Common Name(s): Sapele, sapelli, sapeli mahogany
Scientific Name: Entandrophragma cylindricum
Distribution: Tropical Africa
Tree Size: 100-150 ft (30-45 m) tall,
3-5 ft (1-1.5 m) trunk diameter
Average Dried Weight: 41.6 lbs/ft3 (665 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): 0.56, 0.67
Janka Hardness: 1,360 lbf (6,060 N)
Modulus of Rupture: 16,070 lbf/in2 (110.9 MPa)
Elastic Modulus: 1,790,000 lbf/in2 (12.35 GPa)
Crushing Strength: 8,540 lbf/in2 (58.9 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 5.2%, Tangential: 7.2%,
Volumetric: 12.9%, T/R Ratio: 1.4
Color/Appearance: Heartwood is a golden to dark reddish brown. Color tends to darken with age. Besides the common ribbon pattern seen on quartersawn boards, sapele is also known for a wide variety of other figured grain patterns, such as: pommele, quilted, mottled, wavy, beeswing, and fiddleback.
Grain/Texture: Grain is interlocked, and sometimes wavy. Fine uniform texture and good natural luster.
Rot Resistance: Heartwood ranges from moderately durable to very durable in regard to decay resistance. Moderate insect/borer resistance.
Workability: Sapele can be troublesome to work in some machining operations, (i.e., planing, routing, etc.), resulting in tearout due to its interlocked grain. It will also react when put into direct contact with iron, becoming discolored and stained. Sapele has a slight blunting effect on cutters, but it turns, glues, and finishes well.
Odor: Sapele has a distinct, cedar-like scent while being worked.
Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, sapele has been reported as a skin and respiratory irritant. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.
Pricing/Availability: Should be moderately priced for regular flatsawn or quartersawn lumber, though figured lumber and veneer can be extremely expensive, particularly pommele or quilted sapele.
Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices, but 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: Veneer, plywood, furniture, cabinetry, flooring, boatbuilding, musical instruments, turned objects, and other small wooden specialty items.
Comments: Sapele is a commonly exported and economically important African hardwood species. It’s sold both in lumber and veneer form. It is occasionally used as a substitute for genuine mahogany, and is sometimes referred to as “sapele mahogany.” Technically, the two genera that are commonly associated with mahogany are Swietenia and Khaya, while sapele is in the Entandrophragma genus, but all three are included in the broader Meliaceae family, so comparisons to true mahogany may not be too far fetched.
Usually pronounced (sah-PELL-ey) or (sah-PEEL-ey).
Images: Drag the slider up/down to toggle between raw and finished wood.
The samples below show examples of flatsawn, quartersawn, and pommele grain patterns, respectively.
Porosity: diffuse porous; growth rings sometimes discernible due marginal parenchyma and decrease in pore frequency
Arrangement: solitary and radial multiples
Vessels: large, few; reddish brown deposits occasionally present
Parenchyma: diffuse-in-aggregates, unilateral, vasicentric, and banded (sometimes marginal)
Rays: narrow to medium width, normal spacing; rays are generally not visible without magnification
Lookalikes/Substitutes: There are a number of other commercial woods in the Meliaceae (mahogany) family that can bear a close resemblance to sapele. Most mahogany-like woods are scentless and can be separated from sapele on the basis of odor. However, bosse (Leplaea cedrata) is a closely related African hardwood that can have similar appearance and scent. Separation can be difficult, but bosse generally is lighter in color, and has more extensive and consistent parenchyma bands—with the bands in sapele being more sporadic.
Other woods in the Entandrophragma genus can be difficult to distinguish down to a species level, particularly kosipo (E. candollei)—a very similar wood that typically lacks the fancy grain patterns sometimes seen in sapele.
Notes: Storied rays (producing ripple marks on flatsawn surfaces) present in approximately 60% of samplesRichter, H.G., and Dallwitz, M.J. 2000 onwards. Commercial timbers: descriptions, illustrations, identification, and information retrieval. In English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. … Continue reading