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Thread: I now understand the fuss about mahogany

  1. #1
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    I now understand the fuss about mahogany

    When I was young my family lived in Indonesia. My parents had furniture made while we lived there and it was made out of mahogany, with no secondary woods used. So, drawer sides, runners, rails, drawer bottoms, backs - all mahogany. I remember going to the shop when it was being made. Indonesian carving tools consist of broken glass bottles with cloth wrapped around to serve as handles. One day I hope to do work to that standard, but I think Iíll cheat and use actual chisels and gouges to try and match it.

    My mom had some sticky drawers in a piece, so as part of my Christmas visit I brought a plane and some scrapers to tune it up. With just a little bit of work the drawers are moving smoothly. The mahogany is fantastic to work with. It planes and scrapes beautifully.

    Iíll stick to using mostly American woods, but if I ever find myself with a stock of mahogany, I think it would be a real treat to make something out of it.

    2DC25F30-13B2-4C62-B458-E34609497F9C.jpg985F7927-F351-4DDC-A6E5-6750E762F259.jpgDCEBACEC-C959-404D-BC33-3C687342F0EB.jpg
    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. #2
    Love working with mahogany and sapele, which I often use as a secondary wood on boat cabinetry, with teak usually being the primary.
    "Anything seems possible when you don't know what you're doing."

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ben Ellenberger View Post
    Iíll stick to using mostly American woods, but if I ever find myself with a stock of mahogany, I think it would be a real treat to make something out of it.

    2DC25F30-13B2-4C62-B458-E34609497F9C.jpg985F7927-F351-4DDC-A6E5-6750E762F259.jpgDCEBACEC-C959-404D-BC33-3C687342F0EB.jpg
    Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't mahogany an American hardwood?
    Always put the crappy side against the wall

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ben Ellenberger View Post
    ...but if I ever find myself with a stock of mahogany, I think it would be a real treat to make something out of it.
    You've got that right - it's a joy to work with. I mostly use it for woodturning. I recently got a nice supply of 8/4 planks of Honduran Mahogany about 10' long from a friend who acquired several thousand board feet. I like the way it works and finishes.

    This article might be interesting, both the part about "what makes mahogany so great" and the descriptions of both true mahogany and the substitutes.
    https://www.wood-database.com/wood-a...s-the-lowdown/

    BTW, I think Sapele is a great substitute if you can't find the true Honduran or Cuban which is harder to find every year. Sapele is still fairly easy to find, even in wide boards. I recently found some nicely figured 8/4 Sapele at a local supplier.

    I made these 19" and 14" platters from Sapele plan to make more from the new stash of Honduran. The Sapele has darkened nicely in the years since I took these photos.

    platter_PC012780_e_comp_med.jpg platters_two.jpg

    Perhaps of interest: when I was in college in in the late '60s I worked at the college wood industry. They used a LOT of mahogany for furniture, games, and carvings. I remember seeing a huge "beam" of mahogany maybe about 2'x3' which looked to be at least 30-40' long. The woodworking building was three stories: the basement was the initial processing - stock would be fed from a shed and resawn just inside into useful boards on a HUGE bandsaw. The second floor was the general woodworking, glueups, and assembly, and the top floor was mostly detail, carving, and finishing. What an inspiring place! I should stop in someday and see what has changed in 50 years.

    JKJ

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Buresh View Post
    Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't mahogany an American hardwood?
    Yes, if you mean Central and South American.

  6. #6
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    That is a good point - to be precise I should have said North American. And I just learned from Wikipedia that one species of mahogany used to grow in Florida. I think of Honduran mahogany as “true” mahogany. I’m assuming the stuff in this furniture is Indonesian mahogany. Supposedly the lumber came from trees planted by the Dutch.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Buresh View Post
    Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't mahogany an American hardwood?
    Ha, good point. Perhaps using the terms "domestic" as opposed to "exotic" might be clearer but even then there is a grey area - species like Madrone that don't grow near me seem exotic. And what about Hawaiian wood?

  8. #8
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    I love Mahogany. When I was just out of college I did business with a pattern shop a stone's throw from the old Gibson Guitar plant in Kalamazoo. They had a stock room filled to the rafters with 8/4 clear pattern grade Honduran Mahogany. He joked that his wood was as good as the stuff Gibson used, and maybe better. What I would give for a few boards now.
    Sharp solves all manner of problems.

  9. #9
    Iíve worked in shops that tried to save money by using ďAfrican ď mahogany. Management always regretted it. Itís low quality in that it
    has crazy grain , has more tear-out ,and usually arrives twisted and warped. Itís a money loser ,not saver. And itís not real mahogany.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mel Fulks View Post
    Iíve worked in shops that tried to save money by using ďAfrican ď mahogany. Management always regretted it. Itís low quality in that it
    has crazy grain , has more tear-out ,and usually arrives twisted and warped. Itís a money loser ,not saver. And itís not real mahogany.
    Yikes, should I burn all the Af. "Mahogany" wood I have? Or should I suffer through turning some of it?

    I'll get to is some day. It's supposed to have good chatoyancy. Most likely because of the crazy grain directions.

  11. #11
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    I love mahogany. Years ago I purchased a 20 inch wide 10 foot board from Irion lumber. I made a chest of drawers for my son. All jointed and thicknesses with hand planes and cut with handsaws. Top and sides are one piece.

    mahogany.jpg


    I have a good supply of Pennsylvania cherry where I live so most of my projects are in cherry. Easy to work with hand tools ( although mahogany works like butter ) and the grain looks nicer than mahogany.


    I did pick up a 16/4 slab of mahogany 10 inches wide and about 10 feet long at Hearne Hardwood in October that was a little over $600.

  12. #12
    Chatoyancy is good Ö.
    If you like chatting about wood.
    Another thing it can do after being dressed and sanded is move on its own , bending like a piece of sheet metal in a break. Not get a
    long even bow like you see in most woods. So you might be able to turn oval bowls , without offset turning !!

  13. #13
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    John,

    You and I have chatted on this site about how much we enjoy turning different kinds of wood. I can tell you without hesitation that my least favorite turning wood so far has been African mahogany. It was awful. Could have been the particular piece of wood I guess. But it was exactly as Mel describes in his post.

    In contrast I recently turned a piece of true mahogany and it was wonderful. Iíve also had good experience turning sapele. But I am not going to try any more African mahogany.

    -dan

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