When you’re considering only the best materials for your next woodworking project, the options can be overwhelming. You may be looking into anything from oak to Acacia, and even into synthetic woods to save a few pennies. One of the options that may stand out to you most is rubberwood.
What is rubberwood? Although rubberwood is commonly mistaken as a type of hybrid between natural and synthetic wood, it is actually the product of a tree known as the Pará rubber tree, which is the same tree that produces latex.
Rubberwood trees can grow to a massive size, and when they are no longer useful for producing latex, the trees are then harvested for lumber. Rubberwood is commonly used as solid wood for furniture, but it can also be processed to become particleboard and MDF.
This is a type of affordable natural wood that has many useful applications. This article will shed some light on this type of wood and why you should consider it for your next furniture project.
Is Rubber Wood Real Wood?
The rubberwood used in furniture construction is produced by the tree that produces latex. So yes, it is real wood.
The Amazon basin’s native tree, the rubberwood, is originally used for the production of rubber. When cut, the tree’s milky natural latex is harvested and processed to become rubber. This process became so profitable that it led to the expansion of rubber plantations around the world.
Rubberwood is also called parawood, Asian hardwood, or Hevea brasiliensis. The trees are extracted for latex when they are around nine years old. After around 15-20 years of latex extraction, the trees start producing a diminishing return.
Previously, non-productive trees were rarely used for commercial purposes. Because the natural wood was not very durable and lumber was difficult to harvest, these trees were often burned if they didn’t yield any latex.
However, in the mid-1980s, rubberwood started becoming an alternative resource for the timber industry, thanks to new preservation techniques that increased rubberwood’s durability. Currently, rubberwood is one of the most popular products in this industry.
Many people often mistake rubberwood for synthetic wood. The name is quite misleading because rubberwood is actually a slightly dense hardwood with a similar density and appearance to ash and maple.
You can find rubberwood in a wide range of colors, grains, and finishes, which is why it is commonly used for home furnishing. This type of wood is not very durable to start with, but after some treatment, it can be suitable for outdoor and indoor furniture.
Since this type of wood is relatively cheaper than other types of hardwood, it is also very popular. Rubberwood is most commonly used for furniture, kitchen accessories, and interior design.
Characteristics Of Rubberwood
Despite its name (and the fact that the trees are farmed to produce latex), rubberwood is not very soft or elastic. It is, in fact, a type of hardwood that can be quite useful for everyday purposes.
Before treatments, rubberwood has a light to medium tan tone, sometimes with medium brown streaks. The wood machines well, though it can feel rough due to the large size of its pores. Sanding is recommended to remove any surface debris before staining and finishing.
Its light color and porous structure make it a good choice for staining and finishing. Rubberwood stains well and is often stained a different color when it is used to make furniture.
This type of wood has little natural resistance to decay, and it is very sensitive to fungal staining and insects. However, after being treated with preservatives, the wood’s durability can increase substantially, which makes it great for furniture construction.
That is also why a lot of imported furniture brands use rubberwood to make their products. Most of the rubberwood used for making furniture and home goods came from Asia and was produced in China. Sometimes, rubberwood is listed as “plantation hardwood” when it is sold in this capacity.
If you are exploring rubberwood as a material for woodworking, you’ll find that rubberwood is a great material to work with because it takes glue, stains, and wood finishes well. Although the wood has a strong odor when it is still in your workshop, the smell will soon go away when the wood is dry.
One thing to note if you are planning on working with this type of wood is that it can trigger those with a latex or rubber allergy. People with a latex allergy should avoid having rubberwood in their homes.
Should You Use Rubberwood?
If you’re wondering about or thinking of using rubberwood in your home, you’ll likely want to weigh its strengths and weaknesses. Let’s explore some of them below.
Strengths Of Rubberwood
Because rubberwood is classified as a hardwood, it is very strong and durable. Still, rubberwood is more affordable compared to other types of hardwood, such as oak or maple.
This is because rubber trees are planted to produce latex, and rubberwood is only the byproduct. However, that doesn’t mean that rubberwood is any less preferable than other types of hardwood.
This wood is a popular choice for woodworking because it is easy to work with and works very well with stains and wood finish. Because of these characteristics, you can transform rubberwood’s appearance to fit with the aesthetic of your home.
After some processing, rubberwood is actually highly durable and stable. It doesn’t shrink or crack even after some use, which makes it a great material for interior use.
Weaknesses Of Rubberwood
Although the strengths of rubberwood are quite outstanding, there are definitely some weaknesses to consider.
The first is the wood’s tendency to warp and twist, especially while it is drying. In addition, due to its nature, rubberwood is prone to decay and fungal staining.
This is why rubberwood is not a great material in its natural state, and it has to be thoroughly processed with some chemicals before it can be a lasting addition in the home. If you are not a fan of chemical treatments, then you need to reconsider using rubberwood.
After chemical treatments, this material is very durable and can last for a long time if it is used for indoor furniture. For outdoor furniture, not so much. Rubberwood can absorb moisture and deteriorate quickly if it gets wet, so keeping rubberwood furniture outdoors is out of the question.
As mentioned above, rubberwood is also not great for those who have latex allergies. You will want to make sure that this material won’t trigger your allergies before bringing it into your home.
Rubberwood furniture is often an attractive option for consumers who are on a budget. Part of the reason why rubberwood is affordable is that there is an abundance of rubberwood plantations out there.
Although it’s touted as a sustainable product, the use of rubberwood furniture can still negatively affect the environment. For instance, the plantations that grow rubberwood furniture often take over virgin rainforests, which can affect the local biodiversity.
Around 10% of the world’s forestlands get cut down every year to become fast-wood forests, which can negatively impact the environment.
Processing rubberwood to increase the material’s durability also employs a lot of harsh chemicals, which can also affect the environment. Environmentally conscious consumers should definitely weigh these pros and cons before choosing this type of wood for their homes.
Caring For Rubberwood Furniture
Although rubberwood is a fairly stable type of wood, especially after it has been treated, some maintenance is still required to sustain the wood’s appearance after some use.
When it comes to cleaning, you can clean your rubberwood furniture the same way as you would clean any other wood. At least once a year, wash your rubberwood furniture with soap and water, and dry it thoroughly with a clean cloth. Keep in mind that rubberwood is water-absorbent, so you will want to remove any excess water from the wood.
Rubberwood has a naturally dull patina that can be brightened with furniture wax. If you have used furniture wax on your rubberwood furniture, make sure to use a wax-stripping detergent on the furniture to remove dirt and restore the wood’s colors.
Due to the nature of rubberwood’s hard surface, surface scratches and dents are fairly common. Fixing small scratches are quite easy; you can just use a wood finish or varnish to remove them.
If the dents are bigger, you can remove them with heat and steam. Since rubberwood can expand under heat and moisture, a simple and effective way to remove dents is by covering these spots with a towel and placing a hot iron on this area. A steamer would also work, although it may take longer and may not be as effective.
In everyday use, you should take care of your rubberwood furniture so that it won’t be damaged. The wood is very sensitive to heat and moisture, so you should not keep it outside or anywhere that gets too much direct sunlight. Otherwise, the wood can be discolored.
Hot items, such as cups and pots can create white rings on a rubberwood tabletop. These can be easily avoided by using coasters and potholders. You should always keep your rubberwood furniture dry because too much moisture can distort the wood and ruin the finish.