Boards Without Trees?

by Jeff Stone, CSI 

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For over 60 years, particle board (PB) and more recently Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF), have been a staple in the construction industry. One of the most common uses for PB and MDF is as a substrate for hardwood veneers panels.

Over 90% of a typical 3/4 inch thick hardwood veneer panel is composed of the core. PB and MDF are usually manufactured from softwood trees. Since the quality and age of the trees are not relevant to the manufacturing process, these trees are traditionally harvested by clear cutting large tracts of land.

Although softwood trees are a renewable resource, there continues to be abuses in the harvesting of this resource. Unlike what many of us believe, simply planting a tree where one has been cut falls short of the solution to this multi-faceted problem. The biggest threat to the forest environment is clear-cutting, a process that eliminates entire ecosystems. New trees are planted with the intention of future harvesting, which limits these new forests to fast growing, single specie trees to be clear-cut within 20-30 years. Although the practice of clear cutting will not likely change soon, there are measures that purchasers and specifiers of wood panel products can take to reduce the demand for products of clear-cutting.

Another ongoing concern with MDF and PB is formaldehyde emissions. These emissions are a proven carcinogen in animals and can cause asthma and respiratory problems in humans. New buildings frequently undergo an airing-out procedure prior to occupancy to remove some of these pollutants. Off gassing, however, can occur for years. It is in the interest of those concerned about interior pollutants to eliminate as much of this as possible.

New developments in manufacturing have created a product that performs similarly to wood-based MDF and PB but is constructed from the agricultural byproducts of wheat, flax, oats, barley and soybeans. This new generation of agriculturally based composite board is generically referred to as agriboard. Agriboards use a synthetic polymer resin to bond the straw fibers together. This moisture resistant resin has superior bonding characteristics to the formaldehyde-based resins used in PB and MDF.

Unlike the softwood trees used for PB or MDF, hardwood face veneers are not harvested by clear-cutting. Certain trees are selected from a forest for their specific attributes, while the remaining trees are left uncut. Hardwood forests are allowed to replenish naturally with a variety of species to maintain their varied environment. A hardwood forest may be selectively harvested at a sustainable rate that maintains a healthier ecosystem than an uncontrolled forest.

Agriboards were first developed to replace particleboards and are being used for exterior sheathing, roofing, underlayment, and shelving. For several years, Navy Island Plywood has monitored the improvements of agriboards and has worked with several mills to produce a core suitable for laying up high quality veneers. This new veneer paneling developed by Navy Island Plywood is called HarvestPly.

HarvestPly achieves superior structural quality as well as being a sustainable and healthy alternative to PB and MDF based veneer panels. HarvestPly is an excellent choice for the architect or designer concerned about environmental issues.

Jeff Stone is the Managing Partner of Navy Island Plywood, located at 330 Chester Street in St. Paul, Minnesota. For additional information call Navy Island Plywood at 651-224-5806, or visit their website at www.navyisland.com. Navy Island Plywood will be an exhibitor at the Mpls.-St. Paul Chapter Product Fair this March, and we hope to schedule a tour of the facility for one of our meetings next year.

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2001 Jeff Stone, CSI Navy Island Plywood