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Ramin: an all-purpose wood.

Ramin is one of those woods that always seems to require an asterisk because several species are grouped under its trade name.

Strictly speaking, ramin refers to Gonystylus macrophyllum of the Family Gonystylaceae. But it should be noted that Gonystylus macrophyllum and Gonystylus bancanus are also known as melawis in West Malaysia. Most of what is called melawis comes from Gonystylus macrophyllum but also includes Gonystylus affinis and Gonystylus confusus. The biggest difference between the two woods seems to be that melawis can be slightly heavier than ramin.

A beech of another name

Since the post World War 11 European timber shortage, ramin has been used as a substitute for beech. According to authors Herbert Edlin and Maurice Nimmo in "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees," "When post-war reconstruction demand for furniture began to push up the price of European beech, the market was ready to accept timbers such as obeche or wawa from West Africa; virola, hura from South America and ramin from Sarawak." Early ramin usage included: joinery, mouldings, broom handles, picture frames and other small dimension products. Unlike the other beech substitutes, the authors said, ramin offered better quality because of its density and fine texture.

Today, ramin remains a common substitute for beech. Additional uses include: furniture, fittings, carving and turnery, tool handles when strength is not a factor, dowels, interior joinery and specialty items such as wooden toys. Ramin is also a popular choice for plywood and as a core stock for laminated products. Occasionally ramin is sliced for veneer. It is sometimes used for flooring and is considered a general utility wood for light building uses such as skirting.

A subtle appearance

Ramin is a very light colored wood, appearing creamy-white to pale yellow in color with a nondescript grain that is usually straight but can be shallowly interlocked.

It is hard to differentiate between the sapwood and heartwood of this species, which is described as one of the "few moderately heavy blond woods." Ramin has no figure or luster and is a moderately hard and heavy wood with an average air-dry weight of 42 pounds per cubic foot; melawi averages 44 pounds per cubic foot

While ramin resembles beech, and is virtually as strong as beech, it does not bend readily. It resembles mahogany (Swietenia) in its moderately fine texture. However, ramin is relatively easy to dry. Air dry stock can be kilned with no degrade, but users are warned to watch for staining of the wood. Experts recommend dipping to prevent any discoloration.

Ramin is also not recommended for shipping as whole logs because sap staining can occur. The wood is very susceptible to fungi attack, including the blue sap stain fungus. Superficial dipping in a pentachlorphenate preservative is recommended. The timber is also irritating to skin during handling because of the tree's sharp, pointy bark.

There is one quirky thing about ramin - it smells offensive when freshly cut and during the kiln process. Any rewetting of the wood can touch off the notable foul odor, but the USDA Forest Service said that this may just apply to pond-stored logs.

Family names

Gonystylus macrophyllum

of the Family Gonystylaceae

Other names

Ramin telur, melawis,

garu buaja, lanutan-bagio


42 pounds per cubic foot, seasoned

78 feet with clear boles
 to 50 or 60 feet
 Kiln schedule

T3-C2 for 4/4 stock

T2-C1 schedule for 8/4 stock

It came from the swamp

Ramin grows in freshwater swamps on the west coast of Sarawak and is native to southeast Asia from the Malay Peninsula to Sumatra and Borneo. The swamp grown ramin thrives in depths of up to 82 feet of peat, which scientists say has accumulated over the last 5,000 years.

Logging in these areas can be tricky. The traditional logging systems, utilizing a Caterpillar truck and tractor, are replaced because of the fragile, superficial layer of interlaced roots found in peat-grown ramin.

Despite the fragile root system, ramin has an average height of 78 feet and typical diameters of 2 to 3 feet, although it is considered small by tropical timber trade standards. The trees usually have clear, cylindrical boles between 50 and 60 feet high. Its specific gravity for ovendry-green volume is 0.52 with a general range of 0.55 to 0.66; ramin has an air-dry density 41 pcf.

The wood dries readily with little warp but has a marked tendency toward end splitting and surface checking, although end coating will solve this problem. According to the USDA Forest Service, ramin will show shrinkage from green to oven dry: radial 4.3 percent; tangential 8.7 percent; volumetric 13.4 percent.

Although ramin has a very poor steam bending rating, it is a dense wood with high bending and crushing strengths and medium stiffness. Ramin works well with both hand and machine tools, however, the wood grain will tear on quartered material and nail holes need to be pre-bored. Ramin glues and generally finishes well.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Vance Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Wood of the Month; taxonomy, occurrences, properties, applications
Author:Kaiser, Jo-Ann
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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