What Are the Properties of Rattan?

What Are the Properties of Rattan?

When it comes to selecting storage baskets, log baskets and pet beds, you can buy versions made from a wide range of materials. But, if you’re looking for the perfect combination of strength, durability, looks and longevity, then you’ll want to buy one that’s made of rattan. But before you hit ‘buy’ you may be wondering what rattan is, what it’s properties are, and what makes it different from other materials. If that’s you, then keep reading to find out!

What is rattan?

This might seem like a question with a straightforward answer, but you might be surprised…

Rattan is in fact a generic name that applies to approximately 600 different species of Old World climbing plants that belong to the subfamily Calamoideae. Around 350 of these species are the source of nearly all commercial rattan.

These climbing plants are close relatives to the palm tree and according to our dusty old book on tropical palms, they grow as follows:

“Initially erect, the slender stems seek out trees for support and climb up into the forest canopy by means of recurved hooks and spines growing on the stem, leaves and inflorescences. The stems of climbing palms, more often referred to as canes, are solid in contrast to bamboo poles which are almost always hollow.” (Emphasis ours).

That last point is particularly important. Rattan climbing palms feature strong, solid stems and tough outer skins. Which, as we’ll see, makes them perfect for creating solid, durable storage baskets.

Summary – rattan is a reed-like wood which is strong, yet flexible, making it perfect for the production of storage baskets, log baskets and pet beds.

Where does rattan come from?

The largest proportion of commercial rattan comes from the closed-canopy, old-growth tropical forests of Southeast Asia. Rattan tends to grow from sea level up to around 3,000m. The areas in which rattan grows best have a mean annual temperature of 25ºC and an annual rainfall of -2,000mm.

As we pointed out in an earlier article about rattan, approximately 80% of the world’s rattan originates from Indonesia. Other countries that produce large volumes of rattan include the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh.

As an additional interesting fact, the majority of rattan continues to be harvested from the wild (although people do also grow rattan commercially). So, your rattan storage basket was once a plant hanging from a tree in a rainforest!

The history of rattan

The first use of the word rattan dates back to 1650s England. It is derived from the Malay name rotan. Rotan itself is derived from rautan (which means ‘to trim’ or ‘to pare’).

Rattan first began to be used in furniture making from the 14th century onwards as Western explorers began returning from Asia and Southeast Asia with the then novel material. Rattan was identified as being stronger than European wicker materials and so quickly became the material of choice for wicker furniture. 

This led to an explosion in popularity for rattan-based wicker furniture throughout the 19th century. In addition to its strength, rattan was also given a boost by the Victorian belief that wicker furniture was more hygienic than upholstered furniture. 

Rattan continued to be popular into the 20th century, largely thanks to the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement led by John Ruskin, William Morris and others. 

Today, rattan remains an extremely popular material for the production of wicker baskets, chairs and other pieces.

What are the other names for rattan?

As we said earlier, rattan is a generic name which covers hundreds of different species of climbing plants (otherwise known as lianas).

However, you may see rattan talked about under different names. These include:

  • Malacca cane. 
  • Manila cane. 
  • Rattan cane.
  • Rattan palm.
  • Calamus rotang.

How is rattan grown? 

Much of the rattan that ends up on the world market has been harvested from the wild, with teams of people trekking into the rainforest to pull down rattan that’s growing up alongside trees.

Note – rattan is very fast growing, meaning it’s a particularly eco-friendly material for storage baskets etc.

There is also a limited amount of commercial rattan growing that takes place in countries such as Indonesia. In countries such as this, you’ll find many villages have gardens that are around 2 and 5 hectares in size in which they will cultivate rattan.

The growth period of rattan depends upon the exact species. Rattan generally grows very quickly, but many people will wait until it has reached maturity before harvesting. Certain species will be harvested after 7 to 8 years of growth, whilst rattan species that have the largest diameter stem can take up to 18 years to reach full maturity.

When rattan is harvested, it’s the central stem that’s the most important part of the plant – the stem is used to create the storage baskets you see on our website for example.

The rest of the rattan isn’t wasted however. Growers will typically also use the outside skin of the rattan pole (also known as ‘rattan peel’), to act as a binding in furniture production.

How is rattan prepared?

Rattan is normally prepared as follows:

  • It will be washed thoroughly in a stream or fast flowing river to remove the layer of silica which coats the rattan pole.
  • Rattan is then cured. This involves placing the rattan in a raised ‘oven’. This is an enclosed raised platform which resembles a wood-framed tent, under which sulphur is placed. The oven is covered in tarpaulin and the sulphur is then lit. After one or two days, the rattan is fully cured. This smoking process turns rattan from a pale green into the brown/yellow colour most people are familiar with.
  • Once the rattan has been cured, it is then dried in the sun to remove any excess moisture content. This drying process typically takes two to three days.

Following this processing, the rattan is then transported to local craftspeople who will use it to produce the rattan storage baskets, log baskets and other items that you can find on our website

How is rattan turned into storage baskets? 

The process by which rattan is turned into storage baskets varies from piece to piece, however there are some general methods and techniques that are used in the production process. 

  • Thicker rattan poles are normally used to create the main ‘frame’ of a storage basket. They will be cut to size and placed in a steamer so that they become pliable.
  • After one to two days, the poles will be taken out of the steamer and are shaped into the necessary shape for the basket.
  • Once the rattan poles have cooled, they will hold their shape.
     
  • The poles will then be assembled, nailed and screwed using traditional furniture making techniques (remember, the exact construction technique will vary from piece to piece).
  • With the frame complete, rattan will be weaved to create the main ‘cover’ of the piece. As you’ll see from our baskets, this weaving process can be particularly intricate with a beautiful overall pattern. 

Note – this is only a general overview of the rattan product process. Not all baskets feature pole-based frames. Some baskets are simply woven purely from rattan strands/stems.

What are the benefits of rattan?

Because rattan grows in particularly wet regions, this makes it the perfect material for the UK! Properly-cured rattan effectively has built-in weather protection, and because of its biological properties is naturally resistant to fungi.

However, rattan has many more benefits…

Weather protection

We know that you’ll most likely be keeping your rattan storage basket or log basket indoors, but it can be handy to know that rattan is particularly weather resistant (particularly if you’ll be transporting logs from your wood store in the pouring rain!).

Rattan is naturally UV resistant as well. This means that if your rattan baskets are left in direct sunlight for long periods of time, they should retain their colour and integrity.

Note – whilst rattan is certainly water resistant, it isn’t waterproof. So we don’t recommend leaving your rattan baskets outdoors or anywhere they’re likely to get soaking wet.

Aesthetics

There’s no doubt that baskets made from rattan look beautiful!

The curing process of rattan gives the material a nice ‘toasted’ brown colour which gives rattan storage baskets etc a traditional, rustic look. As you can see from some of the photographs on this page, rattan baskets perfectly complement traditional fireplaces and stoves. 

Beyond the colour, rattan can also be woven into intricate and beautiful shapes and patterns. If you appreciate beautiful things, you’ll love a rattan basket. 

Rattan also adds a sense of warmth and naturalness that’s not possible with synthetic alternatives. What would you rather have in your home? A beautifully woven rattan storage basket, or a garish plastic storage tub? 

Durability

Rattan is an extremely durable material. The key point here is that rattan is very tough, yet lightweight, making it the ideal material for storage baskets, log baskets, and laundry baskets.

As we mentioned earlier, because rattan has grown in hot, humid climates it is naturally UV resistant, and therefore will withstand the test of time far better than other materials. 

The manufacturing process also plays an important part in rattan’s durability. If you purchase a rattan storage basket that has been woven by an experienced craftsman then you can be assured that it will last for years, even decades.

Price

You may find that rattan storage baskets have a slightly higher price tag than cheap plastic storage baskets at the local supermarket, but you’ll be getting a far superior product. 

Bear this in mind though – the money you spend replacing the plastic boxes every year or so when they inevitably crack and break will soon add up to more than the initial cost of a rattan basket. 

In other words – over the long term, rattan baskets are better value than cheaper alternatives.

You can expect one of Wovenhill’s rattan storage baskets to last you a considerable number of years – consider it an investment that will give you returns year after year in terms of practicality, beauty and durability.

Environmentally-friendly

The environmental friendlessness of rattan compared to plastic is vast. 

Plastic uses considerable amounts of oil and gas feedstocks during the production process which has associated carbon emissions. 

Rattan on the other hand is harvested naturally from the wild (or grown commercially). As a climbing plant, rattan grows very quickly and therefore any harvested rattan is quickly replaced.

As an organic material rattan is also completely biodegradable. So, if after many years of service, you wish to replace your old rattan storage basket, it can be fully recycled. Plastic on the other hand tends to be very difficult to recycle and will more often than not end up in landfill.

Low maintenance

You don’t need to worry about having to undertake any special maintenance when you buy a rattan basket. In general, all you’ll need to do when cleaning your home is just give your rattan basket a light dusting. 

Should you find that your rattan basket has picked up any dirt or marks, these can be easily removed with a sponge and some mild soapy water. Rattan can be left to dry naturally too. So, it really is the low-maintenance choice!

Easy to repair

Should the worst happen and you give your rattan basket a bit of a knock or scuff, it can be easily repaired. 

Items such as rattan baskets hold their shape very well – this is because of the integrity of the rattan. And, if your basket becomes a bit frayed through heavy usage, the rattan can be easily trimmed with a pair of household scissors.

The best rattan baskets in the UK

So, if you’ve read this blog and decided that rattan is the perfect material for your next storage basket or log basket, then take a look at some stunning examples below. 

Unlike other retailers of rattan-based products, at Wovenhill all of our rattan products are made exclusively for us. We control stock, quality and design, and you won’t find them sold anywhere else!

Kubu Rattan Storage Trunk

With its neutral colouring and exquisite craftsmanship, the Kubu Rattan Storage Trunk is the perfect way of storing items out of sight. Thanks to its quality leather straps and robust hinge, you’ll be able to access your stored items with ease too. 

The Kubu Rattan Storage Trunk comes fully assembled and is available in three sizes; Medium, Large, and Extra Large.

Kubu Rattan Square Log Basket with Hoop Handles

Whether you want to fill it with logs, kindling or both, the Kubu Rattan Square Log Basket will do the job. It can even come in handy as storage for toys!

Feature hoop handles, this log basket is tough, yet lightweight, making it easy to collect your firewood from the log store. 

The Kubu Rattan Square Log Basket also comes complete with an eco-friendly Jute basket liner which will keep any dust, detritus or other bits from your firewood and kindling safely in the basket!

Milton Set of 3 Brown Rattan Storage Baskets

Why use cheap, gaudy-looking plastic storage boxes when you could use these instead?!

The Milton Set of 3 Brown Rattan Storage Baskets feature a beautiful woven design and are tough enough to withstand everyday use. They feature inset handles, making them easy to move around and are ideal for creating your own storage unit or for containing nursery or bathroom items. 

These baskets come as a set and are available in Small, Medium or Large sizes.

Shop storage and log baskets at Wovenhill today

We hope you’ve found our guide to the properties of rattan useful. As we’re sure you’ll agree, it’s a beautiful material that creates stunning storage and log baskets. If you’re looking for rattan, then choose Wovenhill. 

Shop rattan storage and log baskets at Wovenhill today

Discover more rattan and wicker advice and information on the Wovenhill blog

What’s the Difference Between Rattan and Wicker? | Fireplace Design Guide | Pet Beds and Storage Solutions

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