Renewable hybrid wood rates high on hardness scale
Home Matters.BY DAVID BRADLEYTHE ASSOCIATED PRESSThe next time you’re in the market for a hardwood floor, butcher block table or cutting board, keep the Janka scale in mind.The Janka scale is the hardwood industry’s test to measure the pressure required to embed a .444-inch steel ball to half its diameter into the wood. The higher the number, the better the ability of wood to withstand dents and scratches from dropped dishes and everyday wear and tear.At the bottom of the scale are supple woods such as white pine with an oh-so-soft rating of 380 pounds of force per square inch. The hardest of the hardwoods is the all but uncuttable Brazilian ebony at 3,692. By comparison, typical oak flooring scores at 1,350.The problem with South American rainforest and African hardwood species is the trees are slow to grow, so a mature tree can be 100 or more years old. That’s hardly defined as a renewable resource at a time when U.S. pines grow from seedling to harvestable age in a scant 12 to 15 years. Even standard North American hardwoods such as maple or oak are 70 to 80 years old at the time of harvest.Environmental concerns now push some consumers toward hardwoods with faster growth and a more eco-friendly lineage. Those varieties, however, can be hard to find.Cindy Huppert of Images Floor Coverings in Atlanta sees increased numbers of buyers shifting to renewable varieties which grow quickly but still possess hardness factors necessary to stand up to daily abuse. Considerable interest has been focused on Lyptus, a super-sturdy wood charted at 1,700 pounds on the Janka scale. Lyptus virtually sprints to maturity in 15 years on Brazilian tree farms, making the eucalyptus hybrid among the fastest growing renewable hardwoods in the world.A traditional oak floor features meandering grain and, at $4.50 per square foot, is priced right for homeowners and builders, although stain and finish options are relatively limited. Huppert says the grain of Lyptus is straight with a natural appearance closer to mahogany at roughly the same cost of oak. It can take on a wider range of stains such as walnut, cherry, mahogany and maple.Consumers can expect to pay $7 to $8 or more per square foot for other premium imported exotic hardwoods such as merbau and teak. Other domestic hardwoods like hardrock maple are close to $10 per square foot. Those prices are before installation.Hardwoods have been the mainstay of Joe Emmerich’s butcher block business. His Illinois firm, John Boos Co., has used hard maples as a mainstay of the butcher block and cutting board business, but he has added the new wood to his product lineup because of its amber to red color and environmental factors.”As you get closer to the heart of a tree, the older wood is darker and harder. It’s quite beautiful,” says Emmerich. His firm rips Lyptus into strips and glues the boards in a vertical configuration so the end grain shows.Customers like the fact that the hybrid is renewable, according to Emmerich. “That has a lot of appeal itself. It’s a bonus for customers when they find out it is renewable.”On the Webwww.hardwood.org (Hardwood Manufacturers Association)www.johnboos.comwww.lyptus.com
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