What Is Rubberwood and How Sustainable Is It? (Full History and Uses)
Mahogany, jarrah, teak, are all names that people usually associate with high-quality and luxurious furniture. However, the increasing demand for these timbers has caused vast swathes of tropical forest habitat to be destroyed. Seeing that items made from these trees are now incredibly expensive, it’s probably time we turn to more sustainable furniture materials. What is rubberwood and how can it help us preserve Earth’s forests?
While it probably doesn’t conjure up the same associations with quality, rubberwood might soon become an essential material for furniture and other timber products. There comes a day when you need a new table, a new sets of chairs or a better bed frame. Rubberwood is the solution if you want your new purchase to use sustainable wood.
What Is Rubberwood?
Rubberwood is a material that obtained from the tree named Hevea brasiliensis; it’s also known in the furniture industry as the rubber tree or Pará rubber tree. It is a light-colored medium-density tropical hardwood that usually comes from trees grown in rubber plantations.
The reason why rubberwood has made it on our Green & Growing blog is because it’s commonly advertised as an “environmentally friendly” wood. Rubberwood is indeed a sustainable material as it makes use of plantation trees that have already been used once. More about the many uses of rubberwood below.
History of Rubberwood
Even though the rubber tree is native to South America, there are many large plantations in Southeast Asia, as well. According to 1999 records, 80 percent of the planet’s current plantations have been cultivated there. Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand account for 70 percent of the global number of rubber trees.
Plantation rubber trees have a straight and long trunk; they can grow an impressive 75 feet over their lifetime. In their natural and native habitat, rubber trees can grow to well over 100 feet. When they reach maturity, trees have a diameter of approximately 3 feet.
People cultivate them in densities of around 90 trees per acre. The tropical regions of Asia, Africa and America are currently home to more than 36 million acres of rubber trees. These extensive rubber plantations with mature trees have many uses, the most important of which is the latex production.
Sapping Latex from Rubber Trees
Commercially tapping into rubber trees for their latex is a long-standing and valuable industry that gives us all the rubber we need. The process involves the cultivators carefully poking holes in the tree from which the sap bleeds.
If during the taping process, the holes are not properly made, the fungi introduced by the cutting knife will lead to dark stains in the wood. This is considered a major defect and can decrease the price of rubberwood. In spite of the invention of synthetic alternatives to the sap, the traditional industry is still going strong throughout Southeast Asia.
For successful growth, the rubber trees need well-drained soil at a level of 3,000 feet above sea level. In addition, they require an average temperature of 82°F and an annual rainfall of 2,000 milliliters. The rubber tree will typically lose all of its in January, but they can return – along with fruit – from July to September.
Uses of Rubberwood
The first use of a rubber tree comes from the latex they produce. The plantations go through harvest seasons each year, but by the time a tree gets to around 30 years old, the latex production decreases. At this point, it’s no longer commercially viable for the harvesters to tap the tree.
Past practices said that when a rubber tree reaches this stage, its fate is to be felled and burned on the spot. Other plantations chopped it up for firewood and planted new trees instead. However, now the wood has other uses after it no longer produces latex.
Rubberwood has many qualities that enable it to become more than just firewood. It is flexible yet strong, as well as resistant to bacteria, fungus, and mold. It’s easy to work with, compatible with most industrial adhesives, and its amazing grain makes it suitable for quality furniture.
Therefore, rubberwood is now an extensive resource for flooring, furniture, construction and even for toy manufacturing. Given how tall they grow, a single rubber tree is a great source of plenty of timber. Its dense grain allows for an easy control through kiln drying process.
Due to the fact that it has very little shrinkage, rubberwood is one of the better materials for furniture, kitchen accessories, and toys. However, keep in mind that just like other hardwoods, rubberwood has varying degrees of quality.
It is also not suitable for outdoor use, seeing that rain can wash away the protective chemicals of the wood. Without them, the wood remains exposed to fungus and insect attacks. Excessive moisture can also cause rotting and wood warping.
The wood produced by the rubber tree is light in color and features narrow slithers of brown. Despite its name, the wood is not at all rubbery in consistency. Quite the opposite is true, given its hardness that compares to the Maplewood’s. To dissuade unfavorable associations, some companies will market it under the trade name of “parawood.”
Sustainability of Rubberwood
One of the many benefits of the rubber tree is the fact that many consider it a commercially sustainable source of wood. Unlike other trees that are felled, rubber trees are always replanted. At the same time, it has many uses across a varied range of commercial sectors, including the furniture and wooden toy industries. Using more rubberwood also ensures that other, less protected trees will be spared the manufacturing purposes.
It is regrettable how many rainforests have been cleared out to make room for rubber plantations. However, it’s great to see the many uses of rubber trees, beyond their latex production and contribution to firewood. Rubber trees are incredibly versatile and the large supply promises a great economic potential to the countries involved in the rubber sector.
So next time you’re out shopping, do not avoid the rubberwood products; the material is sustainable, eco-friendly, and makes for some high-quality furniture!