#4: Mahogany

Bird number: 4
Date: December 4, 2011
Wood: West Indies Mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni)
Source: St. Croix, Virgin Islands

A friend gave me a couple chunks of mahogany that he got from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. I carved a stylized snake from it about two years ago. It’s hard–harder than most woods I’ve worked with. But it really is beautiful.

I was saving this other chunk of mahogany for something, and the birds seemed to be a good project for it. I ended up with two of them. The other went to a family member.

The term “mahogany” is used to describe many different kinds of tropical hardwood, but there are only three species that are considered “genuine  mahogany.” This is probably Swietenia mahagoni, which grows on the West Indian islands and in parts of Florida. The ranges of the three mahoganies are geographically distinct. The other two grow on the Pacific coast of Central America, and in Central America and South America as far south as Brazil.

Mahogany has been used for furniture building since Colonial days (mid 18th century). The wood is also somewhat rot resistant, making it attractive for boat building. You can find mahogany carvings, but it’s typically carved with power due to its extreme hardness. I’ve carved two mahogany with a knife (the snake, and a little dog figure), and found it somewhat frustrating. The wood isn’t uniformly hard, making it somewhat difficult to work with a knife. It finishes up beautifully, though.

Mahoganies growing in their native habitats are listed by CITES, meaning that they’re protected. However, all three species have been cultivated on lumber farms in Asia, so there is still a commercial source for the lumber. Because the Virgin Islands are U.S. territories, it’s legal to sell mahogany from there in the U.S. There is apparently some active trade going on right now in the form of mahogany harvested from trees taken down by hurricanes a few years ago. As far as I know, standing trees are protected.

I was fortunate to get my hands on some small chunks. If given the chance, I’ll definitely obtain more of this.