Wood of Kings

Cuban King

Mahogany has been synonymous with luxury since English furnituremakers Chippendale, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton made it their wood of choice in the late 1700s. Its easy workability made it ideal for the hand tools of the day. and perfect for the ornate carvings adorning their high-end furniture. And its rich, pink-tinged tan color that darkened to a deep, lustrous red secured its dominion as the ‘Wood of Kings”

Those classic cabinetmakers preferred Cuban mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni), above. for good reason: It proved superior in nearly all areas that matter to woodworkers. Boatbuilders loved the wide, rot-resistant and dimensionally stable planks. Furniture makers appreciated the tight grain that readily accepted any finish. And the worlds consumers loved the rich color. But its popularity proved to be its demise because, by the mid-1800s, it had been harvested to commercial extinction. For all intents and purposes, the king is dead.

Pros: Extremely stable Rot-resistant Easy to carve and shape with hand tools or power tools Stains and finishes easily and beautifully

Cons: Scarce and expensive

Honduran Mahogany King

Following closely in Cuban Mahogany’s footsteps, Honduran Mahogany is from the same genus (Swietenia), and it’s closely related in nearly all characteristics, and nowadays a fair amount of this wood is grown on plantations. It’s sold under a variety of common names, including American Mahogany, Genuine Mahogany, Big-Leaf Mahogany, and Brazilian Mahogany. Despite the abundance of common names, they usually all refer to just one species—when in doubt, verify the scientific name: Swietenia macrophylla. It’s every bit a true mahogany as the original Cuban species that became commercially exhausted in the mid-20th century.

Honduras mahogany is ideal to be cut, planed or sanded. However, when you are doing a woodwork job on Honduras mahogany, you need to make sure that the tools are all sharp enough. Since this wood is renowned for its strength and resistance, it is often chosen for outdoor furniture. It is also safe for you to apply stain or finish to the wood because you will not cause any damage

Pros: Extremely stable Rot-resistant Easy to cane and shape with hand tools or power tools

Cons: Sporadic availability

African Mahogany

With its supply and price issues. Honduras mahogany’s rule is a shaky one. So, several African upstarts are making a name for themselves as genuine mahogany substitutes. Like the Swietenia varieties, these three woods hail from the Meliaceae family, earning them the regal distinction of ‘true mahogany’ and due consideration as successors.

Khaya ivorensis, above. the species most-often marketed under the African mahogany moniker. has snagged much of the genuine-mahogany replacement market. While its coloring appears similar to genuine mahogany, its working characteristics differ distinctly. Khayis tendency toward interlocked grain manifests itself prominently. For jointing, planing. and hand-tool work, this makes it nearly impossible to read the grain direction.

Pros: Similar in appearance to genuine mahoganies Low cost and wide availability

Cons: Fuzzy, stringy grain Larger pores don’t carve or finish as well as genuine mahoganies Interlocking makes the grain difficult to read for jointing and planning


Sapele (-uh-PEE-lee). Entandrophragma cylindricum. uses its family tendency toward interlocked grain to display a characteristic ribbon-striped pattern. shown above. Often found in the same African mahogany bin as its cousins. Sapele’s dark red tone and dramatic appearance set it apart. Use Sapele to draw attention to the grain in projects. and machine it as you would other figured woods: with shallow cuts, and reduced cutting angles to avoid tear-out.

Pros: Ribbon-striped grain patterns are common Lustrous, three-dimensional appearance

Cons: Prone to tear-out Difficult to match to genuine mahoganies


Sipo (SEE-poh). Entandrophragma utile, above, often sold as utile (Y00-tih-lee), has a more subdued grain pattern than its African counterparts. Because of this, it tends to share the easier workability of its American cousins. Sipo’s darker tone makes it a closer match for age-darkened genuine mahogany furniture pieces. This. combined with its lower price. makes Sipo a strong contender as the mahogany substitute of choice. especially for period reproduction work.

Pros: Easy to carve and shape with hand tools o: power tools Instant aged mahogany look Low-cost

Cons: Less availability than other African varieties

Philippine Mahogany (Lauan)

Actually several species of the Shorea genus—is sometimes marketed under the name lauan. The designation is allowed by the Federal Trade Commission due to a long-standing usage of the term. The Asian hardwood has found its way into low-cost plywood veneer, door skins, and house trim. But its nickname doesn’t mask its lack of stability and rot resistance, nor its coarser texture.

Santos Mahogany ( Mahogany Balsanum )

Royal Mahogany ( Pithecellobium Arboreum )

Santos Mahogany (Myroxylon balsamum) and Royal Mahogany (Pithecellobium arboreum) have the hardwood flooring industry to thank for their artful appellations. Though prized in that capacity for their hardness, they bear only passing color similarities to the genuine stuff, and closer comparison easily gives them away as.