As if there wasn’t enough confusion about “Genuine” Mahogany versus Honduran Mahogany and then the emergence of plantation-grown Mahogany, wood sold under the trade name Philippine Mahogany is making big waves in the boat-building industry. Botanically, so-called Philippine Mahogany is far from being a true Mahogany. However, it is an excellent exterior species and is actually quite suitable for boat building. We’ll look first at what it isn’t and then learn to appreciate it for what it is.
It Isn’t Mahogany or Traditional “Philippine Mahogany”
Just like Western Redcedar isn’t really a Cedar at all, the name Philippine Mahogany is a definite misnomer, and a confusing one, at that. Once upon a time (during the 1930s-1960s), wood by the name of Philippine Mahogany was used to build iconic Chris Craft boats. While what’s called “Philippine Mahogany” today is a different species from what was used to build those boats, neither wood is a true Mahogany.
The species of old Philippine Mahogany (Lauan, Shorea polysperma) is no longer available; instead, today’s Philippine Mahogany can be any number of species within the Shorea genus. Often referred to as Meranti, the included species fall under the category called the “Meranti group” of the Shorea genus. Terms such as “Nemesu” or “Red Seraya” are also thrown around.
(For sake of clarification, we’ll refer to the boat-building wood from the mid-1900s as “Philippine Mahogany” and to the newer wood that sometimes still goes by that name as “Meranti.”)
While Meranti isn’t really the same as Philippine Mahogany, that fact is not bad news: Meranti is actually the better exterior species of the two! The wood used to build those classic Chris Craft boats didn’t have the greatest insect- or rot-resistant properties and only became durable enough for marine applications with substantial top coating and work. Meranti, however, is a species that has long been used in wooden boat construction. It’s also used in high-quality marine-grade plywood and can hold up to the elements without any special treatment.
It’s Good News for Home Builders
While there is some confusion over when marine-grade materials are warranted, allow me to state the obvious: If a species can work well for boats, it can certainly work well for other exterior applications. Boats require the ultimate in weather resistance and durability, and no other application tests the wood more thoroughly than they do. If it can hold up to being fully immersed in water without issues, it can certainly handle the punishment a window frame or door might get.
While Meranti isn’t a Mahogany, it is similar to Genuine Mahogany in density and grain structure. The wood is easily milled and holds details well. Another perk is that it’s much lighter than African species often used as Mahogany alternatives. The price of Meranti can make it preferable to Sapele or Utile, and its performance is truly comparable. If you’re looking to try a new species for your next project — be it landward or seaward, Meranti might be your best bet.
Learn more about the lumber industry:
- Change of Species Changes the Rules
- What’s With the Fractions When Buying Wood?
- Make Sure You Are Buying Lumber Properly Dried for North America
J. Gibson McIlvain Company
Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company (www.mcilvain.com) is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.
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