Norm Abram
Q: My dad and I have a bet that we'd like you to settle. Is mahogany one of the most expensive woods or one of the cheapest?

— Samantha Hansen, West Allis, Wisc.

A: Norm Abram replies: The answer is: You're both right. It all depends on what kind of mahogany you're talking about.

A botanist would say a mahogany tree belongs in the family Meliaceae, which contains about 550 species found in many places in the world, including Africa, Asia, Central and South America, and the Caribbean. The most desirable species are very expensive—Cuban or West Indian mahogany is so rare that people pay as much up to $28 a board foot for it. By comparison, a furniture-grade hardwood like cherry runs about $3 a board foot.

The problem is, some woods with mahogany in their name aren't members of the mahogany family at all. Philippine mahogany, for instance, is actually part of the Dipterocarpaceae family. Sometimes it's called lauan or meranti. Because it's relatively inexpensive—you'll often see it used in plywood for floor underlayment—it's not surprising that someone would think that this "mahogany" is one of the cheapest woods.

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