Flax-based laminate substitutes nicely for plywood on Saarinen-design Tulip Chair
Engineer and inventor Joe Luttwak came to light as a wood industry innovator when he and partner Kyle Wolff launched Blackbird Guitars in 2005, a result of his quest to find a compact guitar that traveled well (fitting in airplane overheads) but sounded full and resonant like a real wood guitar. 
The Blackbird Guitars developed relied on CNC machinery and plant-based films that could be laminated into a sandwich, then machined and glued like a conventional guitar. Luttwak later launched Lingrove, where he developed Ekoa, another flax-based an alternative to wood that lends itself to furniture applications.
Lingrove describes the material as a U.S.-made "natural flax linen fiber pre-impregnated with post-industry, plant-based resin. 'Prepregs' are a class of heat-cured materials generally stored in a freezer to promote shelf life. Lingrove's signature product allows for complex curves with 3D linear grain with a natural finish quality and customizable color, opacity and fiber orientation."
To demonstrate its potential, he recently fabricated a copy of Eero Saarinen's classic Tulip Chair, substituting a wood-look Ekoa film sandwich for the original plywood. 
 "We see a world where wood is replaced by biomaterials that are high performance, beautiful, and help reverse climate change," says Luttwak. "We see a materials revolution made possible because we have a better-than-wood alternative." Ekoa outperforms wood, he says, in strength-to-weight, moldability, and durability. Being plant-based, it is also CO2 negative, like real wood.
Ekoa comes in several formats, including a high performance natural Flax tape with a natural wood aesthetic. Described as "vibration damping," it is produced in rolls of 164 yard lenght (150 meters) and weighs 50 gsm, in a width 15.75 in (400 mm). Technical data sheets are available. 
Luttwak describes Ekoa as a 21st century materials solution that delivers the look and feel of wood while protecting forests, which environmentalists now see threatened more by climate change than clear cutting. 
"For generations we have cut down trees to fill our need for materials, but today 91 percent of quality timber is gone, and industries reliant on this wood are struggling with lesser alternatives," Luttwak says. "We continue to want what the heirloom quality woods have to offer, but wood is no longer a convenient or ecological answer."

Says Luttwak, "We see a world where wood is replaced by biomaterials that are high performance, beautiful, and help reverse climate change.  We see a materials revolution made possible because we have a better-than-wood alternative called Ekoa."


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About the author
Bill Esler | ConfSenior Editor

Bill wrote for WoodworkingNetwork.com, FDMC and Closets & Organized Storage magazines. 

Bill's background includes more than 10 years in print manufacturing management, followed by more than 30 years in business reporting on industrial manufacturing in the forest products industries, including printing and packaging at American Printer (Features Editor) and Graphic Arts Monthly (Editor in Chief) magazines; and in secondary wood manufacturing for WoodworkingNetwork.com.

Bill was deeply involved with the launches of the Woodworking Network Leadership Forum, and the 40 Under 40 Awards programs. He currently reports on technology and business trends and develops conference programs.

In addition to his work as a journalist, Bill supports efforts to expand and improve educational opportunities in the manufacturing sectors, including 10 years on the Print & Graphics Scholarship Foundation; six years with the U.S. WoodLinks; and currently on the Woodwork Career Alliance Education Committee. He is also supports the Greater West Town Training Partnership Woodworking Program, which has trained more than 950 adults for industrial wood manufacturing careers. 

Bill volunteers for Foinse Research Station, a biological field station staddling the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland, one of more than 200 members of the Organization of Biological Field Stations.