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Featured Project: Spring Hill College

Located atop a scenic hill in Mobile, Alabama, Spring Hill College has enjoyed a long reputation for excellence in the Jesuit tradition.

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In fact, Spring HIll College is the state’s oldest institution of higher learning, founded in 1830 by Mobile’s first Catholic bishop. Spring Hill is also the first Catholic college in the Southeast, the third oldest Jesuit college and the fifth oldest Catholic college in the United States. Besides these historic accomplishments, it’s currently ranked by Forbes.com as one of America’s Best Colleges. Additionally, Spring Hill College was one of the first Southern colleges to integrate racially, and was even mentioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who praises Spring Hill in his 1963 Letter From Birmingham Jail.

A college with such a notable history and strong presence deserves to have a beautiful campus. Two of the buildings on campus, the Arlene Mitchell Theater and the Arthur R. Outlaw Recreation Center, prominently feature Meranti wood from OHC. Meranti was chosen primarily for its beauty and as an essential component of the campus’ tropical colonial architecture, which combines red tropical hardwoods with white stucco and other white elements.

Meranti is an excellent species for the balmy, tropical location, as this species of wood naturally resists damp conditions.

Students and other patrons of the Arlene Mitchell Theater enter through a set of large, handsome Meranti doors and transoms, immediately stepping into an inviting lobby lined with Tongue And Groove Meranti panelling stretching from floor to ceiling. The dramatic entry is appropriate to the drama that takes place inside the theater. Tongue And Groove panelling, which is a ¼” or ⅛” bevel on two of the edges of the face of the board, enhances the appearance of the wood by calling attention to the length of the board and the height of the wall. This technique is purely aesthetic, and is machined in-house by OHC.

The lobby of the Arthur R. Outlaw Recreation Center also features beautiful Meranti elements. A large trophy case lined with Tongue And Groove Meranti panelling contains the many athletic awards earned by Spring Hill College students over the years. The awards deserve to shine in a beautiful home, and the warm, rich Meranti handsomely contains them. The railings and bannisters in the Rec Center are also crafted from Meranti. They’re beautiful, and are durable enough to withstand the large numbers of students and community members who attend games, classes, and other events in the building.

OHC is proud to have supplied high-quality Meranti to Spring Hill College, a university with an esteemed history and a longstanding place in the Mobile community.

Posted in Meranti, Millwork | Leave a comment

A Day In The Life Of A Tropical Hardwood Buyer

Gregory Robinson grew up in Mobile, AL, as a part of a family with a long history in lumber, but he never could have predicted that one day he’d spend his days immersed in Brazilian culture, traveling up and down Amazonian tributaries, and conducting business transactions in Portuguese.

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When he first began his work as a hardwoods buyer back in 2002, Gregory spent 160 days in Brazil learning the culture. He didn’t speak Portuguese, but quickly realized it was critical to learn it as quickly as possible. He attended an intensive language school for two weeks, and has developed his language skills over the years. Now, Gregory only travels to Brazil a few times a year for inspecting and purchasing of product.

When travelling to Brazil, trips are typically about two weeks. While abroad, Gregory hits the ground running, breakfasting with a business contact at 7am, and ending the day with a 9pm dinner with another supplier. In between he typically visits multiple mills in pursuit of the very best lumber. A trip could consist of four to five cities or towns, and eight to ten mills per town. He’s gone to extreme lengths to reach a town, once hiring a tiny plane to fly him out, or riding on a boat for three to four hours. Gregory has travelled the partially-unpaved Rodovia Transamazônica (Trans-Amazonian Highway), which has no bridges even on the most treacherous sections, once crossed a river in a canoe, and spent the coldest night of his life on a barge with an out-of-control air conditioner.

Besides the sometimes adventurous aspect of his work, Gregory has also built relationships over the years with mill owners and employees, eating meals in their homes. He’s even received help in expanding his Portuguese vocabulary to learn the most effective words for a situation (hint: some of them have four letters).

Gregory has learned that culturally, Brazilians might have the intent to follow through on a business deal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen. He estimates that in the first two years on the job, only about 20% of the orders he placed were filled, and came to realize that a transaction isn’t a sure thing until the lumber is on the ship. There have been a few cultural barriers to overcome, but now, he says, these relationships have enabled him to know which mill partners are truthful, legal, and reputable, and which ones need to be avoided.

“It’s critical,” he says, “to build professional and personal relationships and really know our suppliers in order to buy the very best lumber possible. Anyone who doesn’t truly know their suppliers is really rolling the dice.”

While in Brazil, Gregory blends high-tech and low-tech tools. He uses GPS to find remote locations, and WhatsApp (a messaging app) to communicate with suppliers, but he also relies on the common humanity of shared experiences to bridge cultural divides, such as sharing a meal in someone’s home, or showing off family photos. All of these methods and skills ensure that OHC sources the highest quality, most beautiful Brazilian lumber products for their customers.

Posted in Tigerwood, Garapa, Ipe, Cumaru, Outdoor Living | Leave a comment

Deck Design Trends

Decks have changed greatly over the years, from the dull platforms of the past to the multi-level, highly-personalized extensions of indoor living space. With the addition of pergolas and other shade-giving features, as well as built-in fire pits, decks can now be utilized for most of the year, allowing homeowners to maximize their outdoor space as a part of everyday life.

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Here’s a look at some deck trends that have contributed to bringing home life into the outdoors:

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Larger Decks

Since 1973 the average home size has increased by more than 1000 square feet. It makes sense that homeowners would also desire an increased deck size. A typical deck in years past might have been 200 square feet, but current average deck square footage is 300-400 square feet. Building larger decks makes room for all of the “extras” that homeowners want, such as pergolas, privacy walls, built-ins, and storage and planters for both beauty and function.

 

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Multi-Level Decks

Typical decks in years past were simple rectangles with rails and stairs. Today’s decks are often multi-storied structures, built to accommodate sloping terrain, maximize a pleasing view, or create different zones for multiple functions. Multi-level decks allow interaction between different zones, connecting people rather than separating, as multi-story decks tend to do. With multi-level decks (compared to single-level or multi-story decks), it’s possible to have a lounge area connected to an outdoor kitchen, or an open viewing area connected to a covered area for protection from the elements.

 

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Two-Toned Wood

Many homeowners today choose to add interest to their deck by selecting two finishes or even two species of wood. It’s becoming more common to combine a lighter-toned wood with a darker-toned wood. This combination has been seen both by pairing built-in furniture in light tones with a deck in darker tones, and also by integrating the different colored boards in the same deck, with, for instance, dark floor decking and light-colored borders or railings.

 

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Hidden Fasteners

Until recently it was fairly standard to see a line of screws on a deck, but thankfully hidden fasteners are gaining traction. Some, like the Pro Plug System, go through the top of the board and have a wooden plug placed on top, and other types, such as Camo Fasteners, are mounted to the side or underneath. Aside from aesthetic concerns, hidden fasteners also provide increased safety and durability. Hidden fasteners won’t stand out from the board after exposure to the elements causes the wood to contract. Less fasteners exposed mean less stubbed toes and a cleaner look.

 

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Lighting

Lighting has always been important, but homeowners and designers realize now what impact it can have on the look and feel of a deck. Gone are the days of tiki torches roped to the railing; they’ve been replaced by permanent solutions that call attention to special details and highlight the different zones of the deck. Low-voltage lighting can be wired into the deck’s steps, increasing both safety and beauty.

Outdoor Kitchens

When homeowners dream about using their deck, the most frequently pictured scene is one of burgers grilling while family and friends relax nearby. Modern decks take that to a new level by creating an entire outdoor kitchen featuring elements such as cabinets, countertops, a refrigerator, sink, kegerator, and of course, a first-class grill.

 

These emerging deck trends open up the outdoors to be more than a deck. They enable the deck to be an outdoor living room, outdoor kitchen, outdoor dining room...really almost any indoor area can now be reimagined as an outdoor space!

Posted in Ipe, Outdoor Living | Leave a comment

Featured Project: New Orleans Ipe Deck

Sometimes the only thing that works to beat the heat on a balmy summer day in New Orleans is to retire to the porch with iced tea in hand.

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For one homeowner, David, spending time on the 10-year-old deck wasn’t the ideal situation he hoped it would be. Although his home was lovely and featured a beautiful, refreshing swimming pool, the composite deck left something to be desired. It hadn’t aged well and didn’t have the warm, organic feel of real wood underfoot. He decided to pull up the composite decking and try no-seam vinyl decking instead.

Still unhappy with the look and feel, a fortuitous meeting with OHC President Lee Robinson, Jr, introduced David to Ipe wood. After researching Ipe and considering the humid, tropical climate in New Orleans, David decided to make some changes and re-cap the hand rails with Ipe.

The wood’s natural weather- and rot-resistance would make it a natural choice for the location, and its good looks would elevate the entire backyard and pool area.

As construction began, things looked so great that David placed another order for more wood to completely redo the deck. In fact, he fell so in love with the Ipe (and the customer service he experienced with OHC) that he ended up going back two times to add more lumber! David can now be found drinking his morning cup of coffee on the deck, taking an afternoon dip in the pool, or simply relaxing outside any time of day.

The contrast of the white balusters and posts with the rich, warm tones of the Ipe rail cap and decking plus the landscaping and pool creates a true oasis.

David and his partner entertain frequently and have hosted numerous gatherings in the two months since the deck’s completion, sharing their new deck with friends and family. In fact, David was recently selected by Afar Magazine, an experiential travel publication, to be one of five homes open to the public to show how real New Orleanians live.

The spacious deck and surrounding area ensures the tour guests will be introduced to Southern hospitality with New Orleans’ particular flair.

Posted in Ipe, Outdoor Living | Leave a comment

Spring Boat Commissioning Checklist

Flowers are blooming, temperatures are rising, and you’re starting to imagine yourself out on the water with the wind in your hair and a light spray of water across your face. The only thing between you and your dreams is commissioning your boat for spring!

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Here are some important areas to check to get your boat ready for the season:

Engine

This is a great place to start, as it will take the most time and create the biggest mess. If you didn’t change the oil before winterizing your boat, do so now. This will eliminate water and acid buildup, as well as preventing corrosion, poor fuel economy, and engine failure. While you’re changing the oil, replace the oil filter as well. Flush the cooling system and replace antifreeze with a 50/50 ratio of water to coolant. Replace seawater pump impellers on main engines and generators. Check all fluids and even lights. Install fresh spark plugs. Reconnect fuel lines and tighten or replace hose clamps if needed. Replace the batteries and perform an engine test.

Canvas and Vinyl

Check all vinyl and canvas items, including bimini top, seats, and covers for tears, dirt, and mildew. Repair any tears or holes and clean with an appropriate cleaner.

Hull

Inspect the hull for blisters or cracks, as well as chalky residue. Repair any blisters or cracks. The gelcoat on the exterior repels water and keeps the outer surface looking smooth. If you discover a chalky residue, it likely means oxidation is present. If only light oxidation is discovered (the finish will look mostly shiny with a few dull patches), then an oxidation removal compound may be applied and will restore the shine. For more severe oxidation, buffing and/or sanding will be required and professional intervention may be necessary. Once the gelcoat is restored, keep it cleaned and polished throughout the boating season using proper cleaning agents and polishes. Clean the rest of the exterior using a marine-safe cleaner. Apply a fresh coat of wax to the hull.

Brightwork

The metal and wood components, known as brightwork, bring beauty and personality to your boat. These parts need to be cared for to prevent pitting and degradation. To care for the metal, use a specialized metal polisher. For Teak or Meranti, it’s best to lightly sand and then apply stain and varnish. Four coats of varnish are the minimum for UV protection, but eight to twelve coats offer superior protection and less maintenance over time.

Electronics & Interior

Test all electronics, including radio, GPS, depth finder, compass, and any other marine electronics. This way you won’t be caught off guard on the water if you discover an electronic component isn’t working properly. Clean the interior thoroughly to remove dirt and debris. Dirt and debris invite moisture and moisture brings rot.

Boat Trailer

An often-neglected part of boating, you will increase the life of your boat trailer with a little care taken every year. Prevent rust by keeping it painted, repairing dings and nicks, and rinsing off salt water with fresh water. Check the winch straps and chains for wear, and lubricate winch if necessary. Check the bearings, light bulbs, tire pressure, and the license plate. Getting a ticket for an expired license plate is not the way to start off boating season!

Safety Gear

It can be easy to overlook this important component, but it’s essential to have all signaling devices, hand pumps, life preservers, first aid supplies, and fire extinguishers in good, working condition. Check expiration dates on anything with time-sensitive components.

Taking the time to adequately prepare for boating season will pay off in the long run with fewer repairs and hassles, ultimately giving you more time to enjoy your boat.

Posted in Teak, Meranti, Marine | Leave a comment

Is Ipe Fire Proof?

Ipe, an exotic hardwood from Brazil, is known for its many desirable qualities. It’s dense, durable, naturally resists rot and pests and its beauty is unparalleled.

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Some have even claimed it’s fireproof. But is there data to support this claim or is it simply hyperbole?

The most commonly accepted test for flame rating is the Standard Test Method for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials, also known as the ASTM E-84.The ASTM E-84 test measures how far and fast flames spread across the surface of the test sample by installing a 20”x25’ sample of the material as the ceiling of a test chamber, and exposing the material to a gas flame. The resulting flame spread rating (FSR) is expressed as a number on a scale where cement board is 0 and red oak is 100. This scale is then divided into three classes (Class A, 0-25 FSR; Class B, 26-75 FSR; and Class C, 76-200 FSR). Generally, inorganic materials such as brick or tile are Class A-rated and most whole wood products are Class B or C.  

Several years ago other lumber suppliers tested Ipe under the ASTM E-84 test. At the time, the metrics used to test fire spread were far less stringent than they are today, and Ipe was given a Class A rating, the same rating given to both concrete and steel. Is it conceivable that a wood product could have the same fire spread rating as concrete and steel? In a word: no. With today’s stricter metrics, Ipe is generally given no more than a class B rating. In order to receive a Class A rating each bundle of lumber would have to be tested, which is costly and inefficient.

However, Ipe is the wood with the best flame spread resistance, better than any other decking option.

Reinforcing this claim, in 2007 the United States Forest Products Laboratory released a report entitled “Cone Calorimeter Tests of Wood-Based Decking Materials” which show that the density of untreated Ipe outperforms other traditional decking materials such as pine, cedar, and redwood. It’s a superb choice for deck building anywhere, but particularly in a wildfire sensitive area. Additionally, it’s also often used for rooftop decking in densely packed urban areas as a measure of fire protection.

In summary, although it can not support claims to be fireproof, Ipe does provide a greater flame spread resistance than other decking options.

Posted in Ipe, Outdoor Living, Technical Data | Leave a comment

Sinker Cypress: Buried Treasure

In the 1800s and 1900s, loggers used the best technology of their time (axes and saws) to harvest Cypress trees from the swamps of Florida and the lower Mississippi Valley. The trees would then dry out for up to two years in order to become light enough to float down the river to the mill. However, an estimated 10-20% of all Cypress trees harvested at that time never made it to the mill, instead sinking into the mud and silt at the bottom of the river. These logs became known as “Sinker Cypress” or Sinker Deadhead Logs because they have sunk to the river’s bottom.

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Today, Sinker Cypress is harvested from these rivers using the best technology of our time: sonar and other locating equipment.

Once discovered, scuba divers swim down, attach cables to the logs, and use a winch or airbags to pull the logs to the surface. Once again, the logs need to be air-dried for up to two years before they are usable.

Sinker Cypress isIMG_1719.jpg a highly desired lumber product. Because it’s a reclaimed lumber, the supply is limited. As old-growth wood, this lumber is harder, denser, and more stable than newer-growth Cypress, and its 150-year underwater preservation process makes it one of the most rot- and insect-resistant woods in the world. Sinker Cypress contains an oil, cypressene, which preserves the heart wood in the water as organisms eat away at the bark. Even after harvesting, the cypressene continues to protect the wood from the elements, rotting and pests.

Sinker Cypress is also known for its beautiful grain variations, from honeyed browns to grays to olive greens, depending on where it came to rest in the river bottom. If the log landed in a sandy area, lighter tones developed, and a muddier river bottom results in a darker, more olive green tone. Over the century and a half that the logs have been immersed, they have taken on the tannins and minerals from their resting places. Besides a gorgeous tone and color, a naturally tight grain structure gives the wood an unrivaled allure.

Sinker Cypress is commonly used for interior and exterior siding and soffit, but can be used for anything from flooring to furniture. Its strength and attractiveness lends itself to a variety of applications.

Additionally, as a reclaimed wood, Sinker Cypress is an eco-friendly product, and architects and builders can earn LEED points by using it.

pecky_cypress-013594-edited.jpgPecky Sinker Cypress is an even rarer and more valuable type of Sinker Cypress. This highly sought-after wood has pockets and recesses in it that, when milled, show up as unique markings. Surprisingly, the recesses are caused by a fungus called “stereum taxodil” which only flourishes while the tree is alive, and dies off when the tree is cut down. The Pecky Cypress adds a distinctive beauty especially well-suited to a rustic look.  

Sinker Cypress offers strength, durability, and a commanding, exquisite beauty, but its appeal doesn’t lie only in its good qualities. These qualities combined with a rich history of preservation at the bottom of ageless rivers, and a small impact on the planet make Sinker Cypress an unparalleled choice for any project.

Posted in Sinker Cypress, Millwork, Technical Data | Leave a comment

Tropical Hardwood vs. Composite decking

When planning a deck, one of the first essential decisions is what material to use. There are many choices but this article will focus on comparing composite materials with tropical hardwood decking.

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While both options have  benefits and drawbacks, there are many compelling reasons to choose a tropical hardwood such as Ipe, Cumaru, Garapa, and Tigerwood for your next deck.

Installation Cost

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Wood is generally quicker and less expensive to install than composite, due to framing. Composite decking requires a 16” on center spacing because it is too weak and flexible to withstand a wider span between joists. Hardwoods allow up to 24” on center spacing, depending on the deck pattern, saving time and money on installation.

Strength and Durability

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Tropical hardwoods have a much wider range of both width and thickness than composite boards, giving them an advantage in strength and durability. Composite materials lack strength, bowing under heavy foot traffic, making them an especially poor choice for commercial use. Even in a residential application, sagging between joists is often noticeable.

Longevity

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Some types of tropical hardwood decking, such as Ipe, can be built and then practically forgotten about, weathering to a beautiful, aged patina. If the weathered look isn’t desired, a tropical hardwood deck does need to have UV protectorate applied in order to preserve the original look of the wood. Composite decking has been manufactured for several decades now, and this product hasn’t quite aged as well as marketers promised. Tropical hardwood decks can easily last 30-40 years, depending on the environment. Although composite decking has a limited stain and fade warranty, it won’t outlast hardwood decking.

Look and Feel

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The strongest claim composite manufacturers can make about the beauty of their product is that it looks like real wood. At its very best composite wood is an inferior facsimile of true tropical hardwood. Why buy a substitute? There’s no way to truly emulate the natural grain, shade variation, and genuine appearance of actual wood. There is no comparison when it comes to aesthetics. Composite decking will also never feel like natural wood. Even as technology improves the look of composite decking, it will still feel like plastic. Another consideration is heat retention. This is most applicable to decks installed in very warm areas, such as the southern United States. Composite decking heats up approximately 10 degrees warmer than tropical hardwoods, making bare feet on the deck intolerable. Especially for decks intended for families with young children, this is an important detail.


Taking all factors into consideration, tropical hardwoods have the advantage. It will last for decades, decrease installation costs, feel like natural wood, and most importantly, bring a homeowner the pleasure of its beauty for a very long time, serving as the backdrop for many happy memories.

Posted in Tigerwood, Garapa, Ipe, Cumaru, Outdoor Living, Technical Data | Leave a comment

Why is Teak so Expensive?

The word “Teak” is synonymous with quality outdoor furniture, decking, and prestigious yachts. But as anyone who’s purchased Teak knows, that quality comes at a cost.

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The basic law of supply and demand dictates much of this high cost.

Teak is in high demand because of its properties. It is durable; water-, pest- and rot-resistant; has only minor shrinkage; doesn’t corrode with steel; and very importantly, has a beautiful look, naturally weathering to a silvery-gray tone.

Teak (Tectona grandis) comes from Myanmar (formerly Burma), a country of 51 million people in Southeast Asia, bordering Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand. Myanmar’s forests contain half of the world’s naturally occurring teak. Teak has also been cultivated in other parts of Southeast Asia, but this plantation Teak is generally viewed as inferior to indigenous Burmese Teak.

Several changes in Myanmar have contributed to an increased cost of Teak. For instance, the increase in government regulations have led to a decline in logging. While these measures exist to preserve the ecology of the country, they have caused the price to increase.

There is simply less Teak available.  

Formerly, companies were able to legally export logs, which has now been banned in favor of exporting only processed lumber. Paying more for a more processed product has led to an increased cost. It’s also difficult to obtain teak logs from the forest. OHC’s Teak is logged using ancient, traditional methods which are less disruptive to the forest than a skidder..

Another factor affecting the cost of Teak is civil unrest in Myanmar. Unfortunately Myanmar has had one of the longest-running civil wars in history. This unrest made it difficult and costly to do business there. While the dictatorship officially ended in 2011, many current political players are former military officers. Even so, the political situation has improved since 2011.

OHC’s Teak is 100% responsibly harvested and our partners in Myanmar participate in reforestation. However, the cost of Teak isn’t going to decrease any time in the near future.

Its limited supply, logging restrictions, and highly desirable quality are reflected in the price, but thankfully that high price is attached to an excellent, long-lasting product.

Posted in Teak, Marine, Millwork, Technical Data | Leave a comment

What is the best wood for Marine Grade Plywood?

Consider a boat: immersed in water, misted with caustic ocean spray, and pummeled by aggressive waves, one after another. Could there be a harsher, less friendly environment for wood? And yet wood is a prized boat-building material, spanning from the earliest boats carved out of logs to today’s highly technical yachts. Marine lumber must have specific characteristics such as strength, resistance to rot, and the ability to hold glue and fasteners well.

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Many species of wood meet these requirements, but we believe that Okoume is the best possible species for use in Marine-Grade Plywood. 

Okoume is lightweight, doesn’t easily deteriorate in wet conditions, and is handsome enough to add beauty to any boat. Its grain is highly prized, is often compared to Mahogany and can be varnished to use decoratively. It can also be overlaid with a Teak or Ipe veneer. Okoume Marine Grade Plywood is typically used in combination with epoxy and fiberglass to increase strength while remaining lightweight, and can be found on a variety of boats, from single-person kayak builders to some of the world’s largest boat builders.

Marine Grade Plywood is used most typically for hull construction, but can also be used in interior applications. Although the outside of the boat battles the elements quite forcefully, the interior of a boat also needs to withstand moisture and humidity.

Okoume resists rot and performs well in damp conditions inside the boat thanks to its natural properties as well as the lamination process.

Both the wood and the plywood glue must meet specific standards to be considered marine grade. OHC uses Weather and Boil Proof (WBP) glue. Plywood assembled with WBP glue must be able to withstand boiling in water for several hours without delamination. The ability of a plywood to resist delamination under boiling depends not only on the quality of the glue, but also on the materials used and the quality of care used in its manufacturing. It is normally laminated with a ‘phenol-formaldehyde resin’ which sets permanently under heat and pressure. 

OHC’s Marine Grade Plywood meets BS-1088 specifications, which is the highest standard.

These British standards require that the plywood be made from untreated tropical hardwood veneers that have a stated level of resistance to fungal growth. The glue used must be resistant not only to weather, water, and heat, but also to micro-organisms that can deteriorate strength. Face veneers must also have a solid surface without open defects. By meeting BS-1088 specifications, OHC’s Marine Grade Plywood can be insured by Lloyd’s of London.

To build the best boats, the best quality Marine Grade Plywood must be used. Using a better grade will result in a higher value (including resale value), increased longevity of the boat, and a reduction in building time.

For the best quality boats, OHC’s Marine Grade Plywood, made with Okoume, is the obvious choice.


 

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