The name mahogany is used when referring to numerous varieties of dark-colored hardwood. It is a native American word originally used for the wood of the species Swietenia mahagoni, known as West Indian or Cuban mahogany. It was next applied to the wood of Swietenia macrophylla, which is closely related, and known as Honduras or genuine mahogany. Mahogany wood is grown in tropical areas, including in Africa, Central and South America. In the natural rainforest, Mahogany is a very large canopy tree, sometimes reaching over 150 feet in height, with trunks sometimes more than 6 feet in diameter above a large basal buttress. It is a generally open-crowned tree, with gray to brownish-red fissured bark.
What Makes Mahogany Wood Great?
A brief look at the qualities of mahogany wood will show why it is so popular with many woodworkers. Mahogany varies from yellowish, pink, or salmon colored when freshly cut, to a deep, rich red or reddish brown as the wood ages. Mahogany has fine to medium texture, with uniform to interlocking grain, ranging from straight to wavy or curly. Irregularities in the grain often produce highly attractive figures such as fiddleback or mottle. Mahogany lumber is fairly easy to work with, although experienced woodworkers know to keep their tools sharp since mahogany has a tendency to dull them. One of mahogany’s best qualities is its density while not being among the hardest of hardwoods and it is generally free of air pockets and other deformities. This means that a smooth surface is easy to achieve with minimal finishing. Mahogany also absorbs stains and preservatives extremely well, which allows a glossy surface.
How Mahogany is Used
Mahogany is a highly regarded hardwood and has been used for centuries to make many different products. It responds well to hand and machine tools, has good nailing and screwing properties, and turns and carves superbly. These properties make it the world’s premier wood for fine cabinetry, furniture, trimming fine boats, guitars, pianos and other musical instruments, sculpture, turning, interior trim, and carving. Large scale uses of mahogany lumber include furniture, boats and flooring. It resists rot so it’s suitable for boat construction. Mahogany is also commonly used in acoustic guitars, most often to make the back, sides, or neck, but it is sometimes used to make the top (soundboard) as well. Guitars with mahogany soundboards tend to have a softer, darker tone than those made from spruce. A wide variety of electric guitars are also made with mahogany. Mahogany is used for drum making because of its integrity and capability to produce a very dark, warm tone as compared to other wood like maple or birch.
Making Mahogany Furniture
Much of the top quality furniture made in the American colonies from the mid 1700s was made of mahogany. Mahogany is widely used for fine furniture but the rarity of Cuban and Honduras mahogany restricts its use. Almost any woodworker can produce mahogany furniture, because mahogany lumber is quite easy to work with when compared with other hardwoods. Mahogany furniture such as dressers, sideboards, and tables have been a fixture in fine homes for many years, but the recent expansion of the do it yourself market has made mahogany furniture more widely available. Mahogany wood is quite moderately priced, and has the quality and rigidity necessary for heavy furniture pieces like bureaus and wardrobes. While it was once reserved for finer applications and more expensive furniture, mahogany wood has in some senses "come to the people," becoming more accessible to the do it yourselfer market. That is why many woodworkers are choosing new projects using mahogany lumber.
Mahogany Doors, Moulding and Millwork
Solid mahogany doors make a grand entrance for any building, home or room. The weight and density can be sensed while the look is less that of a door and more like a piece of furniture. An all mahogany library filled with richly stained shelves, panels, crown moldings and coffered ceilings is the image of opulence and luxury. Baseboards, panel moulds, chair rail and other trim can be produced from mahogany and combined to make wainscoting or panel systems that will bring that luxurious look to a dining room or office.
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