Q: I have been looking for an authoritative summary on Philippine mahogany. I restore classic boats — mainly Chris-Crafts,and in the post-World War II years Chris-Craft used “Philippine” mahogany for its boats. I know … there ain’t no such thing as Philippine mahogany!
What is the species of wood that is considered to be Philippine mahogany? Is there a source — maybe of plantation grown?
A: “Philippine” mahogany is a trade name applied to numerous different species of the genus Shorea. These species are common in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. Other trade names associated with the species are meranti, lauan and balau. Balau is the name usually applied to the species with heavier and tighter grain. Meranti can be sold as light meranti and dark meranti. Dark meranti is more dense and deeper in color than light meranti.
Philippine mahogany is not a mahogany at all (or cedar), but rather a hardwood species of the family Dipterocarpaceae which is the meranti family. African mahogany (genus Khaya) and Honduras mahogany (genus Swietenia) are both in the Meliaceae (mahogany) family.
It would be helpful if wood were sold by species name rather than trade names, but it is doubtful that will ever occur. In Australia, Shorea species are sold under the trade name Pacific maple, so you can see how confusing this all can be.
Naturally occurring true mahogany species in their native countries are all listed in Appendix II of the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Meranti is not. There are plantations, but only a small percentage of the current world market is coming from plantation-grown mahogany. Based on this, “Philippine mahogany” would be the more ecologically friendly choice (although only mildly so). If you are concerned about rainforest logging, the best bet is to purchase wood that is certified to be grown and harvested in an ecologically friendly manner.
Chris-Craft was using “Philippine mahogany” before World War II. It was used to build the “Sunshine 1”, a famous Chris-Craft purchased and used on Lake Placid in the Adirondacks by the renowned singer Kate Smith in 1938. Lyman Boats was using it as well. I would think it was chosen due to it being lighter in weight than real mahogany and was plentiful and easy to find. Its use as a wood for boatbuilding was precarious in that it is not very durable and is not resistant to marine borers, necessitating using methods to protect it from the elements.