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Description of mahogany wood

Updated February 21, 2017

Manufacturers prize the reddish-brown mahogany wood for its workability and durability, using it to produce fine furniture, decks, caskets, boats, guitars and drums. In its natural rainforest environment, mahogany trees grow to more than 45 m (150 feet) tall, but over-harvesting has allowed some varieties to become extinct in their original habitat range. Today's mahogany wood products generally come from plantation-grown or non-endangered varieties of the tree.

Characteristics

Mahogany wood varies in colour from nearly golden to deep brown with most varieties having a red tint. The hardwood's straight, tight grain makes it durable, while its resistance to termites makes it long-lasting for interior building trim, either structural or ornamental. Mahogany's dense grain makes it resistant to rot and thus a popular wood for boat construction.

Freshly cut mahogany wood may appear yellow or pink, but it ages to deep rich shades of brown and red. Cut wood has a fine to medium texture that polishes to a high shine. Mahogany wood is easily carved, pieced and nailed by hand or machine tools.

Builders consider mahogany a medium-weight wood, with density ranging from just over 454 kg (1,000 lb) per cubic meter to nearly 862 kg (1,900 lb) per cubic meter, according to the Simetric website's listing of wood densities. Wood with a density greater than 454 kg (1,000 lb) per cubic meter does not float.

Tree Fundamentals

Mahogany, known scientifically as Meliaceae, includes a variety of tropical trees and shrubs with a hard, lightly scented reddish wood. In its natural rainforest environment, mahogany trees grow to more than 45 m (150 feet) in height with trunks as much as 1.8 m (6 feet) in diameter. Large branches produce a wide canopy. The large size of mahogany trees produces wide boards prized by woodworkers and cabinetmakers.

Types

Khaya lyorensis mahogany from East, Central and West Africa varies from light reddish brown to a deeper, darker reddish brown, often with shiny flecks in the wood. This type of mahogany is favoured for furniture or boats. Swietenia Macrophylla mahogany from Central and South America varies from reddish brown to deep red and is used mainly for fine furniture and veneer.

History

Sir Walter Raleigh introduced mahogany to England from the West Indies when he had a table made for Queen Elizabeth I. The wood's popularity increased in the 18th century, when carpenters created ornate, durable fine furniture for royalty and commoners alike. Mahogany followed settlers to the United States during this time. Most colonial cabinetry, furniture and pianos were made from mahogany.

Considerations

Mahogany's characteristics and many uses make it one of the world's most valuable woods. Centuries of over-harvesting prompted several countries, including Honduras, Costa Rica and Cuba, to restrict logging of wild mahogany trees. Some historic varieties have become extinct in their original habitat range. Lumber companies now harvest most mahogany wood from plantations where trees are planted specifically for cutting. Some non-endangered or threatened varieties continue to be logged in the wild.

Prices

Mahogany lumber generally sells for more than commonly used domestic woods but less than other exotic hardwoods. Lumber is sold by a measure called a board-foot--the equivalent to a piece of wood measuring 30 cm (12 inches) wide, 30 cm (12 inches) long and 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick.

A board-foot of mahogany at Advantage Lumber sells for £3.50 to £4.2 in 2010. In comparison, a board-foot of cherry wood sells for £3.3 and a board-foot of various types of maple and oak sells for £2.50, according to the Advantage Lumber website. A board-foot of teak which, like mahogany, is imported from tropical areas and endangered in some locations, sells for more than £6 per board-foot.

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About the Author

Jan Day’s career as a writer and editor started in 1978 in Tennessee and continued through her work with major news organizations, including "The Denver Post" and Bloomberg News. She now focuses on travel, fitness, wine and food writing. She holds a Master of Arts in journalism from Pennsylvania State University.