Luan plywood, also called Lauan plywood, comes from a variety of shorea, which is the Lauan tree. Other names for this plywood are Meranti and Philippine mahogany. These trees grow on the South pacific rim.
Today Lauan plywood plays a prominent role in the plywood industry in the United States. We consider it as one of the softer types of plywood that could even fall under the category of hardwood. But it is not because it is a class of its own.
As the demand for plywood grew, the countries that produced Lauan logs began to develop indigenous plywood industries. By the 1990s, Indonesia became the most prominent manufacturer of plywood in the world.
There were more than 100 plywood factories in Indonesia, with a production of more than ten million cubic meters of plywood per year.
Later, the business spread to Malaysia and the Philippines, and it became a worldwide business. However, due to the Lauan hardwood trees’ mismanagement, the cultivation dwindled, and the entire industry took a hit.
Today, the plywood industry in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines is a fraction of what it used to be. Lauan plywood has become a scarce commodity, and the quality of the material is highly questionable.
Alternatives to Lauan Plywood
In the backdrop of this acute shortage, it would only be logical to look for alternatives. Here are some of the types of wood that effectively replace Lauan plywood today:
One of the most viable ways of limiting Lauan plywood is reusing set components to the maximum extent possible. Stage sets for theatre, stands and trade shows are made with reuse in mind, and then they are later deconstructed and stored.
Sonoboard consists of post-consumer recycled newsprint. The recycled material is cast into boards that can then be used, similar to Lauan plywood. The surface of Sonoboard is smooth, and you can paint it. The material, however, does not take screws easily.
This is another material similar to Sonoboard, which also comes from post-consumer recycled newsprint. This material is highly robust and versatile. You can use it for making walls and similar set elements. It is a durable and weather-resistant material with high insulating properties. Homasote is two to three times stronger than traditional light-density fiberboards. You will find this material at several lumber yards across the United States.
Agricultural Residue Panels
Waste from agricultural processes also is being recycled into plywood-like boards with considerable success. The agricultural residue (ag-res) used for making these panels is typically wheat straw, rice straw, and sunflower seed husks.
Strawboard is a typical example of such a process. It is produced by compressing the materials into panels using non-formaldehyde glues. Ag-res panels replace plywood sheets of 3/8” and thicker. These panels exhibit similar properties to medium-density fiberboard (MDF).
This material consists of agricultural waste fibers interwoven with resin and compressed into particleboard, MDF, and OSB (oriented strand board. It exhibits the durability and properties of these materials.
We discuss in detail about particleboard, MDF, and OSB in another interesting posts of ours.
This material comes from wood chips, sawdust, and pulp which we bond together under pressure with resin and wax. The unique feature of hardboard is that it has a highly smooth surface and can be painted upon.
This material costs slightly more than traditional plywood. It holds nails and screws satisfactorily.
Temperate Hardwood Plywood
This type of engineered wood is the closest to Lauan plywood that you can get. This material is a combination of different kinds of wood like beech, birch, and maple, which grow in the temperate forests of Canada, the US, and Europe. These woods are relatively more sustainable and readily available.
Temperate hardwood plywood is slightly more expensive than conventional plywood. However, in the backdrop of illegally logged timber today, it is worth paying a little extra knowing that you are using wood in a more responsible and eco-friendly manner. You will get temperate hardwood plywood at any home improvement store.
Fabricate Your Plywood
For maintenance and plywood replacement projects, you can make your plywood out of Kevlar. If you use this on a boat, you will give the boat a classic but unique look and make it very strong.
Regular Kevlar’s bonding specs aren’t outstanding, so you can go in for hybrid woven glass Kevlar. It results in an extremely strong layer and will add a great deal of strength to your construction.
Another option is to use Airex or a similar product as a core material combined with layers of mahogany or any other similar wood. The thickness of the core needs to be about 20 mm to 25 mm and would also depend on your parts’ dimensions.
You can bond the layers together using good-quality epoxy glue.
Once your fabricated plywood is ready, you would need to apply a suitable finish to make it resistant to water and the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. A two-component polyurethane varnish that has a UV filter should be ideal for this purpose.
Lauan plywood enjoys wide popularity in the US and even across the globe. It serves well for making cabinets, as an underlaying material and ceilings and walls, drawer bottoms, and furniture backing. It is a much sought-after type of plywood due to its durability and flexibility.
However, given the history of this class of plywood, there comes the point where we have to act responsibly. The best way of contributing to the environment is to look for alternatives to Lauan plywood and make good use of them.
We have highlighted a few substitutes for Lauan plywood in this post. These materials were developed to allow woodworkers to act responsibly by using eco-friendly substitutes to Lauan plywood.
There are more alternatives further to the ones we have highlighted here. Research is ongoing to develop even more substitutes to plywood in general and Lauan plywood in particular.
We need to support these efforts by using alternative materials instead of Lauan plywood that has resulted in barren forests in Southeast Asia. Create some impressive woodworking projects and show the world that you are a responsible woodworker.