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JAN/FEB 2005
Volume 48/Issue 1

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Hardwood Information You Should Know - Pt 4
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From the Shopsmith Woodworking Academy
Hardwood Information You Should Know -- Part 4 of 4
Printer friendly PDF copy of article (12K)

This is our final installment in our series on hardwoods. We hope you've found all of the articles to be of interest to you...and that they've helped you with your woodworking. We'll wrap up our discussion with two more popular hardwood choices - walnut and Honduras Mahogany.

Walnut, genus: JUGLANS; principal lumber species: laurel
Black American walnut is a tall tree (up to 150 feet by 20-feet around), growing wild in the natural woodlands across the central-Eastern and mid-Western United States. However, the species is also cultivated for fruit and ornament throughout North America and even in Europe. It's not unusual for a walnut tree to endure for over 250 years !

The dark gray to black bark is rugged and split into squares. The leaves are over 12 inches long and made up of about 10 pairs of leaflets. The wild trees produce a thick, rough shelled nut and are normally not good to eat. Cultivated walnuts, on the other hand, have nuts of excellent form and flavor.

The thin sapwood is nearly white and up to 3" wide in open-grown trees, with the heartwood a deep, chocolate brown. American walnut has a very odd and distinctive odor and was formerly known as “gumwood”. It has a coarse but uniform texture with a naturally durable heartwood.

Early colonists used walnut for furniture, gun stocks, and other items that required strength and stability. The beautiful color of walnut has made it a favorite for fine cabinet work, architectural woodwork, decorative panels and veneer. The hall tree pictured here is made entirely of walnut. Better pieces have blends of deep violet-browns that no other species can match. It is used either as a solid wood or plywood.

Honduras Mahogany, genus: SWIETENIA; principal lumber species: ivorensis
Mahogany is one of the largest trees in the tropical rain forest. They grow up to 100 feet high and up to 40 feet around. Huge swellings at the base of these trees makes it necessary to build platforms approximately 6 feet above the ground for workmen to stand on when cutting down the trees.

Fresh mahogany has a pink heartwood and a thin, colorless sapwood. The grain is generally straight and contains a variety of patterns. Exposure to sunlight causes the heartwood to darken to a rich, coppery red. Mahogany is light in weight and very soft, which makes it easy to use and very stable. Once shaped, it will not shrink or warp.

As early as the 1500's, Spanish explorers were using mahogany for repairing their ships. Even to this day, it's used extensively in the construction of yachts.

The main use for mahogany, however, is fine furniture. The fact that it is readily available in large sizes, has a sought-after color plus great workability and durability make it an obvious favorite. It is also used for high-grade joinery, showcases, counters, television cabinets, caskets, precision instruments, paneling and all sorts of interior decorating. The best logs are made into curly grained veneers. The Cheval mirror shown here is a very elegant example of mahogany woodworking.

Mahogany has long been a leading wood for over four centuries; especially where an attractive and dimensionally stable wood is required.

Operation Machining Quality Walnut Honduras Mahogany
Turning good to excellent pieces 91% 79%
Planing perfect pieces 62% 65%
Boring good to excellent pieces 100% 71%
Shaping good to excellent pieces 34% 27%
Mortising good to excellent pieces 98% 32%
Sanding good to excellent pieces -- 37%
Steam-Bending unbroken pieces 78% 85%
Nail Splitting pieces free from complete splits 50% 73%
Screw Splitting pieces free from complete splits 59% 76%