Natural beauty ... white oak carvings.

American hardwoods are proving unbeatable not just in quality and variety but also strength, says the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), which is on a drive to boost their use in the Middle East.

"American hardwoods have already been used at prestigious projects around the Gulf," says Roderick Wiles, market development manager at the AHEC's Europe-Middle East-Indian office, based in London, UK. "Many top hotels in the Gulf feature American hardwoods, including the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, which boasts extensive use of American cherry in its interior and furniture and the Al Bustan Palace Hotel in Muscat, which shows off the beauty of American hard maple joinery and doors."

"US hardwoods are known for the natural beauty and variety," says Wiles. "And now, they have come up trumps in the test of strength undertaken by a reputable organisation."

He continues: "An extensive testing programme of four American hardwood species by building Research Establishment (BRE), on behalf of the AHEC, has just been completed. The aim is to provide designers with the relevant strength and stiffness properties, so that structural elements such as frames, load-bearing interior components, or roofs may be designed as efficiently as possible.

"The results of the testing programme carried out on white oak, red oak, ash and tulipwood, revealed that all these temperate hardwoods achieve significantly high levels of strength in relation to their density."

"Tulipwood, for instance, achieves a characteristic bending strength of 42 N/sq mm; almost over twice the strength of a medium-strength softwood of around 24 N/sq mm, but with very little weight premium. A high strength/weight ratio is in fact a general characteristic of the joinery grades of the American hardwoods," says Peter Ross of engineering consultant Ove Arup, which examined the data.

The design information will be made available for use in both permissible stress codes (such BS 5268) and limit state codes, such as the new Eurocode 5.

AHEC, says Wiles, plans to produce a new technical publication based around these test results that will provide guidance to both architects and structural engineers wishing to design with American temperate hardwood species.

The AHEC is the leading international trade association for the US hardwood industry, representing the committed exporters among US hardwood companies and all the major US hardwood product trade associations. It concentrates its efforts on providing architects, specifiers, designers and end-users with technical information on the range of species and products and sources of supply.

"The industry which AHEC represents is in fact the world's largest hardwood producer with an enormous temperate hardwood resource," explains Wiles. "These vast sustainable hardwood forests have a much greater species diversity than the hardwood forests of Europe and consequently provide a wider range of commercial species, many of which are unique to US forests and do not grow in Europe.

"The choice and variety of grains and colour afford scope for a multitude of applications incorporating both practical and aesthetic design considerations. Many US hardwoods are naturally ideal for flooring applications, such as the oaks and hard maple, while recent technological advancements and coating developments are now widening that choice to encompass an even broader range of species.

"Some notable applications of American hardwoods can be seen at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London where American red and white oak have been used in flooring and doors and the new Auditorium in Rome, where American cherry has been used for the floors."

AHEC is also promoting its range of free technical publications in the Middle East, which provide guidance on the variety and use of American hardwoods.

"The Guide to American Hardwood Species includes up-to-date profiles of 22 commercially available species and two further sections providing information on structural applications and treatments," says Wiles.

"This publication is supplemented by Products, giving information about the US hardwood processing industries, which includes lumber, veneer, plywood and dimension and provides guidance on product specification and availability.

"A brand new publication entitled American Beauties has recently been launched profiling three significant American hardwood species; soft maple, tulipwood and red oak, being among the most abundant hardwood species growing in the US.

"Furthermore, the AHEC has just launched a fully updated version of its most technical publication - The Illustrated Guide to American Hardwood Lumber Grades. This guide summarises the National Hardwood Lumber Association's rules for the grading and measurement of hardwood lumber and is an invaluable tool for anyone attempting to buy, sell or specify American hardwoods.

"Six different publications in up to eight major languages, providing information on species, products, applications, grading and the American hardwood resource are available free of charge on-line at AHEC's website or by contacting the AHEC."

The website also provides information on AHEC's forthcoming events and promotional activities, he adds.