Veneer – even better than it looks
The image of veneer has changed considerably over the years. Whereas it used to be considered inferior to solid wood, the flooring industry is increasingly recognizing the true value of this natural, resilient, yet affordable surface made of real wood – particularly in view of the current scarcity of resources and the ubiquity of plastic film.19 Sep 2022
Even though most people are familiar with the concept of veneer, a quick look at Wikipedia can’t hurt. There, you’ll find roughly the following descripton: Veneer generally refers to 0.5 to 8-millimeter thick sheets of wood that are cleaved off of a tree trunk using a number of different sawing and cutting methods. The word “veneer” was adopted in the 16th century from the French word “fournir”, which means to "stock" or "to supply". It essentially referred to the process of covering everyday wood with more special, thin sheets of finer wood.
Who invented veneer? The Egyptians!
Digging a little deeper, we learn that as far back as ancient Egypt, people wanted to embrace the beauty of natural wood surfaces. But since attractive woods were in short supply, they invented veneering without further ado. Corresponding findings prove that people began cutting valuable and beautiful wood trunks into thin slices around five millennia ago in order to use the raw material sparingly. And that's more or less how it’s done till this day.
Not all trees are the same
Today, an average of 2,000 square meters of veneer for furniture, flooring, accessories and various other applications can be obtained from the appropriate trees. Suitable in this case means that rather slow-growing, finer woods are used, which above all have a beautiful or interesting grain. Fast-growing woods or even wood scraps, on the other hand, serve as the preferred substrate in the form of particle board, MDF board, multiplex board or lightweight panels.
There’s more to wood than shelf units…
In the public mind, veneers are generally linked to furniture. Less well known, however, is their increasing use and importance in the realm of flooring. There, people tend to associate wood decors with solid wood flooring or with photorealistic imitations in laminate or vinyl. But the trend towards a natural living environment in the face of dwindling resources is increasingly opening the market to suppliers of wood floors with high-quality, real-wood veneer decors. This is a development that will also be reflected at the upcoming DOMOTEX tradeshow in Hannover in January 2023, which features FLOORED BY NATURE as its lead theme.
Veneers that make a difference
Perhaps visitors to the world’s leading trade fair for floor coverings next January will also meet Tim Mergelsmann, whose credo is: "The trees belong in the forest!" Because his approach to the subject of veneer is highly special, indeed remarkable. In 2005, this native of the German town of of Görlitz had the opportunity to learn the craft of bark processing directly on-site in Siberia, where this art has been practiced since time immemorial. As part of a project for people with disabilities, he helped set up a traditional birch-bark workshop there and promptly fell in love with the landscape, the people – and with the versatile natural material of birch bark. While still a student, Mergelsberg founded a company and began exporting vessels made of birch bark, and especially high-quality cane bark, to Germany. The products he sells through his company Nevi all bear the epithet “Betula Surfaces,” after the Latin term for birch.
About the bark harvest
"There is a growing desire and demand for materials that come from nature – healthy, living materials," Mergelsmann says. "It is precisely this holistic need, the longing for nature, that we want to satisfy." At this point, we recall his statement that the trees belong in the forest, because the bark harvesting of the widely available material is done in the most forest-friendly way possible, meaning by hand, by family businesses and without any heavy equipment that could compact the forest floor. The actual peeling of the birch is done without destroying the cambium, i.e. the layer of the tree responsible for thickness, nutrition and tree wound healing. In this way, the birch tree goes through its natural cycle without suffering any lasting damage. Even dead trees remain in the forest as deadwood and continue to provide important habitat for organisms, serving as water reservoirs and thus accelerating the perpetual renewal of the forest – a natural ecological cycle in the finest sense of the word.
Veneer, and how it happens
But how does birch bark become actual veneer? For this purpose, 120 layers of bark are glued together and pressed into a block under high pressure. After curing, this block is further processed individually depending on the application and customer requirements, i.e. cut into layers of the desired thickness, which then also reveals the line structures defining the end product. For future gluing, Mergelsmann is currently cooperating with the Fraunhofer Institute to develop a biogenic two-component adhesive that will help ensure that more than 80 percent of the constituents of Betula products are renewable.
From veneer to the finished product
Under the global name of "Nevi Betula Surfaces", the company currently offers three product ranges: The handle series "Betula Handles" has already successfully established itself on the market. The same applies to the division of the actual veneer trade under the name "Betula Veneer". Depending on the block size, the company currently supplies thick veneer sheets in thicknesses of one to three millimeters and lengths of 1.50 to 2.20 meters with a width of 25 to 30 centimeters. Longer lengths are occasionally possible on request, but "the material has its natural limits – both in length and width," says Mergelsmann.
The world's first birch bark flooring for wet rooms
Finally, the third, completely new product area, "Betula Flooring," is dedicated to the production of floor coverings, and this also closes the circle of the small digression on birch bark. According to Mergelsmann, "Betula Flooring" is the world's first flooring made of birch bark for wet rooms. The renewable material is said to be at its best when in contact with water, because birch bark does not swell and is therefore, unlike wood, ideally suited for direct contact with water. But that's not all: the natural grip of the surface ensures stable footing even on damp floors. Added to this are its antimicrobial properties, its velvety, foot-flattering texture and a pH value comparable to that of human skin. Mergelsman also focuses on the greatest possible sustainability when it comes to the substrate material, using 100 percent natural straw boards from regional production to give the floor boards a seamless look.
Grounded in facts
In addition to barefoot and wet areas such as living rooms and kids’ rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, saunas and spas, public areas such as hotels and hospitality also come into consideration, because "Betula Flooring" invites people to linger thanks to its appealing appearance and warm forest tones. In addition, the breathable properties of the straw board and the antimicrobial qualities of the birch bark ensure a pleasant, healthy indoor climate.
Contact: Tim Mergelsberg, Geschäftsführer | Phone: +49 3581 7925850 | E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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