Nothing inspires a woodworker like working with a fine, easy to work with timber that polishes up to a gorgeous piece of furniture. And, high on that list of most desirable woods is mahogany.
Its popularity was its undoing, as overharvesting of true mahoganies has lead to the search for a replacement for this very popular wood. Sapele is one species which has stepped in as a mahogany substitute, as has Philippine mahogany.
Another awesome substitute not to be overlooked is santos mahogany. This species – Myroxylon balsamum – is a very tall tree which can reach to heights of up to 100’ feet tall, with a wide trunk of up to 3’ feet wide. Santos Mahogany is a native tree to the Central America and South America areas in such countries as Peru, Brazil, Mexico and Guatemala.
The tree’s wood gives a very sweet and spicy aroma when cut due to the large amount of resin – known as balsam of Peru – which it contains. This is used in perfumes and natural medicines.
The wood is dark brown with a deep red heartwood. It has a very fine grain – just like other mahoganies, making it great for woodworking projects that need to be polished to a very lustrous finish. The one word of caution is that – like sapele – the grain is interlocked, which could lead to issues when planing and surfacing. Very sharp tools with very light passes are the order of the day.
Another thing you will notice about santos mahogany is just how darned hard the stuff is. It’s janka score comes in at 2200… putting it nearly as hard as hickory, and considerably harder than bubinga (1980), purpleheart (1860) and hard maple (1450) – making it a good choice for flooring. Carbide tools should have no issue with santos mahogany, but hand tool edges may need to be honed quite frequently while working with it.
Natural oils grant it excellent decay resistance – so, it could work for some outdoor furniture. As with other tropical woods, these oils have been known to cause allergic reactions. Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, it cause skin and respiratory irritation. So, be sure to use a dust mask and good dust collection when working with it.
The furniture is definitely something to behold. Crisp detail stands out prominently and the strong color and fine grain create a classic, timeless feel to the pieces. You might just find that santos mahogany becomes one of your favorite woods.