Sapele is in the same family as Mahogany and the same genus as Utile, and it, therefore, shares many of the same qualities with these woods.
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Hailing from Africa, Sapele contains an interlocking grain that produces light and dark ribbon stripes throughout the boards. Sapele is commonly quartersawn to enhance these attractive ribbons, and it is often used as a veneer for plywood in this application. As a solid wood, it is relatively stable once dry, and it is frequently used in the construction of doors. Sapele is a fine exterior wood, although it is often painted in window and door applications because of its fine grain.
Here you can see the difference in appearance between flat sawn (left) and quartersawn (right) Sapele lumber
Sapele takes a moulded edge very well, and the flat sawn cut is best used for moulding applications due to its consistent appearance. Quartersawn Sapele's ribbon texture does not produce as consistent a coloration as flat sawn, but quartersawn Sapele does boast increased stability.
Sapele is actually somewhat soft for a hardwood (although it is still harder than Mahogany), and it is therefore very gentle on tools. A word of caution to contractors and carpenters, however: Be sure to take care while machining this wood. Sapele is a dusty lumber, and this fine dust can cause respiratory problems and skin irritation.
Despite the wood's many positive attributes, the cost for Sapele lumber is usually around half of that of Genuine Mahogany. Sapele also tends to cost less than Utile. These factors help make Sapele a very popular lumber species for use in a wide variety of interior and exterior applications.
We import our Sapele from West Africa and pay particular attention to only buy from specific regions to obtain the best colors and consistencies. We import an even amount of flat sawn and quartersawn lumber but find that careful consideration must be taken with drying and re-drying to ensure stability. These drying schedules can even vary depending on where in West Africa we buy our Sapele.
Shannon Rogers started woodworking by trying to build a proton pack, and has been in love with the craft ever since. He runs The Renaissance Woodworker website which is dedicated to spreading the love about hand tool woodworking. He is also the head glue pot keeper at The Hand Tool School where teaches thousands of woodworkers on 6 continents (still trying to find somebody in Antarctica) how to cast off the power tool oppressors and build "the hard way".
By day Shannon is the Director of Marketing for J. Gibson McIlvain, a lumber company founded in 1798 that supplies high quality hardwoods from all over the world to everyone from Calvin Klein, the New York Yankees, and the US Government. He is a wood nerd through and through and often finds reasons to inject latin botanical names into everyday conversation.