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Globalization, Logging and Lumber: An international shutter perspective.
Logging, mining, harvesting… The use and consumption of our most basic natural resources is an essential, but misunderstood part of every country's economic foundation. It’s also a foundation that is becoming more globally integrated and complex every year. With growing world populations and a higher general level of consumption per person than ever before, I thought it topical (especially with the current political climate) to look at both the production and consumption of the world's two largest lumber consumers… China and America.
First China. It’s true that like so many emerging nations, during China’s rapid industrialization post WWII there was little regulation, massive deforestation of local resources and a resulting competitive advantage of raw lumber costs to Chinese manufacturers. However, this has not been accurate since the 1980’s. Due to the scale of Chinese globalization, the effects of over-logging became evident faster than anywhere else, and for the past 30 years, China has been trying to fix its complex environmental issues. It has since become the largest importer of both raw and processed lumber. In its relevance to the manufacture of shutters and other wooden furniture items, it now imports almost half of the worlds $USD 40 billion dollars of hardwood trade annually. Then exports them again as finished products.
In comparison, America is one of the largest exporters of raw hardwood. It too had industrialization and deforestation issues, just much earlier than China. With sustainable logging practices starting in the early 1900’s it now has a thriving forestry industry and grows more hardwood than it consumes. According the American Hardwood Export Council, the U.S is now the largest exporter of hardwood to China, surpassing Russia. In 2017 the U.S exported more than 60% of its hardwood production, with more than 50% of that going to China. It also imports back, a large amount of that raw lumber as semi-finished or finished goods, taking advantage of cheaper Chinese labor to process its raw inputs into consumer items. The U.S still holds on as the largest economy in the world, and uses its immense buying power to import goods at the most competitive rates of any nation to service the demand of its consumers.
What does it all mean? It means that globalization has left very few products 100% imported or locally made. Even that definition usually means that the product is only assembled overseas, or at the local source and raw inputs sources from a variety of places. It also means that there is a heavy reliance on each countries relative competitive advantage to produce the most economical finished goods to a growing and more globally integrated world.
As an ending remark, it's important to understand that lumber remains one of the worlds most resilient, efficient and sustainable natural resources we have. Unlike fears about oil or coal, it wont run out and as the global lumber market matures, truly sustainable logging practices will see finished wood products remain a staple for homes and industry for generations to come.
2018 Color of the Year
It’s here, the Sherwin Williams 2018 color of the year: Oceanside SW 6496. We are thrilled to see this bold color take front row with 2018 design trends. Adding a pop of color can change the mood of a space or aesthetic, creating a new atmosphere in which you can live. The trend of this jewel toned green accent can be seen popping up everywhere from Target’s new Opalhouse Indochic collection to the Valentino’s Spring 2018 Couture Collection.
Adding a pop of color can be simple statement or a bold move pending on the outcome you are looking for. Creating an accent wall can present itself in many forms. Just a few bold ideas to get you started:
- Mirror and picture collage with jewel toned frames
- Pillows, throws or a rug with jewel toned prints
- Curtains or an accent roman shade to bring a pop of color
- Custom shutters to create light and functionality while adding a bold color to your space
Offer your customers endless customization with over 1,500 Sherwin Williams colors, and the ability to custom match any color. Help your customers create an accent shutter that will bring value to their home, and energy to their space today.
Sliding Shutter Doors
In the last 12 months there has been a dramatic increase in the requests for shutters for sliding glass doors, often referred to as “sliders”. Home design has been becoming more transitional in style, which means traditional french doors are being replaced with sliding glass doors to open to the light and view. Sliders are available with custom built pelmets.
Understanding Timber Species and How They Become Shutters
There are two types of lumber: softwoods, which are usually conifers like pine, spruce and cedar, and hardwoods, which come from flowering trees like teak, maple and walnut. Softwoods, as the name suggests are easily marked and dented, and therefore not suitable for shutters. Hardwoods on the other hand, are strong and stable, and perfect for quality wood shutters and other fine furniture pieces. Because hardwood is slow growing, it is more expensive.
The most common hardwoods used for shutters are poplar, basswood, and paulownia (i.e. phoenix wood). Poplar is easy to work with, pale in color, and has a nondescript wood grain. It is also fast growing and therefore the most economical choice for painted shutters. Basswood has a beautiful, fine, even grain, and absorbs pigment well, making it the best for stained shutters. Paulownia, native to China, is light and fast growing. It is the softest hardwood used in making shutters and is more susceptible to warping and moisture changes.
From Log to Louver
Making a quality wood shutter is a multi-stepped and laborious process. It takes an average of 5 man-hours from tree to truck to produce a single panel.
The process begins when trees are harvested and cut into boards, which are then graded depending on the amount of knots and defects. The lumber is then carefully kiln dried to ensure it won’t crack, bleed or warp, and to bring it to its peak of structural integrity. Next the boards are molded into lengths of specific shapes like elliptical louvers or decorative frames. And finally, the molded lengths are sealed, sanded and painted to prevent moisture from getting in or out, and to achieve the color and texture finish required. In some applications sanding and painting is repeated up to 7 times to attain the desired finish.
What is Engineered Lumber?
To keep costs down and/or to improve a shutter’s structural integrity, painted (not stained) shutters will often use a version of engineered lumber.
Laminating and finger-jointing, often used together, are two engineering techniques used to prevent warping and build strength. With laminating, the lumber may be cut into long strips, flipped and then glued back together. With finger jointing smaller pieces of wood are glued together in a saw-tooth join. These techniques not only protect the woods integrity, but also reduce cost because smaller pieces allow for more of the board to be used.
Particleboard is another popular engineered wood. It is made by gluing together wood chips and sawdust to re-create a piece of lumber. It is very heavy, not very stable, and prone to expansion, especially when exposed to moisture. It is however, very cheap to produce.
Another way manufacturers reduce costs is to use laminated veneers, which means a thin premium wood skin is glued over the top of a cheaper wood or particleboard. Despite the veneer, it is only as good as its cheaper sub-layer.
Wood as a living material has it challenges being susceptible to defects and changes, but it is all part of the craftsmanship required to achieve the warmth and appeal of real wood products in our home.