Disadvantages of Sapele Wood

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Using Sapele wood can provide a beautiful and fine texture, but you need to understand its drawbacks to avoid unexpected problems and expenses that could impact the success of your project.

To help you determine whether this is the right choice for your project or if you should explore other wood options, I will discuss the disadvantages of Sapele wood.

Advantages of Sapele Wood

  1. Sapele wood has a natural resistance to fire, making it a safer choice for building materials in areas prone to fires.
  2. The rich, golden-brown color of Sapele wood adds to its aesthetic appeal
  3. Sapele wood has an interlocking grain pattern that lends a visually appealing text, enhancing its overall appearance.
  4. Sapele’s natural oils make it resistant to water, which is beneficial for outdoor applications or humid environments.
  5. The high density of Sapele wood makes it strong and durable, suitable for various applications where strength is required.
  6. Sapele wood is known for its long-lasting quality, which makes it an excellent choice for furniture, flooring, and other applications that require durability.
  7. Sapele’s low shrinkage rate and minimal movement in service contribute to its high dimensional stability, reducing the risk of warping or distortion.
  8. The strength of Sapele wood makes it suitable for heavy-duty applications, such as structural components and contributes to its overall durability.

9 Drawbacks of Sapele Wood

Can be hard to work with and requires skill

Due to its Janka hardness rating of 1,410 lbf (6,280 N) and high density, it is significantly harder than numerous other types of wood. This makes it difficult to cut, sand, nail, screw, and shape and can be especially problematic for beginners in woodworking.

Furthermore, the grain structure of Sapele wood makes it difficult to work with both hand tools and machinery.

sapele wood

From my experience working with sapele wood in the workshop, I’ve found that operations such as routing, planing, and gouging are challenging, and the wood tends to break apart easily during the process. This can result in the wood coming into direct contact with iron, causing discoloration.

Moreover, edges, machine blades, and toolsets quickly become blunt during cutting, and frequent sharpening is necessary to achieve the desired results, particularly in wood carving tasks involving corners and sharp edges.

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Temperature-sensitive

Sapele wood is prone to changes in temperature, and its fibers expand when the temperature is high while it shrinks in low-temperature.

Because of its vulnerability to temperature fluctuations, Sapele wood is prone to splitting and cracking in extreme temperature conditions. So I do not advise using Sapele wood for outdoor projects in areas that undergo frequent and significant temperature changes.

Furniture made from Sapele that is used outdoors may become unstable in dimension and break apart due to the extreme temperature fluctuations between hot days and cold nights.

Additionally, the wood tends to expand in humid weather, which may cause it to rot due to moisture penetrating the wood from the outside.

To prevent this, I would recommend treating the wood with a high-quality oil finish or stain before placing Sapele furniture outside. Failure to do so may result in the furniture not being able to withstand temperature changes.

piles of sapele wood

Heavy

Sapele wood is renowned for its remarkable density and substantial weight, which presents challenges when it comes to its transportation and handling. The sheer heaviness of Sapele wood furniture can make it cumbersome to move and increases the risk of potential damage.

Additionally, it’s important to note that Sapele wood has a tendency to be somewhat brittle, further emphasizing the need for careful handling to avoid any unfortunate accidents or breakage.

To prevent this, my advise is to use proper moving tools when changing the location of Sapele wooden furniture. The heaviness of Sapele wood can be a disadvantage for individuals who frequently move, as it can make it difficult to handle.

Moreover, Sapele wood is 16% harder than red oak and heavier than Mahogany, making it challenging to work with, especially for large woodworking and carving projects. For this reason, Sapele wood is mostly used for small furniture-making and woodworking projects.

May crack easily

Sapele wood is prone to cracking due to its sensitivity to temperature changes and its interlocked grain structure, which makes it difficult to cut. This can result in cracks and scratches in the wood.

Typically, Sapele wood tends to crack during the drying process due to the evaporation of moisture, which can cause the wood to shrink unevenly and weaken the bonds between its fibers.

sapele wood log

However, it is possible to prevent cracking in Sapele wood. Here’s what I do: apply an oil finish that can expand and contract with temperature changes and movements in the wood without cracking or peeling. Examples of oils that have this ability include teak oil and linseed oil.

Here are some methods that can help prevent cracking in Sapele wood:

  1. Treat with an oil finish.
  2. Apply a salt paste
  3. Use a stabilizer
  4. Apply a sealant

Regular maintenance is essential

Regular maintenance is essential for Sapele wood due to its physical properties. If not properly maintained, Sapele wood can lose its golden color sheen and become susceptible to damage from environmental elements like moisture.

To prevent this, Sapele woodwork and furniture must be finished with a stain or sealer to repel water and preserve the wood. It’s also important to regularly eliminate grease, dirt, dust, and unwanted stains from Sapele wood surfaces.

Using rags to wipe down the surface frequently is also recommended, but avoid using cleaning products with ammonia or silicon, as they can dry out and crack the Sapele wood.

I’m a fan of using oil finish like Danish oil. This can increase the durability of Sapele wood and protect it from UV light and water damage, preventing mold growth, discoloration, cracking, and rotting.

One last pro tip: Make a calendar reminder to reapply that wood finish at least once per year. Trust me, a little maintenance goes a long way in keeping your Sapele wood pieces looking their best.

sanding a sapele wood

Expensive

Compared to other hardwoods with similar features or characteristics, Sapele wood commands a higher price due to its rarity.

Despite its high price tag, Sapele wood offers excellent benefits such as water and fire resistance, as well as a visually appealing appearance that can enhance the look of homes and gardens.

Overall, the price-to-quality ratio of Sapele wood is considered to be very favorable, with figured lumber of Sapele wood and veneer remaining on the expensive side, while the ordinary quartersawn and plain sawn wood are moderately priced.

Interlocked grain structure

This unique grain structure is a result of the growth of the Sapele tree. But let me be straightforward: as fascinating as it is, it also gives me a real run for my money when I’m in the workshop. It’s a challenging material to work with, as it has a tendency to split and tear easily.

This can make it difficult to work with hand tools, requiring sharp and precise tools to prevent chipping. The interlocked grain structure can also slow down operations and create issues during woodworking.

Even woodworkers find it challenging to work with interlocked grain woods, as they can make it difficult to create complex and curved shapes.

Now, when it comes to finishing or staining Sapele, that grain structure turns into a bit of a nemesis for me. It makes it challenging to apply any finish evenly. I’ve learned the hard way that if you slip up even a little, you end up with a blotchy surface that doesn’t do justice to the wood’s natural beauty.

sapele wood block

Can produce noise

Sapele wood is a popular choice for wood flooring due to its durability and attractive appearance. However, one common issue with Sapele wood flooring is that it can produce a noticeable noise when walked upon.

This can be particularly bothersome, especially if you first use Sapele wood flooring. However, over time, individuals tend to become accustomed to sound.

To reduce the noise, it is important to ensure that the wood is properly nailed and fitted, with no poorly assembled floor bars and loose joints. Proper installation is key to reducing noise and ensuring that the flooring performs at its best.

By taking the necessary precautions during installation, you can help minimize any noise associated with Sapele wood flooring, which can result in a beautiful and functional flooring option.

Not as sustainable as other wood options

The poor sustainability of Sapele wood is a result of the extensive cutting down of trees for commercial purposes, making it increasingly rare to find. This has had a negative impact on the environment, and the prices of Sapele wood have consequently increased.

Efforts are being made to promote sustainability by planting more Sapele trees to increase their population. Due to the current scarcity of Sapele trees, people often resort to alternatives such as Mahogany or teak until the population of Sapele trees can be replenished.

In response to the declining population of Sapele trees, new rules and regulations have been established to restore the wood species to normal.

drilling a sapele wood

Is Sapele Resistant To Water?

Sapele wood is known for its significant resistance to water, making it an excellent choice for outdoor woodworking projects. Nevertheless, when exposed to extreme levels of moisture or humidity, water particles can penetrate the wood and cause it to rot.

To ensure that Sapele wood furniture and woodwork remain water-resistant, it is important to apply proper finishing that is 100% waterproof. Sapele wood’s resistance to water damage and rot is due to its dense, interlocked grain structure.

The fiber vessels of the wood make it difficult for moisture to penetrate, thus protecting it from water damage and rot. Although Sapele wood is not entirely waterproof, it exhibits good weather resistance and can tolerate exposure to environmental elements.

Overall, the water resistance of Sapele wood makes it a durable and attractive option for a variety of woodworking projects, particularly those that may be exposed to moisture.

Uses of Sapele Wood

Sapele wood is a versatile material that can be used for a wide range of purposes. Some of the most popular uses of Sapele wood include boxes and crates, moldings, doors, boards, skirting, musical instruments, patio furniture making, paneling, furniture making, and flooring.

The excellent characteristic features of Sapele wood make it well-suited for these various applications. Additionally, Sapele wood is relatively hard and durable, making it a popular choice for furniture and construction projects.

clamping a sapele wood

Does Sapele Wood Change Color With Age?

Over time, Sapele wood tends to darken, and its initial golden brown color transforms into a darker, richer brown shade with fewer red undertones.

While some individuals appreciate this rich, dark appearance, others prefer the natural color of Sapele wood and may attempt to restore its original shade through various treatments.

However, it should be noted that the darkening of wood is a natural occurrence, with the exception of wood that is exposed to direct sunlight.

Ultimately, it is important to recognize and accept the natural behavior of Sapele wood and appreciate the unique and pleasant aesthetic that it develops over time.

Substitutes For Sapele Wood

If Sapele wood is not the right choice for your project, there are several alternative kinds of wood that offer similar or superior qualities. Here are some great alternative woods to Sapele wood that I’d recommend:

Conclusion

While these nine disadvantages of Sapele wood may cause concern for some, proper finishing and installation techniques can help mitigate these issues and ensure that it performs at its best and remains a durable and attractive choice for woodworking projects.

Also, there are several alternatives available that offer similar qualities to Sapele wood, but ultimately, the choice of wood will depend on the specific needs of your project.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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