Fiber resource: When wood is not wood

By Skip Wenz

Hemp is a versatile, robust and, in the U.S., vastly underused source of fiber. It’s underused here because it’s illegal to grow industrial hemp, which has been confused with its cousin the marijuana plant, though it’s grown commercially in virtually every other country in the world. (Industrial hemp has no pharmacological properties.)

Hemp’s main potential is as a softwood substitute. Proponents of hemp paneling believe that hemp’s long strands make it the ideal fiber for all types of engineered wood products. Some foreign growers claim that hemp’s biomass yield is four times that of plantation softwoods.

It is legal to manufacture products from imported hemp, and a variety of attractive medium-density hemp fiberboards are available in the U.S.

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