can be dusted with a soft cloth to remove dirt and debris. When you need to polish or clean the wood, mix one part white vinegar with one part water and spray the mixture on a soft cloth. Use this to clean the furniture. According to SFGate, the vinegar will cut through oil and old wax residue and bring out the natural luster and beauty of the wood.
You can also use a little clear furniture wax on a soft cloth to polish mahogany. Use a circular motion to rub it into the surface of the wood. Use a second cloth to wipe away any excess wax.
How should mahogany be stained?
Before applying new stain to mahogany, sand it to remove the old finish. Make sure the wood is smooth and the old finish is gone before applying wood filler as needed to fill in pores, dents and scratches in the wood. Let this dry for 24 hours.
If you applied wood filler, sand the wood smooth again. Apply the stain with a standard paintbrush using long, even strokes. This will need to dry for 24 to 48 hours before a second coat of stain is applied, if needed. A finishing coat may also need to be applied after the stain dries.
How should you lighten mahogany?
It is possible to remove a dark stain or to lighten natural wood if it’s too dark. You can also lighten wood to remove the graying effects of time and age.
Regular laundry bleach will remove stain on wood but will not affect the natural wood color. Peroxide-based bleach, however, will lighten natural wood color. Oxalic acid removes stains and can help lighten the grayish patina that can happen to wood in time, according to Bob Vila.
Clean wood thoroughly first and apply your lightening solution with a soft rag or paintbrush. Use slow, even strokes. Wear safety gloves and goggles when working with chemicals, and work outside so you have plenty of ventilation.
Can mahogany be painted?
Any wood can be painted, even mahogany. Sand down the wood to remove as much of the finish as possible and create a smooth, even surface to work with. Clean the sanded wood to remove all sawdust.
Apply a coat of primer and allow it to dry or use a paint and primer combination. Paint evenly in long strokes and allow the first coat to dry before applying the second. You can also use a sprayer to paint wood.
Are mahogany trees endangered?
Mahogany is a very in-demand wood and it has been the target of illegal logging practices over the years. Some trees that produce this wood are endangered and some have been marked for conservation efforts due to illegal logging practices.
Mahogany is still legally logged and exported using conservationist methods that are approved. If you want to purchase mahogany wood, double-check that your supplier is an approved and legal source of the wood.
What are the disadvantages of mahogany?
Mahogany has many good qualities, so what are the wood’s not-so-good qualities? For one, mahogany is one of the more high-end woods, so it commands a high price. Because it’s a hardwood, it’s not easy to shape mahogany into intricate designs. It takes a person with exceptional woodworking skills to create complex designs with mahogany.
Where can you buy mahogany?
Mahogany lumber, furniture, cabinets and flooring are available through home improvement stores, wood supplies and even online stores like Amazon. Mahogany is a widely-available lumber wood that is not difficult to find.
Why is mahogany so expensive?
Mahogany is a high-end wood that’s prized because of its beauty and durability. However, it’s not one of the most expensive woods you can buy. Compared to much more expensive woods like ebony, mahogany is an affordable choice. However, some factors can drive the price up. If the wood has a figured grain, for instance, this will make it more expensive. Figured grain has a distinct ribbon pattern, a natural result of some sort of trauma on the tree itself.
When was mahogany furniture popular?
Furniture made from mahogany has been popular for centuries. When the wood was imported to Europe in 1724, it became famous very quickly when Chippendale, a British cabinet maker, started using the wood to make gorgeous ornate furniture.
What wood is similar to mahogany?
There are many woods that closely resemble mahogany. Khaya and sapele are often marketed as African mahogany. Lauan is often sold as Philippine mahogany, as is shorea. Red gum looks similar to genuine mahogany and can be a good lookalike, according to Wood Magazine. American mahogany is another popular choice, as is Spanish cedar.
Is mahogany a hard or softwood?
Mahogany is a type of hardwood, but it is one of the softer hardwoods. Genuine mahogany usually ranks at 6 on the hardness scale for wood, which ranges from 1 to 10 with 10 being the hardest.
Is mahogany stronger than oak?
In terms of the hardness of the wood, true mahogany is much stronger than both white and red oak. This means that mahogany will withstand wear better.
Is meranti a true mahogany?
Meranti is a type of tree that is actually part of the shorea genus, and is therefore a not genuine mahogany. Meranti is still a very high quality lumber type. One of the common names of this tree is Philippine mahogany and it is native to southeastern Asia, hence the confusion between the two.
How can you tell if mahogany is real?
It’s smart to ask if your mahogany is real mahogany or not. The reddish-brown shade of the wood is highly popular and many woods are called “mahogany” because they have a similar reddish-brown color. Sometimes, other types of lumber are stained to look like genuine mahogany. So how do you know you’re getting the genuine article?
Find out exactly what type of mahogany you’re getting. The six types listed are the most common types of genuine mahogany and they are considered to be high in quality. Philippine mahogany, also known as shorea, is considered to be somewhat lower in quality because it is lighter in color and lighter in weight than the genuine mahogany types described above.
Other woods that are often marketed as mahogany or used as substitutes for mahogany, according to Woodworking Network, are sapele mahogany (Entandrophragma cylindricum), Brazilian mahogany (Plathymenia reticulata), Columbian mahogany (Cariniana pyriformis), Hawaiian mahogany (Acacia koa), American mahogany (Gymnocladus dioicus), Coast mahogany (Swietenia humilis), red mahogany (Eucalyptus resinifera) and horseflesh mahogany (Lysiloma sabicu).
- Britannica – Mahogany
- Woodworkers Source – Mahogany: Which one is the real thing?
- Gardening Know How – Mahogany Tree Uses – Information About Mahogany Trees
- SFGate – Properties and Characteristics of Mahogany Timber
- Hunker – How to Identify Mahogany Wood
- JRank – Mahogany
- SFGate – Properties and Characteristics of Mahogany Timber
- HomeAdvisor – Lasting Outdoor Furniture is a Thing of Beauty
- eHow – How to Stain Mahogany Wood
- Bob Vila – The Dos and Don’ts of Bleaching Wood
- Forest Facts – Amazon Mahogany
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – Mahogany
- Answers – Advantages and disadvantages of mahogany wood?
- Woodworkers Source – Mahogany Genuine // Swietenia macrophylla
- Ventured – 11 Most Expensive Woods in the World
- Popular Woodworking – Mahogany and Its Look-Alikes
- SFGate – Mahogany Vs. Oak Flooring
- Global Trees Campaign – Big-leaf Mahogany
- Fine Craftsman Lumber – Ask the Expert: Figured Wood
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center – Swietenia mahagoni
- Woodshop News – Spanish cedar fills void left by mahogany
- The Spruce – What Is Shorea Wood?