African lumber at its finest.
As a direct importer of many African lumber species, we’ve seen a recent increase in popularity for one of those species: Sapele. For those still unfamiliar with Sapele, its close relationship to other African species can give you a clue: It’s part of the same family as Mahogany and shares a genus with Utile. The unique characteristics of Sapele make its recent popularity no surprise.
Of course, like other African hardwoods, the rich coloring of Sapele is one of its main sources of praise. In fact, its reddish brown heartwood has even given it consideration as a type of African Mahogany. Its interlocking grain pattern produces the appearance of light-and-dark stripes, a feature that is enhanced when the wood is quartersawn. Quartersawn Sapele is commonly used for veneers of high-quality hardwood plywood.
Stability of any solid wood is preferable to manufactured wood products. Sapele is more stable when quartersawn, but some are willing to risk decreased stability for consistent coloring.
Even more significant to Sapele’s stability is proper drying. When we import Sapele from West Africa, it has already been dried to the European standard of 12-14% moisture content. Once we receive a shipment of Sapele, we let it air dry for between 1 and 4 months, depending on the thickness of the boards. After that, we dry it in our kilns in order to achieve the North American standard of 6-8% moisture content. The exact drying schedule will vary based on both precise regional sourcing and board thickness.
Our lumber experts ensure that the proper amount of drying time and care is taken to produce quality, defect-free lumber with optimal stability and consistency.
Since Sapele takes a moulded edge well, it is often used for various types of millwork. Flat-sawn Sapele works best for such applications because it promotes consistency of appearance.
Sapele’s fine grain also makes it ideal for painted door and window frames.
Because Sapele is harder than Mahogany but still relatively soft for a hardwood, it tends to be gentle on tools. However, this species can produce large amounts of fine dust during machining, which can lead to respiratory problems for craftsmen, if they don’t take extra precautions. A breathing mask is strongly recommended.
As a large tree that grows prolifically throughout Africa, Sapele lumber is readily available year-round.
Even though Sapele boasts many of the premium attributes found in Mahogany and Utile, its cost is far less. (It’s also about half the price of Genuine Mahogany, which comes from Central and South America.)
J. Gibson McIlvain has found the highest quality of Sapele — boasting the best consistencies and colorations — to come from West Africa. In addition to Sapele-veneered plywood, we carry a vast collection of lengths, widths, and thicknesses in solid Sapele.