Moulding Newsletter October 2010

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  • July 9, 2015

Sapele wood – the popular alternative to mahogany & why Foster made the switch

Genuine mahogany was once the premier imported wood species. Its primary growing region is in South America and, to a lesser degree, in Central America and small portions of Mexico.

In November 2003, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) imposed stricter regulations on the trade of genuine mahogany, stating that when shipping this wood species, it must be accompanied by a CITES Appendix II permit. After the regulations were in effect, shipments from some areas, such as Brazil, halted, while supplies from Peru and Bolivia scarcely trickled in (supplies still being brought in from Guatemala and Mexico were available, but considered to be of lesser quality).

Due to a lowered supply, the price of genuine mahogany doubled and what now was available had a reduced quality. High prices paired with low quality made most people back off from buying genuine mahogany at this stage, and in turn, the overall demand greatly declined. Alternatives to genuine mahogany were quickly being sought out, and one popular candidate was a wood species called sapele (pronounced: suh-pee-lee).

Sapele, also called sapele mahogany or scented mahogany, grows in large sections of western and central Africa, from Sierra Leone to Uganda, and south to Angola (this is one of the large canopy trees in the equatorial West African forest).

Sapele is a bit harder than genuine mahogany, a little more crystalline in appearance, the sapwood is a white to pale yellow, and the reddish-brown heartwood resembles African mahogany. When freshly cut, sapele has a spicy smell, which some compare to a “cedar-like” aroma. It also has characteristics that make it easy to work with, and is said to stain and polish with ease.

Foster was one of the many establishments which had to adjust to the situation taking place with genuine mahogany several years back, and thereby searched for an equivalent substitute that we could stand by and be proud of. Ever since we made the switch to sapele and incorporated this wood species into our catalog, we have heard nothing but positive responses.

We look forward to sapele exercising an even greater increase in popularity, as its awareness continues to grow.

Profile spotlight #530 in sapele w/ some “Random” finishing tips
Small and basic, this universal profile has the following dimensions: 5/8″ x 1″ and can be found on page 8 of our catalog.

After speaking with Douglas from Random Gallery in Los Angeles, CA, it was apparent there are some classic, yet clever ways to work with our sapele wood, and its unique color. He said we could share his information with our audience…

Rockler-Sam Maloof’s Poly Oil Finish is a forgiving product that leaves the wood looking beautiful. Simply rub on, let set for 24 hours and apply beeswax.

The next suggestions are based on classic chemical treatments, wherein safety equipment is a must (goggles, mask, gloves).

Ferrous sulfate comes in a dry powder and when mixed with water and applied to the wood with either a sponge or brush, it reacts and brings out a striking grayish color.

Similarly, potassium dichromate reacts and brings out an eye-catching deep red.
Although chemical treatment reactions are initially quick, allow 24 hours for the color to set in and dry, then use 1500 grit sandpaper and beeswax for the grand finale.

Request for new catalog ideas With the new year quickly approaching, we thought it would be nice to release a brand new catalog for 2011. We would like to include all of you in our search for new profile ideas.

Many of you have given us suggestions over the last couple of years, but now is the time to shout out and get our attention.

Please send us your ideas via fax or email with the subject heading: “New Catalog Idea” fax: (323) 758-4071, email: We look forward to hearing from you!
Our mailing address is:

Foster Planing Mill
1258 W. 58th St. Los Angeles, CA 90037

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