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Suar wood grain close up

Suar Wood: Properties, Pros And Cons, And Selection Tips

Southeast Asia boasts a magnificent tree that has captured the attention of many with its beauty and versatility - the rain tree. The wood from the rain tree is commonly referred to as suar wood and has become a popular material for furniture making, decorative carvings and sculptures. 

Its presence in Singapore is ubiquitous, lining the streets and parks as natural shade providers due to the branches' umbrella-like shape that shields pedestrians from the rain.

In this article, we'll delve deeper into the fascinating world of the rain tree and suar wood. Read on to uncover their origins, unique properties and the many ways in which they are used today.

What Are Rain Trees?

This beloved and iconic tree has many names. Known as samanea saman, suar wood tree, the monkey pod, the five o’clock tree and “Pukul Lima” in Malay, the rain tree is medium-sized and grows up to 30m in cities but can grow up to 60m in its natural habitat, South America.

What’s magical about this tree is that its leaves fold in rainy weather in the evening, hence the nickname, “five o’clock tree”. 

Its flowers are pink and have red or white stamens (the long stems that produce pollen) — there’s usually an abundance of them and they cover the whole tree. Their seed pods contain sticks and edible flesh. 

Origin of the Rain Tree

One may think that the rain tree is native to Singapore or Southeast Asia, but actually, it’s from Central and South America. It’s seen from Mexico to Peru, and even all the way in Brazil. 

In 1896, the rain tree made its way to the Malay Peninsula, and the administrative governments have since grown this tree in urban areas, especially along highways and roadsides.

The History of Singapore’s Rain Trees

From the 19th century, staff from the Botanic Gardens planted rain tree saplings along Connaught Drive, which was known as New Esplanade Road back then. In the years that have passed, the rain trees grew and flourished, creating a scenic waterfront view, framing the colonial buildings.

Today, 22 of these rain trees are dubbed as Heritage Trees, under NParks’ Heritage Tree Scheme. Known as the “Avenue of Heritage Trees”, this street has the largest number of heritage trees in a single avenue.

Some of these trees are over 130 years old, and would have witnessed historic events, such as the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew declaring Singapore’s independence in 1963, and the country’s first National Day Celebration in 1966.

What is Suar Wood?

The wood harvested from rain trees is commonly known as suar wood, though it also goes by many names including rain tree wood and Acacia. The properties of suar wood make it an excellent material for furniture making. 

Properties of Suar Wood

What makes suar wood distinct from other types of wood? Here are some properties to look out for including colour, grain and hardness.

Colour

Suar wood ranges from a golden colour to a dark brown, and sometimes has darker streaks in it. Its sapwood (soft outer layers of the trunk) are usually between thin and yellowish white, and there’s a distinct line that separates it from the heartwood (the wood from the centre of the tree trunk).

Grain

Rain tree wood, or suar wood, is usually straight, but can also be interlocked and wavy, making for unique patterns. It shows up well on dining and coffee tables.

Hardness

On the Janka scale, suar wood has a rating of 900. It's slightly stronger or about the same as African mahogany, but not as strong as teak.

Uses of Suar Wood

It’s cool to have a piece from one of Singapore’s iconic trees. After all, a statement piece made from suar wood ties the room together. Let’s look at how it fares as furniture and flooring.

Furniture

Table made from Suar Wood

Suar wood’s unique and attractive grain makes for great and unique furniture, such as dining tables and chairs

Flooring

Baby playing on suar wood flooring

With its unique grain patterns and hardness, suar wood makes for great flooring. Its overall water resistance and minimal maintenance required make for a gorgeous and long-lasting floor.

Advantages of Suar Wood Furniture

Among suar wood’s positive qualities are affordability, minimal maintenance and its moderate durability. Read on to find out more about them.

Affordable

Suar wood is much more affordable than many types of furniture wood as it grows in many types of environment with ease and matures quickly. 

This means that it can be farmed and harvested quicker than other types of wood, such as teak or mahogany, accounting for its larger supply and lower price point

Minimal Maintenance

Suar wood tables require minimal maintenance. All you need to do is to use soap and water to wipe it down. 

As for flooring, sweeping, vacuuming or using a dust mop is enough to remove the dirt and dust.

Moderately Durable

Suar wood is moderately high on hardness and hence, can be quite resistant to wear and tear.

In addition, the interlocking grain of suar wood ensures that it’s durable and does not warp. The crisscrosses present in the grain prevent the wood from cracking with the changes in weather. This is especially suitable for Singapore’s unpredictable climate.

Resistant to Termites

If you worry that drywood termites or wood borers will get at your wood furniture, you can rest easy knowing that this does not happen often with suar wood pieces due to its high resin content. 

Sustainable

Since the rain tree grows where it’s planted and naturalises itself to many different types of environments, it’s easy enough to harvest and replant, making this wood sustainable.

How to Maintain Your Suar Wood Furniture

Even though suar wood is highly decay- and pest-resistant, it’s still best to put some measures in place to ensure that your furniture lasts as long as possible. Here’s how to maintain your furniture.

Do Not Place it Outdoors

Ideally, your suar wood furniture piece should be on level ground and away from the outdoors so that it will last longer.

Clean Spills Immediately

Woman wiping the suar wood table with a cloth

Spills and stains, unfortunately, are more apparent on this type of wood, so it’s best to clean them immediately. If not, some of these liquids may seep through the wood, damaging it. 

Coffee and wine stains need to be cleaned straightaway, too. Use a wet cloth to blot them to retain the finish. Wiping will cause the stain to rub and seep into the wood, making it more difficult to get rid of.

If you didn’t manage to clean these stains in time, here’s a guide on how to clean a sticky wooden table.

Wipe Your Furniture Regularly

It’s best to use a soft cloth to dust your furniture once a week. Once a month, use a damp cloth to wipe down your suar wood piece. You can do the same for its underside once every six weeks.

Note: Avoid cleaning your wood piece with harsh chemicals such as dishwasher liquid, alcohol wipes and hand sanitisers as they will damage it.

Use Cork, Plastic, or Ceramic Coasters

Mugs placed on top of coasters to protect suar wood table top

Use coasters to prevent the water from seeping into the wood. We recommend cork, plastic or ceramic ones. 

How to Select Premium Suar Wood

It’s challenging to find a piece of suar wood that has been treated properly with no defects. Here are some things you can check to protect yourself from buying a piece that’s of poor quality.

Ask About Its Origin

Suar wood is usually cultivated in Thailand and Indonesia. When shopping for suar wood furniture, ask the seller about its origin. If you’re unable to get an answer, you may not be looking at an authentic piece.

Check Its Stability

Before you purchase a piece of suar wood furniture, try leaning on it at various spots, shaking it  or lifting it up to see how sturdy it is. If the table or chair wobbles, it might not be of high quality.

Look At The Finish

Beware of pieces that have a lot of lacquer. This may mean that the wood has not been dried properly. In fact, some manufacturers may use lacquer to hide the moisture that should be gotten rid of earlier on in the woodworking process. 

Reputable suppliers usually display their wood pieces in its raw form so you can see what they look and feel like. If you prefer a glossy finish, you can check whether the supplier is able to add on an oil coating to complete the look.

Where to Buy Suar Wood Tables

Many furniture stores in Singapore carry suar wood tables. 

At Timber Actually, we carry a range of high-quality suar wood furniture, including:

 Raintree Solid Wood Table Top KOFFE - Raintree Wood Side Table
Raintree Solid Wood Table Top KOFFE - Raintree Wood Side Table

 

In addition, we also sell suar wood planks which can be customised to suit your needs:

 Rain Tree Wood Planks (Customisable) Rain Tree Wood Planks (Planed) Rain Tree Wood Planks (Rough Sawn)
Rain Tree Wood Planks (Customisable)

 Rain Tree Wood Planks (Planed)

Rain Tree Wood Planks (Rough Sawn)

 

Suar Wood vs Other Wood Types: Teak, Mahogany And Walnut

With so many different types of wood, it can be overwhelming to weigh out the different pros and cons. Apart from suar wood, some of the more popular options on the market include teak, mahogany and walnut. 

In the table below, we evaluate these woods based on grain, colour, hardness, durability and water and rot resistance.

Suar Wood Teak Wood Mahogany Wood Walnut Wood
Grain Mostly straight grain, sometimes with interlocking grain Close grains Straight to interlocked grain Tight grained
Colour Golden brown to dark brown Comes in a uniform, golden brown colour Reddish brown Ranges from light brown to dark brown
Hardness 900 lbf on the Janka scale 1000 - 1155 lbf 800 lbf 1010 lbf
Durability Moderately durable Extremely durable Extremely durable Strong, but not as durable as teak
Water and Rot Resistance Not as resistant to water and rot as teak and walnut Resistant to insects and moisture due to the high concentration of natural oils Not as water resistant as teak but comparable to walnut  Comparable to that of teak

 

FAQs about Suar Wood

What are the uses of suar wood?

Suar wood is usually made into kitchen counters, cabinets, shelves, and planking for flooring.

What is the cost of suar wood? 

In general, suar wood is priced at $11 for a 20mm thick plank to $60 for a 45mm thick plank. At Timber Actually, our rain tree wooden planks are priced at: 

  • Customisable rain tree wood planks: $35 per plank
  • Planed rain tree wood planks: From $8.90 per piece
  • Rough sawn rain tree wood planks: From $7.90 per piece

What are some of the disadvantages of suar wood furniture?

Suar wood furniture splits, warps and moulds easily if the wood is not dried properly in a kiln. Although the wood is resistant to dry wood termites, other types of insects, such as powder lice and some fungi may eat away at it. 

Why is Suar wood not sold at some furniture stores?

Suar wood may not be sold at some furniture stores as the process of drying the wood in a kiln is time-consuming and not all suppliers have the right equipment to do it.

Is Suar wood hard or soft?

It is a hardwood of moderate hardness with a Janka rating of 900 lbf.

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