American mahogany is coveted the world over. The prices are increasing exponentially and the availability is reducing. The cost of processing this precious timber is skyrocketing, compelling the search for substitutes.
There are many viable substitutes available in the market today if you make the effort to source these woods that have similar features to mahogany. Woods like African mahogany, Sapele, Spanish cedar, and sipo are qualified candidates as mahogany alternatives.
In this post we look at some of these mahogany alternatives and here’s the kicker! We even have a wildcard entry which is the latest wood species that’s taking the woodworking world by storm as a mahogany alternative. So, let’s get started with those mahogany substitutes!
African mahogany (Khaya anthotheca, Grandiflora, ivorensis, & senegalensis) grows in West tropical Africa. The trees grow to a height of 130 feet and the wood is not very hard with a Janka hardness of 1,070.
The wood varies from very pale pink to reddish-brown with dark to reddish-brown streaks. It darkens over time. African mahogany has a straight to interlocked grain pattern and the texture can be from medium to coarse. Mahogany also exhibits a unique light refracting effect known as chatoyancy which you can see in different varieties of this wood.
African mahogany is a moderately durable wood with a moderate to poor resistance to insect attack. You will find it easy to work with and it takes glue and finish quite well. When the grain is interlocked, tearout tends to occur.
This wood is easily available and is not on the list of endangered wood species, but has found its way to the IUCN Red List. We use African mahogany to make boats, furniture, veneer, furniture, turned items and interior trim.
Sapele (Entandrophragma cylindricum) grows in tropical Africa, and the trees grow up to a height of 150 feet. The wood is moderately hard with a Janka hardness of 1,410.
The wood is golden to reddish-brown and the wood becomes dark with age. There is a fair degree of interlocking in the grain and it is frequently wavy with a fine texture and natural luster.
The wood is moderate to highly durable and offers moderate resistance to insect attack. Sapele emits a unique odor while cutting it, not unlike cedar. This wood is easily available and is reasonably priced, but patterned lumber can become exceedingly expensive. Sapele is not on the list of endangered wood species but is on the IUCN Red List.
Sapele plays a prominent role in making furniture, cabinets, boats, musical instruments, flooring, plywood, veneer and small wooden specialty items.
Spanish Cedar (Cedrela odorata) mostly grows in Central and South America and the Caribbean and on plantations. The trees grow up to heights of 100 feet. It is a rather softwood with a Janka hardness of 600. The wood is moderate to highly durable with good resistance to termite attack.
The wood has a straight of lightly-interlocked pattern with a medium texture and natural luster. You will find Spanish Cedar easy to work, but because the wood is soft, it is prone to fuzziness if not cut with sharp blades.
The wood emits a slight cedar-like scent, and there is a tendency for the formations of natural gum pockets which can interfere with the finish. The wood is easily available and is moderately priced. However, there is a lot of over-exploitation going on with this wood and it is on the list of endangered wood species.
We use Spanish cedar to make guitars, cabinets, veneer, plywood, humidors and boats.
Sipo (Entandrophragma utile) also comes under the names of Utile and Sipo Mahogany. It grows in West and Central Africa and the trees grow up to a height of 200 feet. Sipo is a moderate hardwood with a Janka hardness of 1,180.
The wood is reddish-brown with pale-yellow sapwood. The grain pattern does not feature any spectacular figuring. In appearance, sipo looks very similar to Sapele. There is an interlocking of the wood grain with a medium texture and a natural luster.
Sipo is a durable wood and is moderately resistant to rot and insect attack. It doesn’t machine very well as tearout tends to occur due to the interlocked grain. The wood discolors and stains if exposed to iron, so you want to be careful while driving nails and screws into the wood. Sipo however turns, finishes and glues quite well.
Sipo gives off a mild cedarish odor while being cut. It is not easily available, but when it is available, the price is reasonable. It is not on the list of endangered wood species but features on the IUCN Red List.
We use Sipo to make furniture, boats, flooring, veneer, cabinets, and turned wooden items.
And finally, we come to the wildcard entry of this post – eucalyptus Grandis! Well, this mahogany substitute that has shot into fame today isn’t exactly eucalyptus Grandis, but a hybrid of this species. It goes by the brand name Lyptus®.
Eucalyptus Grandis (Eucalyptus Grandis x E. urophylla hybrid) is being cultivated in plantations in Brazil today. The trees grow to a height of 100 feet and the wood is moderately hard with a Janka hardness of 1,420.
The color of the wood ranges from light pink to reddish-brown and it looks a bit like Honduran mahogany and black cherry. The wood darkens over time. The grain structure is straight and even, punctuated with a few knots from where they prune the trees regularly on the plantation
The wood is moderately durable, resistant to rot but not to insect attack. The wood is easy to work with, but will burn easily, so you need to take care while using high-speed cutting tools. It does not have any particular odor.
The wood is reasonably priced, as it is grown on plantations under controlled conditions. It is not on the list of endangered wood species.
We can use Lyptus® for lumber, flooring, cabinets, interior millwork, plywood and turned items.
As mahogany is becoming more and more scarce today, we look outwards for substitutes for this fine wood. You may not afford to use mahogany in your woodworking projects. Or you may just not be able to procure it due to its acute shortage.
Featured Image Credit: Ian Alexander via Creative Commons