573. The mahogany tree is a native of the West Indies and the country around the Bay of Honduras in Central America. It is stated to be of comparatively rapid growth, arriving at maturity in about 200 years.
In the rich valleys among the mountains of Cuba, and those that open upon the bay of Honduras, the mahogany tree, according to Rhind, expands to so great a size, divides into so many massive arms, and throws the shade of its shining green leaves, spotted with tufts of pearly flowers, over so vast an extent of surface, that it is difficult to imagine a vegetable production combining in such a degree the qualities of elegance and strength, of beauty and sublimity.* Its trunk often exceeds 40 feet in length, and 6 feet in diameter.
Unfortunately the finest mahogany trees are not in the most accessible situations: and as it is always exported in large masses, the transportation of it for any distance overland is so difficult, that the very best trees both in the islands and on the mainland, those that grow in the rich inland valleys, defy the means of removal possessed by the natives. The mahogany tree of Honduras is cut down at two periods in the year, namely, Christmas and autumn. It is cut off at about 12 feet from the ground, the woodmen having a stage to work from. The trunk furnishes wood of the largest dimensions, but for ornamental purposes the branches are preferred, owing to the grain being closer and the veins more variegated.
Mahogany was first brought to London in the year 1724.
In a dry state mahogany is very durable, and not liable to the attack of worms, but it does not last long when exposed to the weather.
It is a kind of wood that would make excellent timbers for floors, roofs, etc, but on account of its costliness its use is chiefly confined to furniture, doors for rooms, and a few other articles of joinery, for which purpose it is the best material known. It has sometimes been used for window-sashes and parts of window-frames, but from not standing the weather well it is not so fit for these purposes.
Mahogany has also been used extensively in the framing of machinery for cotton-mills.
* 'Hist, of the Vegetable Kingdom.
The colour of mahogany is a reddish brown, of different shades, and various degrees of brightness; sometimes it is yellowish brown; often very much veined and mottled, with darker shades of the same colour.
The texture is uniform, and the annual rings are not very distinct. It has none of the larger medullary rays, but the smaller rays are often very visible, with pores between them. In the Jamaica wood these pores are often filled with a white substance, but in the Honduras wood they are generally empty. It has neither taste nor smell, shrinks very little, and warps or twists less than any other kind of wood.
The variety called Spanish mahogany is imported from Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and some other of the West Indian islands, and in smaller logs than that from Honduras.
The size of the logs is in general about 20 to 26 inches square, and about 10 feet in length. The Spanish mahogany is close-grained and hard, generally of a darker colour than the Honduras; it is free from black specks, and is sometimes strongly figured; the pores appear as if chalk had been rubbed into them.
The Honduras mahogany is imported in logs of a larger size, namely, from 2 to 4 feet square, and 12 to 14 feet in length; sometimes planks have been obtained 6 or 7 feet wide.
The grain of Honduras mahogany is generally very open and often irregular, with black or grey spots. The veins and figures are frequently very fine and showy; the best kind is that which is most free from grey specks and of a fine golden colour. It holds the glue better than any other wood.
The cohesive force of a square inch of Spanish mahogany is 7560 lbs., and of Honduras mahogany 11,475 lbs.
The weight of the modulus of elasticity of Spanish mahogany is 1,255,500 lbs. for a square inch, and for Honduras 1,593,000 lbs
The weight of a cubic foot of mahogany is from 35 to 53 lbs.
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oak being = 100.
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574. There are three other species of the genus Swietenia besides the mahogany tree, two of them natives of the East Indies, viz. the S. febrifuga, which is a very largo tree growing in the mountainous parts of Central Hindostan, and rising to a great height, with a straight trunk, which towards the upper part throws out many branches. The head is spreading, and the leaves have some resemblance to those of the American species. The wood is of a dull red colour, not so beautiful as the Spanish or Honduras mahogany, but much harder, heavier, and more durable.
The natives of India consider it the most lasting timber that their country produces, and therefore use it upon every occasion where they wish to combine strength with durability.
575. The other East Indian species is the S. chloroxylon, which is chiefly found in the mountains of the Sircars, that run parallel to the Bay of Bengal, to the north-cast of the river Godavery. The tree does not attain the same size as either of the former species, and the appearance of the wood is different. It is of a deep yellow, nearly of the same colour as box, from which it does not differ much in durability. The grain is close and the wood heavy.
576. Another species, called the African Mahogany (S. Senegalenis), is brought from Sierra Leone: it is a hard and durable wood, and is much used for purposes which require strength, hardness, and durability. If, however, the heart of the tree is crossed or exposed in cutting or trimming the timber, it is very liable to premature decay.