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When it comes to choosing the right wood for making furniture, you will notice just how diverse your choices are. Even when buying furniture, you’ll often find yourself overwhelmed by your options and this can make it difficult to choose.
Understanding the different types of wood can make things so much easier as well as knowing the pros and cons of working with each type. In this guide, I’d like to shine the spotlight on mahogany. This is one of the most popular types of wood in furniture making but what is mahogany and why should you use it?
In the most simple terms, mahogany is a straight-grained wood with a reddish-brown colour. It comes from a species, Swetinia, which only grows in the Americas.
If you’ve been toying with the idea of using mahogany for your next project but aren’t quite sure you know everything there is to know about this wood then you’re in the right place. My aim here is to introduce you to the species and give you the lowdown on why you should or indeed shouldn’t, use it for furniture.
Mahogany is a type of hardwood that comes from a genus of trees known as Swetina. These species are native to Central and South America so there are many different choices when it comes to buying mahogany. For example, South American mahogany, Cuban mahogany and Honduran mahogany.
One of the most distinctive features of mahogany is its straight grain and obvious red/brown hue. What’s great about it is that it’s one of the best woods for finishing as it seems to take polishes and oils very well. For this reason, you will often find mahogany used in a wide number of woodworking applications.
The mahogany trees with the Swetinia genus are indigenous to Central and South America although, over the years, many have been introduced to other parts of the world including Oceania and Asia as well as Africa. What’s interesting is that, in some places, this is considered to be an invasive type of tree.
When buying mahogany for your woodworking project, you’re going to want the very best quality wood. Mahogany has a lot going for it; it’s incredibly durable and also an attractive type of wood. However, there are actually only three species that are considered genuine mahogany so if you want all the best properties of this wood, you’ll need to look out for these.
The three species are big-leaf mahogany (sometimes called Honduran mahogany), Swetinia Humilis and West Indian mahogany.
There aren’t many things that you can complain about when it comes to mahogany. This is a fantastic species for furniture making, construction, even making boats and panelling. While this type of wood can be more expensive than something like oak, the properties are well worth the investment. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the advantages of using mahogany.
If you are making furniture, it goes without saying that you’re going to want a wood type that will stand the test of time. While there are lots of different woods that are considered durable, mahogany is certainly one of the best.
Various tests have been done where mahogany is concerned and in one, a particular type; Fijan mahogany, was given a class 2 rating for durability. But what does this mean for the woodworker? Well, in short, it means that this type of wood could last up to 50 years when it is well taken care of. It makes an excellent choice for furniture but because of its long-lasting nature, it’s also ideal for outdoor flooring such as decking.
The reason that it performs so well outdoors is not only down to how strong it is but also how resistant it is. Mahogany stands up very well to weather exposure and will resist mould and rot far better than other species.
It doesn’t take me to tell you that mahogany is one of the most attractive types of wood. It has a darker colour than many other kinds of wood and a reddish-brown hue. However, there are so many variants on this meaning you can find mahogany to suit your taste.
The resulting products look high quality, aesthetically pleasing and work very well in all kinds of decor themes.
As well as being one of the most attractive types of wood, mahogany is also great if you want something consistent. The colour is incredibly uniform so when using several boards, you will end up with a nice appearance that doesn’t differ too much.
I’ve already touched on how well mahogany stands up to exposure to the elements including rain and other moisture. Of course, you’re not going to pour water over your mahogany for the sake of it but if it is in a moist environment, it’ll hold up far better than say something like pine.
It is for this reason that mahogany is often used in the construction of boats as well as for decking, as I mentioned earlier on. It’s also a common choice for things like benches and patio furniture where something long-lasting is needed.
Since mahogany is so resistant when it comes to weather, humidity and moisture, you won’t have problems with shrinking and warping. Usually, when wood gets wet, or even damp, it will swell. When it dries again, the material shrinks but it doesn’t always return to its original shape, becoming warped.
This will not happen with mahogany so if you have a mahogany patio set, for example, you won’t need to worry that it’ll become deformed over winter.
It’s always important to choose a type of work that is easy to work with, especially when you’re a beginner woodworker. Many types of hardwood are notoriously difficult to work with but that is not the case where mahogany is concerned. Instead, it’s beautifully workable with a wide range of tools.
What’s more, it is a great choice of wood for carving. You will find it easy to carve and the final result is absolutely breathtaking. If you’re just starting out then I would highly recommend trying this as one of your first woods as it’ll really allow you to get acquainted with your tools without the hassle of difficult wood.
If your project requires the use of screws and nails then mahogany is an excellent choice. It’s all down to those compact and dense grains again which make it super strong at holding nails and screws in place.
When you have finished your project, you’re going to want to give it a nice finish. Some types of wood will absorb oils, paints and polishes until they’re almost invisible but that isn’t true of mahogany. Instead, this wood holds treatments incredibly well so you get a beautiful finish on top of what is already a very attractive wood. The final result is rich and almost royal looking.
If you hadn’t already gathered from what I have said up until now, mahogany will stand up to moisture like no other type of wood can. This means that it won’t easily rot which can be said of many hardwoods as it is in their very nature to be more resistant. However, in the case of mahogany, it’s stepped up a level.
This is because of how dense and compact the grain is making it very difficult for water to penetrate into the inner parts of the wood. While it’s excellent for outdoor furniture and decking, many people choose mahogany when creating something that will have contact with the ground.
Mahogany is an extremely popular type of wood and since there is such a high demand for it, you’ll find that you can get your hands on it almost anywhere you look. Whether you’re shopping at a DIY store or heading to your local wood yard, there won’t be a problem sourcing mahogany. What’s more, there are lots of different species which vary in colour and appearance so you always have options.
While there are plenty of reasons to choose mahogany for your next project, nothing is perfect so it’s worth taking a look at some of the downsides as well.
While mahogany is currently widely available, this is a finite resource. The demand for this type of wood is so high that there can sometimes be shortages. This is even more true when looking at a higher quality or genuine mahogany. As a result of this, you will find that this wood can become quite expensive. Is it worth it because of all the positives? That’s something for the individual to decide.
Now, earlier I mentioned that mahogany has a uniform colour and that is true when it is cut from the same species. However, on the negative side of this, there are so many variations of this wood and so many different species that this can be a disadvantage as well. It’s important that, when choosing mahogany, you look at the colour before purchasing to make sure it remains consistent.
Mahogany, as I have mentioned, is incredibly dense and because of this, it is a much heavier type of wood. That isn’t always a bad thing as it adds to the durability but you have to keep in mind that this could be a problem when working with the wood. This all depends on how much lifting you will need to do but it’s something to consider.
Over time, it is possible for mahogany to change colour and become much darker. This is owing to its exposure to sunlight so applies particularly to pieces that are kept outdoors. While this isn’t necessarily an issue and some people consider this ageing to be attractive, it can make life difficult when repairing or maintaining items.
If you want all of the true benefits of this wonderful species of wood then you need to make sure that you are getting genuine mahogany. The problem with this is that it can be quite tricky to identify unless you have in-depth knowledge. The only way to really counter this problem is by making sure that you only buy your wood from trusted suppliers. Anyone using the Rainforest Alliance certification or an FSC certification should be above board and will supply you with a genuine product.
Mahogany is hugely popular for many reasons; it’s easy to work, looks beautiful and is one of the best woods for strength and durability. There are lots of different species of mahogany but surprisingly, only three are classed as genuine so it’s worth checking out what you’re getting before you buy. Moreover, I’d recommend weighing up the pros and cons of this wood to make sure it’s the right material for your project.