Tree of the month – Sapele
July's 'Tree of the Month' is the African Sapele tree.
Strong, beautiful and in high demand, we look at the African Sapele tree and the ways in which the manufacturers can reduce their use of this slow-growing beauty to ensure its survival.
A close rival to Mahogany
Sapele is a tropical hardwood that originates from Africa and is in the same family as Mahogany, therefore, it shares many of the same properties.
The heartwood of a Sapele is a strong red/brown with an interlocking grain that produces waving dark ribbons that are highly attractive, making it a highly sought-after wood from an aesthetic standing.
A hard option to rival
Sapele is incredibly durable and is rated at 1500 in the Janka hardness test, which measures the resistance of wood to denting and wear, putting it 16% harder than Red Oak which is measured at 1210 Janka.
Sapele is hard, and very dense and relatively stable – although not as stable as modified wood such as Accoya, so does have a tendency to distort if not dried properly before use. Despite its relatively strong resistance to rot, it can be susceptible to insect attack.
Sapele is an appealing wood used for its decorative and acoustic qualities. It is commonly found on the back and sides of guitars and on the interior wood trim of Cadillacs.
Slow growing and less sustainable
The tree can grow up to 60 metres in height, but is slow growing and not self-fertile. The average annual height growth of Sapeles planted in Cameroon was just 30-50cm over a duration of 40 years. In Cote d’Ivoire they reached an average height of five metres over seven years.
Thus despite efforts to create forest certification schemes of sustainability in Africa, it is difficult to harvest these slow growing trees in a truly sustainable way. As a result, conscientious manufacturers are looking to reduce their use of Sapele and are utilising alternatives where possible, such as Accoya and Redwood.
At Westbury only 4% of our timber is Sapele and compares favourably to some joinery companies where Sapele accounts for 98% of their timber supply. We only use it where we absolutely have to, which is on the threshold of doorways, a high footfall area.
By understanding all the properties of each tree and its timber and then matching the right wood properties to the right product area, we can ensure that our impact on the planet is minimal, and that the Sapele species will continue to thrive in its native home for many years to come.