Mahogany and oak are hardwoods used in furniture making. As hardwoods, both come from the trunks of deciduous trees, or broadleaved trees that lose their leaves in the fall. Hardwoods are more durable than softwoods, such as pine, cedar and other types of wood from coniferous trees.
The grain of a wood is the pattern that runs across its surface. Mahogany is a closed-grain wood, meaning it has a small, straight grain. Oak, on the other hand, is an open-grained wood, with a large grain pattern. Oak's distinctive graining, often including knots or swirls, makes it one of the easiest woods to identify.
Mahogany is often used for expensive, high-end furniture. Reddish-brown to deep red in colour, mahogany furniture tends to be traditional or formal, including pianos. Oak can be tan (white oak) or pinkish (red oak) and has been used for furniture for hundreds of years. Because of the grain and colour, oak furniture tends to have a more rustic appearance than mahogany furniture. Both woods take stain well.
Though both are considered hardwoods, oak is a harder wood than mahogany. Oak is one of the hardest woods available, making it an excellent choice for flooring. Oak is also one of the only woods available in the quarter-sawn form, which is the most stable cutting option.
Pores and Stripes
Oak is considered a wood with open pores. That means it has small holes, or pores, on its surface, giving it a textural quality. Stain collects in these open spaces and appears darker and more intense in those areas. Mahogany does not have this quality. African mahogany, however, has a distinct grain that often shows up in stripes along the length of the wooden piece. It is often called ribbon-stripe mahogany and is considered an exotic wood.
Though both oak and mahogany are considered excellent furniture woods, mahogany is more expensive and cannot be found in home-improvement stores. It must be purchased from lumberyards. Mahogany resists shrinking and swelling and is also used for cabinetry, boat construction, wood facing and veneers. Oak, which resists moisture, is also used for cabinetry, interior woodwork, boat framing and trimming.