Special Feature  



The use of American hardwood lumber and veneer by furniture manufacturers in Asia has been established for very many years. About 20 different species have been available on a sustainable basis, supplied by specialist U.S. exporters, offering a wide choice of hardwood material that is not only suitable for furniture but also are widely acceptable to international and domestic markets. Red and White Oak, as well as Walnut are well known and extensively used. But others such as Maples and Cherry come and go in fashion cycles; and Tulipwood has more recently come to the fore in Asia as a high-yielding and competitive hardwood for furniture.

This special feature provides additional information for a furniture material that remains at the center of furniture making in many Asian countries, so starts with an explanation of the latest promotion from the American Hardwood Introduction Export Council (AHEC). “Designed in Asia and made in Asia with American Hardwood” sets out to inspire designers and manufacturers to consider what can be achieved with American hardwoods. As suggested Maples and Cherry are two fine hardwood species that are expected to return to fashion as their aesthetic characteristics and technical benefits become appreciated by younger designers who may have missed their rise to fashion last time around. “Wallpaper Handmade Project” from the famed Milan show in American Cherry is included to underline the growing interest in its beauty and quality.

Finally American Hardwood Environmental Profiles (AHEPs) represent years of research and work to provide manufacturers with data based on science that answer the questions of consumer markets sensitive to the environmental impact of using wood – with information available for each specific shipment of American raw material.

Designed in Asia and made in Asia with American Hardwood

by Philippa Dudman

IFFS always has high quality standards of furniture made from Asian designers and AHEC wanted to be a part of this, demonstrating Asian design talent. Showcasing furniture designed in Asia and made by Asian manufacturers with American hardwood was an ideal way to be a part of the show. The 10 displays included a combination of dining chairs, a cabinet, dining table, coat stand, lounge chair and side table designed and made by Southeast Asian designers with American white oak and walnut.

This campaign is backed up with a series of furniture, flooring and interior design adverts that showcase beautiful designs by Southeast Asian designers all in American hardwood. Throughout this year’s AHEC Convention in Nanning, China the campaign formed the main theme playing a key role for which AHEC received positive feedback from its members as well as the Chinese delegates.

Throughout Southeast Asia, many modern furniture manufacturers have long relied on western designs provided by overseas buyers, or been inspired by western markets. But since the global recession and downturn in construction, the demand for furniture from the west has reduced and by contrast Asian domestic markets have grown. This has provided opportunities for talented Asian designers to focus on furniture for Asian markets and interiors for the booming hotel and growing residential sectors. AHEC believes that its campaign exemplifies this point.

It is becoming clear that Asian designers are taking their rightful place in the creative chain that converts wood to fine furniture and buildings of value, with minimal impact on the environment. There is a strong environmental case for using wood as a design material for, compared to other materials, wood produced in a sustainable manner is an extraordinarily friendly material. Over its full life cycle (cradle to grave), wood is estimated to release up to 47% less air pollution; up to 23% less solid waste and requires up to 57% less energy to produce than other materials. Unlike other products, wood in construction and furniture stores carbon, the principal contributor to greenhouse gases.

American hardwoods offer great choice in a variety of textures, colours, grains and character; from the warm, darker tones of black walnut, red alder, elm, cherry and red oak to the lighter hues of white oak, hard maple and ash. By using American hardwoods, designers are assured that they are minimising their impact on the environment throughout all the stages of the product life cycle, from extraction, through processing, use, reuse and final disposal. By embracing these species, designers are not simply responding to a new fashion. Nor are they only seeking to minimise the direct impact of their own creations on the environment. They are promoting desirable visions that compel people to want to live sustainably and in style.

‘Designed in Asia and made in Asia with American hardwood’ will be further developed throughout 2015 and 2016 and seen at other shows in Southeast Asia.

Two Fine Furniture Species – ‘Lesser Known’
or ‘Lessor Used’?

by World Hardwoods

The world has thousands of hardwoods, many of which are suitable for making furniture. Some of them are ‘lesser known’ or may be inconsistently available. Others are ‘lesser used’ for one reason or another. There are two particular species of hardwood lesser used these days, but available in great volume and certainly sustainable by any standards.

Wabi Cherry sideboard by Japanese architects Setsu and Shinobu Ito

The main reason why many of the world’s lesser known species are not used is due to inconsistency of supply. Furniture manufacturers invest hugely when they test and trial new species and often the number one concern is continuity of future supply, since future unreliability of material is unacceptable. This is the opposite case with American Cherry and the Maples from sustainably managed hardwood forests in the Eastern United States. A recent report by the UN stated its concern that American hardwoods are underutilised. Couple that view with data from the U.S. Forest service shows that the U.S. hardwood standing resource of trees has doubled in volume in the past 50 years with annual growth far exceeding annual harvest; then there has to be some other reason. There are other Maples and forest Cherry species in the world from Asia and Europe, but they are different in character and are not available in the huge volumes that exist right across the Eastern USA. So what’s the problem for American Cherry and Maple?

Furniture markets are subject to fashion and, as everyone knows, fashion goes in cycles and is somewhat unpredictable. There was a time, not so long ago, when the Japanese were airfreighting American Maple lumber into Tokyo to supply an insatiable demand; and 15 years ago American Cherry was more expensive than Walnut, but not today. The fashion for both species dipped, partly due to the current fashion for dark stained furniture, which ignores their natural beauty. The colour of both Cherry and Maple is much of their appeal when finished with clear lacquer or wax, so staining them dark tends to undermine their value. But you can’t keep a good material down and there can be few hardwoods anywhere in the world that are as hardwearing and provide such a perfect finish for furniture. In the following pages the technical data and images of furniture may help to give courage to trendsetting designers, manufacturers and furniture traders who want to get ahead of the game. For these species are affordable, available and attractive to markets all over the world.

Maple dining set shown at IFFS

Cherry wood food plates at Salone del Mobile in Milan

The American Hardwood Export Council partnered with designer/architects Kolman Boye and British furnituremakers Benchmark to showcase a towering structure of food plates, in a commission for the international Wallpaper* Handmade 2015, called the Rotunda Serotina.

The Danish/Swedish architects Kolman Boye were invited by Wallpaper* to design a candy-store concept for giving out free savoury biscuits from local Italian bistro T’a Milano. Wallpaper teamed up the designers with Benchmark, a company which has almost unparalleled knowledge of wood, to build the structure in collaboration with the AHEC. The Rotunda is constructed entirely of American Black Cherry, Prunus serotina.

The architects, who in this particular project found inspiration in skeletal structures, were further influenced by the old-fashioned general store. Here, they took apothecary shelving to extreme heights. “Something really strong was needed for the huge venue,” says Victor Boye Julebäk, who leads the architecture practice with Erik Kolman Janouch. “Maybe we went a little over the top.”

English furniture-makers Benchmark worked alongside the designers from the start. Sharing Kolman Boye’s respect and enthusiasm for traditional Japanese joinery techniques, Benchmark used square peg joints, cutting hundreds of square holes, not easy, but a strong component of Japanese joinery.

“In total we made 3,084 separate pieces connected by 1,008 joints to make up the ‘skeleton’ of the Rotunda together with 528 trays for the surface layer, all assembled without the use of nails and screws (and only minimal glue). It is a wonderful piece of cabinet making and a tribute to the skills of our craftsmen who have used their fine techniques on such a grand scale,” explains Sean Sutcliffe, cofounder of Benchmark.

The vast columns of shelves were arranged in a cylindrical shape so that a single ladder could slide around inside the structure to scale every shelf. Each shelf in the Rotunda held rows of Cherry wood snack trays that visitors could take home as limited-edition samples from the Milan exhibit. All 526 trays were snapped up by enthusiastic visitors in under three hours.

At over 3.7m in diameter and the same in height, this was not really a piece of furniture but a substantial, yet lightweight, structure. With this in mind AHEC turned to renowned international engineers Arup. They have been central to a number of previous AHEC projects, including the “Timber Wave” and “Endless Stair”, to carry out a structural appraisal and prototype tests, in order to inform the construction.

For visitors not used to seeing the striking pale-pinkish red timber in their surroundings, the emergence of Prunus serotina was a revelation. Gone were the traditional reddish, highly lacquered connotations of Cherry. The contemporary porous appearance of the wood fit in beautifully with the current fashion for raw, rugged timber.

The architects liken the structure to a set of “bones” and the serving trays as “skin”. “We liked the idea of giving away the skin so only the bone remains. It’s very beautiful, almost chorographical, the way pieces of the Cherry are taken away by the public so you could see the structure slowly disintegrate.”

American Black Cherry, which grows extensively in the U.S. States of Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia and West Virginia, is one of the world’s fastest growing temperate hardwoods. It regenerates naturally and ages to a striking, rich reddishbrown colour, yet it is still being vastly underutilised. “Cherry wood, from a craftsman’s point of view, works beautifully and finishes to a gorgeous silky texture. As a fruit wood growing in the forest, it has been prized through history and should be prized now. It has become a victim of fashion which the forestry industry can ill afford given its 60 to 100- year cropping and re-generation plan,” says Sean Sutcliffe. He adds: “Rotunda Serotina continues our work on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which we hope will be taken on widely in the furniture making industry.”

“Given current furniture fashion, you may be forgiven for thinking our forests are all white oak and walnut,” says David Venables, European Director of the American Hardwood Export Council. “Establishing a balance between market demand and the dynamic of the forest is essential to achieve true sustainability.” He continues: “It is also about offering the consumer the widest possible choice. So, not to present to the market some of our best and most exciting species, such as Cherry, because they are not deemed ‘fashionable’, is a real lost opportunity. Rotunda Serotina is one of a number of AHEC projects in 2015 that will celebrate Cherry. There are already indications that furniture industries in Europe are looking at Cherry wood again as a material of choice. It is our experience that wood fashion in furniture often determines a ‘look’ that then becomes architecturally trendy a few years later.”

Cherry’s sustainability means it will likely always be available to bespoke and industrial furniture makers. Designers on AHEC projects talk about its durability and pliability – it turns well on a lathe and steambends with ease. The focus on Cherry at Milan’s Salone del Mobile may, then, mark a turning point and a fresh chapter for this important hardwood.

The Rotunda Serotina has its own full Environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) created by consultant Thinkstep (formerly PE international) using data from AHEC’s ground-breaking LCA study of US sawn hardwood and data collected by Benchmark during the manufacturing process.

The dominance of American Cherry in the Rotunda and limited use of other more energy-intensive materials contributes to a very strong environmental profile. Cherry is a highly desirable timber which is readily available in the U.S. forest but which has been underutilised in recent years. It takes less than a minute for new growth in the U.S. forest to replace the Cherry logs harvested to manufacture the Rotunda. The Rotunda is carbon neutral on a cradle to grave basis. Around a tonne of CO2 equivalent is sequestered in the main structure of the Rotunda and a further 295kg in the trays.

With special thanks to AHEC members for their timber donations:

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‘American Hardwood Environmental Profiles’ (AHEPs) raise the bar on sustainability – by Rupert Oliver, Forest Industries Intelligence

Data has been referred to as the new raw material of the 21st century. Even for a relatively “simple” material like timber, data requirements have been expanding rapidly.

The rise of data has gone hand-in-hand with a powerful drive in both industry and government to increase transparency to enhance public trust and the credibility of claims. In fact the ability of suppliers to provide data credibly and efficiently is now almost as important to competitiveness as their ability to deliver the product itself.

Like other material suppliers, AHEC has been struggling with this issue now for many years. Ever since AHEC was established over 25 years ago, it has been building up a portfolio of scientific data on American hardwoods. The technical performance data is now readily available in on-line species guides and demonstrated by U.S. hardwood conformance to a variety of international standards.

Most recently, AHEC has been working with Germany-based sustainability consultants Thinkstep (formerly PE International) to acquire and compile data on the life-cycle environmental impact of American hardwood in line with international carbon footprint and LCA standards. Through this initiative, AHEC is now able to model the full environmental impact of delivering U.S. hardwood lumber and veneer to any market in the world. Data can be individually tailored to any one of 19 U.S. hardwood species which together account for over 95% of all U.S. hardwood production.

For provision of environmental data, AHEC believes it has found the answer in its new ‘American Hardwood Environmental Profiles’ or AHEPs. American hardwood exporting companies that are members of AHEC can now provide these standardised documents containing credible environmental information specific to individual consignments at point of delivery to the importer in all export markets. This data is delivered quickly and efficiently at near zero cost to either the exporter or importer. Data can be quickly adjusted according to key parameters such as hardwood species and transport routes and modes.

Each AHEP includes quantitative data on the environmental impacts associated with delivering each specific consignment to an individual customer from the AHEC/Thinkstep LCA project. The data covers most of the environmental impact categories required by manufacturers to prepare formal Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) in line with the EN 15804 standard for environmental assessment of construction materials in the EU (such as Global Warming Potential, Acidification potential, and Eutrophication potential).

The AHEP also provides access to information on the sustainability of the U.S. hardwood species contained

in the consignment derived from the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program of the U.S. Forest Service. This is combined with information derived from the Seneca Creek risk assessment, an independent analysis which demonstrates negligible risk of any U.S. hardwood being derived from an illegal or unsustainable source.

The structure and content of each AHEP aligns to the requirements of the EU Timber Regulation and closely follows the European Commission’s informal “Guidance Document for the EU Timber Regulation” issued in February 2013. The AHEP provides, for every consignment, access to information on the name of the U.S. supplier, product description, quantity of wood, commercial and scientific species name, place of harvest, and documents demonstrating negligible risk of illegal harvest.

So where does AHEC go from here? An early objective of the AHEP is simply to assist buyers of U.S. hardwood to comply with the immediate regulatory demands of EUTR and similar laws in other consuming countries. However, by providing comprehensive data on sustainability and life cycle impacts, AHEC can be proactive in encouraging manufacturers, architects and government officials to raise the bar on the environment.