MAHOGANY, the Swietenia Mahogoni, is a native of the West Indies and the country round the Bay of Honduras. It is said to bo of rapid growth, and so large that its trunk often exceeds 40 feet in length and 6 feet in diameter. This wood was first brought to London in the year 1724; its Spanish name is Caoba.
Spanish Mahogany is imported from Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, St Domingo, and some other of the West India islands, and the Spanish Main, in logs from about 20 to 26 in. square, and 10 ft long. It is dose-grained, hard, sometimes strongly figured, and generally of a darker colour than Honduras mahogany; but its pores frequently appear as if chalk had been rubbed into them.
Honduras Mahogany is imported in logs of larger size than the above, that is, from 2 to 4 ft square, and 12 to 18 feet in length: sometimes planks have been obtained 6 or 7 ft. wide. Honduras mahogany is generally lighter than the Spanish, and also more open and irregular in the grain; many of the pieces are of a fine golden colour, with showy veins and figures. The worst kinds are those the most filled with grey specks, from which the Spanish mahogany, (except the Cuba,) is comparatively free.
Specimens of the leaves, and of the handsome seed-vessels of the mahogany tree, are in Sir W. Symonds's museum.
Both Spanish and Honduras mahogany are supposed to be produced by the same tree, Swietenia Mahogoni of botanists, but some suppose that the Honduras is the wood of a different species, (V. Don, Syst, 1. p. 688,) but Long, in his history of Jamaica, says, "What grows on rocky grounds is of small diameter but of closer grain, heavier weight, and more beautifully veined; what is produced in low and rich moist land is larger in dimensions, more light and porous, and of a pale complexion. This constitutes the difference between the Jamaica wood and that which is collected from the coast of Cuba and the Spanish Main; the former is mostly found on rocky eminences, the latter is cut in swampy soils near the sea-coast."
African Mahogany, (Swietenia seneyalensis,) from Gambia, is a more recent importation; it twists much more than either of the above, and is decidedly inferior to them in all respects except hardness. It is a good wood for mangles, curriers' tables, and other uses where a hard and cheap wood of great size is required: it admits of being turned equally as well as the others.
African mahogany is the wood of Khaya senegalentis, a genus very closely allied to the Swietenia.
Mahogany shrinks but little in drying, and twists and warps less than any other wood; on which account it is used for founders' patterns, and other works in which permanence of form is of primary importance. For the same reason, and from its comparative size, abundance, soundness, and beauty it is the most useful of the furniture woods, and it holds the glue the best of all. Mahogany is also used for a variety of turned works, apart from upholstery and cabinet-work. The Spanish mahogany is in general by far the best, although some of the Honduras nearly approaches it, except in hardness and weight. The African is by no means so useful or valuable as either of the above, especially as it alters very much in drying.
There are two other species of Swietenia, besides the Mahogany tree, which are natives of the East Indies: the one, a large tree of which the wood is of a dull red colour, and remarkably hard and heavy; the other is only a middle-sized tree, the wood of which is close-grained, heavy, and durable, of a deep yellow colour, and much resembles boxwood; but neither of these species is in common use in this country. - Tredgold.
The first of these trees was formerly referred to Swietenia, but is now Soymida febri-fuga, the second is probably Chloroxylun Swietenia, which is the Satin-wood of India and Ceylon. A third species much admired for its light colour, close grain, and being elegantly veined, is the Chikrassee of the natives, and Chikrassia tabu-laris of botanists: the wood is much employed in making furniture and cabinetwork. The wood of the Toon-tree, Cedrela Toona, is sometimes called Indian Mahogany.