What is Rubberwood & is it Eco-Friendly?

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Rubberwood is a type of wood gaining popularity as consumers look for eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives to traditional wood options.

Being an enthusiastic amateur carpenter, I’ve worked with most woods (including rubberwood), and I’m delighted that it’s starting to appeal to a broader audience.

But what is rubberwood? And it is really the eco-friendly super wood many are hailing it to be?

What are the best applications of rubberwood? What are its pros and cons?

I used my (literal!) hands-on experience with rubberwood and some serious deep-dive research to compile the ultimate guide to this new kid on the block!

What Is Rubberwood?

rubberwood plantation

Rubberwood is the wood from rubber trees. They can grow to 130ft and live for 100 years.

You can tap most rubber trees for latex between the ages of six and 30. Once rubber trees no longer produce latex, they’re often chopped down for their timber.

The timber is then kiln-dried in raw lumber form before being processed and used in furniture manufacture and other woodworking applications.

Rubberwood lumber is a relatively new wood on the scene, only becoming popular in the last few decades as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional hardwoods.

Is Rubberwood Eco-Friendly?

The million-dollar question! And the answer is…it depends! Let me explain.

As rubberwood comes from felled trees, on the face of it, it would seem an eco-friendly option.

The tree is used for latex production until it can no longer produce latex, and then it’s felled and used for woodworking purposes.

So far, so good. But here’s the kicker. Most of the world’s rubberwood comes from Thailand. And Thailand has a bit of an iffy record regarding deforestation.

According to Global Forest Watch, “In 2010, Thailand had 19.1Mha of natural forest, extending over 37% of its land area. In 2021, it lost 122kha of natural forest, equivalent to 72.9Mt of CO₂ emissions.”

So, while rubberwood itself is eco-friendly, the way it’s sourced might not be.

The good news is that there are initiatives to address this issue, and more and more rubberwood is being sourced from sustainably managed plantations.

So, if you’re looking for an eco-friendly option, check where the wood is coming from before buying.

Rubberwood Certifications

The easiest way to ensure that the rubberwood you buy has been sustainably sourced is to look out for well-known, respected, and independent third-party certifications, such as:

What Are The Best Applications For Rubberwood?

Rubberwood is a versatile wood with many applications.

It’s most commonly used in sustainable furniture manufacture but can also be used for:

  • Flooring
  • Moldings and trims
  • Cabinetry
  • Toys
  • Cutting boards

Pros & Cons Of Rubberwood

Like all woods, rubber tree wood has its pros and cons. Here’s a quick overview:

Pros

  • Sustainable: 42 million trees are cut down every day. Using wood from rubber trees that have reached the end of their sap-producing life helps reduce that burden. Just be careful to ensure that it’s come from a sustainable source.
  • Strong And Durable: Rubberwood is a hardwood, making it solid and durable
  • Affordable: As rubberwood is a relatively new wood on the market and a byproduct of the rubber industry, it’s affordable when compared to more traditional hardwoods, such as oak.
  • Easy To Stain/Paint: Rubberwood takes stains and paints well, giving you plenty of design options.

Cons

  • Perishable: Rubberwood is perishable and will degrade over time if not correctly cared for. It’s particularly susceptible to insect attacks and fungal staining.
  • Short Supplies: As rubberwood becomes more popular, supplies might become constrained, making it more expensive.
  • Warping/Twisting: Slight warping and twisting during drying are more common with rubberwood than with other hardwoods. However, rubberwood is strong and durable once seasoned (a kiln drying process at 100°C).
  • Water Damage: Rubberwood is especially prone to water damage. It also gets slippery when wet. It’s essential to take care when using it in areas with a lot of moisture, such as bathrooms or kitchens.
  • Latex Allergies: If you’re allergic to latex, you might want to double-check with your doctor or dermatologist if contact with rubberwood is advisable.

Rubberwood Furniture

Because rubberwood is primarily used in the furniture trade, I thought I’d dedicate a section to just that.

Why Rubberwood Makes Good Furniture

Rubberwood is popular in the furniture trade because it’s a low-cost, high-quality product.

It has desirable natural coloring (light blonde with brown streaks) that doesn’t fluctuate much between the heartwood and sapwood.

Heartwood Vs. Sapwood

The heartwood is the innermost part of the tree. Heartwood is the denser, stronger part of the tree that provides support.

The sapwood is the outer layer of the tree. The primary purpose of sapwood is to transport water and nutrients from the roots to the branches and leaves.

Easy Carving

Rubberwood is soft to the touch and easy to carve and shape.

This makes it a good choice for furniture that needs intricate details or curved shapes.

Maintenance

Maintain rubberwood furniture by following these simple tips

  • Cleaning: Dust regularly and gently wash twice a year with a microfiber (or, better still, organic cotton) cloth, a bucket of cool water, and mild dish soap. Then dry immediately with a dry cloth.
  • Minor Repairs: Larger areas of damage can be filled with wood filler. Smaller areas of damage (such as minor dents and scratches) can often be fixed by placing a tea towel over the damage and then applying heat from a hot iron for 30 seconds. The heat causes the rubberwood to swell, reducing the extent of the damage.
  • Avoid Heat Sources: Rubberwood can be sensitive to changes in temperature and may warp or crack if exposed to heat sources (such as radiators) for prolonged periods.
  • Bleaching: Keep out of direct sunlight to avoid potential bleaching.
  • Spills: Wipe up any spills immediately.
  • Seal Properly: Apply a good quality, zero-VOC stain/sealer to boost the life and durability of rubberwood.

Upcycling Old Rubberwood Furniture

Buying old rubberwood furniture can be a great way to pick up some bargains.

However, you do need to make sure the old furniture is sealed correctly.

If in doubt, your best bet is to recoat. Do the best job possible, and your used rubberwood furniture will give you decades of faithful service:

  1. Scrap off all existing coatings
  2. Sand the surface with 150 grit sandpaper
  3. Give the whole unit a good clean (using as little water as possible)
  4. Place the furniture in a warm room to ensure it drys quickly and fully
  5. Apply a pre-stain conditioner and allow to dry fully
  6. Apply a wood stain or sealer of your choice and allow to dry fully
  7. Apply a second coat and allow to dry fully

While rubberwood takes stains and sealers well, it does take a long time to dry. Be patient, and do not apply another coat until you’re 100% sure the previous coat is fully dry.

Rubberwood Toxins

The rubber tree industry uses various insecticides and fungicides to aid the growing process and reduce insect attacks.

Insecticides

Broad-spectrum insecticides control many insects, including mosquitoes, ants, cockroaches, and flies. Some common ones include:

  • Deltamethrin
  • Cypermethrin
  • Permethrin
  • Cyfluthrin

Fungicides

Fungicides are used to control a wide range of fungi, including mildew and rust. Some common ones include:

  • Chlorothalonil
  • Copper Oxine
  • Carbendazim
  • Benomyl

However, the seasoning process burns off the vast amount of these chemicals, and rubber wood is classed as non-toxic (providing it’s not been coated in toxic stains or paints).

Interesting Rubberwood And Rubber Tree Facts

  • Rubberwood is often used in gyms because it has excellent shock-absorbing properties.
  • Rubberwood has mild flame retardant and antimicrobial properties.
  • Rubber trees are generally found growing at low altitudes.
  • Rubber trees have long-reaching root systems (similar to bamboo) and should not be grown near buildings.
  • The rubber tree is native to the rainforest but can also grow in arid conditions.
  • According to National Geographic, “The Aztec, Olmec, and Maya of Mesoamerica are known to have made rubber using natural latex—a milky, sap-like fluid found in some plants. Mesoamerica extends roughly from central Mexico to Honduras and Nicaragua.”
  • The botanical name of the rubber tree is hevea brasiliensis. It’s also sometimes called plantation hardwood, parawood, or Malaysian oak.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Rubberwood Rubbery?

Rubberwood falls under the medium-density category and is part of the maple wood species. It’s not rubbery. It does not make rubber furniture.

How Hard Is Rubberwood?

The Janaka hardness rating system classifies rubberwood as 995 lbf (4,426 N), which is much harder than most softwoods and comparable with some hardwoods. European oak, for example, comes in at 1,010 lbf (4,500 N).

Is Rubberwood Better Than Engineered Wood?

Engineered wood is smaller pieces of wood glued and compressed together. While this can add strength and anti-warping properties, it can also lead to issues with toxins in the glue. It would depend on the application, but I would almost always choose rubberwood over engineered wood or other wood full of glue.

Is Rubberwood A Veneer?

No, rubberwood is not a veneer. A veneer is a thin layer of wood glued to another piece of wood. Veneers often cover up lower-quality wood or add a decorative element. Rubber wood furniture is a solid wood product.

Is Rubber Wood Good For Outdoor Furniture?

Rubber wood is very absorbent and will rot quickly if left outside in the rain, so I would not recommend it for outdoor furniture.

The Final Word

So, there you have it…everything you need to know about rubberwood and rubber wood furniture!

I hope this has given you a better understanding of whether or not it’s the right choice for your next project or furniture purchase.

Rubberwood is an excellent choice for furniture because it’s strong, durable, and eco-friendly.

It also takes stains and sealers well, so you can easily customize your furniture to match your decor. It is also a good material for flooring and other solid wood applications.

Rubberwood is a great option if you want eco-friendly, sustainable wood. It has many advantages and only a few disadvantages.

Get In Touch

Do you have any experience with rubberwood furniture? Or do you prefer traditional solid wood furniture? Or are you a fan of engineered wooden furniture? Drop me a line and let me know.

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James is a senior editor at The Roundup and has been in journalism for over 10 years. He was born in the UK but raised in Florida, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. James is passionate about sustainable living and environmental issues which are reflected by his work as an editor of TheRoundup.org.
James Miller
James is a senior editor at The Roundup and has been in journalism for over 10 years. He was born in the UK but raised in Florida, where he currently lives with his wife and two daughters. James is passionate about sustainable living and environmental issues which are reflected by his work as an editor of TheRoundup.org.

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