Fig. A Guide to Mahogany

Common Name

Also Known As



American mahogany

Honduras mahogany

Swietenia macrophylla


African mahogany


Khaya ivorensis


African mahogany


Entandrophragma cylindricum


Philippine mahogany


various species of Sfiorea


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3 American mahogany Has long been favored for its outstanding working qualities, especially with hand tools. It's easy to clearly mark with a knife or pencil, smooth with a hand plane and pare with a chisel. Dense boards are usually better for handwork than lightweight boards.

American Mahogany

This is the real McCoy. American mahogany comes from Central and South America, and has been prized for fine furniture and boat building since the eighteenth century (Photo 3).

There are actually two different kinds of American mahogany: Cuban or Santo Domingo mahogany (Swietenia mahogani) and Honduras mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla). It was the denser, darker Cuban variety that first excited furniture makers 300 years ago, but there's very little of it left today. When selling mahogany, most lumber dealers are referring to the Honduras type.

Honduras mahogany primarily comes from South America. The best and densest grades, those most like the legendary Cuban mahogany, are exported from the rain forests of Peru. Honduras mahogany is still readily available, but it's been logged very heavily, often at the expense of a healthy forest. There's been quite an international effort to certify more responsible logging practices. For more on certified and plantation-grown mahogany, go to

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American Mahogany



Quarters awn Mahogany is Harder to Work

Many mahogany trees have an unusual internal structure called "interlocked grain" (see page 46). When boards are plainsawn {with the growth rings more or less parallel to the wide face),

Quartersawn interlocked grain makes beautiful swirling patterns. When boards are quartersawn (with the growth rings at right angles to the wide face), interlocked grain makes a ribbon-stripe figure (Photo 4).

Plainsawn mahogany is generally a

4 Quartersawn boards often have a ribbon-striped appearance, caused by the grain or fibers periodically changing direction.This means chat quartersawn boards often have tear-out problems. American mahogany is generally plainsawn, but Khaya and Sapele are usually quartersawn to show off their strong ribbon-stripe figure.

pleasure to work, but quartersawn mahogany can be a bear. Each ribbon in a quartersawn board indicates a change in grain or fiber direction. When planing or jointing, you can't win. Whatever direction you feed a quartersawn board, you may get nasty tear-out.

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