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Going Global

International Sourcing Drives U.S. Manufacturers 

           
 

Above: The RSA Project in Alabama, Plywood panels were created A-Grade quartered primavera veneer balanced with Okoume to match the sunburst
sketch face pattern.

Below: The multi-cultural center at Hope College in Holland, Michigan
features Khaya Veneer with an MDF Substrate and rotary-cut Okoume back. 

 
 

 

 High-end architectural and design applications are benefiting from the diversity of wood and wood products available from global wood suppliers.

In today’s economy, retailers and consumers are pressuring suppliers to provide ultimate value for the dollars expended on plywood and other building materials. Fortunately there is a wide range of wood options from which to choose, both from the U.S. and abroad.

 

The United States, for example, has abundant reserves of oak, maple, birch and other hardwoods available for use as plywood faces and backs. Meranti/lauan (Shorea spp.) from Indonesian and Malaysian suppliers is plentiful and is valued by American manufacturers for its smoothness, light weight and structural soundness. Okoume (Aucoumea klaineana) from Africa is another smooth, lightweight species that is used extensively by American hardwood plywood manufacturers.

Many domestic manufacturers have developed unique value propositions that incorporate imported components into their production processes, providing specialty and/or custom products for high-end applications. As a result, U.S. consumers are benefiting from the wide variety, affordability and availability of species from virtually all parts of the world.

Eggers Industries, a diversified wood products producer located in Wisconsin, is one company that incorporates imported components with great success. Eggers recently provided custom plywood to create balance, strength, durability and lasting appeal in a project in Mobile, Alabama for the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA). Barry Schoening, regional sales manager, explained the application.

“The RSA project contains plywood panels made with A-grade quartered primavera (Cybistax donnell-smithii) veneer from Central America with a sunburst sketch face pattern,” said Schoening. “The sketchface plywood panels for this project were manufactured at either 0.75” or 0.125” finished thicknesses. Both thicknesses consisted of a three-ply construction with an MDF substrate, veneer faces and veneer backs.”

To maintain a balanced construction, Schoening added that a veneer species with similar material properties to that of the decorative face was used. “In this case, okoume from Africa was selected. To further balance the product, the veneer back was constructed with a similar grain orientation to that of the sunburst face design.”

Another trend that gives the plywood industry an opportunity to differentiate itself is the growing popularity of exotic veneers, as designers and architects vie to create ever more striking and creative concepts in panels, furniture and other architectural elements. Species such as jatoba/Brazilian cherry (Hymenaea courbaril), black limba (Terminalia superba), sapele (Entandrophragma spp.), paldao (Dracontomelon, dao), pau ferro (Machaerium spp.) and Karelian birch (Betula spp.) are just a few of the exotic woods that are highly prized for today’s high-end applications. These exotic woods and wood veneers are often spectacularly figured, with grains that are burled, curled, dimpled, peanut-shaped, fiddle-backed, bees winged, quilted or otherwise twisted, kinked or torqued.

San Diego-based cabinetry designer Michael Borrelli uses a variety of furniture grade exotic veneers for his custom cabinetry, including paldao, pao ferro, figured eucalyptus, figured ash, and sapele. “We have had the good fortune of being involved in the ‘Manhattanization’ of Downtown San Diego,” says Borrelli. “The Downtown San Diego skyline is punctuated with numerous high-rise residential buildings. Most of the build out of the interiors of the units above the 20th floor are custom world-class contemporary designs.”

The special attributes of exotic veneers are ideal for these applications. “Figured fibers and abnormalities in the growth ring structure of the wood give wood special character and unique beauty,” Borrelli notes.

Woods and Style, located in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is a custom woodwork company that specializes in working with exotic woods. Tom Oneto, principal, describes a renovation project he completed for a financial institution headquartered in Virginia. "All of the built-ins and the paneling were fabricated out of sequence-matched figured anegre (Aningeria spp.)," says Oneto. "This was the executive level floor for the bank's highest ranking officers. There were seven conference rooms, each with credenza units, which they called marker boards, which varied dimensionally but were all of the same basic design.

"The figured anegre was chosen because it's a very beautiful wood with a vertical fiddleback grain pattern on the veneer,” adds Oneto. “The units stand out from the wall with a vertical grain pattern with horizontal flakes that gives a 3-D effect, and creates a high-end look.”

Due to the limited availability of some exotic veneer species, recomposed veneers are gaining traction at the upper end of the market as well, and this opens up another niche that U.S. plywood producers can exploit. The process of man-made or recomposed veneers begins with a species such as African obeche (Triplochiton scleroxvlon), Italian poplar or some other wood that absorbs color evenly.

    
  San Diego-based cabinetry designer, Michael Borrelli, used several types of exotic wood throughout the high-rise, residential building project.  All of the built-ins and paneling were created out of fabricated anegre wood. 

The wood is sliced into thin leaves and then “recomposed” into a curved or molded block which can be sliced at any desired angle. Using this process, artisans are able to highlight the wood’s grain pattern and create striking geometric patterns. Once colored, the veneers can be made to emulate natural exotic veneers, such as ebony, rosewood or mahogany. Or, for exclusive, custom applications, they are sometimes dyed non-traditional hues such as blue, pink or green. The engineering process results in consistency of both grain and color, making it easy to match the panels and harmonize the veneer with other materials.

One popular contemporary technique is to use a combination of light and dark veneers – either natural or recomposed or a mix of the two types – to create striking design contrasts. As an example, designers are pairing rift white oak with wenge or anegre with Macassar ebony. It is a hot trend right now to see designers mixing woods in very imaginative, innovative ways.

As designers and architects experiment with ever more artful and novel applications, high quality woods and wood products offer a rich palette of materials from which to select. Whether sourced from the U.S., Canada, Africa, Europe, Asia or South America, every species imbues its own distinct beauty, texture and character, and having broad access to a worldwide range of sources is a boon for the industry. It enables consumers and designers to create works of durable and lasting beauty that people will enjoy for many years to come.

Many domestic manufacturers have developed unique value propositions that incorporate imported components into their production processes, providing specialty and/or custom products for high-end applications. As a result, U.S. consumers are benefitting from the wide variety, affordability and availability of species from virtually all parts of the world.

In today’s economy, retailers and consumers are pressuring suppliers to provide ultimate value for the dollars expended on plywood and other building materials. Fortunately there is a wide range of wood options from which to choose, both from the U.S. and abroad.

Designers are pairing rift white oak with wenge or anegre with Macassar ebony. It is a hot trend right now to see designers mixing woods in very imaginative, innovative ways.

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Copyright© 2010 by the International Wood Products Association. Published by Bedford Falls Communications, Inc. and circulated to an audience of 20,000 architects, designers, distributors, manufacturers, and users of imported wood products in North America.


Copyright© 2010 by the International Wood Products Association. Published by Bedford Falls Communications, Inc. and circulated to an audience of 20,000 architects, designers, distributors, manufacturers, and users of imported wood products in North America.

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