A Guide to Mahogany Wood: Characteristics, Pricing, and Alternatives

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Mahogany is a beautiful and durable wood that woodworkers and furniture makers have prized for centuries. However, it has become increasingly rare and expensive, paving the way for fake mahogany that won’t provide any good benefits.

To help you determine authentic mahogany, I made this guide to tell you everything you need to know about mahogany wood.

Overview of Genuine Mahogany Characteristics

What is Mahogany?

Mahogany is a type of wood that comes from the tree Swietenia mahagoni. It is known for its hard and reddish-brown wood. Mahogany has long been revered for its durability, strength, and resistance to decay, making it a popular choice for furniture, cabinetry, musical instruments, and boat construction. 

Mahogany board

Mahogany lumber is the gold standard for stability. It has a considerable amount of chatoyancy, a rich, constant color, and polishes well.

Origin

Typically, mahogany lumber originates from mahogany trees throughout Mexico and South America. They grow slowly but can reach heights of 200 feet and have trunks as wide as 6 feet.

Illegal logging in the Amazon and other Central and South American forests has nearly wiped out the traditional Honduran Mahogany, also known as Broad-Leaf Mahogany.

Even while African Mahogany, a distinct or endangered species that may be cultivated in orchards in some areas of Africa, is in demand in the United States, you must transport it over the Atlantic Ocean to get there, which means access is labor intensive and time-consuming.

They take decades to reach their average height of 130 feet, and the old growth is especially vulnerable to unlawful harvesting because of its bulk.

Mahogany lumber

Swietenia mahagoni and Swietenia humilis are two other species that can be used to make authentic mahogany. The latter is native to the Pacific coast of Central America, whereas the Swietenia mahagoni ranges from southern Florida to the West Indies.

Color

It is common for mahogany trees to begin life as a light brown with pinkish tones before aging to a darker reddish brown. But if used on woodworking projects, you can stain mahogany according to your liking. 

Grain Pattern

It has a straight pattern with a medium to coarse texture. It is often interlocked, which gives the wood a distinctive pattern and adds to its strength and durability.

Mahogany lumber can also have a wavy or curly pattern, giving the wood a more decorative and unique appearance. 

Is Mahogany a Softwood or Hardwood?

The terms hardwoods and softwoods do not indicate the durability of wood but rather the tree from which the wood was harvested.

Mahogany wood grain pattern

Hardwoods, in this context, refer to trees with leaves (dicots), and softwoods refer to conifers (gymnosperms). The former comprises paulownia, maple, oak, cherry, and walnut species, while softwoods include fir, pine, and others.

Big-leaf mahogany, another frequent name for Honduras mahogany, gives away the fact that it’s a hardwood.

How Hard/Dense is Mahogany? (Janka Rating)

The 800 Janka hardness or density rating for Honduran mahogany is impressive.

Despite being firmer than alternatives such as eastern white pine (420 Janka) and Douglas fir (660 Janka), it is still significantly softer than other widely used woods. For comparison, black walnut has a hardness of 1,010 Janka, sugar maple is 1,450 Janka, and white oak is 1,360 Janka.

So, if you’re comparing it to those lumber giants, mahogany sits comfortably in the middle. It’s a good option if you want something that’s neither too soft nor too hard.

Is Mahogany Timber Eco-Friendly? Are the Trees Endangered?

Swietenia mahagoni, the mahogany that first captured the hearts of the early immigrants, is now critically endangered due to overexploitation.

African Mahogany

Both Swietenia humilis and Swietenia macrophylla have been labeled as “threatened.” Since local populations often lack the resources to regulate logging effectively, they are in jeopardy of extinction. There are rules in place to prohibit illicit harvesting, but the methods used so far have mainly failed.

Mahogany lumber is not a sustainable resource because of its widespread use, which has led to deforestation and a high volume of unlawful harvesting.

Most mahogany lumber imported into the United States is transported across oceans and continents.

Pricing of Mahogany Lumber

Thickness

Figure TypeGradeGrain OrientationLength RangeWidth RangePrice Per Board Foot
 
4/4NoneFASMix96.00″ to 144.00″4.00″ to 8.50″$13.00
4/4NoneFASMix96.00″ to 144.00″9.00″ to 11.50″$14.00
4/4CrotchFASMix18.00″ to 36.00″8.00″ to 15.00″$30.00
4/4UnselectedFASMix96.00″ to 144.00″4.00″ to 15.00″$50.00
5/4NoneFASMix96.00″ to 144.00″4.00″ to 8.50″$13.50
5/4NoneFASMix96.00″ to 144.00″9.00″ to 11.50″$14.50
8/4NoneFASMix96.00″ to 144.00″4.00″ to 8.50″$14.00
8/4NoneFASMix96.00″ to 144.00″9.00″ to 11.50″$15.00
12/4NoneFASMix96.00″ to 144.00″4.00″ to 8.50″$16.50
12/4NoneFASMix96.00″ to 144.00″9.00″ to 11.50″$17.50
12/4NoneFASMix96.00″ to 144.00″4.00″ to 8.50″$17.50
16/4NoneFASMix96.00″ to 144.00″9.00″ to 11.50″$18.50

Images of Genuine Mahogany

Genuine mahogany lumber has a rich, reddish-brown color with a straight and fine pattern. It is also known for its distinctive, slightly oily texture. 

Some photographs of damp wood or boards are treated with denatured alcohol to bring out the pattern. Because it evaporates and has no effect on moisture levels, denatured alcohol is used in production.

stained Mahogany boards
Mahogany wood cut for table
mahogany wood grains

Top Mahogany Alternatives

as much as I admire mahogany for its rich color and workability, sometimes it’s just not feasible to use it—either due to availability or cost.

In such cases, cherry wood is my go-to for indoor furniture. It’s durable and has a warmth that competes quite well with mahogany. Cedar is another great alternative, especially since it’s locally sourced in the United States. And for outdoor furniture, don’t overlook recycled HDPE plastic [1].

Conclusion

Mahogany wood is one of the most sought-after woods in the world that is widely used in furniture, cabinets, flooring, and other high-end applications due to its rot resistance, stability, and rich color. 

It is becoming increasingly rare and, therefore, more expensive than other wood species available in the market.

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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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