Sapele is one of my favorite bargain wood species for a number of reasons. First, the beauty of the ribbon figure just begs a finish to be applied. Second, the workability is the same as Mahogany, and third the price can’t be beat.
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Sapele falls into my favorite wood category, which means it is far more beautiful than the price would suggest. This wood looks pretty good when raw, but add a finish and the entire look changes.
The finish enhances the natural ribbon streaks that run through the piece, and when rotated, the surface shimmers and flashes as different parts of the ribbon pattern reflect light. Pictures are nothing compared to rotating a finished Sapele piece in a light.
Most hardwood stores that carry Sapele will carry a lot of it. The couple places I go have this in a bunker, and there are many boards to choose from. I really enjoy digging around the bin and looking for a great piece. Acoustic guitars have more requirements from wood than other woodworking items, so it takes me a little longer to find the right piece.
I finished this guitar with Tru-Oil, which was an easy process. My video on finishing explains everything, and it’s called Finishing With Tru-Oil. If you would rather read about it, my article on Tru-Oil Finishing explains the process in print.
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Look through the Sapele bunker for pieces that have a lot of figure, are straight, and free from defects that cannot be worked around. Don’t be afraid to pull out several pieces, until you are satisfied. Sapele is right in the middle for price, which fits almost any budget.
This guitar was made from one large piece of Sapele. I found this in a hardwood store about half way through a bunker. Once I saw the piece, I knew instantly that this was going to be a great looking instrument. There were others in the bunker that had a similar look, but this one also had sections where the wood was well quarter sawn, which again is important more for guitar makers than anyone else.
Sapele is easy to find. If a store has a full bunker, look through it and find a piece with the most ribbon figure. These are incredible to see with a hand applied oil finish.
Ask for Sapele in your hardwood store and take a look at their selection. This is a very easy species to work. It sands well, finishes well, and will impress anyone who looks at your project. Try out a piece, then leave a comment and tell us all how you liked it.
For more finishing tips, my Free PDF the 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing explains the process very well. It makes an expert finisher out of anyone, and it’s free.
If you like this guitar, and are interested in making a guitar, my article on the Top 5 Acoustic Guitar Making Books can help. These were the books that taught me everything I know about making guitars by hand.
My book, Acoustic Guitar Making: How to make Tools, Templates, and Jigs simplifies the process. It’s not a step by step book, however it simplifies a lot of the processes involved. With over 500 pages and over 1600 images, it explains many aspects of acoustic guitar making.