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How to Identify Mahogany Wood

Mahogany Wood cabinet

How to Identify Mahogany

Mahogany wood is coveted for its reddish to pink hues and being straight-grained, prone to fewer knots and free of gaps. Over time its distinct reddish-brown color darkens. When polished, it displays a gorgeous red sheen and is considered a very durable wood. Mahogany is made of three tropical hardwood species.

The Honduran or big-leaf mahogany found in a large range from Mexico to southern Amazon in Brazil is the most widespread, only true mahogany grown commercially. West Indian or Cuban mahogany is native to southern Florida and the Caribbean. This species used to dominate the mahogany trade but has not been in widespread commercial use since World War II. Lastly, Swietenia humilis, or P which is regarded as genuine mahogany is limited to the dry forests in Pacific Central America.

It's a beautiful wood. But how can you tell if a piece of wood or furniture is mahogany or not?

Most non-mahogany wood lacks these properties:

  • Excellent to work with. If you are custom making something out of wood that claims to be mahogany, one way to tell is how easy it is to work with. The grain is straight and consistent, the wood hard but not too hard. It seems a perfectly balanced piece of wood to carve.
  • Stability. A mahogany board that is flat will remain flat. Joints and glued edges are nearly perfect and remain intact. Seasonal changes of humidity don't appear to shrink or swell the wood.
  • Can you make a mark in the unfinished wood with your fingernail? If you can, it's softwood. If not, it's hardwood. Mahogany is a hardwood.
  • Is it solid or veneer? Check the corners of wood to spot a veneer.
  • Genuine mahogany end grain will have marginal parenchyma, or rows of light brown cells at the border of every growth ring you can see in the end grain. The presence of these is a strong suggestion of Swietenia species, which is the species of tree mahogany comes from.
  • If you cannot see any end grain, look for ripple marks on a flat sawn surface of the wood. Many pieces of Swietenia-genus mahogany will have small reddish-brown slits arranged in neat little rows which appear as tiny ripple marks.

There are other ways you can identify mahogany in an easier manner.

  • Never purchase from a retailer without an established reputation for being honest. Always do your research on retailers and companies.
  • Mahogany wood shows well distributed but never crowded pores.
  • The pores show up as fine, yet distinct pen lines, dashes or dots according to whether the cut runs with or against the grain.
  • The naked human eye should be able to see mahogany wood pores. If you cannot see any pores, it is not mahogany.
  • The pores seem overly large and appear much coarser, it probably is not mahogany.
  • Genuine American mahogany will have successive (one following another) rings in fine concentric (circles or arcs that share the same center, with larger often surrounding the smaller) rings. African mahogany does not have these rings.
  • Real mahogany when properly finished has a fine-grained, silky appearance with a rich color that appears to come from below the surface of the wood. The way mahogany catches the light is different from other wood as well.
  • Striped or ribbon looking interlocking grain on quarter pieces. Some wood will even show curl in the grain, resulting in combinations of broken stripe, rope, mottle and fiddle figures.

Always buy your mahogany furniture or wood from a trusted, highly respected retailer or business and you will no doubt be getting the real deal!

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