Sapele is certainly not one of the country’s most well-known woods, but many professional fine lumber wholesalers like the J. Gibson McIlvain lumber company (www.McIlvain.com) firmly believe that it should be. Originating in Africa, the wood is not very famous in North America, but a number of European countries, especially Germany, have made Sapele a staple in their lumberyards.
And it’s no wonder why: Sapele is in many ways reminiscent of one of the United States’ favorite types of wood, Mahogany, as its deep, rich coloration closely resembles the fine reddish-brown hue of Genuine Mahogany. The wood is very attractive, and its beautiful grain pattern gives it an elegant appearance. Quarter-sawn Sapele boards exhibit the wood’s gorgeous interlocking grain patterns, which change direction frequently and give the boards a uniformly striped appearance. As an added bonus, the wood has a very pleasant, Cedar-like aroma when cut.
Sapele lumber is more than just beautiful, however; it’s also very hard. It’s more durable than the Mahoganies it resembles, and it has a rating of 1500 on the Janka hardness scale. This makes it over 20% harder than Mahogany and even slightly harder than Sugar Maple. Its strength is similar to that of oak.
Despite this hardness, however, it can sometimes dry quickly (meaning it has a tendency to warp) if not handled and stacked properly. Therefore, it is extremely important to obtain Sapele from a lumber wholesaler who understands the wood’s unique needs, such as the J Gibson McIlvain company.
Sapele also works well by both hand and machine, although its interlocking grain can sometimes be torn during the planing process. The wood also takes very well to nailing, gluing, and finishing processes.
Sapele lumber’s popularity dates back to before World War II when German citizens became infatuated with the wood for its use in decorative cabinetry. During the war, the wood was used to construct the propeller blades of Zeppelins, but it has since been replaced with its former use as a cabinetry wood.
In Germany, Sapele is the “go-to” choice for high-end flooring, doors, and window frames, as well as for surface veneers for cabinets and bookcases.
In North America, Sapele is probably most well-known as a result of luxury car company Cadillac’s use of the wood for accents in its Cadillac CTS vehicle, but it is also used in many of the same applications as Mahogany. Examples of its more popular uses include flooring, furniture, doors, windows, cabinetry, paneling, and decorative moldings.
Sapele wood also serves a very interesting function in its use in stringed and percussion musical instruments. Companies such as Taylor in the United States, Larrivee in Canada, and Esteve in Spain have used Sapele in guitar-making, and the company Dusty Strings, based in Seattle, Washington, has used the wood in the construction of its folk harps. Hawaiian company Kamaka and Koaloha have also used Sapele to manufacture ukeleles. Many of these companies chose the wood as a result of its attractiveness, but recently, the wood has gained in popularity as a result of its strength and resultant usefulness in the construction of percussion instruments.
The strength, versatility, and sheer beauty of Sapele wood have resulted in its increasing popularity for use in a variety of applications. When selected from a lumber dealer like the J Gibson McIlvain company who understands how best to prepare and care for the wood, you are bound to fall in love with Sapele lumber.
J. Gibson McIlvain Company
Since 1798, when Hugh McIlvain established a lumber business near Philadelphia, the McIlvain family has been immersed in the premium import and domestic lumber industry. With its headquarters located just outside of Baltimore, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company (www.mcilvain.com) is one of the largest U.S. importers of exotic woods.
As an active supporter of sustainable lumber practices, the J. Gibson McIlvain Company has provided fine lumber for notable projects throughout the world, including the White House, Capitol building, Supreme Court, and the Smithsonian museums.
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