Identifying mahogany is a little harder than it might seem at first glance. If you’ve ever wondered if you have real mahogany, this article at the Wood Database is eye-opening:
“So you’ve just stumbled across some sort of “mahogany” wood, and you’re wondering if you have the real deal. After all, there are currently over a half dozen types of mahogany listed on The Wood Database. Much like cedar, the “mahogany” label gets tossed around with relative liberality—and not always with regard to the botanical designation of the wood in question. Ultimately, the ambiguous term mahogany remains somewhat subjective. But regardless of where anyone happens to draw the line on what is and is not true mahogany, certain facts and scientific classifications of the trees remain constant, and a general consensus can at least be made on the objective facts surrounding these woods.
But before we sort everything out, it would be helpful to ask a needed question: why? Why bother trying to sort things out? If it looks like mahogany, what’s the difference anyhow? A lot, it turns out. Beyond simply being worth more in terms of dollars per board-foot, there are practical implications to using true mahogany.”
When I was a kid in Fort Lauderdale, my grandpa had a beautiful mahogany tree growing next to his carport/wood workshop. So far as I know, it’s still there. My bet is that it was the true “Cuban Mahogany” of legend, as the tree was likely planted in the 1950s.
There are old mahogany trees scattered here and there around South Florida. This one is growing a few blocks from my parents’ home in Fort Lauderdale:
Where I live now there are still quite a few mahogany trees, but international restrictions keep them from being harvested and sent to the US. I looked into sending some lumber to my brother and it seems that getting a permit is beyond me.
I can, however, use the boards myself. Here’s a little three-string guitar I’m building from a calabash gourd and some local mahogany.
The neck and top are mahogany. Note how light the wood is compared to the dark red-brown we normally associate with mahogany. The wood is more variable than one might think. It’s also a joy to work. Light, strong, easy to carve. I love it.
Here’s a close-up of the top so you can see the grain:
As you can see, I haven’t finished the wood yet. There is more sanding to do, but I’ll get there soon.
Real mahogany is a joy to work. I saved some broken pieces of mahogany furniture from the old house on the lot where we garden and I’ve been using those pieces for little projects as well. The older wood is dark and dry and very easy to shape.
When we get land, I’ll have to plant a mahogany tree in memory of Grandpa.