The genus Shorea is made up of a variety of species that are sold commercially as meranti, seraya or lauan, depending on the country of origin and shade of the lumber. These species all belong to the family Dipterocarpaceae and are used to produce most of the hardwood plywood in the United States.
One of the most prominent places where the species grows is Southeast Asia. In general, meranti is the name for wood from Malaysia, Sarawak and Indonesia. Lauan comes from the Philippines and seraya comes from Sabah.
A utilitarian wood
Wood experts say the Shorea species yields woods that are by and large utilitarian, rather than fine hardwoods and exotic veneers. For example, although Philippine lauan has been called the poor man's mahogany by some, it is not a true mahogany. "Meranti is a |regular' wood used for a lot of building purposes, for framing and some furniture, but it is not one of the fancy woods," said one veneer importer.
Mike Heitzman, vice president of sales for Russell Stadelman and Co., Memphis, Tenn., said he has seen meranti rise in popularity and replace lauan in usage in the United States over the past 10 years. The company has offices in Southeast Asia and South America.
"Meranti's known as the workhorse of imported woods," said Heitzman. Meranti began outselling Philippine lauan during that country's political instability of the early to mid-1980s. "Indonesia became more of a factor in the marketplace. It has a wealth of raw product. Meranti is now our number one selling item from Southeast Asia." Another plus, Heitzman said, is the reduced freight costs in shipping from Indonesia and Malaysia then from the Philippines.
A variety of colors available
Heitzman said that meranti varies in color, ranging from white to pink to red. "There are many subspecies of meranti and customers need to know that if they have a preference, it is possible to order meranti by color. With a little additional lead time the mill can sort by color. We had a client that manufactured red boxes which held the product English Leather. They were able to specify dark red meranti and were shipped only that color from the mill," said Heitzman.
In general, the commercial names for the species are grouped by color. Dark red meranti, dark red seraya and red lauan emanate from the Shorea species Shorea pauciflora, Shorea acuminata, Shorea curtsii, Shorea negrosensis, Shorea polysperma, Shorea squamata, Shorea palosapis and Shorea agsaboensis. Other names include nemesu, dark red lauan, tangile, bataan, mayapis, tiaong and oba suluk.
The so-called light red meranti, light red seraya and white lauan include the species Shorea acuminata, Shorea leprosula, Shorea parvifolia, Shorea ovalis, Shorea macroptera, Shorea albida, Shorea quadrinervis, Shorea leptocaldos, Shorea smithiana, Shorea almon, Shorea eximia, Shorea squamata and Shorea palosapis. Meranti originates from the countries Malaysia, Sarawak, Brunei and Indonesia. The light red woods also are known around the world by the names perawan, meranti bunga, light red lauan, lanan, almon and mayapis.
Heitzman estimated there are 200 sub species of meranti. One of the commonly requested meranti species is melapi, which has a uniform pale straw color that is "very desirable" with some customers because it stains uniformly. "It is so reliable and uniform that a customer can buy a lot one time, use it to make cabinets, and buy another lot four months later. There will be no difference."
While also popular in the United States, white meranti does not offer the color uniformity of melapi and will not telegraph any color when used as a substrate.
Still another color group, yellow meranti and yellow seraya includes the species Shorea faguetiana, Shorea multiflora, Shorea resina-nigra, Shorea hopeifolia, Shorea acuminatissima and Shorea gibbosa.
Some general characteristics the species share include average heights of 150 to 200 feet with straight cylindrical boles. The dark red meranti group features diameters of 5 to 6 feet on average and large and high buttresses are common. In "prechainsaw days," it was sometimes necessary to build platforms above the buttresses to allow the trees to be felled.
Another shared characteristic of dark red and light red meranti is that they are relatively easy to work with both hand and machine tools. Both groups have good nailing and gluing properties and take a good finish. However, there can be tearing problems with interlocked grain.
The dark red meranti has a heartwood that can be dark brown to deep red and sometimes a deep purple. Resin streaks are often present. The dark reds should be dried slowly or warping can occur. Its uses include general construction and boat building.
The light red merantis are also tall trees with a heartwood that varies from pale pink to dark red, a coarse texture and slight luster. This wood seasons easily with very few problems except for a tendency to warp when the stock is thin. The Forest Products Laboratory suggests a kiln schedule of T6-D4 for 4/4 stock and T3-D3 for 8/4 stock. Neither the light or dark red meranti has a problem with resin or oil exudation. Uses for light red meranti include light structural work and concrete form work.
White meranti is another tall tree with clear boles and large buttresses. The trees from this group grow from India to the Malayan Peninsula to the Philippines and Celebes.
White meranti has a white heartwood that darkens slightly when cut. This group has a high silica content, which can make cutting and machining difficult. Experts recommend carbide-tipped tools for the best results. It uses include vats and casks.
The yellow meranti group has some of the tallest trees, 230 feet, with wide diameters and large buttresses. This moderately coarse wood has a light yellow heartwood that can darken when cut. Careful seasoning will avoid problems of honeycombing in thick material. The FPL suggests a kiln schedule of T 10-D5S for 4/4 stock and T8-D4S for 8/4 stock. This group of merantis is easy to work and can be steam bent. Its uses include paneling.