If you look for furniture or other wooden items at large retail outlets, chances are good that you have seen rubberwood. Despite the fact that rubberwood is an extremely common component of imported goods in the United States, it is generally not available at lumber yards and very few people are familiar with it.
Rubberwood is the product of the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis), which is grown as a source for natural rubber. When the trunks of rubber trees are cut, they exude a milky liquid – latex – that is collected and processed to make rubber. After the trees reach about 30 year of age, latex production declines. At that point the trees are harvested and the plantations are replanted. Rubberwood trees are native to South America but are now cultivated on some 9 million acres around the world, mostly in Southeast Asia .
Wild rubberwood trees can grow to over 100' but cultivated trees are shorter, with tapered trunks about 20 inches in diameter. The wood is a light-colored, diffuse-porous hardwood with narrow rays. Large vessels (pores) result in a somewhat coarse grain. Rubberwood is not rubbery; in fact it is moderately hard and stiff, with about the same density as ash or maple (SG = 0.5). It dries and machines rather easily and shrinkage is moderate. Rubberwood has low natural durability and must be treated with preservatives for outdoor use. Small pieces of rubberwood are often finger-jointed and edge-glued to make panels, which are then used for table tops, trays, chair seats, etc. Rubberwood is also called parawood, white teak or Malaysian oak, although its appearance and properties are different than teak or oak.
In the past, rubberwood was used only locally, primarily as a fuel. However, over the past 20 years, industrial processing and exporting of rubberwood lumber has developed rapidly. Rubberwood logs and lumber are now major exports for countries such as Malaysia and Thailand . Manufacturers in China use large volumes of rubberwood for furniture and wooden parts of household items which are exported throughout the world. Because rubberwood is an agricultural byproduct and is grown in plantations, it is sometimes promoted as an environmentally-friendly product.
Hardwood trees that grow in Tennessee continue to be important sources of lumber and manufactured wood products for the United States ' market. However, as the global market for forest products expands, more exotic woods – such as rubberwood - will appear in local stores.