Alternatives to Honduran Mahogany

A discussion of the qualities of some of the woods used as substitutes for Mahogany, plus an attempt to clear up some of the confusion around the much-misused "Mahogany" label. February 5, 2007

What is a comparable wood to Honduran mahogany as far as machinability goes? This is to include CNC work where going against the grain on curves is common.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor J:
My molding supplier (Monteath Moulding, Old Bridge, NJ) has eliminated Honduran mahogany and is using sapele as a substitute. The moldings are beautiful, but I can't comment as to CNC machining. It's half the price and finishes beautifully. As a bonus, the selection of veneers is readily available from my board suppliers. The heavily figured (quarter sawn?) panels are outstanding. I like it better.

From contributor T:
Most of our customers have gone to Sapele.

From contributor G:
I am making external doors and surrounds from utile. It's about the same price as sapele... Half the price of SA mahogany. Mills up very nice and stable, heavier than SA mahogany. Don't have a CNC, so can't help there. I was using Spanish cedar, but utile is better.

From contributor P:
Sapele would be my first choice. In fact, I feel it machines and sands better than Honduras. I just wish there was more available. I do not like African mahogany for machinability. It is very inconsistent. Only the very dense heavy wood works well. The softer lighter stuff can fuzz and tear.

From contributor C:
I am really tickled as to the responses you stirred up. I also have been using sapele as a general substitute. The thicker roughs of pattern grade Honduran mahogany are a very nice product still. I have also had good results with Lyptus from Weyerhauser. It is very consistent and uniform in texture and density. I definitely think it's worth a try on CNC. I always use a fresh blade when I cut into a Lyptus job to avoid torn edges and splintering. I like using African mahogany when I need a ribbon strip job. I buy about 50% extra and pick and choose the best for visual priority.

From contributor F:
Actually, striped mahogany is sapele. Here is a comparison:

Botanical Name: Swietenia Macrophylla
Family: Juglandaceae
Specific Gravity: .64
Origin: Honduras
General Information: Honduras Mahogany normally comes defect free and in good widths.

Sapele, also African Mahogany
Botanical Name: Entandrophragma Cylindricum
Family: Meliaceae
Specific Gravity: .62
Origin: Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Cameroon
General Information: Sapele or otherwise known as African mahogany is a reddish-brown wood that in many ways is very similar to mahogany.

From contributor G:
Sapele: Entandrophragma Cylindricum
African Mahogany: Kyaya Ivorensis

From Professor Gene Wengert, Sawing and Drying forum technical advisor:
The furniture and wood items made from African mahogany is not sapele. African mahogany is from the genus and species Khaya ivorensis. Sapele is from Entandrophragma cylindricum. So they are not related.

A note about common names for wood. If you are importing a wood species into the USA, you can give it any common name that you want today, as there is no commonly accepted naming procedure. The Latin names are fixed, however. So, we see all sorts of new names given for species that look similar to an older species, even though there is no genetic relationship. It is perhaps called creative marketing. One of the earlier examples is the use of the name Philippine mahogany for a group of species from the Philippines that does not even look like true mahogany. Another more recent example is jatoba, which has recently been called Brazilian cherry. In some cases, a common name refers to many species, such as with red oak in the USA or Spanish cedar in Central and South America. So, some years ago, if you had a species with a common name of sapele, you might find that you can sell it better in the USA if you rename it to Sapele African mahogany... and then hope that the first word gets dropped and the price increases and so on. So today, we do see sapele being called African mahogany by some sellers of wood, but this is recent and is not really what was called African mahogany in the past.

From contributor R:
Wow! This has answered a lot of other questions for me as well as the original. Keep 'em coming.

From contributor E:
It's answered questions, but also raised a few! How do I know what I'm getting when I order mahogany? In the past I've always ordered Honduran, but since that is becoming less available, I'm not sure what will be showing up when I order. If I want African mahogany should I specify Khaya? Good grief.

From contributor D:
I find myself defining the differences between Honduras mahogany and other "mahoganies" on a weekly basis. I'm afraid I'll come off sounding like I'm badmouthing the competition (which I am, sort of) and I've had some people look at me like I couldn't possibly be telling the truth. (Calling a wood mahogany when it is not? The whole industry?)

Is there a short synopsis of the situation? Dr. Gene was pretty darn close. If I can hand out or e-mail a concise explanation by an independent and knowledgeable source, I'll be able to educate the consumer as to why we do what we do, without sounding like some kind of plaid pants sales guy.

From contributor Z:
We just finished a fairly large kitchen in sapele. It machined and sanded very well. The veneer inset panels were custom pressed out of ribboned material to match the door frames. The veneer samples we started with were, intrinsically, outstanding in appearance. When the job was done, however, the whole thing looked like a pair of striped pajamas. I think if I were to do it again, I would stay with the ribboned lumber and use a flat sawn veneer.

We used about 1000 bd feet of lumber for the project. Though there was some color variation, it did all knit together fairly well.