If you are planning on building something, whether a chair, guitar, table, or anything in between, then using solid wood is one of the best options to consider. With that being said, there are many different types of solid wood out there for you to choose from. Two very popular types of wood include mahogany and sapele, which are fairly different from one another.
Today, we are going to compare mahogany and sapele to see which of these two kinds of wood is better for a variety of applications.
What Is Mahogany?
Mahogany is a type of tropical hardwood tree that is deciduous in nature, which means that it does lose its leaves during the colder seasons. Because this is a tropical hardwood tree, it is most commonly found in the warmer parts of the Americas, and due to importation, is now also found in Asia and Oceania.
In terms of appearance, mahogany has a very straight and tight grain with a smooth appearance, combined with virtually no voids, gaps, or knots. It has a very deep reddish-brown color, sometimes quite red in nature, and it will darken over time.
Mahogany is one of the harder and denser woods out there, and it also contains a good deal of resin and sap. Due to its density and hardness, as well as its resin content, it is fairly resistant to pests, rot, moisture, and fungus. Because of this, it is ideal for both outdoor and indoor use.
Keep in mind that mahogany is a fairly expensive type of wood, and it is a very popular choice for a variety of high-end applications, such as for making high-quality outdoor and indoor furniture, doors and windows, and for many decorative pieces.
What Is Sapele?
Although sapele is its own type of wood, it is technically a part of the mahogany family, which is why it may also be referred to as sapele mahogany.
Sapele is actually a city in Nigeria, and because the sapele tree originates in Northern Africa, it is named after this city. The sapele tree can be found in many tropical parts of Africa. Just like genuine mahogany, this tree is deciduous in nature.
Sapele usually has a straight yet interlocked grain that is very tight, and may also have some irregularities or waviness, with few knots or holes. Sapele has a dark reddish-brown appearance, more brown than red, and just like genuine mahogany, will darken over time.
Sapele, due to its density, hardness, and tight grain, is very resistant to pests, fungus, and moisture. This type of wood is often used for musical instruments, boat building, luxury floors and furniture, veneers, joinery, and more.
Mahogany vs. Sapele: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know what both mahogany and sapele are, let’s take a look at the major differences between them.
One of the major differences here is that sapele wood is much harder than genuine mahogany. On the Janka hardness scale, mahogany tops out at around 900 lbf, whereas sapele tops out at around 1,410 lbf. This means that sapele is the much harder of the two, and therefore more resistant to scratching, denting, and damage in general. If you need something that is going to last a long time, sapele is the way to go.
Weight and Density
Just like with hardness, sapele is also heavier and much denser than genuine mahogany. Mahogany comes in at roughly 40 pounds per cubic foot, whereas sapele comes in at just over 42 pounds per cubic foot. Although its heavier weight makes sapele a bit harder to work with than mahogany, its density also leads to other benefits, such as increased overall durability and longevity.
Resistance to the Elements
What needs to be said about mahogany is that it is an extremely resistant type of wood as far as fungus, rot, pests, and moisture are concerned. Its hardness and density, as well as its resin content, do allow it to withstand the elements fairly easily. However, sapele is even better, and it is because it does contain a good bit of resin, but more so because it is so hard and dense.
Its interlocked grain pattern, as well as its density, mean that moisture really cannot penetrate the outer layer of this wood at all, therefore making it more than ideal for exterior use, even with minimal maintenance and treatment. Mahogany would be better for interior use, whereas sapele would be better for exterior use.
In terms of how easy these two types of wood are to work with, mahogany is the easier of the two. Due to it having a straight grain that is not interlocked, and because it’s not quite as hard or dense as sapele, it is easier to cut. That said, both of these types of wood will cause your solid blades to dull rather quickly. Moreover, due to its density, sapele is a bit more difficult to stain and paint than mahogany.
On one hand, we have mahogany, which has a very straight, smooth, and even grain pattern, combined with very few knots, gaps, or holes, with a reddish-brown color that tends to darken over time. On the other hand, sapele has a sometimes straight and sometimes wavy grain pattern that is interlocked, also with few knots or gaps, and a reddish-brown color that leans more towards the red side of things, and does darken over time. Most people would agree that genuine mahogany is the better-looking of the two.
The other thing to consider here is that mahogany is the more expensive of the two. You can expect to spend about two-thirds on the same amount of sapele as mahogany.
When to Use Mahogany Wood?
If you need something that is durable and looks extremely nice, and you are looking to make interior and exterior furniture, doors and windows, and other decorative pieces that need to look nice, then mahogany is the way to go. Just keep in mind that it is rather expensive.
When to Use Sapele Wood?
If you are making furniture, trim, veneers, doors and windows, and both interior and exterior furniture, and you need it to be very hard, durable, and nearly waterproof, but you don’t want to spend too much money and don’t care too much about the appearance, then sapele is the way to go.
Alternatives to Mahogany and Sapele Wood
If you are looking for wood that is ideal for exterior use due to great moisture resistance but don’t want to spend too much money, some good options to consider include cedar, cypress, and redwood.
For more ideas, check this article looking at mahogany substitutes.
As you can see, both mahogany and sapele are fine choices to consider. Both are fairly high-end types of wood that are ideal for a wide variety of applications.