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Throughout my furniture refinishing career, there is one type of wood which I come across again and again. It stands out in terms of grain pattern and colour and is not easily confused with any other type of wood. While there are 5 Characteristics of wood which help to identify the different species, there is really only 2 key characteristics of mahogany wood which you need to know.
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The 5 characteristics of Mahogany
The 2 key characteristics of Mahogany wood which you need for most identifications of this unique and highly sought after wood, is the grain pattern and the colour.
Mahogany is usually recognizable by its straight, fine grain pattern. The darker grain can even appear like dots or points.
While often straight, this grain pattern can also appear as curly or wavy figured wood. In cases where the straight grain pattern is missing you will need to look at the colouring to determine mahogany.
Key to know, mahogany rarely consists of voids or pockets within the wood.
Mahogany comes in a variety of reddish tones, ranging from lighter pinkish-orange to deeper shades of reddish-brown. It is this colour range which is mahogany’s distinguishing feature.
Time and age will darken the colour of mahogany, developing deep hue’s with red undertones.
Mahogany is a hardwood and therefore, Solid mahogany is dense and heavy. A single 10 cm cubed piece of cuban mahogany is 0.65 kg. For calculation of wood weight, use this calculator.
Often mahogany furniture is veneer which will affect the actual weight, as it is only thin wood placed on a substrate.
Mahogany has a medium texture. When touched, the grain will feel smooth and uniform.
When sanded it can be polished to a gleam.
Freshly cut or sanded mahogany has a characteristic scent which is sweet and woodsy.
With these 5 characteristics of mahogany wood, you can easily determine if the piece of furniture you are working on is mahogany or not. Take your time and practice using the 5 characteristics of wood for each piece of furniture you are working on and you will slowly develop your identification skills.
Origins and copy cat Mahogany
The original mahogany is Cuban mahogany which grew on the island. Due to the high demand, it is now banned for export among sustainability concerns. This part of the Swietenia genus is considered the OG of mahogany and remains a highly prized type of wood. These days you can only get it has been grown in plantations throughout the USA and South America.
There are other types of mahogany such as the Honduras version which is now the most common type and readily available for sale. The main difference between the two types is that the Honduras version is slightly lighter in colour. You can use the characteristics of mahogany wood to determine all types of mahogany. The differences between types is minimal.
There are also woods labelled as mahogany which are not actually from the swietenia genus family (mahogany family). This includes African mahogany which, while similar in appearance, is not in fact actual mahogany. These types will be cheaper in price, should you require to replace mahogany and want to keep your refinishing costs in check.
Sustainability of Mahogany
Mahogany wood is highly prized for its unique colours and grain patterns. Unfortunately, it is also a very slow growing tree, which means that there are very serious concerns of over foresting. Ensure you purchase only mahogany which has been sustainably grown in plantations to ensure that wild trees are left alone.
Mahogany can take 20 to 30 years to grow to maturity for lumber. And if left alone, it could live for 350 years.
Popular Uses of Mahogany
Mahogany does not shrink or warp, which makes it a great choice for furniture making. It’s a dense and durable wood. The veneer is stable, glues well, which creates strong alternative to solid wood. In addition to its stability, the characteristics of mahogany are similar to Teak, in that it is water and termite resistant.
The oldest piece of furniture I have worked on, is from approximately early 1900’s. And you guessed it, its mahogany veneer. The only real damage on this piece is the non-veneered base is dried out and had wood worm damage. All veneered sections? Pristine condition!
Refinishing Mahogany Furniture
This wood is already gorgeous on it’s own and requires little work to make it gleam. However, if you are inclined, it is considered an easy to stain wood and takes on paints well.
Mahogany can come in a range of tones and if you wish to ensure your project is a single tone, you will need to dye the wood accordingly.
The the red tone which is one of the characteristics of mahogany wood, looks lovely with a high gloss finish. Easily achievable with shellac.
Check out more Wood Identification Series
Part of learning how to refinish furniture, requires you to learn how to identify different types of wood. While the world is filled with countless wood types, it is useful to learn the key types used in furniture.
Learning how to work these woods can improve any project you take on. Furthermore, you can learn the best methods for each type of wood.
Helpful Tools for Wood Identification
The Wood Identification & Use book by Terry Porter is by far the most helpful book I own for wood identification. While it is not always easy to identify wood based on photos, this book remains the best I have found so far.
By far the most helpful tool I have for identifying wood types is the Wood Identification Kit by Sauers. It is pricey and unfortunately it includes less common wood types. But the ability to hold, and compare wood against these veneer samples is incredibly useful.
Mahogany is a beautiful, durable wood often used in furniture making. During your refinishing career you will come across mahogany wood often. You may be tempted to mask the no-longer popular red undertones by bleaching or washing the wood. Consider simply embracing the full characteristics of mahogany and enhancing it. The red undertones match wonderfully with shades of gold and blues and lend perfectly to the art deco styles. Create a much sought after, trendy, art deco inspired cocktail bar and the perfect customer will come around.