In the wake of Genuine Mahogany’s decreased availability and quality, many customers are looking for alternatives. African Mahogany has long been considered a viable alternative, but it’s currently experiencing a different kind of shortage. Once you understand the distinctions between Genuine and African Mahogany, you’ll be better equipped to decide if African Mahogany can stand in for the South American stuff in your next project.
What Makes Genune Mahogany “Genuine”?
Calling one Mahogany “Genuine” seems to indicate that African Mahogany is not legitimately part of the Mahogany family; in actuality, both are real Mahoganies. So-called Genuine Mahogany hails from South America (usually Honduras, leading to its being called “Honduran Mahogany”) and is technically referred to as Swietenia Macrophylla. The popularity of that species dates back to the eighteenth century, when it became a major export from the Americas back to Europe.
Both cabinetmakers and furniture makers learned to highly prize the species, which soon expanded its use to exterior applications such as windows and doors. As a result of supply-chain issues influencing the availability of Mahogany, many furniture makers transitioned to Walnut. Honduran Mahogany is still highly favored for restoration work, and the reddish brown coloring remains highly prized.
What’s the Deal with African Mahogany?
Among the many African hardwoods seen as alternatives to Honduran Mahogany, several species in the Mahogany family have emerged as favorites. Lumped together and referred to generically as “African Mahogany,” the two most common species are both within the Khaya genus: Khaya ivorensis and Khaya senegalensis. The problem was that those and other African species were being tauted as “Mahogany,” misleading buyers to think that the wood was actually Honduran Mahogany. The result? The emergence of the term “Genuine Mahogany” for referring to Honduran Mahogany. The nomenclature stuck.
The most obvious distinction between Swietenia (Genuine Mahogany) and Khaya (African Mahogany) is the coloring: Khaya tends to be lighter pink than Swietenia. Many other properties make them quite different from each other also. African Mahogany’s straight, interlocking grain and greater hardness give it strength, and its unusual grain produces a striped appearance. One down side to what’s sold as “African Mahogany” is that there’s such a wide range in what customers might receive, since so many species of trees are lumped into the “African Mahogany” category.
J. Gibson McIlvain attempts to mitigate the confusion that can come with ordering African Mahogany by purchasing unmixed containers of the highest quality Khaya species, separately. That way, we can make sure our customers order what they want and know exactly what they’re getting. By taking the guess work out of the equation, we can help you order high-quality African Mahogany that machines and finishes easily and works well for exterior applications. Appreciated by many door and window manufacturers, the least expensive members of the Mahogany family are highly stable when finished with stain, clear coat, or paint.