The rising prices, longer lead times, and decreasing availability of Spanish Cedar leave some builders no choice but to search out viable alternatives to this fabulous lumber species. If your application requires South American Spanish Cedar, you can expect to pay a premium for it — and wait a while for it, especially if your order includes specialty sizes or larger amounts. Thankfully, you do have some good alternatives from which to choose. We’ll focus on three alternatives species: Fijian Mahogany, Sapele, and Utile.
Utile and Sapele are both African hardwoods which are often used as Mahogany alternatives. Like Spanish Cedar, their appearances are similar to that of Genuine Mahogany, but their lower price tag makes them more desirable to many. Like Spanish Cedar and Mahogany, Sapele and Utile are highly weather resistant, making them ideal for exterior applications.
Compared to Spanish Cedar, they’re less expensive; however, they also have a higher density, making them heavier and unable to be used for some applications for which Spanish Cedar is ideal. At the same time, Sapele and Utile can easily be found in wide and long sizes — something especially useful for window and door manufacturers.
Fijian Mahogany is another alternative to Spanish Cedar that bears consideration. Especially if a lighter species is desirable, this plantation-grown Mahogany might be the perfect fit. This Genuine Mahogany is the same species that grows naturally in South America. It was planted by the British decades ago in Fiji and is gaining appreciation as an exterior option.
While the different soil composition makes the appearance of Fijian Mahogany distinct from South American Mahogany, many see it as perfect for paint-grade work. Since it comes at a lower price than Spanish Cedar and offers the potential for longer, wider boards, many former Spanish Cedar devotees find it an ideal alternative.
Once upon a time, attaining exotic lumber simply wasn’t a reasonable option. Back in those days, Spanish Cedar was clearly head-and-shoulders above the competition — namely North American Cedar species. By comparison, Spanish Cedar offered clear benefits, such as hardness and higher weather resistance. However, since Spanish Cedar has traditionally been a by-product of Mahogany and other South American species, increased demand was bound to come up against availability issues.
In our estimation, if Sapele, Utile, and Fijian Mahogany were available when people started buying Spanish Cedar, it would never have become as popular as it has. We still think Spanish Cedar is an excellent choice for many projects, but if you have to go with an alternative, please don’t think you’re getting a second-rate species. Any of the three we looked at above would be excellent choices, any day of the week.