Stop recommending parota for wood furniture

Don’t get fooled into buying furniture made with parota wood, our expert advises. Photo: Courtesy
Don’t get fooled into buying furniture made with parota wood, our expert advises. Photo: Courtesy

Were you told when you were looking for furniture or cabinetry to make sure the item was made with parota wood? According to local lore, if your dining table, headboard or kitchen cupboards are not made with this miraculous wood, the termites will arrive, en masse, and destroy everything in your home. I wish I could collect that proverbial nickel every time I heard this recommendation over the past ten years. It has become so prevalent that expats, scared to consider any other option, end up paying way more for furniture than they need.

Let me be clear. Parota wood is not the best solution. First, termites eat parota wood too. Termites will eat any wood and are even known to eat concrete. They prefer softwoods over hardwoods, so the risk is less if you have parota, a hardwood, but they will still eat it.

All woods, including parota, need to be properly dried in a kiln and for the correct length of time. If not, the remaining moisture coupled with warmth or heat, make any wood attractive to termites. Proper drying also means that the piece of furniture you purchase is unlikely to warp, crack, bow or split. If an issue should arise, there is a solid one-year warranty provided. Solid wood furniture that is exposed to strong sunlight or direct heat often splits.

Second, wood should be treated before used to make furniture. The best manufacturers of wood furniture treat their products to repel termites and other wood-eating bugs. As a result, the risk of you having your entertainment center eaten by termites is incredibly low. The risk is lower than getting a piece of an untreated piece of parota wood furniture from a local carpenter.

Parota wood is one of the most expensive wood species to use for furniture. For example, a solid parota wood dining room table that seats 6 is in the price range of 30,000 pesos (US$1,400) including tax. That is just for the table. For six chairs, again in parota wood, an approximate price is about 40,000 pesos (US$1,850) including tax. Add that up, and you are looking at about 70,000 pesos (US$3,250).

Furniture manufacturers understand that the average person does not want to spend that amount of money. To provide a cost-effective alternative, furniture manufacturers use wood veneers. Now, before you cringe and stop reading, please hear me out.

The use of wood veneer in furniture is not new. Egyptians used this ancient art form not only to make furniture but also for sarcophagi. For the last 200 years, the use of wood veneers has been refined and is now used consistently in furniture-making. The famous English designer Chippendale used wood veneers in his exquisite furniture in the 18th century.

Wood veneer furniture is made by gluing thin layers of wood in a crisscross design over a substrate or core material. Furniture manufacturers use a glue that is the same used in marine and aircraft construction. The adhesive is strong and waterproof. As a result, a good veneer is often more structurally sound than solid wood. With changes in temperature, solid wood is prone to expand and contract, resulting in warps, cracks, bows and splits. The materials and processes for wood veneers mean it will not expand and contract.

Do not confuse wood veneer with cheap laminate. People often think cheap laminate and wood veneers are the same because both are fused to a substrate material. Cheap laminate is a faux surface like paper or plastic, made to look like wood grain, affixed with a substandard glue. In our humid climate, cheaply made laminate furniture is prone to blister, come apart from the substrate and peel. The substrate swells and attracts termites. These products should not be confused with good quality wood veneer furniture.

In addition to being cost-effective and more stable than solid wood, veneers are the more environmentally conscious option. Solid wood is generally sawn into thick boards. Veneer is sliced into sheets. For one board or slab of wood, you can get 32 to 40 veneer surfaces. With wood veneer, fewer trees are cut, meaning less deforestation.

When it comes to buying furniture for a home in Mexico, the more reasonably priced, environmentally friendly, and termite-proof option is a veneer. So, the next time you hear someone talking about miraculous parota wood, let them know its an old wives’ tale!

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Sheryl Novak

Sheryl Novak is an expat Canadian who has owned a home in Mexico for over 10 years. She is the owner of SOLutions Mexico — the online furniture store for your home in Mexico. She is considered the expert on sourcing all styles of furniture, for all sizes of budgets, in Mexico.