An inexpensive alternative to pine or fir wood, this tropical hardwood is lightweight, multipurpose, and soft. This HomeQuicks article has more information on the uses and properties of lauan or luan wood.
Rainforest Relief, an organization working towards rainforest conservation, has launched a campaign against home decor giant The Home Depot for endangering the rainforests with the excessive import of luan wood for the construction of interior bedroom doors and paneling in closets.
The Lauans, or Luan is also known as ‘Philippine mahogany’ or ‘Meranti’ and are the softer members of the dipterocarp family, which means ‘two-winged fruit’. The lauan tree originates and is found in abundance all over the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries. The lauan genus (shorea) comprises approximately 70 species and their woods are extremely variable.
Several varieties of trees are reaped and commercialized as Lauan wood, but the most common origin of the wood is the shorea family of trees, mainly the ‘shorea almon‘ and ‘shorea negrosensis‘.
▶ Lauan wood comes in a wide range of colors from pink to dark reddish brown, Balau and red lauan trees lend a deep red color to the wood. White and yellow lauan trees produce white luan wood. It has a rippled grain and rough-cut texture which can be sandpapered to obtain a smooth finish. Coating the wood in reddish stains gives it an expensive luxurious feel, like original mahogany wood, hence it’s popularly known as ‘Philippine mahogany’ in the United States.
▶ Luan plywood originates from the wood of the lauan tree from the South Pacific Rim. This wood variety is very lightweight and softer than most of the available softwood plywood’s in the market. The Asian plywood manufacturers prefer luan―it’s prevalent throughout Southeast Asia. The wood is neat and square, the texture is stable, easy to peel, and consistent in compactness and color.
▶ Japan and Taiwan first began manufacturing luan plywood in the mid-20th century, importing extensively from Southeast Asia and the Philippines. Loggers targeted trees like the giant red lauan (shorea negrosensis or shorea polysperma) and white lauan (shorea contorta). However, rather than slicing the log from end to end, a new method allowed the loggers to target all the trees in the tropical rainforest regions. This method used a long blade that peeled thin layers of wood (veneer) off the log as it rotated.
▶ As the luan plywood is softer, it can be easily carved. The plywood is 1/4-inch or thinner and is often referred to as die-cut plywood because it can be shaped with dies without the usage of saws. Luan plywood sheets are 4′ X 8′ and available in different thicknesses: 1/4-inch, 1/8-inch, 1/2-inch, 3/4-inch and 5.5 mm.
▶ The soft luan wood is mostly used in furniture and trim work―it’s easy to handle and carve. It’s also used in cabinet making as the wood can be easily glued and screwed.
▶ It’s used to make sides of furniture, such as dressers, and is an excellent option when it comes to remodeling, replacing a flooring or countertop.
▶ It’s relatively inexpensive and used as an underlayment and for ‘doorskins.’ As an underlayment, a 4′ X 8′, 1/4-inch thick sheet of plywood is placed over existing flooring in preparation for tiling. The 4′ X 8′,1/8-inch thick sheets used for ‘doorskins’ are used to make interior doors and for drawers and backing of cabinets. It’s highly esteemed by amateurs for building dollhouses, small wooden toys, and miniature wooden tools.
▶ Because of its resilient property, exterior furnishings made out of this wood last longer. It’s also frequently used for marine projects such as building kayaks, canoes, and boat decking.
As this wood is widely imported, there is a danger of completely losing it from the environment, hence it’s important to conserve the rainforests.