Rubberwood Standing Desks – Separating Truth From Fiction in Environmental Claims

August 28, 2022

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Are rubberwood desk tops really “as easy on the planet as it is on your wallet“?

We’ve seen some standing desk makers jumping on the rubberwood bandwagon recently, trumpeting it as the latest and greatest environmentally sensible material for a standing desk table top. We’ve seen this move before with bamboo, which has probably seen more greenwashing than any other “wood” being marketed by standing desk makers. (Bamboo isn’t really a wood at all and, spoiler alert, it’s one of the least environmentally sensible materials you could choose — read our full report.)

rubberwood uplift standing desk review ⁣UpLiftDesk is the biggest promoter of rubberwood standing desks nowadays, as on the V2 desk shown here in a light stain.

UpliftDesk is leading the charge these days in terms of who is selling it hardest, and the one claiming that it’s “as easy on the planet as it is on your wallet.” But they’re not alone. Other brands importing rubberwood table tops from Asia include Flexispot and Geekdesk.

As to the question of whether it’s easy on the wallet, things may have changed a lot since the pandemic, factoring in tariffs, ocean freight, currency fluctuations, and inflation. UpLift sells the standalone rubberwood top in a 30″x60″ size for $666 now. That’s an exceptionally steep price considering you could buy a state-of-the-art, 5-star rated, American-made, ergo-contoured, 3D-laminated desk top, with a 15-year warranty, environmental certifications up the wazoo, and of the same size for only $570 from iMovR.

We remember when rubberwood first came out and the same folks who used hyperbolic marketing to promote bamboo’s environmental virtues started doing the same with rubberwood, such as Geekdesk. But it was a lot cheaper back then. And since then it appears most of the standing desk makers offering rubberwood, like Geekdesk and KNFdesk, have dropped the product. Some have also dropped bamboo. And some have gone out of business altogether. At least one standing desk maker, Flexispot, has actually just started offering rubberwood for the first time, despite the quality, price, and environmental issues associated with it (see Flexispot Willow review).

So just what is rubberwood, anyway?

Unlike bamboo, rubberwood is an actual hardwood from a genuine tree, not something engineered from grass fibers, resin, and a whole lot of chemicals while using up water and electricity. It’s a light-colored, medium-density tropical hardwood obtained from the Pará rubber tree, usually from trees grown in rubber plantations. Rubberwood’s sole environmental claim is that it comes from plantation trees that have already served a useful function.

Like a maple tree that provided sap for maple syrup before it was harvested at the end of its useful life cycle, rubberwood trees are done making sap for latex products after about 25-30 years. Whereas they used to be burned to make room for more monoculture plantation farming, they are now instead being turned into furniture at the end of their productive life cycle. So that’s a good thing, for sure.

However, rubberwood is inherently susceptible to fungal and insect attack that limited its use in the past. The development of chemical treatment processes in the 1980s allowed the wood to be more widely used for furniture making. Today, rubberwood is generally treated soon after sawing by pressurized immersion in boron preservatives, followed by kiln-drying to diffuse the chemicals and to control moisture content.

Does rubberwood make a good desk top?

On the plus side, rubberwood has very little shrinkage making it one of the more stable construction materials available for furniture. It is easily worked and takes on stains uniformly. As with all hardwoods, rubberwood comes in varying degrees of quality. It is not suitable for outdoor use, as rain can leach the protective chemicals from the wood, exposing it to fungus and insect attacks. Excessive moisture will also cause the wood to warp and rot.

rubberwood desk top for standing desk review
⁣If you look at the face of a rubberwood desk top you’ll see it’s actually built up from a whole bunch of wood staves glued together, pressed flat, and sealed with a lacquer of some sort to keep moisture out and prevent damage to the wood (commonly referred to as “fingerboard construction”).

However, user reviews reveal that the transformation of rubberwood into a desk top product may have some of the same inherent flaws as bamboo, with common reports of the wood separating, chipping or flaking away easily. The wood staves that are glued together to make a rubberwood table top are typically individual strips 150-400 mm in length and 20-80 mm in width, assembled in a fingerboard orientation with a lot of adhesive.

One problem is that lacquer can start to weaken, leading to progressive delamination of the desk, just like with a bamboo top. But the other problem that we’ve seen users experiencing is flat-out cracking of the desktop, either in transit or over time, such as shown in this posting on Reddit where multiple users apparently had the same cracked top experience. The sheer number of rubberwood desk customers who experienced this problem just in a single Reddit thread is quite concerning.

We’ve noticed that warranties for these tops are either really short, like 2 years, or in the case of UpLift’s 15 year warranty have a lot of carve-outs that might make it tough to get a free replacement for a manufacturing defect down the road that they may deem to be due to “natural wear and tear.”

Bottom Line

Given the many less risky options for desk tops these days — which we review comprehensively in our Ultimate Guide to Table Tops for Standing Desks — for this kind of money, the consumer can find far more durable and reliable alternatives, with better environmental profiles, better warranties, better features, better price, and domestically produced with a much smaller carbon footprint than an import.

And given that as many manufacturers seem to have dropped rubberwood as have picked it up, that’s just another clue that it can be a problematic buy for consumers. The super high price on these rubberwood tops now might be a reflection of high warranty replacement costs, which wouldn’t surprise us at all after reading all the user reports of cracking and delamination.

Learn about all the alternative desk top materials in our round-up of s.

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