Is Tropical Wood Quality Slipping?

Writing a detailed spec for the desired quality can help you get the lumber quality you need. October 14, 2009

What is up with the mahogany these days? It seems that the quality of the wood is not the same as it was 10 years ago. The price of south American is very high. The Sapele, or African, is not great quality. It works like Philippine mahogany. There are often hairline cracks across the grain, and lots of sticker stains. Do any of you have similar thoughts? Are there any other commercially available options?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
I just finished a job in Sapele. It was very nice - not the Honduras of ten years ago, but workable, stable, and very pretty. I had some trouble finding plain-sawn panel stock, but otherwise, it was a total pleasure to work with.

From Dr. Gene Wengert, Technical Advisor, Sawing and Drying Forum:
It sounds to me like you are not getting good wood from your supplier, and you should change to a better source. Also, the grading rules have not changed either, so if your quality has deteriorated, it must be that the grading is also deteriorating. Specifically, Honduras mahogany today (of the same grade) is as good as 40 years ago. Some is plantation grown and that does give a slightly different appearance for the rings pattern, but few would notice that. Sapele has not changed at all. Both of them are much denser than Philippine mahogany, so if you are getting similar products and processing, you must not be getting the correct species.

From contributor C:
You might want to take a look at an article in Woodshop Magazine from this month. It has an article on exactly this subject. The quality of large-leaf mahogany is getting poorer, but supplies are plentiful and the price has stabilized below $10 bf. I might suggest using Sipo instead of Sapele. It has a redder hue and the same grain pattern. I just got a batch from TBM hardwood in PA that is outstanding. It is only 25 cents more a bf than Sapele. I concur with the other comments here, your supplier may be at fault.

I would suggest when you order your wood, make sure you write a spec for selection. Every mill I have ever dealt with will gladly honor this but most will not advertise the fact that they do. For instance, this was my last order:

Here is exactly what I need:
120 bf of quartered Sapele in 12/4-dressed to 2-3/4" (s3s) 1 straight edge and two smooth sides.
Please no boards less than 6" wide or more than 9" wide.
Please make no shorter than 10' or longer than 14'.
Please color match to as much an extent as possible as this is being used for a double entry door with a natural finish and any variation will be noticed.
50 bf of quartered Sapele in 6/4-skip dressed (smooth one side and one edge-one side skipped) to 1 1/8" with same spec as above.
Please no boards less than 8" wide or more than 12" wide.
Please color match to above order to as much an extent as possible as this is being used for a double entry door with a natural finish and any variation will be noticed.
Any boards with excessive warp, twist, cupping or bow will be rejected upon delivery.

From contributor D:
Trying to figure out what the client wants from a mill standpoint, because of the loose use of names and often the grading rules, can be a nightmare. From a cabinetmakers standpoint, trying to figure out what the mills are selling can be equally as frustrating. So I agree, using a contract specifying your needs is a good idea. Also, using the scientific name with the common name and having NHLA and SPIB etc. rule books on hand can help you obtain what you need with less headache.