Is Sapele a Hardwood or Softwood (Ultimate Guide)

Ever wondered about the true nature of Sapele wood? Is it a hardwood or softwood? Dive into the world of this intriguing timber and discover its secrets!

Is Sapele a Hardwood or Softwood

Sapele’s charm lies in its attractive appearance, exhibiting a range of colors from rich reddish-brown to deep reddish-brown.

What really sets it apart is its intricate, interlocking grain pattern.

Also, this makes it a preferred choice for furniture and cabinets where aesthetics play a major role.

You may still be wondering what this precious Sapele wood is like. I had the same question back in 2005 and sought expert advice to determine the hardness of Sapele, particularly in relation to heavy-duty projects. 

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    Now, with years of experience and data gathered from experts, let me explain the hardness of Sapele and how it compares to other woods.

    So, Is Sapele a hardwood or softwood?

    Sapele is a hardwood with Janka hardness rating of 1,500 lbf (6,672 N). It is known for its durability, strength, and distinctive appearance, making it a preferred choice for various woodworking and construction projects. Its heartwood ranges from moderately to very durable, suitable for both indoor and outdoor applications.

    But there’s a lot more to know about the hardness of Sapele.

    In this article, I will delve into the fascinating world of Sapele wood, exploring its properties, uses, strength and how it compares to other woods such as mahogany.

    So, we embark on a journey to understand the appeal and versatility of Sapele wood.

    Let the journey begin!

    Sapele wood furniture and woodwork
    Sapele wood furniture and woodwork

    What Is Sapele Wood?

    Sapele wood, scientifically known as Entandrophragma cylindrica, is a valuable wood originating from tropical regions of Africa. 

    This species of wood is in high demand in the world of woodworking due to its outstanding properties.

    Notably, Sapele has an attractive appearance, displaying rich reddish-brown to dark reddish-brown colors with an intricate, interlocking grain pattern.

    Did you know fact about Sapele wood
    Did you know fact about Sapele wood

    Its distinctive ribbon-stripe or pommel image adds a touch of elegance to any project, making it a favorite choice for furniture and cabinetry where aesthetics are important.

    I have simply tabulated below some things you should know about Sapele wood.

    Common Name(s)Sapele, sapelli, sapeli mahogany
    Scientific NameEntandrophragma cylindricum
    DistributionTropical Africa
    Tree Size100-150 ft  tall, 3-5 ft trunk diameter
    Average Dried Weight41.6 lbs/ft³ 
    Specific Gravity(Basic, 12% MC)0.56, 0.67
    Janka Hardness1,410 to 1,570 pounds
    Modulus of Rupture110.9 MPa
    Elastic Modulus12.35 GPa
    Crushing Strength58.9 MPa
    ShrinkageRadial – 5.2%Tangential – 7.2%Volumetric – 12.9%T/R Ratio – 1.4
    AppearanceGolden to dark reddish brown, tends to darken with age. Various figured grain patterns.
    TextureInterlocked, sometimes wavy, fine uniform texture, good natural luster.
    Rot ResistanceModerately to very durable heartwood, moderate insect/borer resistance.
    WorkabilityCan be troublesome in machining operations, reacts with iron, turns, glues and finishes well.
    OdorCedar-like scent when worked.
    ToxicityPotential skin and respiratory irritant, slight blunting effect on cutters.
    PricingModerately priced for regular flatsawn or quartersawn lumber, figured lumber and veneer can be expensive.
    Sapele wood kitchen cabinet
    Sapele wood kitchen cabinet

    How Hard Is Sapele?

    Sapele wood has a Janka hardness value of approximately 1,410 to 1,570 pounds. This places it among other popular woods such as cherry and hard maple.

    Its moderate hardness makes it relatively easy to work with common woodworking tools while providing the durability needed for a variety of applications, from furniture to cabinetry to boat building.

    Properties of Sapele wood
    Properties of Sapele wood

    Hardness of Sapele Compared to Other Woods

    Have you ever wondered about Sapele’s hardness compared to other woods?

    When evaluating the hardness of Sapele wood compared to other commonly used woods, it falls in the middle range of the Janka hardness scale.

    By now you’re well aware that Sapele typically has a Janka hardness rating of 1,410 to 1,570 pound-force.

    I’ve listed for you below how Sapele compares to several other woods.

    Sapele vs. Oak

    The Janka hardness of red oak is rated at about 1,220 pounds-force, so Sapele is usually harder than oak wood. But Oak is also a ready strong wood.

    Therefore, Sapele is quite durable and suitable for applications that require hardwood.

    Sapele vs. Cherry

    Sapele is harder than cherry wood, with a Janka hardness rating of around 950 pounds-force. Both Sapele and Cherry Woods are hardwoods.

    This means Sapele is more resistant to denting and wear than cherry.

    Sapele vs. Hard Maple

    However, Sapele falls within a similar hardness range compared to Hard Maple, which has a Janka hardness rating of approximately 1,450 to 1,710 pounds. 

    Both are well suited for a variety of woodworking projects.

    Despite its moderate hardness, Sapele remains a popular choice for woodworking due to its ease of working with standard tools and its beautiful appearance.

    Its moderate hardness strikes a balance between workability and durability, making it a versatile option for a wide range of projects.

    Whether you’re creating fine furniture, intricate cabinets, or other wood-based designs, don’t forget that Sapele’s combination of aesthetics and practicality makes it a favorite wood among woodworkers.

    Likewise, if you’re interested to know, read the in-detail comparison between Sapele and Teak wood as well.

    Uses of Sapele wood
    Uses of Sapele wood

    Sapele Wood Properties

    Have you ever wondered about Sapele wood properties?

    You already know that the Sapele wood is known for its unique properties that make it a valuable material for a variety of woodworking applications.

    Here, I have brought below the main features of Sapele wood properties for you.

    Sapele Tree

    The Sapele tree is a substantial tropical hardwood known for its large size.

    It can reach a height of 45 meters or more and has a trunk diameter of 10 meters or slightly more at breast height.

    Appearance and Features

    Sapele wood is recognized for its unique characteristics. Sapele is pale yellow or white, while the heartwood shows a pinkish hue when freshly cut. 

    Darkens to a classic red-brown mahogany color over time.

    It is characterized by a distinct and regular striation pattern, especially seen on quarter-sawn surfaces. Occasionally, it shows a spotty image.

    Sapele is relatively close-textured with interlocking grains. In terms of hardness, it surpasses African and American mahogany, weighing about 640 kg/m³ when dry.

    Remember that freshly cut Sapele has a pronounced cedar-like aroma.

    Sapele wood deck
    Sapele wood deck

    Drying and Strength

    Sapele wood dries fast but is prone to warping, quarter sawn material is less likely to rot during drying.

    In terms of strength, it is considerably harder than African or American mahogany and is practically equal to English oak in indentation resistance, bending strength, stiffness, and resistance to shock loads.


    Sapele falls into the middle category when it comes to working properties. It can work fairly well with both hand tools and machine tools.

    However, locked grain can present challenges in design and molding, keeping in mind that a low cutting angle is often required for a smooth finish. 

    Also, Sapele is compatible with screws, nails, glues, stains and polishes.

    Durability and Treatability

    While sapele wood is moderately durable, heartwood offers better resistance than sapwood. Its resistance to termite attack is variable.

    Sapwood is susceptible to powder-post beetle attack, while heartwood is moderately resistant. However, treatment is difficult.

    Tip for working with Sapele wood
    Tip for working with Sapele wood

    Moisture Movement and Physical Properties

    Sapele exhibits moderate moisture movement and moderate hardness and weight. Its bending and crushing strengths are moderate, and it is not recommended for steam bending.

    It seasons fairly quickly but has a marked tendency to warp. 

    Drying properties can vary significantly, requiring careful stacking. The mobility of its service is rated as medium.

    Sustainability and Availability

    Sapele is readily available, making it a popular choice for a variety of applications.

    It is not listed in the CITES appendices but is considered Vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List due to a population decline of more than 20% over the past three generations, primarily due to a reduction in its natural range and exploitation.

    Additional Features and Common Uses

    Sapele wood is known for its distinct appearance, including ribbon patterns and grain patterns with various shapes such as pommele, quilted, mottled, wavy, beeswing, and fiddleback.

    It is widely used for veneer, plywood, furniture, cabinetry, flooring, boat building, musical instruments, turning objects, and other special wood products.

    Sapele is occasionally used as a substitute for genuine mahogany and is sometimes called ‘sapele mahogany’. 

    Although it is not technically true mahogany, it shares some similarities with the mahogany family.

    Sapele wood dining table
    Sapele wood dining table

    Pros and Cons of Sapele Wood

    You already know that Sapele wood is a versatile and popular choice for a variety of woodworking projects.

    Here, I will explore the pros and cons of using Sapele wood for you.


    Attractive Appearance

    Sapele’s heartwood is a beautiful, rich reddish-brown color that darkens with age and enhances the beauty of your wood.

    Sapele is known for its distinct motifs including ribbon, pommel, mottled, quilted, wavy, beeswing, and fiddle back. 

    Therefore, these unique figures can add a luxurious touch to your projects.

    Also, the wood has a fine and uniform texture, giving your wood a polished, refined look.


    Sapele’s heartwood is moderately to very durable in terms of decay resistance. This is suitable for outdoor applications and high-humidity environments.

    Also, Sapele heartwood is resistant to certain wood-boring insects, increasing its longevity.


    Sapele is relatively easy to work with both by hand and using machine tools. 

    Although its interlocking grain can cause tearing at times, it can be planned, moved, and shaped with reasonable ease.

    Plus, wood stain accepts and finishes exceptionally well, allowing for a smooth, attractive surface. It also takes a great polish.


    Sapele wood is readily available in the market, making it an easy choice for woodworkers and builders. Its consistent availability helps keep costs reasonable for most applications.

    Sustainable Options

    Sapele is considered a sustainable alternative to expensive and endangered tropical woods such as real mahogany.

    Remember that choosing Sapele supports responsible forestry practices.

    Sapele wood fence
    Sapele wood fence


    Interlocked Grain

    Sapele’s interlocked grain can make working with certain machining operations such as planing and routing challenging.

    This interlocking grain can result in tearing and requires adjustments to cutting angles for a smooth finish.

    Sensitivity to Iron

    Sapele wood can react negatively when in direct contact with iron, which can cause the wood to discolor and stain. 

    It’s a disadvantage that you have to take care to avoid this problem.

    Moderate Hardness

    Sapele’s hardness is suitable for many applications, and it is not as hard as some other woods.

    In situations where high rigidity is required, for heavy work floors or work surfaces, Sapele may not be the best choice.

    Moderate Price for Figure Wood

    In unique figured patterns, such as plain flatsawn or quilted sapele, plain flatsawn or quilted sapele lumber is moderately priced, while figured woods and veneers can be expensive.

    Risk and Sustainability

    Sapele is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List due to a population decline of more than 20% in recent generations.

    This decline is primarily due to reduced natural range and exploitation. While not listed in the CITES appendices, this risk underscores the importance of responsible sourcing of Sapele wood.

    Finally, Sapele wood offers a balance of aesthetic appeal, durability, and functionality, making it a favorable choice for many woodworking and construction projects.

    Its disadvantages, such as interlocking grains and sensitivity to iron, can be managed with careful handling and proper tools.

    However, when choosing Sapele for your projects you should consider its sustainability and the cost of figured wood.

    Tip for working with Sapele
    Tip for working with Sapele

    Uses of Sapele Wood

    Sapele wood is very versatile and finds application in a wide range of woodworking and construction projects. 

    I have now listed some of the common uses of Sapele wood for you below.


    You already know that Sapele is a popular choice for high-quality furniture.

    Its rich colors and distinctive motifs such as ribbons or pommels add elegance to chairs, tables, cabinets, and more. It is particularly favored for fine, handmade pieces.


    Sapele is widely used in cabinetry due to its durability and attractive appearance.

    It can be used for kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities, and other built-in storage solutions that provide both functionality and aesthetic appeal.


    The toughness and resistance to wear and tear make Sapele ideal for floor applications.

    It withstands foot traffic and can maintain its bright appearance over time, making it a practical choice for both residential and commercial settings.

    Boat Building

    Sapele’s resistance to decay and durability in water make it an excellent choice for boat building.

    It is often used to build boat hulls, decks, and other marine applications that can withstand the challenges of a marine environment.

    Musical Instruments

    Sapele wood is a popular material for making musical instruments, especially acoustic and electric guitars.

    Its tonal qualities and aesthetic appeal contribute to the overall sound and appearance of the instrument.


    Sapele veneer is highly sought after for its beautiful patterns, making it a preferred choice for decorative veneer applications in interior design, paneling and furniture production.

    Turned Objects

    The ease of working with Sapele and its ability to hold complex shapes and details make it suitable for turning applications.

    Woodworkers use it to create finely crafted objects such as bowls, spindles and decorative pieces.

    Small Wooden Specialty Items

    Sapele’s versatility extends to crafting small wooden items such as jewelry boxes, picture frames, and decorative carvings.

    Its aesthetic properties increase the visual appeal of these items.

    The unique figure patterns found in Sapele, including quilted, pommel and beeswing, add extra character to the wood, making it a popular choice for projects where aesthetics are paramount.

    Whether you’re looking for durability, beauty, or a combination of both, Sapele wood offers a versatile solution to your woodworking needs.

    Sapele wood floor
    Sapele wood floor

    How Strong Is Sapele Wood?

    Sapele wood is relatively strong and durable. It has a Janka hardness rating of approximately 1,410 to 1,570 pound-force, making it much harder than African or American mahogany and similar in strength to English oak.

    This strength makes Sapele an ideal choice for a variety of woodworking and construction applications. There it can effectively withstand bending, indentation, and shock loads.

    Is Sapele Harder than Mahogany?

    Yes, Sapele is generally harder than both African and American Mahogany.

    Sapele wood has a higher Janka hardness rating, making it more resistant to indentation and wear compared to mahogany. But Mahogany is also a really strong wood.

    However, it is important to note that there are different species of mahogany and some may vary in hardness.

    It’s worth noting that Sapele can often be used as a cost-effective and sustainable alternative to genuine mahogany in woodworking projects.

    Read to know more about the differences between Sapele and Mahogany to select the one that suits you the most!

    Congrats folks! Now you know exactly whether is Sapele a hardwood or softwood and how hard Sapele is compared to other woods.

    So, let’s answer some frequently asked questions.


    What is the Janka hardness rating of Sapele wood?

    Sapele wood has a Janka hardness rating of approximately 1,410 to 1,570 pounds, placing it in the mid-range of hardwoods, similar to cherry and hard maple.

    How does the durability of Sapele compare to other woods?

    Sapele’s heartwood ranges from moderately to very durable in terms of decay resistance, with moderate resistance to insect and borer attacks.

    Is Sapele wood easy to work with in woodworking projects?

    While Sapele can be somewhat troublesome in machining operations due to its interlocked grain, it generally works well with both hand and machine tools and finishes beautifully.

    Does Sapele wood change color over time?

    Yes, Sapele wood darkens over time, shifting from a golden or reddish-brown to a deeper reddish hue, enhancing its aesthetic appeal.

    Is Sapele wood environmentally sustainable?

    Sapele is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, indicating a need for responsible sourcing, though it is available from well-managed sources and not listed in CITES.

    Can Sapele wood cause allergies or toxicity?

    Sapele has been reported as a potential skin and respiratory irritant, but severe reactions are quite uncommon.

    Did I cover all you wanted to know about: Is Sapele a Hardwood or Softwood

    In this article, I deeply discussed whether is Sapele a hardwood or softwood with its characteristics, pros, and cons with many other features that affect its hardness.

    Sapele is a hardwood. It is a valuable tropical wood known for its hardness, durability and distinctive appearance, making it a preferred choice for various woodworking and construction projects.

    Furthermore, I answered some frequently asked questions.

    Hope you learned all you wanted to know about the hardness of Sapele with all its uses in detail.

    Now it’s time for you to get the best use out of this awesome sapele wood!

    Walter Parker is a woodworking enthusiast. He is passionate about woodworking projects & plays with woodworking tools having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Woodworking Planet. He wants to make people love woodworking! Read More About Him! Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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