Mahogany has an open-grain pattern without looking coarse. Typically, it's fairly even colored, which makes it easier to match in cabinetry and furniture than other kinds of wood.
Another advantage is that it comes in wider board widths than most woods. "Mahogany averages 9 inches wide, compared to 7 inches for other woods, but you can find boards up to 20 inches wide," says Walt Maas, manager of Bohnhoff Lumber in Vernon, California.
Cuban mahogany: Also known as West Indies mahogany, this is the mahogany against which all other kinds are judged. Sadly, it was overharvested and is virtually unavailable today, except as antique furniture.
Cuban mahogany has an extremely tight grain pattern and a deep coloration. It also has an exquisite natural luster when finished. And in terms of working the material, it's a craftsperson's dream.
African mahogany resembles genuine mahogany to a certain degree. It tends to run toward lighter colorations and may sometimes have a slightly pinkish cast. It also has larger pores.
Red mahogany is another misnamed wood; it's actually Australian eucalyptus.
Genuine mahogany was heading in the same direction as Cuban mahogany but got held in check as people became more environmentally aware. It comes from Central and South American countries, where responsible forestry practices can vary. While availability can occasionally be tight depending on a host of circumstances beyond the sustainability issue, genuine mahogany is still a staple in most hardwood lumberyards.
African mahogany is the most plentiful in terms of supply, due to its natural abundance. But harvesting practices can still be spotty. An environmentally responsible tradesperson should be able to address your concerns about the source of the company's mahogany.