African Mahogany


I've used ribbon stripped African mahogany for drawer fronts and it stained exactly like Honduras. The boards I have are center cut from the tree so they did not warp. There is a little more tear out compared to Honduras. Attached, I hope, is one of the pieces I used this mahogany on for drawer fronts.

Dennis Bork
Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.
My understanding is that it is similar to Sapele. There is also Sipo or Utile.  All three are similar, while many woodworkers will give you a long list of reasons one is better than the other.  Sapele and African Mahogany seem to be more available.  Sipo seems to be harder to find.  I have used Hond. Mahogany and African Mahogany.  Both are workable.
I have used it quite a bit.  When the local source for Honduran dried up, African is what was available.  To be honest, I couldn't tell much difference.  I think I had even bought some African that was labeled as Honduran (honest mixup at the store).  Let me qualify my statement.  I am a weekend warrior type, not a pro.  I stain mahogany with water based dye stain to get the color I like.  I built one piece with both types and I couldn't see any difference. 

I have also mixed some figured sapele with African and the two work fine together.  I have been lucky to find some nicely figured sapele.  I also really like the stripes in the quarter sawn African.  I made a dresser with striped veneer and it is really nice to look at (the veneer, not my work).

Tony, I agree with everything you have said.  While I don't think they all carve the same, hond. is still my fav to carve
African Mahogany (I prefer to call it Khaya after the genus to avoid confusion) is a very nice wood to work...if you get the right species.  The issue with Khaya is it is what we would call a "conglomerate species" in that there are many species that roll up under the Khaya genus that all have slightly different characteristics due to soil chemistry and other regional factors with how it was felled and sawn.  Khaya senegalensis and Khaya ivorensis are 2 of the best species in my opinion (and all of my customers) because they have a dense and consistent grain much like "Genuine" Mahogany (it hasn't come out of Honduras in decades).  But like all African species the grain is interlocked and can be a bit pesky to hand plane.  These two speces are a much darker red  than the pink, light density stuff from other parts of Africa.  The problem is that most of the export happens from a single port so all of these different species converge on the port and can often get packed into the same container so you get a conglomeration of species in the same shipping container.  So when you go to buy it, one board is great and the next is crap which leads to a lot of the frustration with the product that has given it a bad rep.  Truthfully in the construction trade, Khaya is usually considered a paint grade, low end product because of this inconsistency.  We work hard to get containers of consistent species but the premiums on cost that we have to pay to get that often prices our material above the market.  On the whole Khaya is struggling to survive because the costs have been driven so low that concession owners don't want to waste their time felling and sawing it.  They can't make any money on it so they don't bother. 

Sapele and Utile (both cousins from the same genus, Entandrophragma) have become solid alternatives and not that much more cost than Khaya but enough to make the infrastructure interested in producing it.  Both are denser, darker, and harder than Khaya but still have the interlocked grain.  But with the higher density and Janka rating they are less prone to fuzziness like Khaya.  Utile does not have as pronounced ribbon striping like Sapele, but it is still there.  Utile has darker lines in the grain that Sapele and Mahogany do not have but I find it adds a lot to the character of the wood. 

Both Sapele and Utile do no take on the deep luster that Genuine Mahogany does because they are much denser and therefore oil absorption during finish isn't the same.  I have found Utile, while harder, to carve much like Genuine Mahogany due to its more homogenized grain structure similar to Genuine.  Sapele will present more difficulty in carving because of the much more regular double helix structure of the grain.

Sapele and Utile are easily available in thick and wide boards and usually the only limiting factor in board width is that the market for wide stuff is really small and sawmills find it more appropriate for their customer base to saw into 6-8" widths.  The majority of our customers who love theses species are exterior product companies like window and door manufacturers.  Home builders love it for siding and trim, and boat builders are grabbing it quickly as well for both interior and exterior work. 

I have seen some tenuous evidence that Utile was actually a very common cabinet wood in the 17th and 18th century before trade routes were well established with North America.  Africa had been colonized long before so these African species were flowing into Europe long before Mahogany and Black Walnut became all the rage.  However, I have had a hard time backing this up with museum examples but I still like to believe its true.