The name mahogany applies to many different kinds of tropical hardwood. However, there are only three species of true mahogany, and they are all indigenous to the Americas:
mahagoni (L.) Jacq.,
S. macrophylla King, and
S. humilis Zucc.
Mahogany is a neotropical hardwood. It is one of the hardest woods which grows in the neotropic region. Any timber which is commercially labeled as “mahogany” (without qualification) is usually derived from the Meliaceae family, a “true mahogany” tree. Its fresh-cut hues range from yellowish, reddish, pinkish, or salmon colored when freshly-cut to the deep, rich red of mature mahogany and the cherished color so often valued by mahogany furniture lovers.
A mahogany tree can reach over 150 feet high with a trunk diameter of more than six feet in the natural rainforest. It is generally considered an open-crowned tree and it has a gray to brownish-red fissured bark. Because it is one of the hardest woods that grows in the neotropics, it is one of the most valuable species in the international timber trade.
The term specific gravity is a physical property of wood that is a guide to the ease of drying as well as an index of weight. In general, the heavier the wood, the slower the drying rate and the greater the likelihood of developing defects during drying. The specific gravity of wood is usually based on the volume of the wood at some specified moisture content and its weight when overdried.
Since water is the base line, it is given a numeric density of one. Any material’s density which exceeds one means that material will sink in water. Materials with a density of less than one will float in water. Mahogany has a specific gravity that can range from approximately 0.52 to 0.93 depending on the exact species being specified. Even though genuine Honduran mahogany is one of the densest woods, it has a Janka Hardness Scale Rating of only 800.
Mahogany has a fine-to-medium texture and a uniform interlocking grain. The grain can be straight, wavy or curly. Irregularities in the grain often produce highly attractive figures. This figuring is described as quilted, curly, “bird’s eye” and “fiddleback”. During the grading process, interestingly figured boards are often pulled from the group and sold at a premium price.
Mahogany is considered a premier wood for high-class cabinets, boat building and trimmings, windows, pianos, acoustic guitars, sculptures, joinery, turnery, decorative veneer, interior trim and even carving.
Furniture makers covet mahogany for aesthetics and its excellent working and finishing qualities. Mahogany can be finished for high luster and machined by hand or by tool. The species has good nailing and screwing properties, which is one main reason that this wood is also highly-conducive to carving.
Honduras mahogany has excellent weathering properties. It is resistant to brown rot and white rot fungi. The color of Honduras mahogany is relatively consistent, making it an excellent wood for staining.
The heartwood color can vary a fair amount with Honduras mahogany, from a light orangey brown when freshly cut to deep mahogany color as it ages. It has medium to large-sized pores and a medium texture. It also exhibits an optical phenomenon known as chatoyancy, which means that the wood changes color depending upon the angle from which you are viewing.
The easy workability of Honduras Mahogany combined with its beauty and stability have made this lumber a favorite among woodworkers.
There is so much demand for big-leaf mahogany that it has been harvested beyond regeneration capacity. In 2002, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) designated big-leaf mahogany as a species under close supervision.