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Mahogany tree in Africa

All About Mahogany Wood: Characteristics and Advantages of African Mahogany with Tips for Decor

Perhaps you’ve been shopping for furniture and came across types of wood labelled “mahogany”. Its rich, red finish has caught your eye.

If you search for mahogany, there are many different types available. There’s the very popular South American mahogany that’s endangered due to the lack of sustainable forestry practices. There’s also African mahogany, which is similar to its South American counterpart.

Here’s a quick crash course on everything you need to know about African mahogany wood. We go over its properties, benefits and drawbacks, and share some tips on how to incorporate this wood into your home!

Origin of Mahogany Wood

From the Swietenia family, which is native to the Americas, mahogany is a reddish type of wood with a straight grain. There are 3 species of mahogany from South America, and they are

  • South American mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla),
  • Cuban mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni), 
  • Mexican mahogany (Swietenia humilis).

Due to the demand for South American mahogany, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) imposed the restriction of felling and selling this wood in 2003 to prevent this species of trees from becoming extinct.

Its counterpart, African mahogany, is from the Meliaceae family. It produces Khaya timber and is known as an alternative to South American mahogany.

Characteristics of African Mahogany Wood

While its South American counterpart is popular among homeowners and furniture makers, African mahogany is a great alternative and is readily available. It produces lovely furniture that stands out in a room. Let’s have a look at the properties of this wood.

Colour

The colour of African mahogany changes during seasons, ranging from a light to a dark reddish brown in colour.

Grain

Mahogany wood grain close up

Mahogany grain is mostly plain and straight, making it beautiful. It typically has few knots (round shapes on the boards that show where the branches originally grow) or blemishes. Some pieces have interlocking grains and this may contribute to the furniture’s overall aesthetic.

Hardness

Mahogany has a Janka Hardness between 800 and 1100 lbf, although it typically falls within the range of 800 to 900 lbf. It withstands pressure relatively well and has moderate resistance to wear and tear.

Advantages of African Mahogany Wood

Aesthetically pleasing, African mahogany is definitely one of the more popular types of wood. It’s often used for flooring, cupboards, and even the odd jewellery box. However, there’s more to this wood than its rich colour. Here are some of its advantages.

Beautiful Appearance

Mahogany trees are enormous and produce wide boards that have mostly straight grain, although some come with interlocking patterns. There’s usually no indication of shock or injury (burls) on mahogany boards. Its appearance is uniform and there are rarely any voids (holes) in the wood, or knots.

Good Rot and Water Resistance

There are no holes in mahogany wood, preventing water from seeping through. This makes it more immune to water damage and rotting than other woods.

Many boat-makers love mahogany, and in Singapore’s weather where humidity is high, this is a plus. If you’re looking to make furniture for your patio or deck, this is a great type of wood to choose from.

Superior Stability

When it comes to wood, stability refers to the measure of how a piece of wood reacts to fluctuations in humidity. 

Mahogany, which has superior stability, retains its shape and doesn’t shrink or expand. This is an advantage in Singapore’s climate, which has an overall humidity of 70 to 80%. It can also withstand the wetter and colder months from November to January.

Workability

Due to its straight and consistent grain, mahogany is easy to shape and carve. Carpenters with an artistic bent tend to carve out intricate details on this type of wood as compared to others. It’s also easy to sand, finish, drill and screw in nails if necessary.

Long-lasting 

Mahogany wood lasts for a long time. With proper care, this type of furniture can last up to 40 years.

Easily Available

African mahogany is easily available, especially compared to its South American counterpart. It’s often available in different lumber sizes and as plywood or veneers.

Disadvantages of African Mahogany Wood

It seems like African mahogany’s advantages make it a good wood to use, but where does it fall short? Let’s have a look.

Darkens Over Time

When exposed to direct sunlight, African mahogany darkens over time. This may be an issue with regard to maintenance when a new piece of wood is required to repair the original furniture – the colour of the new piece may not match the shade of the original.

Heavy

Mahogany is quite heavy, so it might be a bit of a hassle when moving your wood furniture to a new home.

How to Incorporate African Mahogany into Your Home

Now that you’ve weighed out the pros and cons, you can decide on whether you want an African mahogany piece in your home. If you’ve decided to do so, that’s great!

Before incorporating this wood into your home through furniture or furnishing, you may want to consider the colour scheme of your house.

Colour wheel of whites, red, blue and yellow

On the colour wheel, mahogany is close to a reddish tinge. While it may be tempting to furnish a room full of mahogany, it’s best to pair it with blues, creams, beiges and white for better contrast.

With this, here are some ways you can incorporate African mahogany into your home:

Using African Mahogany for Flooring

If you’re thinking of using African mahogany for your flooring, you’ve made a great choice. Its striking colour will stand out against any white or cream-coloured walls. Additionally, being rot-resistant, this wood will fare well as a type of flooring.

Here’s an example of what a cosy home furnished with mahogany floors looks like:

Black and white coloured kitchen with mahogany wood flooring

Using African Mahogany as Furniture

Perhaps using mahogany wood as your flooring may be too much. Instead, try introducing a reddish-brown pop with furniture – some wooden tables and chairs can help to tie the room together.

Dining room featuring a mahogany wood table and chairs

Considering the colour wheel, using light colours such as cream or beige for other parts of the room can create a stronger contrast against mahogany wood furniture. This makes it stand out as a statement piece.

Waiting room decorated with different types of mahogany wood furniture

Since mahogany is darker in colour, placing too many of such furniture pieces in the same room can cause the space to look smaller and darker than intended. Instead, try having a focal piece such as a bench or a cupboard.

You can also incorporate different pieces in different rooms to create a consistent look throughout your home.

FAQs About Mahogany Wood

Is mahogany waterproof?

South American mahogany is generally immune to water damage as it has no pockets (bark partly embedded in the wood) or grooves, while African Mahogany is moderately protected.

Is mahogany a good wood?

Mahogany is a good wood that’s incredibly durable and strong. It’s a popular choice for furniture, boat making, and flooring.

Why is mahogany so expensive?

South American mahogany is more expensive, while African mahogany is moderately priced. This is because African mahogany is readily available. 

On the other hand, its South American counterpart is very rare due to the restrictions by CITES that ensure that this species of wood doesn’t become extinct.

What is the difference between mahogany and teak wood?

Teak is harder, longer-lasting and expensive, making it more exclusive than both South American or African mahogany. It’s also more durable due to its natural oils that coat the wood.

What is the difference between mahogany and oak?

Both South American and African mahogany come in a darker, reddish-brown colour, but the colour of oak ranges from beige to brown. 

Apart from these differences in appearance, oak is harder and more durable than mahogany. It measures about 1,200 on the Janka scale as opposed to the latter, which ranges between 800 and 1,100.

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