African Mahogany: All the things I didn’t know

African mahogany boards

I bought some rough-sawn African mahogany for a small trestle table I am about to build. There are a few quirks of mahogany that I didn’t know about before I bought some that I wanted to share. With hindsight, I should have researched the material online more, as there is a massive amount of information on various forums and magazine websites.

  1. Colour. African mahogany isn’t as dark as I was expecting! I had bought small pieces of mahogany in the past that were a deep brown, but that must have been a different variety. The boards I have are a light pink after I planed the rough boards. I need the final piece to be darker so I will look into using stain or dye.
  2. Texture. Though pale, the texture of the mahogany is fascinating! It has a ribbon pattern with alternating lighter and darker bands. A smooth surface shimmers when the board is moved under a light.
  3. Grain pores. Big long pores. So big that many suggest using a grain filler prior to finishing in order to get a smooth surface. Old-school finishers will suggest using pumice or fine sanding to fill the pores with dust and then seal it in with a sealing coat of shellac.
  4. Work-ability. This is one I didn’t see coming, though I’ve since found it’s well documented in books and on the web. The ribbons often have switching grain directions, so that with one swipe of a hand plane, some of the ribbons get silky smooth, and the others tear out dramatically. I have a little-used Stanley No.3 that I might use to experiment with back-bevels (that concept explained  here on the Lost Art Press blog) to reduce tear out, or I might have to resort to sanding.

The challenges of African mahogany gives me an excuse to learn about a few techniques that I have been avoiding:

  1. Tear-out. Back beveled plane blades or sanding? I’ll try both.
  2. Staining. Should I stain before applying finish, or use stain in a finish as a toner? I’ll experiment.
  3. Finishing. Need to fill in pores and get an antique look finish. Time to wander away from using Danish oil on everything and learn about Shellac. Maybe even French polishing.

3 thoughts on “African Mahogany: All the things I didn’t know

  1. You might try super light shaving +super tight seting on a tuned up chip breaker before you go the back bevel route. I have tried this (on swirly walnut grain) and I get tearout free planing backwards (and crinkly bacon shavings)

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