While it may seem like something only grumpy old men say when looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, wood isn’t really what it used to be. Well, some species, anyway. If you’re looking back at the Chris Craft boats from the mid-1900s, the Philippine Mahogany used today is simply not the same. In fact, it isn’t even available anymore. Today’s “Philippine Mahogany” is actually a different species altogether: It’s called Meranti, and it’s even better.
If It’s Not Philippine Mahogany, What Is It?
The lumber industry may be replete with misnomers, but Philippine Mahogany (really Meranti) is one of the strangest. Not only is it nowhere near being a Mahogany, but it isn’t even close to being indigenous to the Philippines! Actually from Southeast Asia, today’s “Philippine Mahogany” is part of the Shorea genus often referred to as “Meranti.” Also referred to as Red Seraya or Nemesu, a variety of species falls under this category. Still, it’s often sold under the trade name “Philippine Mahogany” to this day. Long used in wood boat construction, Meranti is also used in high-quality marine-grade plywood.
What’s So Special About Meranti?
Not only is Meranti sustainably managed, but it’s actually higher quality lumber that’s even more equipped to handle the harshness that any exterior-grade lumber species should. Iconic or not, the real stuff — Philippine Mahogany of yesteryear — wasn’t very rot resistant, at all. Only with a heavy top coating and extra treatment steps could that species become suitable for marine applications. Of course, boats and other marine applications subject lumber to some of the harshest conditions possible, so any species used by boat builders is well known to be excellent for inland exterior applications, such as homes.
What’s a Better Comparison?
In many ways, Meranti is quite similar to Genuine Mahogany, which comes from South America. Both its grain structure and its density combine to provide a texture conducive to being easily milled and for holding details extremely well. Because it’s lighter than African species (such as African Mahogany, Sapele, and Utile) used for exterior applications, it’s fairly easy to work with. It’s also less expensive than both Sapele and Utile.
In summary, Meranti may be known by the trade name “Philippine Mahogany,” but it is neither from the Philippines nor part of the Mahogany family. However, you shouldn’t let those facts dissuade you from using it, because it’s an even better species option for Marine applications (or other exterior applications) than actual Philippine Mahogany from the early 1900s ever was! In fact, it’s more similar to Genuine Mahogany than to any other species. Lighter and less expensive than popular African hardwoods commonly used for exterior work, Meranti is an excellent option for boats or any other job that will be subjected to harsh conditions.