Working with Exotic Materials

Working with Exotic Materials

Chances are you have a number of materials that you work with regularly on the job site. These are likely your standard go-to materials because you know them inside out; you know exactly how they perform and can work with them on a job site with confidence. What do you do when a customer wants something a bit different, though? If they want exotic materials that you’re not used to, how do you manage the job without potentially wasting money on expensive materials that could get damaged or even ruined if installed incorrectly?

While it might sound like a pretty precarious situation, most exotic materials aren’t actually that bad, provided you do your homework. Since the pressure’s on to get it right the first time, here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re working with exotic materials.

Consider Material Safety

When working with most materials, skin and eye protection is a must. Breathing protection is pretty common on the job site as well. If you’re working with exotic materials for the first time, though, be sure to put an extra focus on researching the safety of what you’re using and getting all of the right safety gear in place. Some unfinished exotic woods and other exotic materials can contain natural compounds that will irritate the skin, eyes and throat if they come in contact.

Learn About Finishing

You might not realize it, but the finishes you commonly use on the job site might absolutely ruin that expensive exotic wood your customer requested. This is because a lot of oil-based finishes react with the wood surface and some exotic hardwoods contain different chemical compounds within them than the woods you’re likely accustomed to. Find out whether you can use oil-based finishes or other common finishing compounds on the exotic materials you’re working with before you start applying. If you can’t use them, you may need to stock up on shellac or other finishing products that will work much better with the new material.

Take Weight into Account

One common experience with contractors working with exotic materials for the first time is to be surprised at how much some of them weigh. Unfortunately, they don’t necessarily realize this until they’re already on the job site. The added weight of some of these materials means that they sometimes need a little extra support behind them. Investigate weights beforehand so that you have all of the mounting supplies and supporting materials on hand before the job starts.

Measure Twice… Twice

Any waste on the job site is wasted money. When you’re wasting expensive exotics, though, the cost you have to absorb can really sting. Depending on the material you’re working with, it may not hurt to add an extra round of measurements before making cuts. Don’t just measure the material you’re cutting, either; take the time to measure the area it will fill to double-check its dimensions and ensure that you won’t be left with a cut piece that doesn’t exactly match.

Watch That Surface

When a customer wants exotic materials for a job, it’s almost always because they want to capture the look of those materials. This can be a headache if the nails or screws you would normally use to install similar materials stand out from that look. Even worse, in some cases, the tools you use can actually scratch a fine surface and leave it visibly marred. Consider heavy-strength glues or other alternatives for installation to preserve the unique look of the materials you’re using.

Have you ever worked with any exotic materials before? What were they, and did you think they were hard to work with?