For the last 10 to 20 years, price and availability have turned woodworkers on to various African species for their mahogany needs. Genuine or Honduran mahogany is still available, but the high cost limits its purchase to very high-end and unique projects, according to hardwood dealers interviewed by Woodshop News.
“It’s very interesting,” says Lou Irion, owner of Irion Lumber, a retailer in Wellsboro, Pa. “It seems fewer and fewer people are even carrying the genuine Honduras or South American mahogany species. The market has really dropped. Almost everybody’s gone to African and it’s a combination of regulations and the fact that [genuine] has gotten so pricey. They gone to African because it’s more available and more reasonably priced.”
Despite export restrictions, Honduran mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) continues to be available in lumber or veneer form, possibly from plantations. The species is listed (CITES Appendix II, IUCN Red List) as vulnerable because of a population reduction of more than 20 percent in the last three generations, caused by a decline in its natural range and exploitation, according to The Wood Database website.
African mahogany (Khaya) is a genus of seven species of trees in the Meliaceae family. The color and working properties can vary greatly, depending on where it is harvested.
“When you’re building something very special, particularly furniture, but even very good architectural millwork, Honduran mahogany is critical to the success of the project,” Irion says. “You really just can’t use African because it just doesn’t have the same qualities. It doesn’t carve as well and the look is just off.”
“There’s a low supply of the Honduras and it’s not like the true Honduras that we used to see,” adds Dennis Guethal of Compton Lumber, a retailer in Seattle. “It has a decent variance in color.”
Compton also sells African mahogany, mostly for casework, doors and millwork projects. Guethal says he sells a smaller amount of Honduran mahogany to boat builders.
“What we buy is quartersawn, so it’s the ribbon grain. [Woodworkers] buy it more for the look. It has a color variance to it, but the ribbon grain is kind of what our customers are after,” Guethal says.
Honduran mahogany is selling for more than $10/bf with a premium for longer lengths and widths. African mahogany retails for $5 to $6/bf.
This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue.