Mahogany Varieties for Countertops

A discussion of the practicality of mahogany for a countertop, and thoughts about similar alternatives. November 7, 2007

I am pricing a job for about 30 lft of kitchen counters in 8/4" mahogany. My mill can give me these as a solid slab. My initial meeting with the client involved Honduran. With price being a consideration to the client, Philippine is about half the price, and African falls in between. Can anyone tell me the cons of using these two species for a countertop? The finish will be dark mahogany with a linseed oil/poly hand rub followed by wax. The surface will be hand planed to give it a worn look. Any advice or experience will be appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
Honduran is the only one of the species you listed that will give you the water resistance you need for a countertop application. The only cheap alternative I can think of is Spanish cedar.

From Professor Gene Wengert, Sawing and Drying Forum technical advisor:
Some Philippine mahogany is very hard and would work well; some is not. African is just as hard and is a good substitute. My choice (if you do not use Honduran mahogany) would be sapele, a common mahogany substitute.

From contributor S:
I would not use a mahogany for a kitchen countertop unless I was sealing it with poly or another very hard sealer. Even then I might think again and get the customer to sign off on it. They all are very open pored woods, which means a very good bacteria farm. Countertops, if wooden, should be a very dense, closed pore structure.

From contributor A:
Be careful of "Honduran," unless you are buying from someone who has stockpiled it. There are a ton of fakes out there claiming to be Honduran. There has not been a steady supply of this for several years.

One wood I've used that is very close to the look of Honduran (almost instrument grade) is utile. Even so, I hope you are getting a fully signed waiver from your client.

You need to tell him that:
1. You will need to use a grain filler.
2. If you are using oil/poly, the finish will have to be re-done as often as every 2 years. In all of my solid wood work that will see heavy use, be it a dining table or a countertop, I put in writing to my clients that at some point the top will have to be re-finished, and I have them sign off on it.
3. You are allowing for almost 1/4" to 3/8" of wood movement.

From contributor M:
If you are definitely going down this road, I agree with Gene. The sapele appears to be the most consistent replacement for SA mahogany ("Honduras"). I would still be leery of using such an open grain wood for a functional kitchen countertop without applying numerous film finish coats. The oil type finishes work well on smooth woods like maple. Another option would be Lyptus. Bally sells their typical butcher block counters in maple and Lyptus.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the input and feedback. It is well taken. The client was made aware of all of the issues (bacteria, maintenance, etc.). The client informed me that she never cooks, owns a restaurant, and just wants this because she thinks it looks good. I will definitely look at the sapele.

From contributor C:
There are a lot of knowledgeable posts here. I've made a lot of wood tops going back 15 years. Honduras mahogany 8/4 does a great job. The closed cell woods make the easiest to maintain - cherry, hard maple, birch. The open pored tops I have made required a lot of finishing labor, many coats of soaked-in oil or filler, and stain if a stain job. I have only ever seen failure due to poor sink caulking and installation. Or an oil finish with no maintenance. This looks crappy quick. Oiled tops need regular recoating with a prepared mixture. Apply, rub in, wipe off excess, let dry until morning. Once every two months. More or less depending on the amount of water, sunlight, etc. My best, most durable tops in my house are hard maple and cherry, 12 years and 6 years. I redid my oil finishes with water based brushed-on polyurethane, after frustration with keeping the oil finish nice.

From contributor E:
I did my own countertop about a year ago with 8/4 South American mahogany (forget the exact origin), and have to say I still love it. I can't speak towards the other varieties of Mahogany, but the SA wood has a depth of grain that is amazing. Literally changes tones as you look at it from different angles. Some of the other mahoganies I've seen don't have this characteristic.

The key, as has already been stated, is educating your customer on the shortcomings of this wood for a countertop. It sounds like you did this and she wants the look to overrule the functionality. I explained it to my wife before building and we have no problems with it. We know its limitations and it's fine. Even without filling the grain and using a farmer's sink, we have so far been very happy with the wood. Although to be honest it is only half of our total countertop space. We used granite for the other half and that is where we do the heavier work.

My recommendations would be to get samples of the different species for the customer to choose from. I know the SA is pricey (I think I spent over $700 just for the wood), but for me was worth it. You may also want to reconsider the finish and go with something a little more durable, but that's your call.

From the original questioner:
Outside of the finish I mentioned earlier, linseed oil and poly followed by wax, what would you recommend? I usually use Target products and my only other choice would be Hybrivar. The only drawback would be that I want it to have a hand planed worn look, minimal finish.