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Is Mahogany Good for Wood Carving?

Is Mahogany Good for Wood Carving

Hardwoods are often not desirable when woodworking. They can be difficult to lathe and often breaks refined blades on smaller tools. While you can carve with these woods, it takes a lot of patience and skill. If you’re new to the world of sculpting lumber, you may wonder about mahogany.

So, is mahogany good for wood carving? Yes, it is! It’s an easy to medium in difficulty. However, it does tend to split and dry while working it, so some care does have to come into consideration. Due to how expensive mahogany can be, it isn’t a common wood used for carving.

If you have a piece of mahogany in your possession, you can carve almost anything out of it. Naturally this will rely on the size of the wood, but you can make anything you can conceive. From bowls and tea light holders to guitars and drum shells, mahogany is an excellent wood.

What Is Mahogany?

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Considered a hardwood, mahogany comes from North and Central America as well as India, Asia and Africa. It has a plethora of uses, applications and purposes that are near endless. It’s strong, solid, thick, durable and easily carved.

Mahoganies are famous for their almost perfect straight grain lines and reddish brown hue. It oils and polishes well, providing a gorgeous luster and shine to highlight the red of the wood. Plus, it gives an amazing appearance with more durability. Ergo, mahogany is the crème de la crème of wood and it has a price tag to match.

Depending on the quality and type of mahogany, it can cost $6 to as much as $28 per square foot. However, with current prices rising exponentially in lieu of inflation, it’s quickly costing in excess of $30 per square foot. This means a typical wood plate can cost somewhere in the ballpark of $65.

To check the current price and availability of Schaaf Wood Carving Tools, click here to view the listing on Amazon.

What Are the Different Types of Mahogany?

There are two main types of mahogany used for carving: Honduras and African. These come from the Swietenia and Khaya varieties of trees. So, there are many other members within these families that also pass as “genuine” mahogany.

However, hosts of others relate closely to mahogany, albeit not all are in the same family. Regardless, they share many characteristics in workability, which make them great alternatives. The list below also includes their scientific names:

  • African Walnut (Lovoa trichilioides)
  • Andiroba (Carapa guianensis)
  • Australian Red Cedar (Toona Ciliata)
  • Avodire (Turraeanthus africanus)
  • Bosse (Guarea thompsonii and Guarea cedrata)
  • Brazilian Mahogany (aka Honduras Mahogany; Swietenia macrophylla)
  • Chinaberry (Melia azedarach)
  • Cuban Mahogany (aka West Indies Mahogany; Swietenia mahogani)
  • Mexican Mahogany (Swietenia humilis)
  • Sapele (Entandrophragma cylindricum)
  • Spanish Cedar (Cedrela odorata)
  • Utile (Entandrophragma utile)

Is Mahogany Good for Relief Carving?

Seasoned woodworkers highly recommend mahogany for relief carving. The beautiful grain direction, color and ease of workability will produce some of the most beautiful sculptures. Plus, big and sizeable pieces provide the canvas for larger than life projects.

However, since mahogany is a hardwood, you have to have the right tools and patience to create a relief. The moment you notice drying and splitting in the wood, you have to go slower and more ginger.

But mahogany has a history of relief carving in relationship to religious art, as seen in the Christian and Islamic worlds. There is also an array of mahogany carvings from pre-Columbian art of Central and South America, mostly by the Mayans and Aztecs.

What Are the Best Things to Carve Out of Mahogany?

Because mahogany is relatively resistant to rot and provides a beautiful straight grain, it’s ideal for almost anything you would want to sculpt. You can make boats and canoes out of it along with rowing oars.

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You can also make bowls, utensils, tables, chairs, doors, bookshelves, entertainment centers, trashcan casings, cabinets, desks, hope chests, stools and bed frames. Additionally, mahogany is ideal for creating knickknacks, statuettes, fetishes, charms, beads, bracelets, necklaces, rings or tea light holders.

It’s important to note that newcomers to carving should start with a small project, especially where mahogany comes into the picture. The wood itself isn’t very oily and the moisture tends to try out quickly when you begin scraping and sculpting it. This means it will split and can ruin the design you’re aiming for.

Notorious Uses in Music

But one of the most popular uses for carving mahogany is for musical instruments such as pianos, drum shells and guitars. This includes electric and acoustic guitars as well as banjoes, ukuleles, lutes, ouds and bouzukis.

In fact, mahogany has such great resonance in music applications that many people refer to it as a “tonewood.” It produces a deep, warm sound that’s audibly solid with a great midrange. While it’s rare for a guitar to comprise 100% mahogany, you will often see it on the backs, necks and sides.

Some of the biggest and most popular instrument brands are notorious for their mahogany styles. These include:

  • Gibson (Les Paul, SG or J45)
  • Hagstrom (small selection)
  • Martin (small selection)
  • Taylor
  • Sweetwater
  • Godin
  • Bedell
  • Breedlove

Final Thoughts

Mahogany is a fantastic wood for carving. It’s fairly easy to work with but it is a hardwood that doesn’t have much natural oil, so it can dry and split while sculpting. But, this means you have to be careful and apply less pressure along with a slow working of the tools.

However, it does tend to be quite expensive. So, it might be better to opt for working with one of the other mahoganies listed above, such as Utile or Spanish Cedar. They both share similar qualities and characteristics as genuine mahogany but not as pricey.

Regardless, you can carve anything you like as long as the piece of wood you have is large enough for it. This means you can create a gorgeous statuette to as something as large as a door. But, if you’re new to woodworking, it’s advisable to start small so you understand all the idiosyncrasies there are in carving mahogany.

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