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.
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This continuation of the Wood Species series is written by Shannon Rogers, a/k/a The Renaissance Woodworker and founder of The Hand Tool School. It has been provided courtesy of the J. Gibson McIlvain Lumber Company, where Rogers works as Director of Marketing.
More Wood Reference:
» An Introduction To Wood Species, Part 1: Properties & Terminology
» An Introduction To Wood Species, Part 2: Pine
» An Introduction To Wood Species, Part 3: Oak
» An Introduction To Wood Species, Part 4: Maple
» An Introduction To Wood Species, Part 5: Walnut
» An Introduction To Wood Species, Part 6: Cherry
» An Introduction To Wood Species, Part 7: Mahogany
» An Introduction To Wood Species, Part 8: Rosewood
» An Introduction To Wood Species, Part 9: Ebony
» An Introduction To Wood Species, Part 10: Teak
» An Introduction To Wood Species, Part 11: Utile/Sipo
How Boards are Made:
» How Logs Are Turned Into Boards, Part 1: Plainsawn
» How Logs Are Turned Into Boards, Part 2: Quartersawn
» How Logs Are Turned Into Boards, Part 3: Riftsawn
» Wood Movement: Why Does Wood Move?
» Controlling Wood Movement: The Drying Process
» Dealing with Wood Movement: Design and Understanding