In the early to mid-18th century, mahogany gained recognition as a fine cabinetmaking wood favored by wealthy buyers who were looking to show off their furniture. These days the name mahogany is often thrown around to describe types of wood that have no relation to true mahogany.
So before we jump into the advantages and disadvantages of this material, we need to understand what true mahogany is. There are only three species of true mahogany.
These are Honduran mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), Cuban mahogany (Swietenia mahogany), and Pacific Coast mahogany (Swietenia humilis). These are the species we refer to when we talk about mahogany in this article.
Advantages of Mahogany Wood
Using mahogany has more advantages than disadvantages. Quite a few benefits of this timber stem from the fact that mahogany has no pockets or grooves and not much space in its fiber vessels.
That means that there isn’t much room for mahogany to soak up water or shrink, warp and expand. This is quite important for timber as it ensures it can battle the elements and last a long time.
Wood is waterproof when it doesn’t absorb enough water to have any effect on the wood. This shouldn’t be confused with water resistance, in which case it will repel water for a certain amount of time, but eventually will absorb the water, which can influence the timber negatively.
When discussing waterproofness, mahogany is almost as good as it gets. This wood has no space in its fiber vessels to absorb moisture and therefore it is considered to be a completely waterproof material.
As a hardwood, mahogany will always have good defenses against rot, but this material exceeds most other hardwoods. Again, this is due to its tight fiber vessel structure and the fact that it has no pockets or grooves.
When timber does have pockets or grooves, or its fiber vessel structure is large, it will allow water to penetrate the surface. When this happens, it’s a slippery and wet slope. Water will sit inside the timber and, if it isn’t allowed to dry, it will eventually rot.
Thankfully, you won’t have this problem with true mahogany.
Mahogany is a very durable type of wood. When used correctly, it can last for a good couple of decades. The durability of the material is just a summary of all its other advantages. Mahogany’s durability is thanks to it being waterproof and rot-resistant.
These two key assets ensure that mahogany can be used externally and withstand the elements comfortably. This timber will not shrink, expand or twist, which makes it an ideal wood to use when decking or when working on any outdoor structures.
Disadvantages of Mahogany Wood
Like all timber, there are always going to be some disadvantages. Mahogany is no different.
The first thing is the amount of fake mahogany or so-called other variants of mahogany that are being sold worldwide. This isn’t only annoying for builders chasing the real stuff, it can also be a dangerous purchase. Two other disadvantages of mahogany are the limited amount of true mahogany that is produced and the large color differences in the timber.
(Lack of) Availability of True Mahogany
In my opinion, the widespread presence of fake mahogany is the biggest disadvantage of this timber. Identifying true mahogany from a fake can be hard. The average builder or D.I.Y enthusiast may assume a supplier knows what they are selling, but this can often be misleading.
Purchasing fake mahogany rather than real stuff could be dangerous. For example, if you are trying to source true mahogany for something that is load-bearing for external use but you end up with a fake one, you might run into problems.
True mahogany is great for bearing loads and battling the elements, the fake stuff you get could be the opposite. You may install this timber thinking it’s the real species only to have it begin to rot, twist or warp. This can be a very costly problem, which is why you want to make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for.
This section is a bit debatable as some builders and customers love varied colors in wood and believe it adds character to a project. But in my experience, some customers and clients want everything color and grain matched. This can be hard when working with mahogany because of how varied the colors of the material can be.
For this reason, some builders may look to use another type of hardwood that is more uniformly colored, to save the drama of color-matching a whole project. In the end, if the varied colors of mahogany are a disadvantage or not is mostly up to personal preferences.
Low Production Rate
This section ties back to the first disadvantage we discussed. It’s widely believed that all the fake mahogany and so-called variants are being distributed in higher numbers due to true mahogany having a low production rate compared to its demand.
This means that the high-quality, true version of this material is pushed to the side as its fake counterparts get distributed increasingly. It’s thought that this is due to there only being 4 species of true mahogany. In contrast, 23 so-called variants are being sold globally.
Is Mahogany Good for Woodworking?
Mahogany is regarded as one of the top timbers to make furniture with, mainly due to it having a great strength-to-workability ratio.
This material is tough enough to carry weight, for example for making tables or chairs, but not too tough to make it hard to work with. Mahogany cuts, machines, planes, and sands very well for hardwood and is heavily sourced due to its workability.
High-quality mahogany is also great for turning or carving and if that’s something you’re looking to do, ensure you get the good stuff.
How Does Mahogany Compare with Other Types of Wood?
While mahogany is oftentimes the best choice, there are many other types of wood worth considering. As such, before going all in, you might also want to see how mahogany compares with: alder | acacia | ash | cedar | cherry | chestnut | ebony | hickory | ipe | maple | meranti | narra | oak | pine | poplar | redwood | rosewood | sapele | tanguile | teak | walnut
As you can see from this article, mahogany’s advantages are mainly due to the structure of the timber and how durable it is. This timber is excellent for external use and will last a long time battling the elements while still having a lovely visual aesthetic.
The main disadvantages are improper education about what true mahogany is and the fact there is so much fake “mahogany” out there.