Sapele vs. Bubinga (UPDATED - think I made rookie mistake)


Frede
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I just finished shelving using 6/4 Sapele - I really enjoyed working with it.  The yard has plenty of the Sapele but I noticed they have some amazing Bubinga.  I am thinking about using the Bubinga for my next project (floor billiard rack/closet).  I'm told Sapele and Bubinga are similar in work-ability.  Does anyone have experience with both these woods?     

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I love the look of Bubinga. The only caveat I have found is in the finishing. When I use it for pens and bottle stoppers, I need to allow more time for each coat of CA to cure. Otherwise I'll end up with some hazing that shows up a few days later.

Adam

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I enjoy working with both. I use Sapele in my tables and love it`s look and hardness as well as the gorgeous finish you can get with it. That being said I also like working with Bubinga in my turnings as well as my cutting boards, it makes a beautiful offset to lighter woods and works well for turning. Both are Hard woods with Sapele winning the hardness challenge.

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Bob is right on...sapele will work like a hard mahogany, and bubinga will work like a soft granite.  It's very hard stuff, and nothing like sapele in terms of workability.  Just make sure your tools are sharp and you back up all of your cuts.  The extra frustration is worth it in the end.  It's beautiful wood.

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Many thanks to everyone for the replies.  I'm headed out tomorrow morning to pick up the stock.  As you can see, the Sapele he has is really nice (6/4 qtr saw with great ribbons) but I used that for my last project.  I'll prob decide which wood to go with when I get there.     

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Wound up getting the Bubinga but probably made a rookie mistake by not paying enough attention to the color of the two boards.  They looked the same in the sun but in my shop after sitting overnight the boards look very different.  One has an overall yellowish look while the other is very reddish.  In the attached the top is one board and the lower two are the same board.

 

I need both boards for the project and I cut the boards to under 8ft. so I don't think I can exchange.  I have some Transtint in "Reddish Brown" and "Honey Amber" so I guess I could try that but I never have much luck with dye or stain.

 

What would you do?

 

 

 

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As far as Bubinga goes I have one piece, very small that graces the Ashley Iles Chisel I have. Must be hard if it's used for that.

 

On Sapele, I have used many many cubic meters of the stuff over 15 years or so. Sapele can be nice and I like it, it can also be horrid, wiry interlocked crap. I have seen it tear out like no one's business. I have used true Mahogany many years ago, with my limited experience of it, it worked like butter and like no sapele I have ever used. Sapele is great value in the UK and you can get stonking great planks of it, lovely stuff, but not always very easy to work.

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Genuine mahogany is a dream to work with...I've never encountered another wood that is so accommodating to machining, hand tool work and sanding.  I love that stuff but it's getting harder to source.  I'm hoarding every last stick I have...and I may never use it because I'm afraid I won't be able to replace it. :blink:  Sapele is more like a harder African mahogany, which we all know isn't really mahogany.  And I've had your experience with it Graham...some boards are great, some are a nightmare.  I still like it, though.

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Go back to the lumberyard and find another board that matches the first one.  Save the off-color ones for another project.  You don't stain bubinga. :)

You are right Eric....just need to figure out how to explain the additional $$ to the wife.  I prob should have just gone with the darn Sapele!!!

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Agreed Eric, I'm still a fan but it can be a bit of a pig at times. Thinking back I can remember cutting up the offcuts of the mahogany to make bits for windows! You would not find me doing that now! We used it to make this handrail (photo is crap). Worst thing about that job, customer wanted to apply finish, boooooo!

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. Sapele can be nice and I like it, it can also be horrid, wiry interlocked crap. I have seen it tear out like no one's business. I have used true Mahogany many years ago, with my limited experience of it, it worked like butter and like no sapele I have ever used. Sapele is great value in the UK and you can get stonking great planks of it, lovely stuff, but not always very easy to work.

I agree with Graham on this one. I've used loads of sapele and it's true that some pieces can be crap to work. Mostly it is superb stuff though and if you get to choose your own stuff in the lumberyard you can get some beautiful figure.

I still do get small pieces of African mahogany (relatively easy to get hold of but expensive) and the occasional pieces of South American mahogany (very difficult to find nowadays but a few of my local retiring cabinet maker friends have odd bits that they have at the bottom of the pile). Both genus's are a dream to work.

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Just don't try to carve the sepele. It's fine for flat work but it's terrible for carving. I made the mistake of trying to do ball & claw work in sapele once. It's just too stringy and the grain reverses too much. Terrible stuff to try and carve. So now I stick to the genuine mahogany (and NA hardwoods) for carving.

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I haven't used Sapele but have used quite a bit of South American Mahogany (including genuine Honduran Mahogany salvaged from rivers in Belize) and also Bubinga. Worlds of difference working with those species. Bubinga is very heavy and very hard. That being said, you can work with it. You just have to pay attention to what is happening and use good practices. I would not try to carve it for sure.

 

I've posted pix of a sideboard I made using some highly figured Bubinga. Legs are Padauk. Took my time and now have a stunning piece to show for that effort. Time has mellowed the contrast somewhat, but it catches the eye of anyone coming into our home.

 

Besides a few larger pieces with Bubinga, I've also used it fairly often for boxes and smaller items. Gotta make use of those offcuts. 

 

As a newer woodworker, I believe it is fun and beneficial to work with a wide variety of woods so that you gain first hand experience of the material. From the workability aspect, and also just have a variety of pieces down the road to look at. 

 

Good luck with your current project.

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I haven't used Sapele but have used quite a bit of South American Mahogany (including genuine Honduran Mahogany salvaged from rivers in Belize) and also Bubinga. Worlds of difference working with those species. Bubinga is very heavy and very hard. That being said, you can work with it. You just have to pay attention to what is happening and use good practices. I would not try to carve it for sure.

 

I've posted pix of a sideboard I made using some highly figured Bubinga. Legs are Padauk. Took my time and now have a stunning piece to show for that effort. Time has mellowed the contrast somewhat, but it catches the eye of anyone coming into our home.

 

Besides a few larger pieces with Bubinga, I've also used it fairly often for boxes and smaller items. Gotta make use of those offcuts. 

 

As a newer woodworker, I believe it is fun and beneficial to work with a wide variety of woods so that you gain first hand experience of the material. From the workability aspect, and also just have a variety of pieces down the road to look at. 

 

Good luck with your current project.

 

Great job! I love that top!

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I haven't used Sapele but have used quite a bit of South American Mahogany (including genuine Honduran Mahogany salvaged from rivers in Belize) and also Bubinga. Worlds of difference working with those species. Bubinga is very heavy and very hard. That being said, you can work with it. You just have to pay attention to what is happening and use good practices. I would not try to carve it for sure.

 

I've posted pix of a sideboard I made using some highly figured Bubinga. Legs are Padauk. Took my time and now have a stunning piece to show for that effort. Time has mellowed the contrast somewhat, but it catches the eye of anyone coming into our home.

 

Besides a few larger pieces with Bubinga, I've also used it fairly often for boxes and smaller items. Gotta make use of those offcuts. 

 

As a newer woodworker, I believe it is fun and beneficial to work with a wide variety of woods so that you gain first hand experience of the material. From the workability aspect, and also just have a variety of pieces down the road to look at. 

 

Good luck with your current project.

My goodness, your sideboard is amazing....WOW!  I started to work with the Bubinga last night and found everything you said as well as the others is true....Bubinga is VERY hard.  My Jet table saw (with a brand new blade) struggled a bit cutting the long miters.  You can see the miters and the saw in the dry fit photo below.  I re-read everyone's comments prior to starting last night so I cut the first miter long as test to see how my saw handled it.  Even after I dialed in the correct feed rate I still got some burn.  The remainder of the cuts I left long and cleaned up with a kerf cut to finished size....don't know if that's standard practice but it worked perfectly.

 

The piece I picked up yesterday has a grain very similar to the doors on your sideboard.  I fact after looking at your doors I am debating whether I want to build a panel door.  I had originally planned on a one piece design like in my prototype build - photo attached.  However, I'm thinking the project would look so much better with a panel door....I'd also be challenging myself in doing so.

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Frede, by kerf cut do you mean cross cut?

With a miter cut that long you'd probably experience some burning with many species. That is just a long cut with the blade rotated over 45 degrees. Are you using any reinforcement of the miters at glue up, such as splines or such? Given the size and thickness of your workpieces, plus that you have the top and bottom keeping things in place you are probably ok without them, but I would have used something. 

 

Some warn about glues on tropical hardwoods with their oil (?) content. I've generally been ok with regular PVA glue, but have solid joinery to mechanically assist. 

 

I've found Bubinga to be quite stable, or not as likely to cup and twist as many woods, so you probably are fine with a solid door. From your photos the bubinga appears to be quarter sawn which helps stability. Your design is fairly narrow for full frame and panel, but this might be a good time for you to give that a try. It will change the look of your piece a bit. Might also nudge the odds of things staying true over time.

 

Post some pix once you have the piece finished.

 

I did the sideboard early in my woodworking days and am not thrilled with the finish on the top. Too glossy and thick appearing for my taste. I tried a new (to me) technique. Did not like how it was after a few coats and hoped the further coats would help. Lesson learned. Many more to go.

 

My goodness, your sideboard is amazing....WOW!  I started to work with the Bubinga last night and found everything you said as well as the others is true....Bubinga is VERY hard.  My Jet table saw (with a brand new blade) struggled a bit cutting the long miters.  You can see the miters and the saw in the dry fit photo below.  I re-read everyone's comments prior to starting last night so I cut the first miter long as test to see how my saw handled it.  Even after I dialed in the correct feed rate I still got some burn.  The remainder of the cuts I left long and cleaned up with a kerf cut to finished size....don't know if that's standard practice but it worked perfectly.

 

The piece I picked up yesterday has a grain very similar to the doors on your sideboard.  I fact after looking at your doors I am debating whether I want to build a panel door.  I had originally planned on a one piece design like in my prototype build - photo attached.  However, I'm thinking the project would look so much better with a panel door....I'd also be challenging myself in doing so.

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Frede, by kerf cut do you mean cross cut?

With a miter cut that long you'd probably experience some burning with many species. That is just a long cut with the blade rotated over 45 degrees. Are you using any reinforcement of the miters at glue up, such as splines or such? Given the size and thickness of your workpieces, plus that you have the top and bottom keeping things in place you are probably ok without them, but I would have used something. 

 

Some warn about glues on tropical hardwoods with their oil (?) content. I've generally been ok with regular PVA glue, but have solid joinery to mechanically assist. 

 

I've found Bubinga to be quite stable, or not as likely to cup and twist as many woods, so you probably are fine with a solid door. From your photos the bubinga appears to be quarter sawn which helps stability. Your design is fairly narrow for full frame and panel, but this might be a good time for you to give that a try. It will change the look of your piece a bit. Might also nudge the odds of things staying true over time.

 

Post some pix once you have the piece finished.

 

I did the sideboard early in my woodworking days and am not thrilled with the finish on the top. Too glossy and thick appearing for my taste. I tried a new (to me) technique. Did not like how it was after a few coats and hoped the further coats would help. Lesson learned. Many more to go.

By kerf cut I mean leave the first cut long by the width of the blade and then followup with a second cut (width of the blade wide) to cut off the burn.  You can see in the photo below that there was still some minor burn not much at all.  I decided to use biscuits (and PVA) along the edge for the miter glue-up later today.  I may even shoot a few 23 gauge pins along the edge.  My plan is to also secure the top with biscuits and screws through the base.

 

You are correct, the Bubinga is quarter sawn.  It's been kiln dried and currently at 7% moisture.  By "nudge the odd of thing staying true..." do you mean a panel door would help?

 

I actually love the gloss finish on your piece.  Did you fill the pores with some type of sealer process?

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