View Full Version : Mahogany choices

Phillip Bogle
10-20-2009, 1:20 PM
I am confused and trying to select some carving wood. Victorian era had Mahogany carving embellishments, and I want to try my hand at some. I found African, Honduran, and Philippine Mahogany in stock where I normally buy wood. I have tried the Philippine type and hated it. Any other experience with the other two?

I know that Mission and Craftsman furniture had quartersawn oak. What type? Red or white? How are these for carving?

Any help is appreciated.


Prashun Patel
10-20-2009, 1:27 PM
In general, white oak tends to be more prized than red.

The best quality mahogany of the 3 you mention is Honduran. The classic is Cuban - which is extremely rare nowadays.

I don't believe Phil or Af mahogany are actually technically mahogany species at all.

Robert Rozaieski
10-20-2009, 3:35 PM
Philipine "Mahogany" is actually called Luan. You might recognize it as the stuff they skin hollow core doors with. In short, it's junk for any type of furniture and certainly not a good carving wood.

As for African mahogany, there are several types of African wood that are called "mahogany" by lumber dealers, however, none of them are actually mahogany. Because they have the appearance of mahogany, the lumber dealers call them African mahogany. But make no mistake, they are not mahogany.

The two types of wood commonly referred to as African Mahogany are Sapele and members of the Kahya family. These woods are much less dense than genuine mahogany, have tons of reversing ribbon grain, are generally a pain to hand plane without tearout (due to the reversing ribbon grain) and near impossible to carve well (too splintery and not dense enough). They can be beautiful woods in themselves and can be useful replacements for genuine mahogany in secondary areas like visible case backs, but for the primary case pieces that will always be visible and definitely for carving, I wouldn't use them (I have and I never will again).

Personally, I wish the lumber dealers would stop calling these woods mahogany and just call them by their real names (Sapele or Kahya). I'm sure they call them African mahogany to boost their sales since the woods really don't behave anything like real mahogany. They only resemble mahogany in appearance. I mean you don't ever hear of them calling genuine mahogany South American Sapele do you?

OK, sorry, rant off :D.

The only real genuine mahogany is South American mahogany. The best was Cuban mahogany, however, they have stopped the export of Cuban mahogany so unless you find someone with an old stash, you can just about forget finding it. If you do find it, buy it, or tell me where it is so I can buy it. It's the stuff you save for that special piece.

The genuine South American mahogany you most often find today comes mostly from Brazil, Honduras and Peru. Even with these, for carving, you want to make sure you get a good dense piece as there can be some less than ideal pieces from these regions as well. Use the less dense boards for cases, drawer fronts and table tops and save the real dense ones for the carving.

Faust M. Ruggiero
10-21-2009, 8:11 PM

Now that you learned a lot about mahogany, let me tell you it can be a sweet wood to carve. You can afford to be choosy when picking mahogany for carving projects since the quantity you use will be much less than a kitchen, for instance. Dense mahogany can also be challenging since the grain can meander quite a bit forcing you to constantly change directions. But, heck, that's half the fun.
Oak, red or white can be carved beautifully, Red oak has summer and winter growth and the summer growth can cut easily compared to the dense winter growth. This fact also accounts for the magnificent grain pattern.
White oak is stone hard, holds detail really well. The flecks you see in quarter sawn white oak, the heart of the look of mission furniture are grain variations that can also play havoc when you attempt to carve. The results will be worth it.
However, if you are a novice wood carver, or even a really experienced carver, there is nothing easier to carve than basswood. It lacks any strong grain and it is a soft hardwood that holds detail really well. It is not particularly expensive and is easily available in sizable chunks. It is a good way to ease into the craft.