Mahogany is a beautiful exotic hardwood that is loved for its elegance and durability. Over time, the harvesting and transport process of mahogany have raised environmental concerns, facilitating the need to find suitable wood replacements.
Below, we look at what types of wood you should consider if you don’t have access to mahogany but want something similar.
What Makes For a Good Mahogany Substitute?
A good mahogany substitute should meet or exceed the appearance of, durability, workability, and cost of mahogany. Let’s discuss the advantages of mahogany in each of these categories.
Mahogany’s natural reddish-brown color deepens over time, lending warmth and richness to all pieces it is used in. The grain is straight and uniform, and it has a fine to medium texture with moderate luster. Dubbed the “Wood of Kings,” pieces made from mahogany were often polished to a high shine and were left feeling soft and smooth to the touch. The wood is typically free from knots and defects.
A good substitute for mahogany should exude the same rich feel by sticking to the deep brownish-red color, allowing the straight grain to shine through to its surface. It should be able to finish well and hold a similar smoothness and luster.
Rated at 800 lbf on the Janka hardness scale, mahogany is a reliably durable wood. The Janka hardness is rated by determining how many pounds of force are required to embed a 0.444” steel ball to half of its diameter in the face of the wood. This rating indicates that this wood can withstand bumps and dings, but not high-impact forces.
Preferably, any wood used in lieu of mahogany should have a higher Janka rating that will allow it to be used and displayed in more high-traffic applications.
Mahogany has superior workability. It cuts a straight, sharp line, joins and planes well, and is excellent for carving and turning. Used in furniture, flooring, cabinetry, and paneling indoors, it elevates the look of any room. It is also an excellent choice for carving, wood-turning, and instruments.
A replacement should have versatile uses and be easy to work and finish. Preferably, the substitution should be equally as workable with both hand and machine tools, like mahogany.
The rarity of this material makes it extremely expensive to work with.
Mahogany is actually considered an endangered tree, and it is incredibly rare to obtain new genuine mahogany. As such, the price of furniture made from this wood has skyrocketed, and almost any substitute will be less expensive than the real thing.
6 Mahogany Alternatives
Knowing now what to look for, here are some alternatives to mahogany. We will address the pros and cons of each, along with their best uses.
Black walnut is the most commonly used walnut variety in the United States. The grain is straight, but sometimes interlocked or wavy, and its medium texture feels moderately smooth with a soft natural luster. Walnut rates higher on the Janka scale at 1,010 lbf, making it a very durable option.
This wood cannot be sanded as smoothly as mahogany, and the grain may sometimes be too wavy for a suitable replacement. The cost is moderate, and it is relatively easy to find.
Best used for cabinetry, furniture, flooring, and veneer, its naturally deep brown color can be tinted red to match mahogany’s warm tones.
Straight-grained and already imbued with a natural reddish tone, cherry is a highly sought-after domestic wood. The grain can sometimes display curly patterns, and it has a fine, even texture. Cherry can be sanded down just as smooth as mahogany with a moderate natural luster. Moderately hard at 950 lbf, it is a durable option to consider.
This is an incredibly workable wood. It turns, machines, and carves well. It is a more expensive hardwood as it is considered a luxury wood, but the supply should be adequate. It can be difficult to stain, which is required to mimic the deep natural tones of mahogany.
Cherry is a great all-around substitute for mahogany, achieving many of the same things its predecessor could.
A close relative to the mahogany family, Spanish cedar has a straight or shallowly interlocked grain. It has a medium texture with a moderate luster. The wood’s natural light pinkish tones can be stained darker to mimic mahogany. It is a cost-effective replacement, though not as opulent.
Unfortunately, Spanish cedar is quite soft, hitting just 600 lbf on the Janka scale. It is a low-density material and tends to leave fuzzy edges if not cut with extremely sharp tools. Its softness limits its workability, and its natural scent is more reminiscent of cedar than mahogany.
Spanish cedar is a good option for items that are not in danger of frequent rough contact. It is best used as veneer, cabinetry, and for some musical instruments.
Sometimes called Brazilian walnut, ipe is incredibly hard, hitting 3,510 lbf on the Janka hardness scale. Ipe’s natural reddish to olive brown wood shows a straight to varying interlocked grain. It has a moderate luster and a fine to medium texture.
Extremely hard and dense, ipe is a difficult wood to work with. If the grain is straight, the wood does turn well, but it is typically limited to flooring and decking. The grain pattern of ipe may be a bit too complicated for a believable mahogany replacement.
Ipe is an excellent choice for luxury flooring or for those that are familiar with more difficult materials.
Grown in tropical Africa, sapele is a hardwood rating at 1,410 lbf on the Janka scale. It has a natural brown to reddish-brown color with a fine texture and good natural luster. Its cost ranges from moderate to high, depending on the kind of lumber being imported.
Sapele does not have a straight grain. Instead, it is interlocked, which can be difficult to work with. Planing and working can cause tear-out, which requires additional time and care.
This is a great substitute for veneer, plywood, turned objects, and furniture.
A lesser-known wood, utile (sometimes called sipo) is native to West and Central Africa. It has an interlocked grain with medium texture and moderate natural luster. The natural color is a medium reddish-brown that deepens over time. Hitting 1,180 lbf on the Janka scale, this substitute is a durable option.
Being lesser known and because of its interlocked grain, utile can be challenging to work with. Tear-out can occur, making it hard to plane solid smooth surfaces. It can also be harder to find this wood, and it is moderately pricey to import.
Utile is excellent as a substitute for mahogany veneer, flooring, cabinetry, and furniture.
What Type of Wood Is the Most Similar to Mahogany?
The most similar wood to mahogany with the most overall versatility is cherry. Let’s look over the features of cherry compared to mahogany to see how they stand up.
Cherry’s natural red tones set the framework for a deeper brownish-red stain that can be applied to match mahogany’s darker tones. Typically, its grain is straight, very much like mahogany, though a curly grain is sometimes present. It has a moderate luster and is sometimes categorized as satinwood because of the satiny appearance of the surface’s luster, much like mahogany.
Rating higher on the Janka scale than mahogany, black cherry falls at 950 lbf. It is durable enough to withstand daily use, but not enough to come out unscathed after high-velocity impacts.
Like mahogany, it’s best used in cabinetry and veneer or paneling, or in other furniture that will receive gentle use.
Cherry comes in as the superior substitute primarily because of its workability. It is used for furniture, veneer, cabinetry, musical instruments, and turned objects. Its straight grain allows for ease of workability with machinery, but it can also easily be carved using hand tools. Carved and turned cherry holds detail well. Staining can be challenging due to irregular absorption, though a gel stain can help overcome this issue.
Easy to find, cherry is priced in the mid to high range for a domestic hardwood. As mentioned above, mahogany’s limited supply means that very many substitutes are more budget-friendly than true mahogany lumber.
In this case, the cost isn’t a primary factor for finding a suitable replacement, so the pricing of the wood is neither a plus nor a negative. For an idea on pricing, in early 2023, cherry lumber can be found at between $10 – $13 per linear foot for a ¾” thick by 5” wide board. This number will fluctuate with market availability and shipping costs.
Having reviewed the different options available for mahogany substitutes and the motivations behind needing to find a suitable replacement, which would you choose?
From the cost-effective Spanish cedar to the close resemblance in cherry, there are many kinds of wood that can help mimic the look of rich mahogany and elevate your project.