Lauan: the Philippine mahogany that is no more.
Philippine mahogany is the general name given to a wide variety of related woods imported from the Philippine Islands, Malaysia and Indonesia. Of all the hardwoods, Philippine lauan was once the most plentiful. However, Holden Clarke, president of the Clarke Veneers and Plywood, said the situation concerning lauan supplies has changed -- true lauan from the Philippines is no longer available. As Clarke explained, the supplies of lauan have been dwindling for the last 10 to 15 years. "The Philippines now export 1 percent of what they exported 15 years ago. Next year, that number will probably be 0.5 percent."
Clarke said he believes that the country depleted its plentiful supplies of lauan by clearcutting with no regard to conservation or forestry management. "The country is filled with huge, modern mills that have no log supplies." Clarke said his son Stuart has been active in developing supplies that will substitute for lauan. Substitutes now come from Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil and Africa.
Rob Gross, vice president of Gross Veneer Sales, agreed that lauan is virtually non-existent on the market. "The name 'lauan group' still gets used for wood from Indonesia and Malaysia even though it is not a commercially viable species. I have heard people talk about lauan drawer sides, but it is probably meranti in the drawer sides," said Gross.
"Our specialty was in veneer and some plywood. We bought our supplies from the Philippines, but the forests have been logged out," said Gross. "Also, the political situation made it very difficult to log what was left because of the guerrilla fighting in that country. Some logging mills were even under attack. The political situation coupled with the dwindling natural resources have made it hard to do business with the$Philippines. The bulk of demand for supplies was shifted to Malaysia and Indonesia."
Philippine mahogany a misnomer
The term Philippine mahogany is technically a misnomer since lauan and the related species are not so-called "true" mahoganies of Swietenia species.
Supplies that are now marketed as Philippine mahogany come from Malaysia and Indonesia and some from Singapore. These woods go by a long list of names including meranti or dark red meranti from West Malaysia, Sarawak and Brunei and seraya which grows primarily in Indonesia.
Larry Frye, executive director of the Fine Hardwoods/American Walnut Assn., notes that the woods classified and sold as Philippine mahogany "are quite varied in color and texture. They include the softer species of Shorea that are light colored to reddish brown in color and the species of Parashorea and Penacme."
That wide group is often further grouped according to color and weight into two broad categories. The dark red group includes red lauan, tanguile, tianong, dark red seraya and dark red meranti. The other main group of lauan includes light red meranti, light red seraya, white lauan, almon, bagtikan and mayapis.
Gross said there is more range in the color and density of meranti than there used to be with lauan. "Meranti can be very white or red. The white meranti is the lighter weight wood. Red is heavier. There is so much range that some veneer mills will split the two into two groups--red meranti and white meranti and they are often specified that way."
Gross added that some of the more recent substitutes for lauan include sumauma and white virola from Brazil and fuma, an African wood.
Dark vs. light
There are many similarities between the many species, but in general the dark red group is considered to be stronger than the light group, which averages 34 pounds per cubic foot as opposed to 42 pounds per cubic foot for the dark red.
However, the heartwood of the dark red group is considered moderately durable and therefore is not recommended for applications where durability is important. The sapwood is susceptible to powderpost beetles and marine borers. General uses include: exterior and interior joinery, shopfitting, boatbuilding, and flooring. Treated material can be used for exterior cladding or other uses where exposure is a factor. Light red lauan is used frequently for light structural work, carpentry, panelling, low cost furniture, and drawer sides and backs. Its biggest single use is in plywood. Some logs are selected for slicing as veneer, too.
Care must be taken during seasoning since distortion is a problem. Drying will be moderately slow. A kiln schedule of T6-D4 for 4/4 stock and T3-D3 for 8/4 stock is recommended by the Forest Products Laboratory.
Shorea species: Shorea pauciflora, S. acuminata, S. curtisii, S. negrosensis, S. polysperma, S. squamata, S. leprosula, S. parvifolia, S. ovalis, S. macroptera, S. albida, S. quadrinervis, S. almon, S. eximia, S. smithiana and S. ogsaboensis of the Family Dipterocarpaceae.
Red lauan, white lauan, red meranti, dark red meranti, light red seraya, dark red seraya, tanguile, tangile, bataan, mayapis, tiaong, obar suluk, saya, meranti ketuko, nemesu, almon, mayapis and alan.
Weight ranges from 36 to 48 pounds per cubic foot with an average weight of 42 pounds per cubic foot. Heights to 200 feet or taller with straight cylindrical boles and trunk diameters of 5 to 6 feet over large, high buttresses. Specific gravity is 0.67.
Easy to work with hand and machine tools. Finishes well but some tearing is possible when interlocked grain is present. Medium bending and crushing strengths. Low stiffness factor; low resistance to shock loads. Wood buckles severely during steam bending.