The characteristics that make Genuine Mahogany a long-time favorite of wood workers are well known, if not quite as commonly accepted as the definition of “genuine.” One might easily reason that if one lumber species is named for its authenticity, the alternative must be a counterfeit, inferior to the real deal. When it comes to Mahogany, this reasoning is far from accurate. In fact, African Mahogany is just as much part of the Meliaceae (mahogany) family as the Central and South American species.
The distinction lies beyond geography in the genus classifications: Honduran (“Genuine”) Mahogany is part of the Swietenia genus, while the three African species are all part of the Khaya genus. While the Khaya mahoganies are distinct from the Swietenia species in many ways, making the latter preferable to some craftsmen, the availability, sustainability, and affordability of the African species make them increasingly desirable to others.
When it comes to appearance, both Honduran and African Mahogany could be described as having a deep reddish brown hue and attractive grain. However, Honduran Mahogany has an orange cast, while African varieties possess a pinkish tint. The South American species has a fine, straight grain that many appreciate, while the African species can have a variety of grain patterns that make it more attractive to some. African Mahogany also boasts a chatoyant luster that provides added visual interest.
As far as durability and workability are concerned, some craftsmen clearly prefer the Honduran species over any of the three African species. Due to their high density, all Mahoganies are resistant to termites and rot, but since Honduran Mahogany has a higher density than African Mahogany, Honduran Mahogany has the higher resistance. That same density leads to easy hand tooling and machining.
Stability during drying and responsiveness to finishing also add to the allure of Mahogany, as do their tonal qualities. Mahogany from both South America and Africa are popularly used in musical instruments, plywood, paneling, interior trim, cabinetry, furniture, fixtures, and interior flooring.
Based on characteristics alone, it’s easy to see why African Mahogany has long been more affordable than its South American counterpart. The gap is widening, though, due to the 2003 CITES listing of Genuine Mahogany as an endangered species. As legal harvesting of Genuine Mahogany becomes rarer, profitability for loggers decreases, and lower supply is the result. Even with consistent demand, the prices of Genuine Mahogany continue to climb, putting it out of reach for many builders and craftsmen. Still a true Mahogany, African Mahogany is a viable alternative for many Mahogany applications.
J. Gibson McIlvain keeps an assortment of board lengths and widths of both Mahogany options in stock, and our experts are happy to discuss the pros and cons of each relating to your specific application.