TALKING BUSINESS: AMERICAN HARDWOOD
Left: American Cherry Desk by Paul Nicholson, The Splinter Workshop. Commissioned by AHEC. Below: Ash bench designed by Ben Percy. Commissioned by AHEC.
he American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) is a trade association representing around 130 sawmills, concentration yards and hardwood timber suppliers in the US who produce lumber, flooring and veneer. The association receives 90% of its funding from the US federal government’s national export initiative, a policy designed to help reduce the country’s trade deficit. The reason for such extensive government support is the forestry industry in the US is a major contributor to the economy. The country is the largest producer of hardwood lumber in the world and much of its raw material comes from private land where the forests are managed as a sustainable resource and the timber is harvested much like any other farming crop. “It is probably the only truly renewable building material that we have,” says Roderick Wiles, director of AHEC’s African, Indian, Middle East and Australasian programs. “You have to manage forests otherwise they won’t be productive. The trees do grow back. Iron ore doesn’t.” “We have a big role to play on the environmental side,” Wiles continues. “There are many markets where the environment is really important, Australia being one of them, so we have to be able to demonstrate that American hardwoods are sustainable, and they meet all the various criteria. AHEC are market leaders in environmental information in the hardwood sector.” With the furniture industry in the US moving offshore, AHEC has had an increasing role to plan in the promotion of sustainable American hardwoods in new and emerging export markets. “Fifteen years ago, around 10% of American hardwoods were exported,” says Wiles. “These days, it’s around 45% and as a result, we’ve got more members than we’ve ever had before.”
American hardwoods are particularly suited to high-end boutique furniture production. “That’s the sector we’re focused on working with, in markets like Australia,” says Wiles. “The challenge we have is American hardwoods are really well established here but about 85-90% of the market usage is White Oak. We would really love to see other species being used.” To this end, AHEC have commissioned Australian furniture designers including Ben Percy, Adam Cruickshank and The Splinter Workshop to showcase the depth, variety and versatility of American hardwoods. Ben Percy’s bench, made from thermally modified Ash, is a new innovation for American hardwoods. The thermal modification process heats the wood at very high temperatures in the kiln, essentially cooking it, rendering the timber a deep chocolate brown colour. It also creates uniformity across different pieces of timber. Thermal modification also collapses the cell structures in the timber turning it into a ‘dead’ product which means it doesn’t lose or absorb moisture like other timbers normally would, making it suitable for outdoor use in extreme weather conditions as well as wet areas and flooring. “In Australia, it’s actually been taken up as a furniture timber because it looks so nice,” says Wiles. “The grain of the Ash and this lovely colour is something new. It’s an alternative to Walnut.” In the local market, AHEC is carving a place among available timber species. “I don’t believe in pitching American hardwoods against native Australian species,” Wiles explains. “It’s adding to the palette of hardwoods that are available. There are no Australian species that are that similar to American species. So it’s enabling architects, interior designers, furniture designers and manufacturers to explore new possibilities.” americanhardwood.org
Published on Mar 31, 2014