NOTE: the physical organization of the pictures on this site does NOT yet reflect the information given directly below. This text is just the first part of a total reorganization of the mahogany pages on this site.
the mahoganies (the family Meliaceae, the mahogany family)
Swietenia macrophylla: This is the mahogany that grows throughout mainland Central and South America. The most common of the many common names for this species is Honduras/Honduran mahogany, but it is also called in many cases by its country of origin, such as Nicaraguan, Mexican, etc. Swietenia macrophylla tends to be slightly more orange than Swietenai mahagoni, but the color and density are affected by the specific conditions in the area of growth, so there are no absolutes.
Swietenia mahagoni: This is the mahogany that grows in Florida, Cuba, and the Caribbean area in general. The most common of the common names of this wood is Cuban mahogany. Swietenia mahagoni tends to be a darker reddish brown than Swietenia macrophylla, but the color and density are affected by the specific conditions in the area of growth, so there are no absolutes.
Khaya spp.: The Khaya species sold as African mahogany ARE part of the mahogany family, but are separate from the Swietenia species of the Americas. The Khaya species tend to be lighter in color, generally more of a salmon/pink in tint, that the Swietenia species, but the color and density are affected by the specific conditions in the area of growth, so there are no absolutes
Confusing mahogany terms, "genuine" and "true"
The term "genuine mahogany" is used in two conflicting ways: first, and by far the most common usage, is to distinguishe Swietenia from Khaya, which to me is a reasonable distinction even if not quite accurate in its implication that Kyaya is not a genuine mahogany, but second, it is sometimes used to specifically designate Swietenia macrophylla. Why this is, I do not know. The good news is that this second usage is rare.
The term "true mahogany" is also used in two conflicting ways, with the first, and by far the most common, usage being the resonable distinction that a "true" mahogany is one that belongs to the mahogany family (this includes both Swietenia and Khaya species), but the second is to distinguish Swietenia (as "true") from Khaya, which to my mind is not helpful terminology in its implication that Khaya is not a true mahogany, but I don't get to make the rules, I just do my best to figure them out and report them. As with "genuine", the second, less helpful, usage is rare.
There are a number of woods that have mahogany in their names but that generally have nothing to do with mahogany. A few of the more widely known such names are:
(1) "Philippine mahogany": This is a blanket name used for dozens of species (primarily Shoria species such as meranti), none of which are related to the mahogany family
(2) "santos mahogany": This is Myroxylong balsamum of the family Leguminosae (the legume family), totally unrelated to mahogany.
(3) "royal mahogany": This is is a flooring industry marketing term for a wood that has absolutely nothing to do with mahogany (this kind of dishonesty is typical of the flooring industry, which also calls curupay by the grandiose name "Patagonian rosewood" even though it is totally unrelated to rosewood)
my samples: --- all colors are very accurate
both sides of a sample plank of African mahogany / Khaya nyasica --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. NOTE: I have put this sample at the top of this page because it is a "formal" sample, but I consider it to be poorly representative of African mahogany in that it is much lighter than than what one normally finds and a bit more boring.
end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above
both sides of a sample plank of ropey African mahogany / Khaya ivorensis --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. The wood is actually more of a brown than I was able to show correctly.
NOTE: based on the strength of the growth rings (see the end grain update below), I think this is probably NOT African mahogany but Honduran mahogany. Just as and additional comment, I have not found this vendor to be as reliable as others.
end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above
plank and end grain --- color is slightly too red; this piece was cut from one of the ones above and the color is correct in the pics above
end grain closeup of the piece directly above
The second pic is from the same plank as the first but has been fine-sanded and oiled and actually looks much better than is shown. The picture is accurate in color but doesn't show how the wood shimmers and shines as it moves in the light. With some polyurethane, this piece would look almost as good as the top of the dulicmer case shown at the bottom of this page.
both sides and end grain of a nicely figured small piece
end grain closeup and END GRAIN UPDATE of the pieced directly above. The color in the closeup is too washed out but the update is correct.
a piece sent to me for identification --- the similarity of face grain to the sample directly above said to me right away that this was probably African mahogany, and a comparison of the end grain confirmed it.
two sides and end grain of a small piece cut off of an african mahogany plank
pics of the same piece after it was moistened with water to better show the grain
planks --- the relatively dull color of these planks is accurately depicted here
plank and closeup --- the color on this looks to me to be closer to Honduras mahogany than what I normally think of as African mahogany color.
crotch plank and closeup --- the brown color is accurately represented here and is somewhat more brown than what I normally think of as African mahogany, which usually tends to verge a little more to the red.
pics of the same plank from two different angles, taken in an only slightly successful attempt to show the fairly extreme way in which the wood changes color depending on which way you hold it in the light.
small plank (and an end grain pic) cut from the larger one directly above and moderately-fine sanded
end grain closeup of the piece directly above
NOT A RAW WOOD COLOR a plank --- pic submitted by Dan Dill who asked me to help identify it. It's been moistened for the pics.
two closeups of the piece directly above (remember, this is moistened, not raw)
face grain closeup of the piece directly above
plank and closeup --- this plank and the one directly below are grainier and more of a chocolate color than most of the African mahogany that I have encountered so I assume that they are one of the less common species that are sold as African mahogany.
plank and closeup
plank and end grain --- this was cut from one of the larger planks above and sanded down
plank photographed at a lumber yard --- the light color is correct
pics of an African mahogany log being slabbed. These pics were contributed to the site by Pat Dean, whom I thank for these and other contributions to the site. The lovely fresh-cut reddish color on these will oxidize to a more reddish-brown with time.
labled as "benin" veneer when sold to me, this is African mahogany under the common name "benin" which is sometimes used to designate the kind of ribbon strip African mahogany shown here (looks somewhat like sapele). "Benin" also sometimes designates curly African mahogany, and also sometimes designates an African mahogany that is pure chocolate brown (as these pieces) with no hint of red. The ribbon strip African mahogany, when not called "benin" is sometime also called "tigerwood" which has got to be one of the most overused common names of all woods.
ribbon stripe African mahogany veneer without the chocolate color of benin (and with a weak ribbon stripe)
flat cut veneer --- these two pics came out just a shade darker than the actual wood
veneer sheet and closeup
curly veneer sheet and closeup
mottled african veneer, sold to me as razor mottle but I don't think the mottle is strong enough or sharp enough to warrent that designation and I knew that when I bought it.
some curly african mahogany thins and the edge grain of a 3" long laminated block made from the same set (with an added piece of regular mahogany in the middle). Some of the thins from this set were hardly curly at all. The dark colored one in the middle shows the maximum curl that any of them had. Although these are thin, the comulative edge grain in the laminate is what a plank edge looks like. As you'll see better in an enlargement, the top and bottom thins, and the two in the middle next to the regular mahogany, are still curly but are a much lighter color.
a curly african mahogany turning stick with newly exposed surface and end grain
the same turning stick on a side where the surface has been left exposed to the air for some time (I don't know how long, but certainly many months) and now has a patina
crotch veneer which I believe to be African mahogany, although with crotches and burls it's hard to tell sometimes. The actual piece has just a little more red than is shown here.
a couple of examples of insect damage
large veneer sheet and a bunch of closeups of various areas --- this one was put here because of the wide variety of grain pattern that exists in the one sheet. Although this is a particularly nice example, this amount of grain variety in one piece is not especially unusual for this species. The large sheet pic has both levels of enlargement and just a shade too much red in the color.
NOTE: Most of these pics were gathered early in the life of this site and many of them were labeled khaya, which I just translated to "African mahogany" but I was ignorant of the fact that there is a species that is CALLED khaya but which is NOT actually of the genus Khaya, so it's possible that some of the pics on this page do not belong here.
plank with wet and dry sections
African mahogany is one of those woods that have some name problems. One of the common names is "benin mahogany" (aka "benin wood" and just "benin"), BUT sometimes the name "benin" is used, as in the case of the lable on this picture, to designate what is properly called CURLY African mahogany. So, this is a picure of curly African mahogany, with a degree of orange that is actually possible, although somewhat unlikely, but the picture was labeled "benin", which is not all that unusual albeit confusing.
veneers labeled "benin"
planks showing the sometimes nifty wavy grain you can get in this wood
a plank that has been moistened to emphasize the grain pattern
flat cut planks
ribbon stipe planks
both sides and a closeup of a plank
both sides of a plank
quartersawn ribbon stripe veneer
plank listed as bee's wing figure, but I don't believe this piece deserves that designation
OK, so really LARGE planks are available.
veneer --- not listed as figured or fiddleback, but clearly should have been
listed as quartersawn figured veneer; some vendors would list this a curly --- just another example of how loosely such designations are used
veneer, all from the same vendor --- most of this is what most vendors sell as "ribbon stripe" African mahogany
veneer sheet closeups with both levels of enlargement available --- these are from the same vendor as the set directly above
listed as quartersawn razor mottle veneer, but it's a very weak razor mottle
veneer listed as "chamoire" figured African veneer. I cannot find a translation for this word, nor do I find other references to it, so I take it as a made-up name that has no significance for the American craftsperson
quartersawn figured veneer
several samples of crotch veneer --- the ones that show up as a sort of faded brown color very likely actually have some red tint to them.
crotch veneers all from the same vendor and with probably a little TOO much red in the color
bookmatched crotch veneer and a closeup of the piece on the right
flame crotch veneer --- african mahogany is one of those woods where the crotches are frequently labled as "flame" or "feathered" whether that appelation has merit or not. In these cases, I do not see that it has any merit. Also, if you look closely, you'll see what I realized after a while which is that these two pictures are of the exact same piece of veneer and, I believe, actually the same picture but processed differently, showing the kind of color variation you can get even when there is no intent to deceive. (It is conceiveable, but I think unlikely, that these are actually consecutive sheets from the same flitch; I don't keep track of where I get all my pictures, so I can't even say if these were from the same web site)
an interesting double-crotch veneer
crotch veneer listed as African mahogany / Khaya ivorensis, all from the same vendor
guitar backs made from ribbon strip african mahogany.
two views of a solid guitar body
two views of a miniature (2" high) vase
3 views of a gorgeous African mahogany table made by John Henderson from the Nothern Territory in Australia. John tells me that while African mahogany is not native to Austalia, it has been imported and grows well there due to climate conditions.
African mahogany dulcimer case made for my wife. I saw the rough, unfinished board at a lumber yard and just knew that it was going to be an incredibly beautiful piece when planed and sanded and finished, and I believe I was right. The dulcimer (not of my making) top is maple and the fret and sides are black cherry. I did not add any coloring agent to the wood, just several coats of clear polyurethane. This was my first large project with exotic woods, done about 1988, and I just couldn't have been more pleased with the results. It is 38"x9"x5". Although the plank had several obvious gum inclusions, I felt that they just added character in this case and I deliberately put them on the top of the case rather than the bottom or back.
the inside shot shows the wood with just the polyurethane but the outside has been exposed to the light for 15 years so even though protected by the poly, it has acquired a reddish patina (polyurethane is not a UV blocker).
closeups of each side, both inside and outside, again showing the richer red patina of the outside, and the wonderful swirly grain pattern of this plank. The color in these pics is more accurate than the distance shots above, both of which are just a little too dark.
both sides of the bottom of the case, shown here for two reasons; first to show the cathedral grain of this section of the plank and second to show that even though this is the outside it has not acquired the reddish patina of the top of the case because for most of its life, the case rested on its bottom (hey, that's what bottoms are FOR, after all) and thus was not exposed to the light.