Mahogany is a kind of wood—the straight-grained, reddish-brown timber of three tropical hardwooda species of the genus Swietenia, part of the chinaberry family, Meliaceae, indigenous to the Americas. The three species are:
- Honduran or big-leaf mahogany, with a range from Mexico to southern Amazonia in Brazil, the most widespread species of mahogany and the only true mahogany species commercially grown today. Illegal logging and its highly destructive environmental effects, led to the species’ placement in 2003 on Appendix II of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the first time that a high-volume, high-value tree was listed on Appendix II.
- West Indian or Cuban mahogany, native to southern Florida and the Caribbean, formerly dominant in the mahogany trade, but not in widespread commercial use since World War II.
- Pacific Coast Mahogany, a small and often twisted mahogany tree limited to seasonally dry forests in Pacific Central America that is of limited commercial utility.
While the three Swietenia species are the “true mahogany” trees, other Meliaceae species used for timber with similar characteristics are also described as mahogany, including the African mahoganies; New Zealand mahogany or kohekohe; Chinese mahogany; Indonesian mahogany or Vietnamese mahogany; and the Indian mahogany. Some members of the genus Shorea are also sometimes sold as the Philippine mahogany, although the name is more properly applied to another species of Meliaceae.
Mahogany is a commercially important lumber prized for its beauty, durability, and color, and used for paneling and to make furniture, boats, musical instruments and other items. The leading importer of mahogany is the United States, followed by Britain; while the largest exporter today is Peru, which surpassed Brazil after that country banned mahogany exports in 2001. It is estimated that some 80 or 90 percent of Peruvian mahogany exported to the United States is illegally harvested, with the economic cost of illegal logging in Peru placed conservatively at $US40-70 million annually. It was estimated that in 2000, some 57,000 mahogany trees were harvested to supply the U.S. furniture trade alone.
Mahogany is the national tree of the Dominican Republic and Belize. A mahogany tree with two woodcutters bearing an axe and a paddle also appears on the Belizean national coat of arms, under the national motto, Sub umbra floreo, Latin for “under the shade I flourish.”
Much of the first-quality furniture made in the American colonies from the mid 18th century was made of mahogany, when the wood first became available to American craftsmen. Mahogany is still widely used for fine furniture; however, the rarity of Cuban mahogany and over harvesting of Honduras and Brazilian mahogany has diminished their use.
Mahogany also resists wood rot, making it attractive in boat construction. It is also often used for musical instruments, particularly the backs, sides and necks of acoustic guitars and drum shells because of its ability to produce a very deep, warm tone compared to other commonly used woods such as maple or birch. Guitars featuring mahogany in their construction include Martin D-18, Gibson Les Paul.
Mahogany is now being used for the bodies of high-end stereo phonographic record cartridges and for stereo headphones, where it is noted for “warm” or “musical” sound.
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Mahogany – Technical Info
Mahogany has a straight, fine and even grain, and is relatively free of voids and pockets. Its reddish-brown color darkens over time, and displays a reddish sheen when polished. It has excellent workability, and is very durable. Historically, the tree’s girth allowed for wide boards from traditional mahogany species. These properties make it a favorable wood for crafting cabinets and furniture.
The Mahogany in the Wishes Tree workshop is not the original species (which is endangered and illegal), but is considered a close relative and shares the features that make Mahogany a perfect furniture timber – very hard and strong, its natural reddish color and growth lines make beautiful patterns. This tree is very wear resistant and furniture may last decades, even more than a century, with the right care. The recommended finish for this wood is a natural finish, highlighting its strong natural hues.
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