Hardwood Flooring Product Profile: What Is Mahogany?
Mahogany wood floors bring unique lustre and durability to a space. Here’s the lowdown on mahogany as a hardwood flooring option.
Mahogany brings to mind an old-world glamour. Although it’s a wood that was first harvested in the Caribbean, it’s been known as the go-to choice for the world’s most elegant furnishings and strongest building materials for as long as I can remember. The word mahogany resounds with quality because of its beautiful grain, its durability and stability, and its all-round workability.
At the same time, one mahogany isn’t like another, and trust me: there are many, many different types of woods that are referred to as mahogany these days. They just aren’t the same, though.
In this article, we’ll try to sort the real mahoganies from those that just don’t measure up. When it comes to your home, and especially the choices you make for your hardwood floors, you’ll need to know the difference.
Latin name: Swietenia mahogani (for Cuban mahogany)
Janka Hardness rating: 930
Common color spectrum: Pale pinkish brown to darker reddish brown
Stability: dependent on species
A hardwood mahogany by any other name
It should go without saying that we can differentiate between the types of woods known as mahogany by their names. The genus (or Latin name) for true mahoganies is Swietenia. Think of this genus as the ‘sweet’ one. Swietenia mahogani is the Cuban mahogany that first was exported to Europe when the Spaniards came to the island in the fifteenth century. Swietenia macrophylla, or Honduran mahogany, followed soon thereafter. The features of these two species of the tree are the ones that we expect: a wonderful, clear, and fine grain, and minimal shrinkage and swelling in different temperatures. Caribbean mahoganies such as these will always provide you with a good investment.
African Mahogany in the Khaya genus is a little bit different. While not a true mahogany, it carries many of the same characteristics as the Caribbean version and looks virtually identical. At the same time, it doesn’t plane as well. What this means for you is that it has to be processed carefully in order to avoid shirring and snagging in the wood.
So-called mahoganies that are from Asia, however, such as the Shorea genus of woods, have been named such because of their appearance, but they aren’t even close in terms of workability. They are a good option for plywood and can work very well as engineered floors, but they won’t match true mahogany’s quality when it comes to woodworking and furniture because of their limited durability and their tendency to splinter.
The lowdown on mahogany floors
So when it comes to choosing a mahogany hardwood floor, what’s going to fit the bill? It’s not as simple as going for the most durable and accurately-named product, even though true mahogany is always going to be a great choice.
The fact is that true mahogany has been over-harvested, and even Cuba has banned its production since 1946 because of the loss of so many mahogany forests. Similar restrictions are in place in Honduras. This means that there are few ways to obtain plank hardwood mahogany floors except by purchasing antique floors recovered from an older home.
The best options for getting the look and feel of mahogany floors are going to include plank flooring with well-processed African mahogany, or engineered mahogany options that take the best aspects of African, Caribbean, or Asian faux mahoganies and merge these with expert processing so that they look and feel as good as the original. In fact, engineered or laminate mahogany floors are likely going to last almost as long as a solid hardwood, and will look wonderful without a great deal of upkeep and effort, which is always required for a solid wood product.
Understanding which mahogany flooring options are best for your home and your family can be a difficult slog, but what it comes down to is not only choice, but sustainability. The old-growth Caribbean forests that once provided these woods are slowly coming back to life, but in the meantime, we need to consider other options.
Enduring beauty and strength
The beautiful mahogany floors of yesteryear may not be readily available, but there are some equally gorgeous and, in some ways, more durable and sustainable options that can look amazing in any home. For your next hardwood floor, consider the world mahogany, in all of its varying forms and species, as something to cherish.