A Guide to Mahogany Wood Species


by | Oct 31, 2017 | Planning

Sunspace Design has maintained a commitment to using high-quality materials in each project we’ve completed throughout our 35+ years of operation. We don’t cut corners and we don’t use shortcuts that result in problems for clients down the road. Although each project is tailored to the specific needs of the client and the unique aesthetic style of the existing architecture, we always aim for elegance and top-notch build quality.

For that reason, mahogany is one of the most common wood species used in our framing. Prized for its unique characteristics and offering a great combination of beauty, performance, and durability, mahogany is often associated with luxury and elegance. But a variety of wood species are casually described as “mahogany” despite the crucial differences between them. What are the differences between the different types of mahogany? Let’s find out.

Today’s blog post explores the variety of hardwood mahogany species typically used in our custom skylight and glass roof systems. We’ve designed and installed hundreds of New England skylights and specialty glass roof components, and we know the importance of choosing the right wood for the job. These units aren’t prefabricated and don’t come off of an assembly line.

A look at a glass roof system being framed in mahogany under construction at the Sunspace Design workshop

This gorgeous mahogany glass roof frame is being custom-engineered in our workshop.
Wonder what it’ll look like when installation is complete? Read on.

Although the four species we’ll look at today are by no means the only options available to the client, they’re our top choices for their combination of beauty and performance. These species include utile, sapele, African mahogany, and genuine mahogany. Depending on framing dimensions and marketplace availability, we may make specific recommendations for a given client’s budget. Rest assured: having been selected for its structural attributes as well as appearance, each type of wood is a great option.

Each option also offers great aesthetic versatility, serving equally well when accepting paint or serving as a natural wood system. In natural wood roof systems, we consider both the appearance of the wood—including the grain—as well as the structural integrity offered by the species. We also submit recommend wood specie samples to clients, who can then approve or reject the wood prior to the construction phase. Let’s take a closer look at each species:

Utile Mahogany
(entandrophragma utile)

The grain of utile mahogany, with a sanded panel on the left and a sealed panel on the right

Avg. Dry Weight: 40 lbs/ft3 (635 kg/m3)
Janka Hardness: 1,180 lbf (5,260 N)
Crushing Strength: 8,280 lbf/in2 (57.1 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 4.9%, Tangential: 6.9%, Volumetric: 11.8%, T/R Ratio: 1.4

Found in west and central Africa, utile (also known as sipo, or sipo mahogany) has an interlocking grain similar to other mahogany species, with the closest match being found in genuine mahogany. Dense and suitable for use in roof systems, the heartwood tends toward a reddish brown, whereas sapwood is a paler yellow. Similar in strength and stiffness to the other species in this list, utile is a perfect candidate for all of our roof systems, roof lanterns, and custom skylights.

Sapele Mahogany
(entandrophragma cylindricum)

The grain of sapele mahogany, with a sanded panel on the left and a sealed panel on the right

Avg. Dry Weight: 42 lbs/ft3 (670 kg/m3)
Janka Hardness: 1,410 lbf (6,280 N)
Crushing Strength: 8,750 lbf/in2 (60.4 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 4.8%, Tangential: 7.2%, Volumetric: 12.8%, T/R Ratio: 1.5

Hailing from tropical Africa, sapele mahogany also features an interlocking grain pattern which produces a ribbon stripe grain. Pommele, quilted, mottled, wavy, beeswing, and fiddleback grain patterns are also common. The beautiful grain and color makes it a perfect choice for clients seeking a natural wood appearance in their roof system. The heartwood is a reddish brown that can range from golden to dark, and overall color tends to darken with age.

Genuine Mahogany
(swietenia macrophylla)

The grain of genuine mahogany, with a sanded panel on the left and a sealed panel on the right

Avg. Dry Weight: 37 lbs/ft3 (590 kg/m3)
Janka Hardness: 900 lbf (4,020 N)
Crushing Strength: 6,760 lbf/in2 (46.6 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 2.9%, Tangential: 4.3%, Volumetric: 7.5%, T/R Ratio: 1.5

Also known as Honduran mahogany (hailing from—you guessed it—Central and South America), Genuine mahogany is the real deal. This is what the average person is thinking of when they imagine mahogany wood. The term “genuine” is a way of separating the species from more recent market entrants from Africa and Asia. Although more expensive than the alternatives, this wood’s deep, rich color and structural characteristics make it a wonderful choice for roof systems.

Heartwood coloration varies dramatically from paler browns with reddish notes to deep, reddish browns. As with sapele mahogany, color tends to darken with age. The grain varies from straighter patterns to interlocked or irregular ones. This leads directly to one of genuine mahogany’s most interesting characteristics: its exhibition of chatoyancy. Also known as the “cat’s eye effect”, chatoyancy is an optical effect most commonly seen in gemstones. The color and luster of the wood will appear to shift and “shimmer” depending on the viewing angle. It’s hard to beat that kind of beauty.

African Mahogany
(khaya anthotheca, k. grandifoliola, k. ivorensis, k. senegalensis)

The grain of African mahogany, with a sanded panel on the left and a sealed panel on the right

Avg. Dry Weight: 40 lbs/ft3 (640 kg/m3))
Janka Hardness: 1,070 lbf (4,760 N)
Crushing Strength: 7,100 lbf/in2 (49.0 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 4.2%, Tangential: 5.7%, Volumetric: 10.0%, T/R Ratio: 1.4

Also known as Honduran mahogany (hailing from—you guessed it—Central and South America), Genuine mahogany is the real deal. This is what the average person is thinking of when they imagine mahogany wood. The term “genuine” is a way of separating the species from more recent market entrants from Africa and Asia. Although more expensive than the alternatives, this wood’s deep, rich color and structural characteristics make it a wonderful choice for roof systems.

“African mahogany” is the common name for a variety of closely related species hailing from west tropical Africa. The wood is similar in color to genuine mahogany, and the natural luster offers a chatoyancy effect similar to that of genuine mahogany. Expect comparable heartwood colors ranging from pale pinkish browns to deeper reddish browns.

Choosing the Right Wood for Your Project

A completed glass conservatory located in Rye, New Hampshire, complete with a stunning, angular glass roof system framed in mahogany

Remember that glass roof frame from earlier? Here are the finished results.
This stunning glass roof system framed in elegant mahogany is located in Rye, New Hampshire.

This is the kind of showstopping beauty Sunspace Design can introduce to your home.

Although the four varieties listed above represent our most popular options, there are many other hardwoods available. For example, we often frame in Douglas fir. The right choice will ultimately be decided by your project goals, your visual preferences, and your budget. We’ll discuss all of the options with you during the planning process, but we hope this article served as a useful overview.

How to get started? It’s as simple as getting in touch with us. We can be reached via email at info@sunspacedesign.com, via a quick phone call by dialing 1-800-530-2505, or by filling out and submitting our handy contact form. When you’re ready to let the light in, reach out to Sunspace Design.

SUNSPACE DESIGN
29 SEA MIST LN.
YORK, ME 03909

Sunspace Design has been the top choice in New England's glass structure industry since 1981. We specialize in the design and installation of custom-engineered glass roof systems, skylights, conservatories, orangeries, pool enclosures, greenhouses, and custom spaces of all types.
We welcome you to contact us for more information about our services.

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