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.
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.
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.
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.
» 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 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
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Carl thanks for bringing this up. It is important that designers, builders or any users of ANY species be aware of how it was sourced. I think you will find that there are some highly sustainable forestry initiatives going on in Africa. In fact we have a much better line of sight into the silvicultural practices as well as chain of custody documentation all the way back to the stump. Certification and validation schemes like TLTV and VLO provide outstanding oversight (in my opinion the best in the world) so that importers can be certain they are doing business with good sawmills from legal concessions using sustainable harvestry practices. Sapele is not a CITES listed species so it can be imported easily, but Lacey is most concerned with local regulations at the point of harvest so the importer needs to do their due diligence to be certain that the lumber comes from an approved concession and the appropriate amount of transformation is done in country.
Sapele is a IUCN (International Union for the Conversation of Nature) listed Vulnerable species and is on the Red List of Threatened Species. I know most designers don't actually care about any of that, but if you can help it...think twice. In the United States, it may even be ILLEGAL to import Sapele because of the Lacey Act as it is often illegally harvested.
from the iucn:
"The Sapele, Entandrophragma cylindricum, is a species of mahogany listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It ranges widely in west and central Africa from Sierra Leone east to Uganda and south to Angola, and has a scattered distribution in semi-deciduous forests. In comparison with other species of Entandrophragma, this species can occur in drier habitats, including abandoned fields, but it does not respond well to burning. It is a large tree, growing to 50m in height, with flowers growing directly from the trunk and major branches.It is an extremely slow-growing tree, one of the slowest in the genus Entandrophragma, and this is a major problem as it is of high economic value and is a major source of African hardwood, heavily exploited throughout its range. In some places, populations have been heavily depleted due to over-exploitation. The species is also believed to be at risk from climate change.The Sapele occurs in a number of protected areas across its range. In some countries, logging of this species is subject to legal restrictions, but enforcement is a problem in many regions. "