Sapele wood flooring - clear grade
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Sapele (Sapelli)

Grades & Properties of Wood Flooring —
Exotic Species

Scientific Name:

Entandrophragma cylindricum

Other Common Names and Related Species:

  • Aboudikro
  • Libuyu
  • Moyovu
  • Penkwa
  • Sapeli
  • Sapelli
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West and East Africa, from the Ivory Coast to the Cameroons and eastward through Zaire and Uganda.

Janka Hardness: 1510

Sapele is 4% harder than hard Maple and 11% harder than White Oak.

Grades of Sapele Flooring:

Almost all Sapele flooring is Clear grade that is chosen for its dark reddish orange color. The two main types are Plain Sawn and Quarter Sawn. Plain Sawn Sapele flooring has grain similar to that of Andiroba. Quarter Sawn Sapele flooring has vertical ribbon grain similar to that of Quarter Sawn Brazilian Cherry.

Sapele Flooring Dimension Specifications:

Some Sapele flooring is milled in Africa because it is more cost-effective to ship finished material than raw lumber. However, some is also milled in the U.S. and Canada with the same specs. Lengths of the Sapele flooring bundles are 7 feet so they can easily fit into 8-foot-wide steel shipping containers. Some is milled in the U.S. and Canada by large mills. All pre-milled products are tongue-&-groove and end-matched (tongue-&-grooved on the ends of the boards). Moisture content ranges from 6% to 8% for quick acclimation. The average length of the flooring pieces is usually about 3 feet and ranges from 1 to 7 feet. Almost all imported flooring that is found is in 7-foot bundles, with widths available from 2¼″ to 5″. If a long or wide plank floor is desired, raw lumber must be obtained and the flooring must be milled here in the United States. Typically, the lengths can develop up to 12 feet. However, the cost can be double that of the pre-milled stock because of waste and labor costs in the United States. Also, raw lumber is relatively expensive.

Flooring Availability:

Sapele flooring is available prefinished or unfinished in solid form for nail-down applications and in engineered form with a veneer top layer for application over concrete. Sapele is an uncommon species in comparison with most hardwood flooring. There is a large amount of Sapele in Africa, and it is not endangered. However, less logging, stricter regulations, and a slower American economy have limited commodities and caused slightly higher prices of this product in this country.

Finished Floor Appearance:

A Clear grade floor will have an even reddish orange appearance. The grain patterns of Sapele are very similar to that of Brazilian Cherry in Quarter Sawn and that of Plain Sawn Andiroba. Oil-based finishes allow Sapele flooring to age to a deeper dark color. Water-based finishes will keep the natural color longer.

Flooring Durability and Stability:

Sapele flooring is very durable and resists denting and traffic wear quite well. It is much harder than some North American floors because of its density but can swell with moisture if not acclimated properly. Sapele flooring is very heavy, weighing about 3 pounds per square foot.

Workability of Sapele Flooring:

Although hard and tough, Sapele works with little difficulty with both hand and power tools. When installing the flooring, it is best to use a manual nailer, but staples and pneumatic nailers can be used. It holds screws well, and it glues, stains, and polishes to a very attractive finish. It can be somewhat difficult to sand with flooring equipment because of its hardness. Professional sanding and finishing is recommended. This wood is very resistant to decay and insects; these resistant properties may contribute to a possible allergic response to the dust. To avoid a possible allergic reaction to the material, wear a dust mask and long-sleeve shirt when working with Sapele.

Principal Uses of Sapele Flooring:

Sapele flooring is used in high-end residential and commercial applications for a dramatically elegant floor. It is also used for color-contrasting borders and medallions.

Learn more about this hardwood flooring species »

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