MTC unveils timber treasures

Wood furniture, plywood and sawn timber are top draws for Indian businesses

By: H.N. Murali

Wooden furniture, together with plywood and sawn timber, are ranked the top three foreign exchange earners for the Malaysian timber industry. These three products combined, in recent years, constitute more than 15 billion Malaysian Ringgit (RM), or US$ 3.66 billion, or about 70% of Malaysia’s total export of timber and timber products annually.

A domestic-centric sector that started some three decades ago, the furniture industry of Malaysia has evolved robustly to become a major producer and export of furniture globally.

Sustainably managed forest resources, strong institutional support and encouragement from the government, application of leading edge technology, plus the entrepreneurial spirit of its industrialists are among the contributing factors that make Malaysia a hub of furniture manufacturing today, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

Rising exports                     

For 2015 and 2016, the value of Malaysia’s export of wooden furniture was RM 7.29 billion (US$ 1.70 billion) and RM 7.56 billion (US$ 1.82 billion), respectively.

While Malaysian furniture is exported to more than 160 countries across the globe, the main export destinations are the United States, Japan, Singapore, Australia and the UK.

In order of product popularity, dining furniture sets are the most sought after, followed by living room, systems and office furniture, and outdoor and occasional concepts.

Among the popular Malaysian timbers used in the manufacture of furniture are Rubberwood, Nyatoh, KembangSemangkok, dark red Meranti, Balau and Acacia. Of these, Rubberwood is the most popular – about 80% of Malaysian wooden furniture is made from this species alone.

Plywood industry

Plywood has been produced in Malaysia since the 1940s. However, the industry really took off in the mid-1960s, when many markets in the US, Europe, Korea and Japan began appreciating the high quality and technical reliability of Malaysian plywood.

The Malaysian plywood industry is concentrated in the east Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, although some of the longer established mills are located in peninsular Malaysia.

In the first 10 months of 2017, exports of Malaysian plywood were more than RM 3.82 billion, which is 6.6% higher than the corresponding period of 2016. For the full year of 2016, the value of Malaysian plywood exports was RM 4.37 billion and for 2015, RM 4.69 billion worth of plywood was exported.

The plywood types produced in Malaysia include common veneer face plywood, decorative plywood, overlaid plywood (including printed paper and polyester plywood), phenolic film-faced plywood, plywood for concrete formwork and container flooring, and marine plywood.

Some mills have ventured into veneer based products such as laminated veneer lumber (LVL) and plywood-based flooring.

The bulk of the plywood produced in Malaysia is the standard 1220 mm x 2440 mm (4’x8’) utility plywood with the surfaces sanded and edge-trimmed. Other sizes available are 915mm x 2135mm (3’x7’) and 915mm x 1830mm (3’x6’). Common thickness ranges from 3 mm to 25 mm in 3 to 13 plies.

Quality conscious

The popular Malaysian timbers used for plywood production include Bintangor, dark red Meranti, Kelempayan, Keruing, Mengkulang, Sepetir and yellow Meranti.

Adhesives commonly used include urea formaldehyde for moisture resistance grade, and phenol formaldehyde or phenol resorcinol formaldehyde for water and boil-proof grades. Low concentrations of formaldehyde formulations ensure compliance with emission level requirements such as E0 and E1.

Malaysian plywood is produced in compliance with internationally recognised standards such as the International Standards Organisation, Japan Agriculture Standards, British Standards, US Environmental Protection Agency, California Air Resources Board and Harmonized European Standards for Europe.

Sawn timber

Malaysia’s saw milling industry is the largest and oldest wood processing sector in the country.  Sawn timber is mainly produced for the export market, but the industry is also a source of sawn timber for the domestic market, especially the construction industry, moulding, joinery and furniture industries.

The major species exported by Malaysian saw mills include Balau, Kapur, Keruing, Kempas, Kelat, Keranji, Meranti and Mersawa.

Malaysian sawn timber is produced in various sizes and species and exported as either graded or ungraded sawn timber. Thailand, China and the Philippines have been the top three export destinations for Malaysian sawn timber since 2012.

Malaysia’s total export of sawn timber in 2016 was worth RM 3.39 billion, which is 6.8% higher than the export value in 2015. For the first 10 months of 2017, the export value of Malaysian sawn timber was RM 3.19 billion (US$ 0.82 billion), 15.8% higher than the corresponding period of 2016.

Timber grading

The current practice on grading of sawn timber is very much a buyer-seller arrangement and is often done upon specific request. Depending on the purpose for which the timbers are purchased, buyers who wish to buy graded timbers from Malaysia have a choice of having their timber graded under the General Market Specification or the Special Market Specification under the Malaysian Grading Rules (MGR).

General Market Specification is reserved for timbers – boards and planks that are usually re-sawn before use and the timbers are graded under the Cutting System. Special Market Specification deals with timbers for specific purposes and the final sizes are usually specified – for example, railway sleepers and cross arms.

Although grading is no longer compulsory, the MGR remains as an assurance tool for buyers purchasing Malaysian timber. If buyers are looking for certainty of getting the quality they want, they should order graded timbers.

For a list of Malaysian suppliers of timber and timber products, and to learn more about Malaysian timber species, please contact the Malaysian Timber Council (



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