Pls help identify mahogany type wood. Scented.


I'm restoring an English solid mahogany with rosewood veneer antique box. I'm no expert but I would guess its about 200 years old.
I decided to cannibalise a very messy tray (certainly a later "garden-shed" addition) from another similar old box, cutting up the board of the tray to make internal lids for first box.
The tray base looked to me like mahogany, although it was very dirty and scarred. I guessed maybe 100 years old.
Anyway, now that I've done the operation I'm starting to think the wood I used may not be mahogany. The grain is a lot longer and more open than mahogany I'm used to. It's a bit lighter in colour. And most of all, it has a strong perfumed scent when cut or sanded. A bit like incense. It's also more flexible than mahogany and really quite easy to cut.
In short it's a much softer wood but yet sort of looks like mahogany. Can anyone guess what it is? I've looked at online image databases but it's very hard to tell from just a picture. I'm thinking of starting again as I'm wondering if my lid additions detract from the antique rather than enhance it. The lids really don't seem to fit in at all!
As you can probably tell I'm a complete amateur and would be v grateful for any help, tips hints etc.
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Spanish cedar? Does it smell like the humidor at your tobacconist?
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You might be on to something. Following your reply, I've looked at some Spanish cedar pics and some look just like the mystery wood in question. These look similar: http://www.hobbithouseinc.com/personal/woodpics/cedar,%20new%20guinea%20red.htm http://www.hobbithouseinc.com/personal/woodpics/cedar,%20spanish/cedar,%20spanish%207%20s100%20q60%20web.htm http://www.hobbithouseinc.com/personal/woodpics/cedar,%20spanish/cedar,%20spanish%20s50%20q60%20plh.htm
The last two are indeed Spanish cedar and the first New Guinea red cedar. On waxing faint "dirty" black lines appear in the grain, which looks similar to Spanish cedar.
However, from what I can remember of Cuban cigar boxes, they are made of a very light (in weight) wood which snaps easily. A bit like a packing crate or tea chest.
Or is a humidor made of an entirely different sort of wood? Forgive my ignorance : ) I will go into a tobacconist next time I pass one and ask.
Also isn't cedar part of the pine family? This wood certainly doesn't smell or look anything like pine. The fibres are very different from pine (not as long). After waxing, the wood is a middlish dark brown, though not as dark or red as mahogany.
The smell is not at all piney but much heavier, much more like perfume. In fact I think it probably is used in scents as it seems strangely familiar. My first thought was sandalwood but I had a piece of sandalwood once and it was almost white and quite soft. This definitely isn't a light or soft wood though it's pretty easy to cut.
Other than its large grain size it's the perfect sort of wood for carpentry. Doesn't splinter but easy to to cut. After sanding I put some wax on it and it just soaked it all up like a sponge. That's when I realised it wasn't mahogany. I just can't get a gloss on it.
I'm going to get take a picture and post it for you to judge.
I also have another box with mystery wood. It's Anglo-Indian 50-100 years old and really does look exactly like a red mahogany. In fact I'm 99% sure it is mahogany of a sort. But it also has a very strong smell. This time of insecticide! Very similar to Raid/Baygone roach killer! At first I thought someone had doused the thing with insecticide but it isn't that because every time I open the box I get a very strong whiff, as it seems to accumulate in the closed box! It's also an extremely hard wood - maybe even harder than normal mahogany - and is very easy to polish.
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SNIP
Cedar is loaded with insecticide - "natural," of course - and fungicide. That's what you smell. In common naming, it's a big family, but most of the members are adopted, sharing only a distinctive odor with genuine Cedrus spp. All native US "cedars" aren't.
Your Indian piece is not likely to be mahogany if built there, of course. Better woods available. Some temperate woods have resistant heartwood, but as tropical woods are in conflict with the insects, bacteria and fungi of their environment 24/7 - 365, they do it best or perish. That's why they have such extractive-loaded hearts, and such a variety of oils and odors.
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Well thanks for all the feedback everyone.
I've now got some pics of the woods in question, which might help clarify things.
This is the mystery wood, which smells a bit like incense when cut:
http://g_whiting.perso.libello.com/woodid/mystery1.jpg
The scan is a bit lighter than the actual wood, but pretty accurate otherwise on my monitor (I colour corrected it). It's a bit orangey in hue in fact. Although I have waxed it and there was a bit of colour in the wax - not much though.
This is the box I'm putting the lids into:
http://g_whiting.perso.libello.com/woodid/mystery2.jpg
As you can see, it has a rosewood veneer on the outside - typical i believe for a Georgian or early Victorian box.
Here's the inside shot with the new lids in place:
http://g_whiting.perso.libello.com/woodid/mystery3.jpg
They just don't look smart enough I think. I need something with more of a gloss, more noble looking. You can also see that the box is made of solid mahogany, now visible on the inside of the lid. Originally the lid was covered in paper, with a love-letter flap covering it - but this was all too perished to be salvageable. I've also waxed all the inside - sacrilege I know for any antiquarians out there - but I've decided that this is never going to look like the original (sewing box) so I might as well have it the way I like it!
Here's a close up of the lids in situ:
http://g_whiting.perso.libello.com/woodid/mystery4.jpg
It's also annoying that the grain is running the wrong way on the top lid! I had to do this as there wasn't enough wood (there are also some "secret bottoms" below which I replaced) to go round but on reflection I think that it's a major mistake. To be honest, the question of grain direction hadn't even occured to me when I was cutting the wood!
I'd be interested to hear a) whether you all agree that this is Spanish cedar and b) whether you reckon I should start again with a more suitable wood or maybe even veneer what I've got (I have some mahogany curl veneer I could use).
Now about that Anglo-Indian box I mentioned that smells of insecticide...
Here's a picture of the wood:
http://g_whiting.perso.libello.com/woodid/solapith1.jpg
Here's the whole box:
http://g_whiting.perso.libello.com/woodid/solapith2.jpg
It's 18 inches across
Here's the inside:
http://g_whiting.perso.libello.com/woodid/solapith3.jpg
I had forgotten but somebody had written a note inside saying it was made in India in 1909 by a Chinaman from "sola pith". As you can see it has a lovely red colour and a great sheen. It's also not as hard as I had thought. i think I used Danish oil on this one - the only problem was that the oil took forever to cure and it's still a bit sticky to this day (3 years later). I think there must be something in the wood that impedes the curing process, perhaps the same thing that smells of insecticide.
As for whether these are wood smells or have been added later... Personally I think they are from the wood. After all, mahogany has a very characteristic acrid smell when sanding. I once fixed a very hard and brittle black African wood candlestick - possibly ebony - and that smelled so acrid when sawn it gave me a headache. Pine of course has a really strong smell. And there's sandal and balsam as someone mentioned. I agree with George's point that these are probably natural defences for trees against insect attack.
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ancienthistoryman wrote:

It certainly looks/sounds like it. A couple of points...
1. Spanish cedar isn't a cedar at all...it is related to mahogany
2. It is native to and much used in Central & South America.
3. It is the wood of choice in many Latin areas. When I was living in Mexico, if someone of wealth wanted a new garage door it was always Spanish cedar. OTOH, true mahogany wasn't much used except for things like scaffolds.
The thing in my mind against the mystery wood being Spanish cedar was that you said it was made in England some 200 years ago. Seems odd to me that it would have been used there and then.
Googling gives lots of info and images, might help you. ___________________

The photo of the wood itself looks like sissoo (Indian rosewood) but the box photos look too light and red. Here's a good sissoo photo... http://tinyurl.com/6pprs
Another common Indian wood is sheesham. Don't know much about it except that it is darker than sissoo.
-- dadiOH ____________________________
dadiOH's dandies v3.06... ...a help file of info about MP3s, recording from LP/cassette and tips & tricks on this and that. Get it at http://mysite.verizon.net/xico
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Prime time for West Indian high-end hardwoods being used for English cabinetry. The best stuff of the period is mahogany - the real stuff, and in superb grades.
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Andy Dingley wrote:

Right. So why would they use a non-West Indian wood?
-- dadiOH ____________________________
dadiOH's dandies v3.06... ...a help file of info about MP3s, recording from LP/cassette and tips & tricks on this and that. Get it at http://mysite.verizon.net/xico
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I think the outer veneer, which I called rosewood above, is probably Brazilian rosewood. I used to live there and it's also quite common, used (solid!) as flooring etc. It has those distinctive dark streaks. Of course any original reddish colour has faded over time.
As for the Indian one, I think you're right with Indian rosewood.
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What's the geographical distribution of spanish cedar ? It's common in Cuba (that's what gave it the "Spanish" name after all) and I was assuming that it would also be found in the more British parts of the West Indies. It's certainly found in Belize.
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Andy Dingley wrote:

Natively the West Indies and most of South America from Mexico to Argentina. It's also now found in American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, New Caledonia, Tonga, and South Africa, and is considered to be invasive.
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If Spanish cedar is related to mahogany that would definitely explain the mix-up. Although the box I was putting it into is 200 years old that's not where it originally came from. I found it in another box and it looked (from the glue and wear) to be early 20th century. Rosewood and mahogany were the typical English exotic woods of the early 19th century, I believe, sometimes with ebony stringing. Other than that native trees to the UK like oak, ash, elm, box, beech, birch and fruitwoods were used mostly. I have heard of satinwood boxes but I'm not exactly sure what they look like. I guess there would have been plenty of other woods knocking around 90 years ago, including Spanish cedar. I can't say I'm at all familiar with the name, though I have now learned it is the typical lining for humidors, even in the UK.
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I think I might have made a mistake earlier when I said the second box was made from "sola pith" so please ignore that comment! I googled "sola pith" and it turns out it's some kind of reed used in making ornaments so the inscription must be referring to what had been in the box (but is no longer)! So maybe it is a sort of mahogany after all.
(I wish I had tried Google before posting that comment...)
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Thanks for reminding the others that the piece in question was not from a 200 yr box. Age and place of manufacture is going to tell you things, I should think. Check the trade going on at the time, and you might be able to eliminate some woods. I imagine that the craftsmen in England were willing to pay for dunnage coming back from the empire, but not at the price of mahogany, which would have been valuable enough to be a cargo in itself. West or East Indies woods should be more common than South American.
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ancienthistoryman wrote:

Just a guess but it might be Camphor wood. In parts of Asia it is used for chests the way Eastern Aromatic Red Cedar is used in North America.
I've only seen one Camphor wood chest (that I am relatively sure was Camphor wood) and it was covered with carvings which made it a bit tough to get a real good impression of the grain.
--

FF


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You mention these scents throughout the thread, and my first thought was "Are these natural scents, or are they man-made?". For example, it's my understanding that it's common for ladies to put a little perfumed sachet in with their lingerie to make it smell nice. If that was done for an extended period of time, would that scent come out when the wood was cut? As well, as far as the insecticide smell, couldn't that be mothballs, or something else?
Just a thought or two.
Clint

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Good point Clint, and I am starting to wonder about these scents a little. The only way to test your theory, however, is to sniff some of the aforementioned ladies underwear. Then take a sample, subject them to use of your power tools and see if a pleasant odour is released. Don't blame me if you get arrested though!
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ancienthistoryman wrote: snip

Check out sandalwood and see if that looks like it. Dave in Fairfax
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