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Kerala, a state in Southern India is known as a tropical paradise of waving palms and wide sandy beaches. It is a narrow strip of coastal territory that slopes down the Western Ghats in a cascade of lush green vegetation, and ultimately reaches the Arabian sea. 

The state is not just famous for its backwater but also for its beautiful scenic views. 

Kerala homes involve a lot of traditional local materials in their home designs, the chief being wood and bricks. Wood is used for rafters of the roof, for beams and columns, for panelling of staircases, for parapets of the Poomukham and even for ornately designed pillars. The wood used must be of good quality – teak or rosewood. 
Granite forms foundations and walls are laid up with a porous red stone called laterite. Teak, rosewood and jackfruit are widely used for framing and millwork, often intricately carved by skilled artisans. Floors are made of stone or an exotic combination of sand, egg whites, charred coconut shells, unrefined sugar, and vegetable juice extract.

Gabled windows, which are exclusive to traditional Kerala homes, located at the top ensure cross-ventilation and allow entry of light into the attic.

Coir Composite board

India exported coir products worth Rs 2,281 crore last year, with the bulk of it coming for Kerala, the largest producer of coir. Given coir’s close resemblance to wood in its chemical composition and the availability of renewable fibre every 45-60 days, it would be a good replacement for tropical timber. The increased use of coir composite as alternatives for forest timber, plastics, asbestos etc. encourage sustainable development.

A composite material is a material where two or more materials are present out of which some load bearing members and the others are for holding the load bearing members in proper orientation. Coir wood composites belong to the fibre reinforced plastics.

Coir is an incredibly strong and tough fiber, which has been used for thousands of years for making ropes, brushes, doormats, and upholstery and mattress stuffing.

A simple and efficient technology has been developed to produce high strength-high density board materials from whole coconut husks, without the addition of chemical binders. The board exhibits excellent properties, which are comparable with or even superior to commercial wood based panels. The pressed coconut husk boards can be handled with common wood working equipment for drilling and sawing, planning and polishing.

The top face layer consists of random and oriented jute with phenolic resole on a resin paper carrier. The inner layers alternate layers of coir with phenolic resole (first layer being coir) and rubber timber veneer coated with phenolic resole. Total layers should be odd and minimum three. The bottom layer is similar to the top face layer.This type of coir composites is made using alternate layers of coir and rubber veneer using phenolic resol and can be used like plywood in paneling, false ceilings, partitions, furniture etc.

Coir being processed to create composites

Bio based fibres have a high aspect ratio, high strength to weight ratio, relatively low in energy conversion and have good sound and thermal insulation properties.Coir wood made from coir fibre and resin has diversified new uses that will save the tropical forests, increases rural employment opportunities and also promotes agriculture leading to sustainable development.The state coir department has signed a MoU with 700 panchayats in the state for Rs 125 crore for using coir geo textiles for the conservation of soil and water

Based on its specific gravity, the coir fiberboards would be classified as semi-hardboard or medium-density hardboard according to the trade definition.

Coconut Shell

Coconut shells are used mainly as fuel, activated carbon and shell flour. It was reported that coconut shells were used in building construction either as a primarily structural material or as a filter material. It is also used beneath the ground floors in predominantly water-logged areas in order to resist the up thrust due to water pressure and incorporated in roof weathering cores to increase thermal insulation. The coir pith is used for producing hard boards, thermal insulant slabs and bricks.

Coconut husks being used as coarse aggregates in concrete

Apart from the structural uses, coconut shell craft is a popular coconut craft in Kerala especially in the districts of Kollam, Emakulam, Kottayam, Wayanad, Malappuram and Thiruvananthapuram. A high degree of skill is required for carving brass broidered items out of coconut shells. The coconut shells are naturally hard. Coconut shell has a high hardness and micro porosity which increases its durability and absorption and retention capacity.

The process of coconut crafts making can be classified in the following categories: sketching, cutting, sanding, and buffing. 

The raw material needed is just fine quality of coconut shell which is obtained from coconut trees abundantly cultivated in Kerala. The coconut shell is the most versatile part of the coconut the shell which is organic in nature. Since it has good durability characteristics, high toughness and abrasion resistant properties, it is suitable for long-standing use. The coconut shell is similar to hard woods in chemical composition though lignin content is higher and cellulose content is lower.

Brass broidered coconut shell handicrafts like Malabar Hookahs, bowls, cups, decorative boxes and other home decor products are also very popular here. Some of these items are produced with brass decoration work. The brass embroidered decoration work is made through a lost wax process which requires a high degree of skill and perfection.The contrasting color of the coconut shell with brass gives it a unique aesthetic appeal.

An intricate design on a coconut shell

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