Once a much more popular lumber species, Genuine Mahogany has fallen from favor, primarily due to its elevated price point. The shift has not stemmed from decreased availability in Genuine Mahogany but rather from increased regulation and the resulting added costs and lead time that is associated with the supply chain.
So despite this species’ consistent color and generally exceptional appearance as well as ease of use, those desiring to create high-end wood furniture or architectural millwork are now seeking out alternatives to Genuine Mahogany.
In response to the growing market for Mahogany alternatives, the African hardwoods market has virtually exploded. Three African species, in particular, have risen to the occasion: African Mahogany, Sapele, and Utile.
Despite what the term “Genuine Mahogany” might seem to indicate, African Mahogany (or Khaya) is truly part of the Mahogany family. This African species has traditionally been seen as inferior to its cousin, which originates in South America.
For one thing, Khaya is inconsistent. The category Khaya actually includes several species, each with its own set of unique characteristics. So when you place an order for Khaya, you really have no way of knowing what the color, density, and workability will be like.
At the same time, Khaya is so much less expensive than Genuine Mahogany (only 33% of its high price) that many find it worth the gamble.
Priced higher than African Mahogany, Sapele is still much less expensive than Genuine Mahogany (about 66% of its price). Much more stable and dense, the Sapele tree yields extra-large boards in a variety of thicknesses.
Because of Sapele’s greater hardness and interlocking grain pattern, it can be difficult to work with. Tear out is common, making milling difficult. Quartersawn Sapele displays a stunning ribbon-like striping; the unique beauty of quartersawn Sapele has led to its becoming established in its own right, instead of simply as a Mahogany alternative.
This new market has contributed to the rising price of Sapele, making it less viable as a cost-saving alternative to Mahogany.
Although it provides the closest color match to Genuine Mahogany, Utile is not nearly as commonplace as Sapele and African Mahogany. It’s simply not on the radar of many would-be buyers. Also referred to as Sipo, this species is growing in its acceptance.
In the same species as Sapele, Utile boasts many of the same prized qualities. One notable distinction is that Utile’s interlocking grain is less extreme, making it easier to work without risking tear out. It’s also lighter in color and significantly softer than Sapele. It’s slightly heavier and harder than Genuine Mahogany, as well, making it similarly appealing for its workability.
Quartersawn Utile provides a more mellow striping than Sapele, but when flatsawn, it is nearly identical to Genuine Mahogany, except that Utile’s darker lines provide additional interest and depth. Because the Utile tree is very large, exceptional thicknesses upwards of 12/4 and widths exceeding 12” are easy to find. It slower density also makes it quite stable. Its price is between that of African Mahogany and Sapele — about half the price of Genuine Mahogany.
J. Gibson McIlvain Company
Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company (www.mcilvain.com) is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.
As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums.
Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling (800) 638-9100.