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Defending polystyrene: give this budget-friendly wood alternative a chance.

A lot of framers have low opinions of polystyrene mouldings. That's OK. We all have products that we just don't like, but I want to make some arguments for the use of poly.

First, polystyrene has always been a low-cost alternative to wood. Some customers don't want to pay the cost of wood mouldings, and polystyrene is an option that allows you to make the sale to a customer who would otherwise walk out the door. Small independent framers sometimes have trouble competing with big-box stores and high-volume online dealers, which receive a discount on wood mouldings. The price difference between polystyrene and wood moulding could make up for those discounts that are inaccessible to the average mom-and-pop framing shop. I have had great success with advertising low-end diplomaand jersey-framing packages using polystyrene frames to reduce costs. Customers have been pleased that I can offer what they consider to be the same thing that my competitors offer for a much lower price. If you don't have an issue with competition, you can charge the same retail price for polystyrene as you do for wood and just increase your profits.

Polystyrene is also considerably lighter than the average wood moulding of comparative size. This feature gives you some versatility in situations in which weight might be an issue.

Some health-care facilities, such as hospitals, must meet new regulations requiring that their facilities do not use wood that has exposed, unfinished surfaces on the front, back, or inside due to wood's absorptive properties. Polystyrene, on the other hand, is plastic and can be more easily disinfected.

Polystyrene is also easy to cut on a guillotine chopper. These choppers kick up less dust than saws, use no electricity in many cases, and are relatively inexpensive pieces of moulding-cutting equipment. Cutting poly on a saw, however, requires a little more practice. The saw blade tends to melt the poly, so the material must pass through faster than is necessary with wood.

Joining can also be much easier with polystyrene than with wood. If you use the correct glue, the join sets up in about 30 seconds, giving you a perfect corner without using vises and before you have to use an underpinner. Although the glue creates a strong bond, I recommend that you also use v-nails. I usually use Plastibond 1500 glue. I have heard that polyvinyl-chloride glue for use in plumbing projects also works, but my experience is that it needs at least 24 hours to dry. That requirement completely negates one of the most important benefits of using polystyrene: the speed of project completion. Those who are accustomed to using wood and have not used polystyrene should take care to avoid getting polystyrene glue on the face of the moulding. The glue works by melting the plastic, so even the smallest amount will discolor or disfigure the surface of the frame.

Wood moulding also attracts parasites, such as powderpost beetles. These beetles have become increasingly concerning for framers, especially in southern states where there is no hard freeze to kill them. Beetles reportedly do not spread from the wood from which they hatched, but the emergence of just one beetle could cause enough damage to lose you a customer for life, and, as we all know, bad news spreads faster than good news. Polystyrene, on the other hand, has no such drawback; powderpost beetles have absolutely no interest in plastics.

As I discussed in my last column, one of the major complaints that I have heard from framers in the industry is that the quality of wood moulding has been on the decline in recent years. The exact opposite is the case for polystyrene. Technology and techniques have been advancing in the use of plastics. Plastics users have been demanding improvements in plastics manufacturing, and manufacturers are meeting or exceeding these demands. A lot of industries need lighter and cheaper materials of good quality, and plastics perfectly fill this need. Framers often must use materials that are unique to framing. This type of restriction lowers demand, increases cost, and can stifle innovation. Having allies in other industries who will join framers in the demand for better plastics will help move this part of our industry in a more positive direction.

When framers first began using polystyrene for picture moulding, concerns arose about off-gassing--the release of gas that is dissolved, trapped, frozen, or absorbed in some material. Polystyrene has now been in use for more than 20 years, however, and the plastic material doesn't seem to be any more destructive than wood. I hope that this information offers reassurance, but even if you still have concerns, you may want to consider using a more suitable material for items that require an extreme amount of conservation.

Don't get me wrong. I am not calling for framers to abandon wood; wood frames still account for most of my sales. I just think it might be time to stop badmouthing a viable alternative. Manufacturers have made great strides in polystyrene-moulding production. Some of you may remember those early plastic-looking poly frames and have the impression that that is still all you get from this medium, but some great-looking options now exist that convincingly mimic the look of high-quality wood mouldings. I encourage you to give them another look and consider whether they might be a good addition to the lines that you carry.

With three Framing Palace locations in Maryland, Ed Gowda has specialized in custom framing for more than 25 years. One of his passions is to share information and ideas within the industry. Contact him at
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Title Annotation:OP-ED
Comment:Defending polystyrene: give this budget-friendly wood alternative a chance.(OP-ED)
Author:Gowda, Ed
Publication:Art Business News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2016
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