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Honduran vs. African Mahogany

dperfe's picture

I'm considering using mahogany to build my home furniture and would like to get some feedback from those who have a bit of experience with it as to the differences between the Honduran and African varieties.  I've read that the African is coarser, less stable and weaker, and that it has an interlocking grain.  Also, is the ribbon stripe seen only with the African.  Many months ago I purchased a small sample just to experiment with.  The sample had a very pronounced ribbon stripe which really turned me off.  But having recently learned that the two varieties are actually different wood, I'm reconsidering it.  I purchased another small sample, this time specifically making sure that it is the Honduran variety.  This sample does not appear to have the same ribbon stripping.  Is that just because of that particular piece of wood. 

The African at this one mill is a little more than $2 less then the Honduran at another place.  If the two are close enough I would go with the cheaper.  I'd very much like to get others impressions of these two varieties.  


David P.   

jonsherryl's picture

(post #82906, reply #1 of 5)

David, both of the woods you mention are genuine mahoganies in that they belong to the mahogany family; Meliaceae. Honduras mahogany is native to tropical America, from southern Mexico to Brazil and the species it is cut from is Swietenia macrophylla.

African mahogany is cut from several species in the genus Khaya, widespread throughout central Africa. Your description of the differences is essentially accurate in that most (but not all) of the African mahoganies tend to be softer, slightly coarser textured, usually darker and more red in color, less stable, less decay resistant and a little weaker than Honduras mahogany...but they are nonetheless very good cabinet woods when compared to the vast majority of species commercially available. African mahogany does typically have a more pronounced interlocked grain and the ribbon figure revealed on the radially cut (quartersawn) surface is usually a little more showy, but  American mahogany also produces interlocked grain. Ribbon figure is not necessarily a negative feature and many cabinet makers prefer it.

Both of these true mahoganies, in virtually all respects, are superior to the so called "Philippine mahogany" (lauan), which is cut from species belonging to the genus Shorea, native to Southeast Asia. The Shoreas are extremely variable in terms of color and density and they are not true mahoganies in that they belong to a very different botanical family (Dipterocarpaceae.) They tend to be less stable, less decay resistant, coarser textured and lack the complexity of figure found in the true mahoganies.  

dgvffd's picture

(post #82906, reply #2 of 5)

As long as the material itself, either species, is high grade, they both work great.   However, when it comes to aging, Honduran mahogany (from anywhere in south America) is going to be the piece that gains the most beauty and patina.  My expericence with African mahogany is that it stays the general red tone that it aqquires when first finished.  While it may darken and patina somewhat over time it is not going to turn into the mahogany antique that you commonly see. 


That given, if you are applying any type of stain to it, go with the African and you will have a beautiful wood.


Douglas Vincent


Elcoholic's picture

(post #82906, reply #3 of 5)

No doubt all things being equal Hondo is definately the better wood.  (Of course compared to Cuban it's firewood.)  But not all things are equal.  Lately the supply of Hondo in So Cal has been spotty.  Brand new bundles look like the back of the rack dregs of a couple years ago.  If you're looking for any width in quantity go with the African, cause you'll be able to get more next month and it's cheaper.

John O'Connell - JKO Handcrafted Woodworking

Life is tough.  It's tougher if you're stupid - John Wayne

John O'Connell - JKO Handcrafted Woodworking

The more things change ...

We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized.  I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.

Petronious Arbiter, 210 BC

john11101's picture

(post #82906, reply #4 of 5)


I've used African and I like it. How it ages I'll tell later, but since it is cheaper I used it to cover the crawl space entrances a while back (6mos.). Its fine for now, I water all the time and its not doing much. I like the ribboning, looks good and adds character. African is cheaper and has a richer color. honduran is really over priced right now.

Are you sure it is less rot resistant. also so far the watering  is not affecting the color, how is the stability different.



jonsherryl's picture

(post #82906, reply #5 of 5)

John, African mahogany is no slouch compared to most cabinet just fades a little when compared to its American cousin, because the latter is so outstanding in virtually every respect. The Forest Products Laboratory rates American mahogany as very resistant to decay, while the African is rated as moderately resistant.

In terms of stability, The American has an average volumetric shrinkage, green to ovendry, of 7.8%, while the African is a point higher at 8.8%. The African also has a higher T/R ratio (the ratio between its tangential and radial shrinkage), which means it is a little more prone to distortion when exposed to changes in humidity...But when you compare African mahogany's stats to a wood like our native black cherry (Prunus serotina, which is considered to be one of our more stable domestic hardwoods) it is much superior. Cherry's volumetric shrinkage is 11.5% and it has a substantially higher T/R ratio.