American mahogany

Scientific name

Swietenia mahogoni, S. macrophylla. Family: Meliaceae

Local names

Cuban mahogany, Spanish mahogany, Honduras mahogany, West-Indian mahogany, caoba (Latin America), acajou (French-speaking areas), mogno, araputanga, aguano (Brazil), zopilote gateado (Mexico)

Description and natural occurrence

A large tropical hardwood attaining 50 m in height and 2 m in diameter. Bole length is often between 20 to 40 m.

The trees are native to tropical American countries including the West Indies, Central America, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, and Bolivia. Plantations have been established within its natural range and in Hawaii, Fiji and the Philippines.

American mahogany was the original and true mahogany exported to Europe at the beginning of the 18th century. Since then many timbers have been called ´mahogany´ due to aesthetic similarities or to increase their marketability.

Wood appearance

Colour. Sapwood is light pink to yellowish-brown and usually distinct from heartwood which varies from medium to deep red-brown. The timber darkens on exposure. Some logs produce streaky timber.

Grain. Texture moderately fine; grain straight to wavy or interlocked, often with an attractive figure.

Wood properties

Density. 530 kg/m3 at 12 % moisture content; approximately 1.9 m3 of seasoned sawn timber per tonne.

Strength groups. S5 unseasoned, SD6 seasoned.

Stress grades. F5, F7, F8, F11 (unseasoned), F7, F8, F11, F14 (seasoned), when visually stress graded in accordance with AS 2082-2000, Timber - Hardwood - Visually stress-graded for structural purposes.

Joint groups. JD4 seasoned.

Shrinkage to 12% MC. 2.5 % (tangential); 1.6 % (radial).

Unit shrinkage. 0.21 % (tangential); 0.18 % (radial). These values apply to timber reconditioned after seasoning.

Durability above-ground. Class 3 - life expectancy 7 - 15 years.

Durability in-ground. Class 3 - life expectancy 5 - 15 years.

Lyctine susceptibility. Untreated sapwood susceptible to lyctine borer attack.

Termite resistance. Not resistant.

Preservation. Difficult to impregnate with preservatives.

Seasoning. Dries fairly rapidly without much checking or distortion.

Hardness. Soft (rated 5 on a 6 class scale) in relation to indentation and ease of working with hand tools.

Machining. Machines well however some material tends to produce a woolly finish. Sharp cutting edges should be maintained.

Fixing. Nails and screws well.

Gluing. Good gluing characteristics.

Finishing. Excellent finishing qualities, will readily accept paint, stain and polish.


Decorative. High quality and reproduction cabinet work, chairs, panelling, interior joinery, automobile window and door cappings, boat building, deck housing and cabin fittings.

Others. Boat building, planking, pattern making, models.

Further reading

Bootle, K 2005, 'Wood in Australia: types, properties and uses', 2nd edn, McGraw-Hill, Sydney.

Hopewell, G (ed.) 2006, 'Construction timbers in Queensland: properties and specifications for satisfactory performance of construction timbers in Queensland, Class 1 and Class 10 buildings', books 1 and 2, Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Brisbane.

Ilic, J 1991, 'CSIRO atlas of hardwoods', Crawford House Press, Bathurst, Australia.

Standards Australia, 2000, 'AS 2082-2000: Timber - hardwood - visually stress-graded for structural purposes', Standards Australia.

Last updated 21 July 2010