The manner in which components are manufactured has changed a lot in the last decade with quantum advances in areas such as design, CNC processes and management theory. During that time, a lot of the advances in materials had to do with aesthetics as the segment evolved through lacquer and foil to a whole new world of coatings and colors. Adhesives and finishes have also changed a lot as the industry learned more about VOCs, green architecture and international regulations.
In the coming decade, cabinet and furniture components will continue to change as new technologies such 3-D printing and formaldehyde-free resins take center stage. The latter reached a significant watershed in late July, when the Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule regarding “the protection of the general public from exposure to formaldehyde.” As most cabinet and furniture component suppliers already know, the ruling affects formaldehyde vapors from certain wood products that are either produced domestically or, more importantly, imported into the United States.
“The new rule,” says Jim Jones, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, “will level the playing field for domestic manufacturers who have a high rate of compliance with the California standard and will ensure that imported products not subject to California’s requirements will meet the new standard and thus not contain dangerous formaldehyde vapors.”
The bottom line here is that by next July, composite wood products that are sold, supplied, offered for sale, manufactured or imported into the United States will need to be labeled as TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976) Title VI-compliant. The affected products include a list of materials that furniture and cabinet components manufacturers use, including hardwood plywood, MDF and particleboard, plus the end-user products that are made from these materials.
To meet compliance standards for emissions, many component manufacturers are looking at alternative sheet stock. Among the options are Medex from Metro Hardwoods (metrohardwoods.com) in Maple Grove, Minn. This is a sustainable, moisture-resistant MDF panel that uses a formaldehyde-free adhesive system and pre-consumer recycled wood fiber. A similar product, Green T Arreis, is also an MDF sheet with a formaldehyde-free adhesive system and 100 percent post-industrial recycled wood fiber.
Another option, Myco Board, is a product from Ecovative Design (ecovativedesign.com) in Green Island, N.Y. The sheet stock uses relatively inert mycelium, rather than formaldehyde, as a bonding agent, hence the name.
PureBond (purebondplywood.com) hardwood plywood, from Columbia Forest Products, uses a soy-based adhesive and is compliant with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, earning one point for LEED’s EQ Credit 4.4 for Low-Emitting Materials: Composite Wood, and satisfies the emissions standards of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Phase 2 regulations.
NU Green SOYA NAF (no added formaldehyde) particleboard from Uniboard (uniboard.com) is Forest Stewardship Council-certified, and Eco-Certified Composite by the Composite Panel Association. It contains 100 percent recycled and recovered pre-consumer wood fiber. The company uses a process whereby no formaldehyde is added with the soya resin, so the board is environmentally friendly and exceeds CARB Phase 2 standards. It’s also NAF-certified (Ultra Low Emission Formaldehyde) by the CPA. This designation, determined by CARB, is intended only for products with formaldehyde emissions that are below 0.04 ppm. It comes in a wide range of melamine colors.
For bending applications, Kerfkore (kerfkore.com) in Brunswick, Ga., offers Kerfkore-Green, which combines a NAF latex-impregnated paper with a NAUF (no added urea formaldehyde) core material. A sister product, FlexGreen, consists of a Eucalyptus fiber 0.08” hardboard face attached to a particleboard substrate that is made from 100 percent recovered and recycled fiber, which is free of any added formaldehyde. The glue used in this product also contains no formaldehyde. And Foamkore-Green from Kerfkore is an environmentally friendly NAF product that provides a lightweight panel with structural integrity at a greatly reduced weight. It consists of a Eucalyptus fiber hardboard face with a polystyrene foam core.
SoyStrong from States Industries (statesind.com) in Eugene, Ore., is a hardwood plywood panel free from all formaldehyde resins and designated NAF. Plus, MDF and particleboard substrates carrying the SoyStrong label are No Added Urea-Formaldehyde.
For shops buying components rather than making them, Keystone Wood Specialties (keystonewood.com) in Lancaster Pa., brings something new to the table. The company has introduced a line called Superior Green paint-grade doors and drawer fronts. Made using solid soft maple for rails and stiles, the panels are milled from Plum Creek’s GlacierGreen MDF. Available with any panel raise, Superior Green doors and drawer fronts can be ordered unfinished, primed for painting or prefinished in a woodshop’s choice of Keystone colors. The company can also custom color match an order to a supplied color sample. Plum Creek is a subsidiary of Weyerhaeuser and GlacierGreen is a low-emissivity MDF that meets CARB II emission standards.
LEED pilot program
The Wood Products Manufacturers Association (wpma.org) reported in August that there has been a small step forward in LEED certification for wood that is used in components. Until now, the only certified products allowed in LEED projects were from companies that were Forest Stewardship Council chain-of-custody-certified.
“The process,” the WPMA said in a statement, “was often time-consuming and it required a great deal of documentation unless a company was part of a group certificate. The U.S. Green Building Council recently started a pilot project that will allow Sustainable Forest Initiative wood to be used in LEED building products for the LEED point for sustainable wood. The SFI and the FSC are very similar in how they work, as their goals and operations are basically the same. Both programs strive to maintain sustainable harvest levels, work toward reforestation and address forest conservation. While companies are not able to mix FSC- and SFI-certified woods together for the same product, you can use either FSC- or SFI-certified wood for a job.
“It is felt that this new pilot program will help increase the amount of certified lumber and certified components available for LEED projects as well as the number of companies willing to become certified to produce the specific items/jobs.”
Digitally printed panels
The aesthetic norms of furniture and cabinet components are also changing. For example, an idea that began in Europe more than a decade ago and saw a little early success on the coasts is just now beginning to gain serious traction in the heartland. Digitally printed panels for cabinet and furniture components, such as doors and appliance faces, are finally finding a foothold among kitchen and bath designers.
R.D. Henry & Co. (formerly Custom Cupboards) in Wichita, Kan., offers a distinctive service to other shops through its network of dealerships. Named “Facets” (rdhenry.com/facetsparent), the digital transfer program allows component builders to add patterns, textures, artwork, photography or typography to furniture or casework. A designer can add a personal touch to any room in a client’s home, office or retail space — and do so without losing the beauty of the wood. The Facets program uses a proprietary, patent-pending process to digitally transfer artwork, geometric patterns or even a customer’s own photographs directly onto a painted white or natural maple, alder or cherry background.
Distressing has been around for a century and, like many fads and fashions, it has had its popularity peaks and valleys. The technique basically allows a shop to create a worn and antiqued look on new cabinet doors, drawer fronts or wood components.
WalzCraft (walzcraft.com) in LaCrosse, Wis., has become a leader in its application and has recently added a third type of distressing to its catalog of components. The two original options were simulated (which looks like screw or nail impacts, wear marks, nicks, wormholes, cracks or rasp marks) and Renaissance (a heavily pronounced aged or antique appearance that is achieved by using tools such as an orbital sander, chisel, putty knife, razor, rasp, claw and hammer). The company has added TexGrain, featuring a rustic, weathered look that brings rich texture to solid wood and MDF products. It pairs well with rustic décor, and is also great for cottage, industrial or transitional spaces. It is fashioned by running a wire brush over the wood surface. This removes some of the soft fibers and creates a richly textured surface that can be both seen and felt. When applied to solid wood, TexGrain distressing opens and enhances the wood grain, leaving the remaining wood with a rustic or weathered look. This option is available on all grades and cuts of alder, cherry, hickory, pine, poplar, red oak, white oak and walnut. When applied to MDF, it results in more evenly distributed texture because of the uniform surface of the material.
Another area looking at a facelift in the next decade in cabinet components is edgebanding. At the forefront of innovation here is Rehau’s LaserEdge, which is a band with a pre-applied functional layer that replaces the traditional glue used to apply edgebanding. LaserEdge can be used with all zero-joint edge banding technologies including hot air, laser, plasma and NIR.
Hardware and accents
For woodshops with restaurant, hotel or bar clients, table legs can sometimes be a challenge. KE Hardware of Baltimore (kehardware.com) is now carrying a new line of table bases in a retail range of $120 to $176. Inspired by the architectural flying buttresses of Gothic cathedrals, the Buttress Cast Aluminum base is designed to add a dramatic flair to catering decor. Its black, semi-gloss finish allows this eye-catching leg set to be used in both indoor and outdoor settings. It’s available in several sizes and heights, but the catalog does note that is not intended for use with heavy stone, marble or granite tops.
Speaking of bars, Hardware Resources (hardwareresources.com) makes bar brackets (furniture components that support a bar-top), plus capitals, corbels, fireplace and mantle accessories, furniture legs and feet, plus an extensive range of onlays (carvings) and appliques. With six warehouses across the U.S. and a manufacturing facility in Bossier City, La., the company has recently added nine new carved wooden corbels to its furniture components offerings. Hardware Resources designs, engineers and makes an extensive line of more than 24,000 products, including components for the kitchen cabinet, bath, furniture and closet industries under our three brands: Jeffrey Alexander, Elements and Hardware Resources.
One trend that woodshops might want to pay special attention to in the next few years is called universal design, which is about creating spaces for all people, not just those of average height and build. Forward-thinking hardware manufacturers have been aware of this rapidly expanding market segment for some time and many have already introduced easy-open cabinet doors and drawers that react to a slight touch or adjustable height chopping blocks and worktops. Some manufacturers are working on upper cabinets where the shelves respond to a remote control and lower themselves through the bottom of the cabinet to countertop level.
During the next few years, cabinet and furniture component manufacturers are going to need to accommodate this trend more and more as the baby boomer population (people born between the years 1946 and 1964) ages. The oldest of them turns 70 this year and the youngest is 52.
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue.