Properties of Timber: Mahogany

There are three species of Mahogany:- common mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni), Swietenia febrifuga, and Swietenia chloroxylon. The first is a native of the West India Islands and the central parts of America. The second and third are natives of the East Indies. They all grow to be trees of considerable magnitude. They are all excellent timber.

Swietenia mahagoni is perhaps the most majestic of trees; for though some rise to a greater height, this tree, like the oak, impresses the spectator with the strongest feelings of its firmness and duration.

The precise period of its growth is not precisely known, but a large tree changes but little during the life of a man. Some idea of its size and value may be formed from the fact that a single log, imported at Liverpool, weighed approximately seven tons. It was initially sold for 378 and then resold for 525.

The finest mahogany trees are not always in the most accessible situations, and as the wood is always imported in large masses, its transportation is difficult. Trees growing in the rich inland vallies defy the means of removal possessed by the natives. Masses of from six to eight tons are not easily moved in any country. In a mountainous and rocky one, to move them is impossible.

In Cuba, the inhabitants have neither enterprise nor skill adequate to felling the mahogany trees, and transporting them to the shore, and thus the finest timber remains unused.

The best timber is found upon the coldest soils and in the most exposed situations. When it grows upon moist soils and in warm lands it is soft, coarse, spongy, and contains sap-wood into which some worms will eat. That which is most accessible at Honduras fits this description.

It is well adapted for veneers, as it hold glue better than deal, and when properly seasoned, is less apt to warp or be attacked by insects.

When it grows in favourable situations, where it has room to spread, it is of much better quality and puts out large branches, the junctions of which with the stem furnish those beautifully curled pieces of which the choicest veneers are made.

When among rocks and much exposed, it is smaller, and there is not so much breadth of variety of shading, but the timber is better, and the colour more rich.

It is well adapted for chairs, the legs of tables and other purposes in which a moderate size has to bear a considerable strain.

Spanish mahogany is probably the best, and is generally the only sort suitable for delicate or very time-consuming workmanship.

To get the best colour from mahogany one needs oil or varnish. It the best sorts be often washed with water they become grey and dingy and lose their beauty.

The red is deepened by alkali, especially lime-water, but strong acids remove the colour. A colourless varnish displays the finish of mahogany to its best advantage.

The Febrifuga or East India mahogany grows in the mountains of central Hindostan. It is very large with a straight trunk. The head spreads, and the leaves resemble the American species to some extent. The wood is dull red; not so beautiful as common mahogany, but denser, harder and more durable.

The Chloroxylon is chiefly found in the mountains of the Sircars which run parallel to the Bay of Bengal, to the north-east of the mouth of the River Godovery. The tree does not reach the size of the other two kinds, and the wood is different. It is a deep yellow, nearly the same colour as Box, which it resembles quite closely.

summarised from "The Library of Entertaining Knowledge - Timber trees" (1829), pub. Charles Knight, Pall Mall.

ND, habitat21

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