This is a long article. However, if you intend to purchase a piece of wood slab furniture, I highly encourage you to look through it diligently. It could prevent much heartache in the future.
Many of our customers come to us enquiring about Suar wood. We avoid Indonesian Suar wood at all costs as it is a problematic product; it warps, splits and grows mold easily. Indonesia lacks the technology and processes to properly dry their wood, and factories there tend to take shortcuts when it comes to drying their wood properly. The easiest way to see if wood is dried properly is to make sure it is below 7cm in thickness; it is simply not possible to properly Kiln-dry pieces thicker than that.
What is Suar Wood?
Suar wood is the Indonesian Variant of Albizia Saman, a tree native to South America. It was introduced to the region in the mid 19th century by Portuguese colonists as a plantation tree. A fast growing tree by nature, it has spread throughout the region, and is commonly used for wood slab furniture.
Do a quick check with any furniture restoration company, and they will tell you the problems associated with Suar wood slabs; splitting, warping, mold and termites. All these problems are attributable to a lack of drying expertise in Indonesia.
Unfortunately, most Indonesian factories do not do this diligently. Kiln drying is a complicated process involving high fixed and variable costs as well as proper methods.
How Wood is Dried
There are two main methods of wood drying. The first is to let the wood sit in a dry place for over one year for the moisture to naturally escape. The second involves putting the wood in a heated Kiln to expedite the drying. The second method normally takes 30 to 45 days, and takes years of R&D to figure out the best combination of temperatures and times to dry the wood effectively.
Most factories do not have the time or space to keep wood for so long, so the second method is what is more commonly used.
The Real Costs of Drying Wood
Besides the investments needed to purchase a kiln and the electricity needed to heat the kiln for 30 to 45 days, another major cost is the amount of material lost during the drying process. During the drying process, the weak points in the wood split, and the whole slab warps. After this, a lot of material would not be usable for wood slabs. Further, a lot of time and effort will need to be spent levelling a slab that has warped.
Many Indonesian factories dry the wood just a little, then “seal in” the moisture with many layers of lacquer to prevent warping and cracking in the near term. The problems occur later when the moisture escapes slowly.
Telltale Signs that a slab is not dry
To be fair to some retailers, there are a minority of factories that dry their wood properly in Indonesia. This section will tell you how to spot wood that is not dried properly.
The first sign of wood not being dry is how thick it is. Contrary to what some customers think (the thicker it is the more value we get), thicker is not better when it comes to wood slabs. As a guide, anything more than 7cm is probably not dried properly; the moisture is too far in for it to escape.
If the wood is finished with many layers of lacquer - Based on existing design trends, a rawer and more matte look is more popular than having a thick layer of lacquer. If a retailer chooses to forgo this look, they could be trying to prevent their not-so-dry wood from cracking.
Lastly, as a rough guide, wood that is not dried properly is heavier. If time permits, go to different shops to compare the weight of the wood before committing to a purchase.
I hope that this has been an informative article. If, like most consumers, you are concerned with potential problems with wood furniture, we highly recommend you to check out our American Black Walnut slabs.
They are very stable and are much less likely to split than other types of wood. They can also be cut thinner with almost no risk of warping, allowing you to achieve a natural and minimalist look simultaneously.
As with all natural wooden products, no slab is risk-free from warping or splitting. Going through the proper processes simply greatly reduces the probability of such things happening.