Tropical Africa is known for producing great woods for various applications. One of the best woods to have come from the region is Sapele. This wood mostly used for making furniture has been around for centuries. What is Sapele wood? What are its properties and uses? How is it better than other types of woods?
Here’s what I’ve discovered:
What Is Sapele Wood?
Sapele wood is a type of hardwood that comes from tropical regions in Africa. It is relatively easy to bend and use wood, great for bending acoustic guitars. The wood is hard and has a medium-density, making it easy to work with machine tools. Sapele is suitable for making furniture because it nails, screws, and glues properly.
You’ll learn what Sapele wood represents and symbolizes. Plus, you will also know a few things about the wood under the following headlines:
- Origin and uses of Sapele wood
- Properties, pros, and cons of Sapele wood
- Sapele wood vs other types of wood
Let’s get into it!
Properties and characteristics chart
|Scientific name(s)||Entandrophragma cylindricum/genus Entandrophragma|
|Origin/Distribution||West Africa: Nigeria, Ghana, and Tanzania|
|Color||Golden to dark reddish brown|
|Odor||Cedar-type smell during woodworking; no odor when finished|
|Texture/Grain||Interlocking grain patterns|
|Diameter||3-5 ft (1-1.5 m)|
|Log Durability||Very durable|
|Specific gravity||50, .67|
|Janka hardness||1,410 lbf (6,280 N)|
|Rupture Modulus||15,930 lbf/in2 (109.9 MPa)|
|Crushing Strength||8,750 lbf/in2 (60.4 MPa)|
|Elastic Modulus||1,746,000 lbf/in2 (12.04 GPa)|
|Coeff. of volumetric shrinkage||12.8%|
|Total tangential shrinkage (TS)||7.2%|
|Total radial shrinkage (RS)||4.8%|
Origin & History
Sapele wood originates from tropical Africa, including Nigeria. The Sapele city in Nigeria has a larger number of Sapele trees. It can also be found in Uganda, Ivory Coast, Zaire, and Cameroon. Another word for Sapele wood is Sapele mahogany, sapelli, muyovu, assi, or aboudikro. When dry, the Sapele wood can weigh up to 640kg/m3.
Sapele symbolizes strength. With a bending strength of 15,300 psi ranks one of the highest in terms of strength. Its Janka hardness value is 1510 pounds and elasticity (MOE) of 1.82 million psi. These features make Sapele wood a symbol of strength, stronger than Oak and real Mahogany.
The Sapele tree, known by its scientific name as Entandrophragma cylindricum, is a slow-growing tree and belongs to the genus Entandrophragma. Like the genuine Mahogany, the Sapele tree is of the Meliaceae family and produces Sapele wood. The tree is native to tropical Africa and can grow to a height of 45 m, or range of 100 to 150 feet. Some Sapele species can reach up to 2000 feet.
Sapele leaves are deciduous when it is dry season, featuring 5-9 pairs of leaflets. These leaflets are alternatively arranged, growing up to 4 inches (10 cm) in length. The leaves are green, tall, and broad.
Typically, Sapele has almost heartwood with almost zero sapwood. The interior part of Sapele is dark reddish-brown. It contains a purplish cast. It’s not out of place to see Sapele in golden color. The wood color gets darker over time due to exposure to UV light and other unfavorable environmental conditions.
Sapele comes with a randomly interlocked grain structure. This has its pros and cons. The grain texture increases the tendency of the wood to warp. The pores in the wood can allow liquid to penetrate the wood. However, the wood’s grain interlocks can help produce a ribbon-like pattern. The wood contains a bit of luster when sanded.
Sapele is one of the slightly sweet-smelling hardwoods out there. It sometimes produces a bit of aroma. This aroma is similar to the scent you will perceive if you’re working with Cedar. The smell is distinct when compared to that of Cedar and other woods.
Durability and Treatability
Sapele is a medium-density wood, hard, highly durable, and strong. With a Janka hardness rating of 1500, Sapele competes favorably as one of the strongest hardwoods out there. The wood is 16% harder than red Oak. What it means is the wood is strong enough to resist all wear and denting.
Sapele is a hardwood, harder than many popular hardwoods in the North American species. When compared to woods like Cypress and Cedar, Sapele is much harder. The hardness of Sapele makes it a more preferable wood for exterior use to many of the known hardwoods.
Sapele tends to warp due to the wood’s randomly interlocked grain structure. With enough stacking and low initial temperatures, you can easily prevent the liquid that causes warping from gaining access into the wood body. Technically, we can say Sapele wood doesn’t warp.
To answer the question directly, Sapele wood is not fully termite-resistant. The heartwood (interior section) of Sapele boasts moderate durability. This way, the resistance of the wood to termite or pest is tricky and can vary from time to time.
Sapele is better than Oak, but it depends on what you’re looking for. In terms of hardness, Sapele is much harder than red Oak. In fact, it is 16% harder. In addition, Sapele is more durable and resists indentation and shock loads more. It is also stiffer with greater bending strength.
Sapele can be an excellent substitute for real Mahogany. When compared to African Mahogany, Sapele is much harder and stiffer. The greater bending strength of Sapele over Mahogany makes it a better option for exterior applications than Mahogany. Unlike genuine Mahogany, Sapele doesn’t need any chemicals for treatment.
Like all other hardwoods, Sapele contains some content of formaldehyde. This chemical is a volatile organic compound that is hazardous when released into the air. Apart from the general property of hardwoods, Sapele wood has no exclusive toxicity. However, it can be skin, eye, and respiratory irritants.
Sapele is environmental-friendly wood. It is highly sustainable and verifiable. However, when used for burning, Sapele can release some toxins to the environment, making it not suitable for burning. Although dark smokes from wood generally cause acid rain and smog problems.
Sapele is a great wood that can be used for cutting or chopping boards. Apart from its hardness, Sapele-made chopping boards are food safe. It doesn’t require any chemical treatment before it can be used to chop your veg.
Not all woods are toxic to humans. Woods that tend to cause allergies such as skin and eye irritation, as well as respiratory problems, are usually considered to be toxic. Typically, woods from tropical and subtropical regions contain some toxicity. They include Obeche, Mansonia, Cocobolo, Sequoia, or Western Cedar.
Burning Sapele wood cannot make you sick. The reason is simple. Woods that cause sickness often contain some poison content. Because Sapele doesn’t release any poisonous or irritant oil into the smoke, it cannot be classified as wood that sickens.
On average, it takes about 2 to 4 months for Sapele wood to dry. But this depends on the size of the log or the thickness of the board. It is better to allow the wood to air dry to let it properly dry. The stability and durability of the wood also speed up its drying time.
Sapele is good wood that spots all the great features that top-quality woods in its class possess. It is an extremely durable wood. It comes as a medium-density hardwood that is suitable for outdoor and indoor applications. Sapele is also a perfect wood option for making skirting boards.
Great stability and durability make Sapele a better alternative than genuine Mahogany. It boasts better strength and stability than red Oak, meaning it dries faster than many of the hardwoods out there.
Without a doubt, Sapele woods are mostly used for making furniture. The wood’s stability, durability, and hardness make it suitable for this purpose. Only a few woods stand ahead of Sapele when it comes to furniture making. It works well for beds, chairs, stools, and other interior and exterior furniture.
Sapele is best used for making furniture. Although it can be used for many other applications, Sapele comes readily to mind when you want to construct your furniture.
Unlike some hardwoods, Sapele does not need chemicals for treatment. The best way to treat the wood is to seal it using oil-based or water-based sealants. The wood doesn’t rot.
It is also resistant to termite and shock loads.
Sealing Sapele wood is pretty easy. This is because the wood doesn’t rot and is highly strong, durable, and stable. There are three ways to seal Sapele wood. You can use a combination of stain and sealant. Alternatively, you can coat with lacquer, a varnish, or polyurethane. Tung oil or linseed will also create beautiful protection to the wood.
Sapele wood has been on the list of endangered woods. This is because the population of mahogany trees are increasingly depleting. In the past three generations, more than 20% of the population of Sapele mahogany trees has been exploited or declined with nature.
Sapele is readily available at a lower price than you will find regular Mahogany. Although the wood has been listed on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as vulnerable, it is very much available in veneer and lumber forms.
Sapele is readily available, highly sustainable, and verifiable. This species of wood is very stable, and its appearance makes it a perfect alternative to genuine Mahogany. Although Sapele is a less growing species of Mahogany, it’s a sustainable type of wood that you can easily love.
Treating and protecting Sapele wood is pretty easy to achieve. You can choose a sealer and lacquer to finish the wood, and 3 to 4 coats of a sealer will do the magic. Alternatively, you can use sealer, dye, lacquer, or stain. The third method is to use the combo of Danish oil and lacquer. Any of these methods will protect your Sapele wood from scratches, dings, dents.
Pros and Cons
Pros of Sapele Wood
- Easy to clean and maintain
- Visual appeal and golden-rich appearance
- Pretty hardwood
- High resistance to water and fire
- Durable and long-lasting
- Perfect for both outdoor and indoor applications
- Compatible with various paint finishes and polishes
Cons of Sapele
- High cost of maintenance
- Difficult to work with
- Doesn’t have a rapid growth rate
- Can darken too easily when exposed to UV light
Sapele wood has a slow growth rate. However, the growth rate of Sapele trees and leaves is slow. It can take years before the tree and leaves get to maturity. The thing is that Sapele trees love to grow near each other. As a result, they are short of enough sunlight that should help to speed up their growth rate.
Does Sapele darken over time?
Yes, Sapele wood with a golden to dark reddish-brown color can darken over time. The turning into a dark color is due to the wood’s exposure to sunlight. Naturally, Sapele wood comes with an appealing appearance.
Sapele is good wood. It is a highly durable, medium-density wood that features an appealing golden look. Sapele wood is resistant to water and fire and easy to maintain. Guitarists and guitar makers also find Sapele wood incredibly woodtone. It has a fine and uniform texture and a wavy and interlocked grain.
Sapele wood costs a fortune to buy and maintain. The expensiveness or otherwise of Sapele wood depends on market trends and the region you’re buying the wood from. On average, you can spend anything between $10 and $15 to buy a foot of the wood.
Sapele belongs to the Mahogany family. In fact, solid and real mahogany wood is available and can be found in many other less expensive wood like Sapele wood. Sapele wood can effectively substitute Mahogany for all outdoor and indoor applications.
We can conclude that Sapele is the same as African Mahogany. Mahogany can be found in the Sapele species, and Sapele has a lot of similarities with Mahogany. They both have the same working properties, applications, wood processing, and golden visual appeal.
What is Sapele wood used for?
Sapele is found very useful by guitar manufacturers and guitarists as a great woodtone material for making a guitar. This is due to the wood’s incredible hardness and medium density properties. Sapele as a tonewood is also easy to work with and won’t split easily under heavyweight. Sapele won’t cause your tools to break, either. You can use wood to make electric guitars, acoustic guitars, and bass guitars.
You won’t have a problem turning with Sapele. First off, Sapele wood boasts a fine, random, wavy, and interlocked grain. It is also a very easy wood to handle and work with. Besides, Sapele wood is a highly versatile material that works well for a wide range of applications, including turning.
Depending on the kind of project you’re working on, Sapele has the edge over many other turning kinds of wood, including hickory, beech, ash, and rosewood. Sapele has almost one of the most appealing looks of all the woods suitable for turning.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner carver or woodworker. Sapele should be near the top of your list. Although technically deciduous hardwood, Sapele contains some soft properties that make it suitable for carving. The wood is crisp and lenient to your machine tools and hand tools.
Sapele has a close and randomly interlocked grain structure, whether you’re looking at intricate carving or just out for pleasure carving. This makes carving a lot easier. Besides, Sapele won’t break at the edges, making it produce a smoother finish than you will find with many other kinds of carving wood.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner carpenter or you belong to the woodworking elite group. Sapele wood should be one of the top woods to consider when you want to make window frames. Sapele comes as a cheaper option than Mahogany, Cedar, or fir. Besides, the wood is more readily available for use than many softwoods. Windows need to be aesthetic, and Sapele wood offers an amazingly matchless appealing look. The wood is also durable and can withstand a lot of abuse from the elements.
5. Exterior doors
Durability is a top property any wood should spot to qualify for exterior use. Exterior woodworking projects need a kind of wood that can effectively withstand the shenanigans of the weather. Sapele isn’t just appealing to sight; it’s also an extremely durable wood that won’t cave in under unfavorable weather conditions. The wood can absorb a lot of beating without you having to replace or repair it frequently. You can use Sapele to make exterior woodworking projects such as pallet wine rack, deck cooler, slat welcome mat, or wooden kids’ teepee.
6. Cutting Board
Generally, cutting boards are made with durable, impact-resistant, and stain-impervious woods. Sapele wood shows high resistance to stain and impact and is extremely durable. That means the wood won’t dull or blunt your tools. The wood’s higher-than-red-oak Janka hardness value guarantees that Sapele will resist dings, dents, or scratches that come from your tools, such as a knife. It is highly-rated hardwood when it comes to hardness and durability. It is also less damage-prone.
Again, Sapele proves to be closed-grained wood, thanks to its wavy and randomly interlocked grain structure. It won’t allow pores, bacteria, or liquid that cause warping and mold growth to have their way onto the cutting surface of the wood.
What is the difference between Sapele wood and other woods?
The most noticeable difference between Sapele and Walnut is that the former is harder than the latter. Sapele wood’s hardness almost triples the hardness of its walnut counterpart. That means that Sapele is quite more suitable for a lot of exterior applications than a walnut. The wood’s incredible resistance to the elements, including moisture and snow, makes it’s a better choice over Walnut. you can be sure your kid’s teepees, slat welcome mat, or wooden bench won’t wear.
No doubt, Teak will constantly come ahead of many hardwoods, including Sapele wood, for several reasons. Teak is considered the strongest, hardest, and most durable of all hardwoods in the world. It is the best wood for all outdoor projects, including furniture, window frames, pallet wooden kid’s teepees. But like Teak, Sapele is a great pick for all kinds of outdoor furniture. It is as pest and weather-resistant as Teak. Like Teak, outdoor furniture made with Sapele wood needs to paint or varnish.
Sapele and cherry are both hardwoods. However, when it comes to durability and workability, Sapele is a preferred candidate. While cherry is a moderately durable wood, Sapele boasts higher durability and will stand against all kinds of abuse than cherry will do. They’re both resistant to decay and rot, but Sapele goes a bit further to resist pest and weather. This makes it more suitable for outdoor furniture than cherry. In addition, Sapele wood is easier to mold, carve, and cut.
The hardness of Sapele is double that of Mahogany, even though it comes from the same family as Mahogany. Besides, Sapele features interlocks in its grain pattern. The fibers spin around the Sapele tree as it grows into maturity. On the other hand, Mahogany comes with a straight-grained pattern and includes pores. These pores are small but visible to the naked eye. The reddish and pink hues of the mahogany wood darken over time and turn to an excessively reddish brown. Sapele, on its own, darkens due to exposure to UV light. Sapele mahogany is more stable, durable, sustainable, and verifiable lumber than regular Mahogany.
Generally, Sapele is known for its durability and simplicity, but Rubberwood only comes as simple wood with little or no durability. Hence, they are fit for rolling pins. Like Sapele, Rubberwood is easily treatable. With a density of 640 kg/m3, Sapele is considered a medium-density hardwood, while Rubberwood with a density of 560kg/m3 is a low-density hardwood. Rubberwood and Sapele can both be used for making furniture. But an established joiner or carpenter will prefer Sapele wood due to its durability when used for exterior projects.
Generally, Sapele wood and Maple share some properties, including simplicity and durability. They are also both suitable woods for furniture and exterior applications. However, when used to make a musical instrument, a guitar made from Sapele wood will look warmer while a guitar from Maple will shine brighter. What this means is that Maple has more finish and appearance than Sapele wood. The sound of Sapele-made guitar is thin and sharp while a maple-constructed guitar will produce a clean-sounding tone. Overall, both are good at making guitar and other musical instrument.
If there’s something Accoya wood is popular for, it is exceptional resistance to rot and dimensional stability. But Sapele wood also boasts these features, even though its resistance is more against weather and pest. But while Accoya is softwood, Sapele belongs to the hardwood family. Their applications, from that point of view, differ. The kind of abuse that Sapele wood will endure, Accoya as a softwood can’t. In short, Sapele is far more durable than Accoya. It also requires less maintenance than Accoya. But when it comes to the rate of growth, Accoya grows more rapidly than Sapele wood.
Sapele wood has become significant to the work of woodworkers across the world. Its durability, budget-friendliness, high compressive strength, and wide range of applications make the wood a sought-after material. Its more random grain look means that the wood can have interlocked grain. That also implies that Sapele wood is highly stable lumber. As it has become a cliché that Sapele wood is the cream of the African Mahogany.
Considering its high stability, durability, and appearance, the popularity of wood will continue to increase. Outside the woodworking industry, many other users are exploring the potential of the wood.
My name is Mark, and I am a software engineer and the founder of OnWoodWorkingArt.
I grew up with a passion for woodworking and now have my woodworking studio with a group of like-minded friends who love to create woodworking. My dream is to have a more extensive workshop and be able to make woodworking my main business.