Common Name(s): Honduran mahogany, genuine mahogany, big-leaf mahogany, Brazilian mahogany, American mahogany
Scientific Name: Swietenia macrophylla
Distribution: From Southern Mexico to central South America; also commonly grown on plantations
Tree Size: 150-200 ft (46-60 m) tall,
3-6 ft (1-2 m) trunk diameter
Average Dried Weight: 37 lbs/ft3 (590 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): 0.52, 0.59
Janka Hardness: 900 lbf (4,020 N)
Modulus of Rupture: 11,710 lbf/in2 (80.8 MPa)
Elastic Modulus: 1,458,000 lbf/in2 (10.06 GPa)
Crushing Strength: 6,760 lbf/in2 (46.6 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 2.9%, Tangential: 4.3%,
Volumetric: 7.5%, T/R Ratio: 1.5
Color/Appearance: Heartwood color can vary a fair amount, from a pale pinkish brown to a darker reddish brown. Color tends to darken with age. Mahogany also exhibits an optical phenomenon known as chatoyancy.
Grain/Texture: Grain can be straight, interlocked, irregular or wavy. Texture is medium and uniform, with moderate natural luster.
Rot Resistance: Varies from moderately durable to very durable depending on density and growing conditions of the tree. (Older, wild-grown trees tend to produce darker, heavier, and more durable lumber, while plantation-grown stock can be lighter in weight, paler in color, and slightly less rot resistant.) Heartwood is generally resistant to termites, but vulnerable to other insects.
Workability: Typically very easy to work with both hand and machine tools. (With exception to sections with figured or irregular grain, which can tearout or chip during machining.) Slight dulling of cutters can occur. Sands very easily. Turns, glues, stains, and finishes well.
Odor: No characteristic odor.
Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, Honduran mahogany has been reported as a sensitizer. Usually most common reactions simply include eye, skin and respiratory irritation, as well as less common effects, such as boils, asthma-like symptoms, nausea, giddiness, and hypersensitivity pneumonitis. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.
Pricing/Availability: Despite export restrictions, Honduran mahogany continues to be available in lumber or veneer form, ideally from plantations. (Though because of CITES restrictions, most US-based retailers are unable to ship the wood internationally.) Prices are in the mid range for an imported hardwood, though the wood tends to be more expensive than African mahogany (Khaya spp.). Figured or quartersawn lumber is also more expensive.
Sustainability: This wood species is in CITES Appendix II, and is on the IUCN Red List. It is listed as vulnerable due to a population reduction of over 20% in the past three generations, caused by a decline in its natural range, and exploitation.
Common Uses: Furniture, cabinetry, turned objects, veneer, musical instruments, boatbuilding, and carving.
Comments: Swietenia macrophylla goes by many common names, yet perhaps its most exclusive name is “genuine mahogany”—a name meant to distinguish it not only from unrelated Asian species (such as those in the Shorea genus that are sometimes called Philippine mahogany), but also the more closely-related Khaya species from Africa. These levels of distinctions are explored in more detail in the article Mahogany Mixups.
Honduran mahogany’s easy workability, combined with its beauty and phenomenal stability have made this lumber an enduring favorite. It’s an incredibly important commercial timber in Latin America, where it’s now grown extensively on plantations.
Images: Drag the slider up/down to toggle between raw and finished wood. The second sample pictured below is a quartersawn sample of hybrid mahogany—a cross between Honduran and Cuban mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla x mahogani). A special thanks to Steve Earis for providing the turned photo of Honduran mahogany, as well as Thrity Vakil for donating the wood sample of hybrid mahogany.
Porosity: diffuse porous
Arrangement: solitary and radial multiples
Vessels: large, few; brown deposits occasionally present
Parenchyma: vasicentric, banded (marginal)
Rays: medium width; normal spacing
Lookalikes/Substitutes: Khaya species (known commercially as African mahogany) are the closest in both apperance and anatomy. Swietenina species usually have marginal parenchyma bands, while Khaya species typically lack such bands. See the article Mahogany Mixups for more info.
Notes: Ripple marks present on flatsawn surfaces.