Use in construction
Use in Furniture and high-value products
One of primary uses of coconut timber is for building construction. Coconut timber is suitable for housing components like trusses, purlins, walls, joists, doors, window frames and jalousies. Low density coconut wood materials (from the centre of the stem) should be used only in non-load structures like walls and panels while high density coconut wood (from the perimeter of the stem) can be used for load-bearing structures like trusses and joints. Table 6 could serve as a guide for prospective users of coconut timber for building construction. Table 7 lists the different coconut timber derived products and the recommended characteristics of raw materials to use.
The small diameter of coconut stem limits the size of sawn lumber, hence the optimum width and thickness of boards that are usually recovered are 25mm and 50mm, respectively. For structures requiring bigger sizes of lumber, glued lamination of the wood to the desired dimensions solves this particular problem.
High density coconut wood could also be used as posts, power and telecommunication poles, trusses, floor tiles (parquet), girts, floor joists, purlins, balustrades and railings and other load bearing structures. When coconut logs are to be used in ground contact under exposed conditions (e.g. as posts or as poles for electrical wires) they must be properly treated.
Medium density boards can be effectively used for walling, horizontal studs, ceiling joists and door/window frames. As a rule, coconut wood with density below 400 kg/m3 should not be used as structural framing materials. However, they can be used in the internal parts of a building as ceiling and wall lining in the form of boards and shingles. A problem related to structural application of cocowood is the difficulty of nailing and subsequently splitting of high density wood finishes.
Coconut wood can be a promising material for the manufacture of furniture, novelties and other handicrafts due to its beautiful grain and attractive natural appearance. High value coconut wood products which include furniture, decorative interior walls, parquet floors, various novelties and curio items like walking sticks, ash trays, hammer handles, egg cups, plates, bowls, vases, etc. are equally, if not more than, comparable to the traditional wood species commonly used in the furniture industry as far as appearance is concerned. Hence, with effective product promotion, quality furniture and other high value coconut wood products can have a potential share not only in the domestic but also in the world markets.
Coconut wood has potential for the manufacture of high value and export-quality finished products. However, like many other conventional wood species untreated freshly-cut lumber can be easily attacked by mould and staining fungi especially if the material is not properly stacked and is exposed to humid environment during the air drying process. Further degradation during air drying can also be caused by decay fungi and pinhole borers. Hence, prophylactic treatment is necessary if it is used for the production of high value products for export.
Checks and cracks develop on the surface of improperly dried coconut wood or in response to variation of relative humidity; hence kiln drying should be done to bring its moisture content to the level most appropriate for equilibrium with its location in service.
Coconut trunk and other sawmill residues are readily usable for charcoal making and for the production of energy. Coconut wood is similar to other woods in its characteristics as fuel, although the range of densities within the stem leads to variation in the energy potential.
Studies using the 2-cord double walled masonry block kiln showed the production of good quality charcoal for domestic use at an average yield of 25 % based on the oven-dry weight. Charcoal and charcoal briquettes have higher heating value. They are easily handled and produce less smoke compared to wood.
For fuel purposes, coconut trunk charcoal must be converted into briquettes to increase its strength and density as well as to improve its shipping properties. A technology for briquetting coconut trunk charcoal has already been developed. A briquetting plant in the Philippines produces ovoid type briquettes of 1.5 oz size at 500 lb/hr. The briquettes have good crushing strength and burning properties. Sorghum grain is an effective binder for charcoal briquettes of coconut trunk.
Activated carbon can also be made from coconut trunk charcoal. The product can be a reliable source of carbon for the manufacture of various chemicals such as carbon disulphide, calcium carbide, silicon carbide, carbon monoxide, paint pigments, pharmaceuticals, moulding resins, black powder, electrodes, catalyst reactor, brake linings, and gas cylinder absorbent. Ethanol can also be produced from coconut waste products.
The construction industry provides the bulk of the demand for coconut lumber. In the construction of big buildings, coconut lumber is used in large volumes as scaffolding and as form lumber. Selected and graded coconut lumber is also used as house posts, girders, trusses, door jambs and sidings. It has also been proven to be a suitable material for pallets. In the Philippines, a significant volume of coconut lumber was used in the government's low cost housing programme, as well as in other government buildings and various resorts throughout the country. This involves some 1.0 to 2.0 million cubic meter of coconut lumber annually.
Field observations could indicate that demand for coconut lumber is increasing. One indicator is the increase in the number of coconut lumber producers and dealers. Another indicator of rising demand in the increasing price trend of coconut trees. Ten years ago in the Philippines, coconut trees could be had for free. In 1995, one trunk was priced as high as P800 (US$29.00) depending on accessibility or nearness to highway or buying/processing centre and the quality of the trunks. The usual buying price in the Philippines could be pegged at a national average of P500 per trunk (US$15.00) with the buyer doing the logging operation, handling and transport. In Fiji, coconut logs of 8ft × 8" diameter are bought on the farm at US$6.00 each.
When compared to the local mainstream lumber species, coconut wood has a remarkably lower price. Philippine data reveal that the commercial hard wood apitong (Dipterocarpus grandiflorus) would cost P 38.00 (US$1.38) per board foot (bd. ft.) as compared to P800 (US$0.29) per bd. ft for coconut lumber. Tanguile (Shorea polysperma), a common commercial wood of lesser basic density as apitong is still comparatively much higher in price than cocowood, at P 26.00 (US$0.95) per bd. ft.
The actual and potential demand for coconut wood could be derived from actual and projected needs for housing, the construction of big high-rise buildings, electrical and telecommunication poles, poultry and other livestock buildings, grocery pallets, and demand for house/office furniture, novelty items and curious for both the domestic and export markets within and outside the Asia-Pacific region.
Table 11 shows the potential demand for coconut lumber based on the housing requirements of 1% and 5% of most of the Asia-Pacific countries, respectively. With an estimated population in coconut growing countries in Asia and the Pacific of about 1.5 billion people and assuming that 1% of the population would need housing facilities, made from coconut wood, some 15 million housing units would then be required, equivalent to demand for some 226 million cubic meters of coconut wood assuming that one housing unit would require at least 15 cubic meters of coconut wood. Some 75 million housing units would be required if one assumes that 5 % of the present population would immediately need coconut-based housing facilities. This requirement would create a demand of some 1.132 billion cubic meters of coconut wood.
It may be noted that even at 1 % level, the demand of coconut wood for housing within the coconut growing countries in the Asia-Pacific region would exceed the supply. Thus, for housing needs alone, cocowood could have a big demand. The demand of coconut wood for other uses, e.g. construction of high rise buildings, furniture, novelties, etc., would have to compete for the demand of the wood for basic housing units.
The demand for coconut lumber in the construction industry is in the form of scaffoldings and form lumber. The construction industry, a vital industry in stimulating economic growth, is currently developing at a fast pace in many centuries in Asia and the Pacific creating an increasing demand for coconut lumber. The growth in tourism in the region and the economic development of the Pacific rim are perceived to contribute to the increasing trend in demand for cocowood novelty items, curious, and similar items. Europe and the North American countries have been observed to have gained a liking for coconut wood furniture and other small and inexpensive novelty items considering its natural sensuous beauty, attractive clear-grained appearance and lasting integrity.