Lumber Market News: Mahogany Alternatives from Africa

Flat (left) and quarter-sawn (right) Sapele side by side

Flat (left) and quarter sawn (right) Sapele side by side

This article features one of our clients, the J. Gibson McIlvain company. Visit them online at or call them toll free at (800) 638-9100.

There’s nothing that compares to African hardwoods and their unique combination of beauty and resilience. Especially with the increased regulations and inconsistencies surrounding South American Genuine Mahogany, we’re growing in our appreciation and understanding of many African alternatives for Genuine Mahogany.

African Alternatives for Mahogany

Sapele, African Mahogany (or Khaya), and Utile (or Sipo) are all excellent Mahogany alternatives. They’re all both stable and durable, making them suitable for a variety of interior and exterior applications, such as millwork, flooring, windows and doors. An added bonus is that the larger tree sizes of these African species allow them to produce a higher number of wider and longer boards than Genuine Mahogany does. They also allow for wider quarter sawn boards. African forests are increasingly well managed, and certification and verification make checking up on legality and sustainability fairly easy.

Millwork made with African Mahogany

Millwork made with African Mahogany

African Lumber Market Concerns

The African lumber market does come with some downsides, though. Due to the continual civil wars that impact the continent of Africa, the lumber market has been greatly impacted. Due to few major buyers outside the US interested in African lumber, many saw mills have scaled back. With the issues surrounding the South American lumber market, global demand for African lumber is on the rise; however, African saw mills aren’t ready to meet the increasing demand. The lag time inherent in the lumber industry means that even if saw mills start to respond to greater demand, there will be delays. This bottle-necking will likely coincide with attempts from mills to sell odd-sized and off-grade lumber in order to satisfy the demand. Since the African lumber market is immensely bigger than the South American market, we’re optimistic about the future availability of Mahogany alternatives from Africa.

Quarter sawn Utile

Quarter sawn Utile

African Logging and Transportation Issues

Unlike the South American norm, African species are more likely to be exported as logs, rather than milled lumber. Basically, the undeveloped countries of Africa lack the industry know-how to efficiently saw logs into boards and to dry them effectively. As a result of Lacey Act regulations, buying sawn lumber is preferable to buying logs, but we can work with either form. In Africa, logs are floated and trucked hundreds or even thousands of miles to saw mills close to the ports, often to be sold and shipped in log form. The trucking alone often takes a month or two, due to unreliable roads. When the transportation crosses multiple areas of conflict, hijacked trucks and unsafe situations mean additional delays to the logs’ already lengthy transit process. Such delays add to the lumber cost, as well.

At J. Gibson McIlvain, our African lumber buyer maintains close contact with reliable sources of African lumber sources, enabling us to keep a sizeable inventory of Mahogany alternatives in stock.

Grading dried lumber at J. Gibson McIlvain Company

Grading dried lumber at J. Gibson McIlvain Company

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 ( is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.

As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums. Contact a representative at J. Gibson McIlvain today by calling (800) 638-9100.

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