How Well Do You Know Your Exotic Hardwoods?

You may know Genuine Mahogany and Honduran Mahogany are the same species and that African Mahogany is still genuinely a mahogany. But do you know the difference between Utile and Sipo lumber? If you think you do, you actually don’t: Those names both refer to the exact same exotic species, an increasingly popular African alternative to the higher priced mahoganies. A fourth exotic hardwood species that can be used instead of a mahogany is Sapele. How do these exotic hardwoods compare to one another? Let’s take a look.

African Mahogany

While still part of the mahogany family, African mahogany species vary greatly from one another, all falling under the same genus, Khaya.While some species certainly rival their South American cousins, others are clearly inferior to the so-called “Genuine Mahogany.” Color, workability, density, and finish vary greatly from among species. This great inconsistency means that the price of African Mahogany can be as little as 1/3 the price of its Honduran counterpart. The best application for these species would be paint-grade work.

Sipo or Utile

Flat & Quartersawn Sapele

The names “Sipo” and “Utile” are currently used interchangeably throughout the wholesale lumber industry to describe this species that closely resembles Genuine Mahogany. The wood’s interlocking grain pattern and alternating bands of light and dark coloring are similar but slightly less striking than those of Genuine Mahogany. While slightly softer than Genuine Mahogany, it is harder than African Mahogany.

Utile was once difficult to acquire due to its vulnerability as a species, but more responsible forestry practices have helped it to turn around. J. Gibson McIlvain does extensive on-site research to make sure our wholesale lumber sources and supply chains provide our customers with the highest quality lumber that’s been harvested and transported ethically, legally, and responsibly.

From a woodworker’s perspective, Utile may actually be preferable to Genuine Mahogany, due to its comparative resistance to tearing. Especially when projects will be finished with a clear or semi-transparent stain, such a characteristic can be important. At around half the price, this up-and-coming exotic hardwood is certainly worth considering.


Sapele is the most expensive Genuine Mahogany alternative, at 2/3 the price. Its great stability and high density make Sapele an excellent choice. However, its hardness and interlocking grain makes workability difficult and tear out quite common. The ribbon-like striping of quartersawn Sapele has created a unique market for the wood, in addition from its marketability as a lower cost alternative to Mahogany. With the newly heightened demand for Sapele, its price is expected to rise and may eventually mirror the highly priced Genuine Mahogany.

With the recent recession, Genuine Mahogany has been in lesser demand, due to its high price tag. While J. Gibson McIlvain Lumber still carries a large inventory of both Genuine and African Mahogany, we also carry Utile, Sapele, and other alternatives. Our wholesale lumber experts are equipped and willing to discuss your project requirements and help you discover which species will best suit your building needs.

J. Gibson McIlvain Lumber Company

McIlvain is located in the Baltimore, Maryland region and ships wholesale supplies of exotic and domestic hardwoods and softwoods throughout the United States. To learn more about our services, visit our website at or call us at (800) 638-9100.

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