Pine, Spruce and Other Softwoods come to India


I am delighted to report that there has been a steady increase in the variety of wood and lumber available in India. Not too long ago, there were only a few types of wood sold in Indian lumber stores – mainly Teak of various kinds, imported Meranti, local Champ, Mango, Saal and so on. The choice of furniture makers was and to a large extent continues to be Teak. However, that could soon change now that India is importing a large variety of wood.

The main reason for this development is India’s serious deficit in wood production. Our forest cover is dwindling very rapidly and large scale timber plantations such as those in North America and Europe have not taken off in any significant manner. As a result, India has emerged as one of the largest importers of timber in the world. Today, countries from all over the world are looking to feed India’s ever growing hunger for timber.

Ponderosa Pine from Canada
Traditionally India has been an importer of hardwoods primarily because of the Indian obsession with Teak which is imported from Myanmar, various African countries and Central and South America. Burma Teak from Myanmar is the most priced. Teak from Burma (or Myanmar) is so prized in India that an estimated 85 per cent of that country’s log exports are to India.

Malaysia has also emerged as a major supplier to India for hardwoods, mainly Meranti, Kapur and Saal logged in Sarawak. Malaysian log shipments to India exceeded those to China beginning in 2006.

Indians prefer hardwoods, especially Teak because of its durability and resistance to pests such as termites. Softwoods often have to treated and are unsuitable for some purposes. But even then softwood imports from the temperate countries of Europe and North America have risen dramatically in recent years even though they still constitute less than two per cent of Indian wood imports.

One major exporter of softwood to India is New Zealand which has been sending tonnes of Yellow Pine to India in recent years. This constituted almost 90 per cent of softwood imports till recently. Gradually but surely the use of other softwoods in India is rising, often due to the cost factor as well as the wide variety available.

Moreover, Indian government organisations have also been encouraging the import and use of softwoods as this will bring down the country’s overall lumber import bill as well as reduce dependence on a handful of countries such as Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia for wood supplies.

The government is also aware that Myanmar might ban the export of logs and go in for lumber exports, which will increase import costs. In Malaysia, production in decreasing because of the heavy deforestation of virgin tropical forests in Sarawak and international conservationist pressure on that country is rising.

So far, India has mainly been importing logs because of the low costs of producing timber in this country. The import duty on logs too has been kept low and currently is about 9.4 per cent inclusive of all cesses and so on in comparison to 14.7 per cent on cut timber and processed wood.

India needs to diversify its wood suppliers and learn to use softwoods produced in the temperate zone. For, India’s demand for wood is skyrocketing – it was an estimated 6 million cubic metres in 2012 and is expected to grow more than three times to 20 million cubic metres by 2030.

Cedar Trees in British Columbia

While demand for wood in North America remains high, it is declining in Europe. Canadian, European and New Zealand wood exporters are now looking to India as a major market. French timber suppliers are also looking to export good quality Oak and similar temperate zone hardwoods to India.In North India a variety of softwoods is being imported including, Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir, Birch, Red Cedar and varieties of SPF (Spruce, Pine, Fir). Some northern hardwoods like Walnut, Maple, Birch and Oak are also being imported. Oddly, some softwoods are actually harder than many traditional hardwoods; the woods of longleaf pine and douglas fir are actually much harder in the mechanical sense than several hardwoods.

SPF is exported mainly as milled timber in standard sizes and is heat treated and made insect proof because naturally they are not termite resistant or durable. SPF is used for construction work, furniture and flooring. Douglas Fir is a very strong wood (stronger than teak) and was used widely for house construction in North America; today, it is used for flooring, window frames and doors. Western Hemlock is less durable than Douglas Fir but it is light and strong; it is best used for interior work as it is not durable. Western Cedar is said to be as durable and insect proof as Teak but easier to work; it makes excellent outdoor furniture, decking and wood panelling.

Birch is a light coloured wood with excellent grain making it a great favourite with veneer producers; it is also an excellent tone wood and is used for making acoustic equipment and musical instruments. Maple is a very popular furniture wood in the temperate climate countries because of its relative “hardness” and many varieties of attractive grain patterns; it is also a great tonewood and is said to be superior to Mahogany in this respect. Walnut is a dark wood used by itself or with other wood to provide contrast; it is an expensive wood and not very widely used as the other cheaper northern zone varieties.

All these wood varieties are now available in India but not too many dealers stock them given the low level of knowledge of these woods. But it would be well worth searching for them given their looks, stability and ease of use in woodworking. Also, there is the huge difference in costs – Pine costs about Rs 600 a cubic feet compared to Rs 1800 for African and Latin American Teak and over Rs 2400 for Indian CP Teak.

Indranil Banerjie
9 February 2013

Comments

  1. I guess lot of the SPF is being used for furniture in India. These woods are quite unsuitable for outdoor work in an Indian situation. In wall construction the lumber used is protected by the siding and vapor barrier etc. The exposed wood used needs very elaborate techniques and materials while installing and needs quite rigorous yearly maintenance schedule. Homes in the west need as much attention as one pays to a child. I think it is unlikely that they will succeed in exterior woodwork in India as the techniques and materials used to keep it from getting damaged by elements is not available in India and if it is is simply not practical as people are not used to such rigorous maintenance schedule for homes. Ceder though is quite suitable for outdoor use but tends to warp if used in thinner cross-sections. Maple comes in hard and soft varieties. Heat treated lumber is quite costly in US and availability is low though Heat treatment is used more in Europe.
    I feel sad that many exporters from India make bad quality teak furniture for use in US and Europe. The quality of this kind of furniture is pathetic and the consumer and business consider teak as fit for rough and cheap outdoor furniture. Even indoor furniture made with teak is for some reason usually of the heavy and rustic type usually with artificial dings, scratches etc.
    I think the the Govt should reduce duties on import of lumber and increase duties on export.

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  2. SPF is not used a lot of furniture making or for exterior work. I suspect it is mainly used for partitions, light frames and so on - perhaps as a substitute for Meranti.

    I personally find Spruce with its long grain a good substitute for plywood in making the inside of drawers. The wood is remarkably stable, light but strong and its white exterior contrasts well when used with a darker wood for the front face.

    Yes, a lot of furniture made here in India is pretty pathetic but I have come across some incredibly good furniture as well.

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  3. This is great news Indranil. I am particularly interested in Birch Wood for an audio project i.e., building a multi-layered plinth for a turntable. Appreciate if you could share some information on pricing, sizes available etc.

    Thanks in Advance
    Santhosh

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  4. Hi there,

    I am looking for some information on different types of wood available in India including softwood and hardwood that can be used for home furniture. Can anyone suggest? ANy links are also welcome.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this news.. I live in Bangalore. Do you know any site or a seller where we can purchase these?

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  6. Unfortunately I have no idea of the lumber scene in Bangalore but I am sure there would be many options. Bangalore has a lot of woodworking enthusiasts as well as professional furniture makers who must require all kinds of wood.

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  7. Hello Indranil

    This is a very useful post . From your knowledge, experience & interest , i would request you to please help me with names of some wood working companies dealing with softwood. I have not been able to identify any softwood end user , manufacturing furniture / doors / windows from secondary resources.

    thanks in advance.
    Kanika

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  8. Kanika: A number of Indian companies are using softwood like Pine for making furniture, doors and so on. I cannot however point you to any specific company as I am not personally familiar with any. However, you could get all the information you require if you visit Nangloi in Delhi. This place has many large lumber yards dealing with softwood, particularly Pine and Spruce. They could tell you who is using their wood. There are also a few shops selling softwood in Kirti Nagar were you might get the information you need. Best wishes.

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  9. Hi there, does anyone know the hindi name for maple that is used in making guitar, thanks in advance

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