|A sapele tree in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo|
Entandrophragma cylindricum, commonly known as the sapele or sapelli (// sə-PEE-lee), is a large tree native to tropical Africa. The tree is also known as aboudikro. There are protected populations and felling restrictions in place in various countries.
Entandrophragma cylindricum grows to a height of up to 45 m (rarely 60 m). The leaves are deciduous in the dry season, alternately arranged, pinnate, with 5-9 pairs of leaflets, each leaflet about 10 cm long. The flowers are produced in loose inflorescences when the tree is leafless, each flower about 5 mm diameter, with five yellowish petals. The fruit is a pendulous capsule about 10 cm long and 4 cm broad; when mature it splits into five sections to release the 15-20 seeds.
The commercially important wood is reminiscent of mahogany, a member of the same family, with a distinctive figure, typically applied where figure is important. It has a density of 640 kg per cubic metre. Demand for sapele, often marketed as "African mahogany," has increased sharply as a mahogany substitute in recent years due to genuine mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) becoming a CITES Appendix II listed species.
Among its more exotic uses is that in musical instruments. It is used for the back and sides of acoustic guitar bodies, as well as the tops of electric guitar bodies. It is also used in manufacturing the neck piece of ukuleles and 26- and 36-string harps. In the late 90s, it started to be used as a board for Basque percussion instruments txalaparta. Sapele internal doors (normally a thin veneer of the wood on a cardboard honeycomb inner structure) were very popular in the United Kingdom during the 1980s and 1990s, although uncommon now.
The American car maker Cadillac uses sapele wood for interior wood trim on its vehicles. The shower seat manufacturer Hudson Reed also use sapele wood for certain shower seats. Boutique headphone manufacture Forte Audio uses Sapele Wood in the construction of their 'Forte Clairity' line of hi-end headphones. American specialty furniture maker Geek Chic uses sapele wood for a variety of custom furniture pieces they offer, including gaming tables and chairs.
Due to its strength and attractive reddish-brown colouring, sapele wood is increasingly used in staircase construction. With its close texture and interlocking grain, sapele is both harder and heavier than mahogany, making it a durable, cost-effective alternative. Specialist UK manufacturer Pear Stairs produces a range of custom-made sapele staircases.
- Media related to Entandrophragma cylindricum at Wikimedia Commons