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Types of Mahogany

Here's a little in-depth info about the various wood species that are labeled "Mahogany." March 13, 2014

Question
If/when staining reddish brown are African mahogany and Honduras mahogany pretty close to one another?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From Contributor R:
It抯 tough to answer that question. It really depends on how old the lumber is. Also, each supplier will have different colored lumber even though it might be called Honduras. Same holds true for African. Now, if you抮e talking about a sequentially matched veneer, that's a different story. If that's the case, you should have a pretty consistent color throughout the flitch. In general I have found raw Honduras to be on the pinkish side and African to be on the browner side of the color spectrum. I think if you were to put a stain on each of the woods you would observe a difference in color between the two. A finisher should be able to make both woods match equally in color. It might take some fooling around but it抯 definitely possible.



From the original questioner:
Thank you. The unit will sit by itself and is not required to match anything existing. I know Honduras stains evenly and hope this is the case with the African.


From contributor M:
If you're trying to fake a spec, then the answer is no. If you're trying to match something existing, then it doesn't really matter where it comes from. If it's high quality old stuff, you'll have a hell of a time matching it regardless. In general, the best mahogany that I've worked with has been Cuban, followed by Honduran, then lagging way behind is African.


From contributor A:
First there is no such thing as Honduras mahogany anymore. It's all from Brazil or Peru. The vast majority of what is sold as African has a purple tone and the grain is all over the place. That's why it does not mill well. Sapele can be a good alternative to SA mahogany. However you would have to cull the ribbon stripe (of which there is a bizarre amount).


From the original questioner:
The unit is going in a lobby and doesn't have to match anything. All veneer sheet goods, no solid lumber. They want mahogany but are not specking any particular type.


From Contributor O:
What is sold (in the US) as Honduras Mahogany is swietenia macrophylla, or sometimes called Bigleaf Mahogany. Often called Genuine Mahogany, but African is also lumped into that name on occasion. The original Mahogany that was prized by the Early American cabinetmakers was Cuban Mahogany - swietenia mahagoni, and is practically no longer available, at least in the US. African, as I understand it, is actually Khaya, and could be thought of as a mahogany substitute. Sapele is yet another similar species, as is Utile, Spanish cedar, and others.


From contributor M:
So for veneer the color will be a little different to start with, but they'll both stain ok. African is all over the place grain-wise, but veneer stock is usually on the better side, so no big worries here. I would use Honduras if the lay-up is complicated, or I didn't have the time to pick the material personally. If the piece was simple, and I could pick the veneers in person, then I would use African to save a few bucks.


From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Mahogany - is it real or not? There are many woods that are sold as mahogany today. The real question, however, is 揥hat is real mahogany??

Cuban Mahogany, Swietenia mahogani (genus and species names), the Wood of Kings, has been among the most prized and valuable timbers since the late 16th century. This mahogany species is the wood that planked the ships of the Spanish Armada. Famous furniture builders Thomas Sheraton, Thomas Chippendale, and Duncan Phyfe chose Cuban Mahogany for their fine furniture. In fact, as the reputation and demand for Cuban mahogany grew, the supply of wood shrank. By 1629, supplies in Cuba and surrounding islands dwindled so much that the Spanish began moving their shipyards to Mexico where trees were still available.

As timber harvest methods became more sophisticated, even the 搃naccessible?trees became lumber. By the mid 1700抯, Cuban mahogany was becoming quite scarce. By the mid 1800's, good lumber was becoming rare. By the late 1800's, the species had been logged into genetic impoverishment and commercial extinction. Today there are still a few trees, but they are extremely rare and should not be used as such usage will encourage harvesting and the ultimate end of this species. Other historic common names for Cuban mahogany are Caribbean mahogany, West Indian mahogany and Santo Domingo mahogany.

Honduras Mahogany: With the dwindling supplies of Cuban mahogany, a close relative, Honduras mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), called genuine mahogany, big-leaf mahogany and true mahogany today, became the desired species. The tree ranges from Southern Mexico southward to Colombia, Venezuela, and parts of the upper Amazon and the Amazon tributaries in Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. This wonderful wood has been severely harvested (both for timber and to create pasture lands) so supplies from natural forests in many areas are limited or unavailable. With restrictions on the sale of lumber from this species in some countries, when land clearing occurs, the trees will be burned rather than harvested. However, plantations have been established both within and beyond its natural range; these plantations promise some of this wood for the future.

This wood has many different names, including names in English, French, Spanish, German, Portugese, and other European languages. Some of the English names (and the countries that use the name) include Honduras mahogany; American mahogany, baywood; Belize mahogany, Brazilian mahogany, British Honduras mahogany (USA); broad leaf mahogany (Virgin Islands); broad-leaved mahogany; broken ridge mahogany (Belize); Central American mahogany (Virgin Islands); Colombian mahogany, Costa Rica mahogany, Costa Rican mahogany, Guatemalan mahogany, genuine mahogany (India, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, USA); mahogany (Belize, India, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, USA); mahogany tree, Mexican mahogany, Nicaraguan mahogany, Panama mahogany, Peruvian mahogany, South American mahogany, Tabasco mahogany, true mahogany and Venezuelan mahogany (Jamaica, Puerto Rico, USA).

Special note: Consumers can support mahogany conservation by buying mahogany products that carry the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) trademark, which certifies that the wood comes from forests that are managed in accordance with FSC's internationally endorsed principles and criteria. Companies using FSC抯 logo on wood products have demonstrated that the timber used in their products is harvested in an ecologically and socially responsible manner from well-managed forests.

African Mahogany: African mahogany is in the Khaya genus. It grows in central Africa from the western coast, eastward in a broad band. The two commercial lumber species are Khaya ivorensis and K. anthotheca. Two other species that are not commercially important are K. senegalensis and K. grandfoIiola. This is certainly an excellent wood and is quite similar to Honduras mahogany in many ways. All these species have many local names. Harvesting over the past centuries has again limited the supplies of this species for the future.

Philippine Mahogany: The term 揚hilippine mahogany?is applied commercially in the United States to Philippine woods belonging to three genera - Shorea, Parashorea, and Pentacle. Much of the wood is lighter weight and is lighter in color than the previously mentioned mahogany species. In fact, 50 years ago, Philippine mahogany had a low quality connotation. The Philippine mahogany group is subdivided into types based on heartwood color as follows:

Dark red:
red lauan (Shorea negrosensis)
tanguile (Shorea polysperma )
tianong (Shorea agsaboensis)

Light red:
almon (Shorea almon)
bagtikan (Parashorea plicata)
mayapis (Shorea squamata)
white lauan (Pentacle contorta and P. mindanensis )

Oother Unrelated Mahogany Wood: Many lumber sellers have tried to capitalize on the mahogany name with other species. These species, which look similar (red in color) and have been used as substitutes, include Sapele mahogany (Entandrophragma cylindricum), also called sapele, and Santos mahogany (Myroxylon balsamum), also called balsamo, both of which are available today. Other less available or rare species include Brazilian mahogany (Plathymenia reticulata), Hawaiian mahogany (Acacia koa) also called koa, American mahogany (Gymnocladus dioicus) also called Kentucky coffee tree, Pacific Coast mahogany (Swietenia humilis), mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus), horseflesh mahogany (Lysiloma sabicu), red mahogany (Eucalyptus resinifera) and Columbian mahogany (Cariniana pyriformis).

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