Sapele is a hardwood that is most famous for its unique and beautiful appearance. The boards of Sapele wood are comprised of an interlocking grain pattern that create ribbon stripes of alternative light and dark bands throughout the lumber. These attractive ribbons tend to be enhanced when the boards are quartersawn, and the wood is often used in veneer plywood in this application.
Although it is a hardwood and therefore holds details very well, Sapele is actually somewhat soft for a hardwood. It is, however, still harder than Genuine Mahogany, the wood for which it is often used as a substitute, but it is just as workable and gentle on cutting tools. Because of its workability and ability to hold moulded details, it is quite popular for use in custom millwork.
Sapele comes from the same family as Mahogany and Utile, but it does have a number of differences from these woods. Sapele is suitable for use as an exterior wood, but because of its fine grain, it is often painted in window and door applications. Most often, though, Sapele is prized in applications where appearance and an attractive grain pattern are of the utmost importance. The wood is often used, for example, in the manufacturing of musical instruments, where it is used to construct the wooden bodies of acoustic guitars, high end ukeleles, harps, and even some percussion instruments.
One of Sapele’s only drawbacks relates to its workability. Although the wood itself is not a problem to work, care should still be taken while doing so because Sapele is an extremely dusty wood. If proper precautions are not adhered to, the fine dust that is produced by the wood during the processes of sanding and machining can cause both skin irritation and respiratory problems. If precautionary measures are taken, however, the benefits of this wood far outweigh the risks involved with shaping it. Sapele is attractive and workable, and its low cost (about half that of Genuine Mahogany) makes it a viable option for a wide range of consumers and a variety of indoor and outdoor applications.
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