Hae Ing... Traditional Materials in Modern Furniture.


2009-06-05
In recent articles various woodworking machinery manufacturers have said that the way to survive these days is innovation. It's no secret, and the same applies to the furniture industry where trends evolve even quicker. Our visit to Hae Ing Furniture Company was not only very insightful, it was also very inspirational. They are using a combination of metal, glass and bamboo in the construction of their furniture which really goes together very nicely. And in a climate where green is the way to go, this woody perennial evergreen grows up to 60cm per day and as such is highly replenishable. ************************************************************** /Report by Greg Niederhaus On a Side Note Recently, I have been using bamboo in some of my projects including drums, BBQ trailers and a bar. Each of the projects involves curves, but not just on one plane. They start off narrow at the bottom and taper up and outwards, yet the bird's eye view also is extremely curved. It's tough to make wood bend to those shapes, but bamboo seemed to cooperate very well. Learning as I went, I experimented with steam and fire and I discovered how much plasticity you can produce with these methods. It was awesome to find that with about 15 seconds' exposure to a gas torch, bamboo strips 3” wide by 3/8” thick would bend to extreme accuracy, and holding it in place with a cold wet towel would yield nearly instant retention of the new shape. The discovery of this ancient material in my shop is exciting, yet the more I work with it the more I realize I have to learn. A visit to an Expert Coincidentally, wfd was scheduled to visit Mr. Lin Yung-Hsiang, president of Hae Ing Furniture. Not only is Mr. Lin the boss at Hae Ing, he is the actual R&D department. One man with his imagination and 20 some odd years experience in furniture fabrication decided a couple years ago to go nuts with bamboo. He draws up the plans, and his various woodworking factories turn the concepts into reality. We see traditional furniture made of rattan and bamboo, and typically it's very natural and exotic looking because of the rungs and tubular shapes. Mr. Lin's style is quite different. The bamboo has been machined into long strips about 5mm by a centimeter. Then it is laminated face to face in order to produce boards from maybe 5mm to 4 cm thick with any surface area required. This type of material has been around for a number of years and usually used in cutting boards for kitchens and flooring. What we have here is a pioneer developing new ways to use it differently. The show room The website doesn't do the products justice. When I visited Hae Ing's site I couldn't find the bamboo stuff. They said we were going to visit a bamboo expert which I couldn't wait for, but online all I saw was various DIY computer desks and such, seemingly made of OSB or some other fragile composite. What a let down, but I was wrong. Walking through the show room is what reinvigorated me. This stuff is so rugged. Each piece manages to combine the feel of European modern furniture with the compact space usage maximization and simplicity one may find in Japan. Japan consumes 50% of Hae Ing's business, and Europe takes 20%. The rest goes to South America and North America. Back to the products, we saw a huge variety. Computer desks, counter tops, dining room tables, kitchen carts, hallway tables and much more were on display, and you really have to physically touch these pieces to get a feel for how functional they are. Not only that, but they are built to last a lifetime. Mr. Lin explained that if you treat the bamboo correctly, it will mimic the properties of high end woods like Maple or Elm. There were also a wide array of kitchen wares including all sorts of trays, containers, utensils and loads more. Absolutely exquisite. Depending on the treatment method, Mr.Lin described how the bamboo becomes impregnated with color. If you bleach the bamboo, it comes out a very light brown. If you carbonize it, a coffee type brown results. Green can be achieved as well. These colors do not fade, and the combining of them results in a very unique product. Happily, we each received a handy little chopping block for the kitchen, and he instructed us how to treat the blocks with cooking oil so that they would also last a lifetime. Secretly I was hoping for the flat screen monitor unit with remote control tilt and sway positioning, but the chop block was still a terrific gift... More on the Material I asked Mr. Lin if bamboo could be used to make structural beams like Pre-Lam, where they use blocks of scrap woods like Spruce and Fir and laminate them into any size straight or curved building material. That stuff is even used to build domed bridges. Who knows, maybe it's already being done and if it is, it's got to be much stronger. Since you can only get fairly narrow strips out of even giant bamboo, the gluable surface area is much greater. My study of how they make Asiatic Re-curve Bows revealed the value of this concept. Once they have steamed and flattened the animal horn into what they call “limbs” (the things with a handle in between that bend), they need to glue sinew to them to provide strength and spring. There are lots of forces working within a 70 pound bow and they are susceptible to snapping. So what they do is scrape V shaped grooves into the surface before gluing, and that triples the gluable surface area. Done correctly, be it wood, horn, or even bamboo, if the material is stressed to the point of breaking it will not break at the glue point, rather it will fracture elsewhere. The point is that the material is extremely strong. Mr. Lin's bamboo was carefully selected from the 5 thousand or so varieties available. This species is called "Meng Zong Zhu" and comes from tall mountains in China. The bamboo I have been using is actually the wrong stuff Mr. Lin pointed out, because the grain is too big. That makes it weak. If you want the strong stuff it has to be about 4 years old, where the grain is very fine. Its toughness apparently comes from years of swaying in the wind, a natural sort of toughness training. One major problem with bamboo of any sort is bugs that bore holes from the inside out. The supplier of Hae Ing's bamboo has developed an ISO certified method of treating the bamboo which makes it indestructible. First they carefully select mature bamboo and section them off into poles. Where there are rungs, the protrusions are removed both inside and out. Then the poles are cut into strips, treated against bugs and kiln dried to a very low moisture content. Depending on what color is desired they then either bleach or carbonize the material, and then they are planed on four sides to perfect rectangularity. Mr. Lin stated that you get stronger strips towards the outside of the pole. So they sort the inner and outer strips, and when they laminate they alternate or "stagger" the grades for an even, non-warpable effect. The sticks are then laminated into flat or curved planks. They use a very tough imported glue made in Finland which sets them ahead of the pack in terms of durability. Once the planks are sanded four times, they are either coated with standard UV or Aluminum-Oxide UV and polished. Each of these steps involved intensive quality control checks. Resulting is a material that rivals the toughest of woods, is beautiful, and competes cost-wise. History and the Future. For centuries upon centuries bamboo has been used for all sorts of things. Medicinally, the Chinese have used it to cure infections, while Ayurveda in India uses it for respiratory diseases. Various cuisines pickle it, ferment it, grind it into flour or cook it in soup. Here in my yard I have caught little old farmer ladies snatching the shoots from around my own bamboo which fetch a good price at the market. It's quite tasty stir fried. So it's not only used as a construction material. Fly fishing rods, knitting needles, fabrics, paper, archery bows, canoes, martial arts weaponry, musical instruments, drug paraphernalia, flame throwers, rockets... even bicycles and their wheels are made of bamboo. Japanese gangsters use it to tattoo each other, and there are records of its use in human torture, where the victim is tied above the bamboo and it actually grows through the body in 2-4 days! Bamboo has come a long way, and it's the reason why Hae Ing's orders are on the rise. Before each exhibition Mr. Lin puts on his R&D cap and makes sure he's got a new series of furniture and accessories to offer. And once I perfect the drums I am making, I think I've found the right company to mass produce them for me. This is one company whose future looks good.
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