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What is the Difference Between Wicker and Rattan?

A laundry basket made using wicker process.
A clothes hamper showing vertical, rattan wood grain.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 15 June 2014
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The difference between wicker and rattan is the distinction between a product versus a process. Rattan is a type of wood with a vertical grain that is often used to make woven furniture items. An item made with a particular weaving style — whatever material is used — is called wicker.

In its original form, rattan is a relative of the tropical palm tree. It starts to grow upwards like a tree, but then bends back to the ground and snakes through the rain forest like a vine. After a few years of growth, the vines are cut into 12 to 18 foot (about 3.7 to 5.5 meters) sections and hauled away for drying. Furniture companies that specialize in furniture made with this plant often have processing plants in the Philippines or Southeast Asia to treat the wood and ship it out to large furniture manufacturing plants in America. North Carolina has a significant number of wicker and rattan furniture companies.

Rattan is considered to be one of the strongest woods available, since its grain grows vertically instead of forming the concentric rings of most other hardwoods. The straight wood is usually steamed and then bent into the desired shape through the use of specialized shapers. Once dried, it will retain its shape forever. These poles are often used to form the frames of what will become rattan or wicker furniture.

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Here's where the difference between the two terms lies: rattan is a specific material, but wicker is the general process of weaving this wood or other materials into finished goods. A rattan chair is definitely made from that specific wood, but a wicker chair may use other materials such as straw or bamboo slats around a rattan frame.

There is no specific material called wicker, and some manufacturers may even use the phrase cane furniture instead. It is essentially the same thing as wicker, but the material used in the weaving may or may not be rattan.

Rattan vines may also be peeled mechanically to form thin slats for weaving. The curved outer layer is also used as a decorative trim to hide the rough seams created by the wicker process. Bamboo may also be used for trim, but rarely as a form. Bamboo is hollow, which means it often cracks when steamed and bent. Rattan is solid, which makes it an ideal material for lightweight but solid furniture.

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Discuss this Article

anon304823
Post 15

Right on point! Now I can explain it to someone else. Isn't that sometimes the point of learning? To share, I mean.

anon151642
Post 11

This was a very well explained and informative article even a layman like me could understand. Kudos to you.

anon134537
Post 10

Thumbs up. Thanks for the clear info. You deserve your $10 for this article hehe.

anon124759
Post 9

which one is stronger rattan or wicker in the sun? is wicker man made and rattan is natural cane? thank you. regards.

wickedkath
Post 8

Great article. All your posts on wicker furniture have been very informative. Would love to know how many weaving styles there are?

anon100531
Post 7

Very helpful and easy to understand. Thanks.

anon88751
Post 6

really useful - thanks!

anon83344
Post 5

exactly what i was looking for. Thanks.

anon78163
Post 4

thanks. great site! Thanks!

anon76077
Post 3

Good thorough easy to understand explanation! Thanks!

anon55011
Post 2

Great site. quick to the point answer. Thank you!

anon44355
Post 1

Love your site! Thanks for creating it.

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