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What is the Difference Between Wicker and Rattan?

Wicker and rattan are often confused, yet they differ significantly. Wicker refers to a weaving technique, while rattan is a material, specifically a type of vine used in making furniture. Wicker can be crafted from various materials, including rattan. Understanding these nuances can enhance your appreciation of furniture craftsmanship. How might this knowledge influence your next decor choice?
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

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.

A laundry basket made using wicker process.
A laundry basket made using wicker process.

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.

A clothes hamper showing vertical, rattan wood grain.
A clothes hamper showing vertical, rattan wood grain.

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.

A wicker chair may use materials like straw of bamboo slats around a rattan frame.
A wicker chair may use materials like straw of bamboo slats around a rattan frame.

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.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular HomeQuestionsAnswered contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular HomeQuestionsAnswered contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon993509

I hate to inform you but wicker is a natural fiber. It usually comes from the twigs of a willow. While furniture companies will tell you its a process of weaving and that would be true, the over priced furniture they're selling you is made from plastic which is cheap to make and manufacture.

If you went to places where it is made from natural willow twigs and branches you would see a vast difference and how much work goes into even a single piece. Technically the furniture stores are selling you plastic weave furniture that looks like wicker.

anon304823

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

anon151642

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

anon134537

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

anon124759

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

wickedkath

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

anon100531

Very helpful and easy to understand. Thanks.

anon88751

really useful - thanks!

anon83344

exactly what i was looking for. Thanks.

anon78163

thanks. great site! Thanks!

anon76077

Good thorough easy to understand explanation! Thanks!

anon55011

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

anon44355

Love your site! Thanks for creating it.

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    • A laundry basket made using wicker process.
      By: kornienko
      A laundry basket made using wicker process.
    • A clothes hamper showing vertical, rattan wood grain.
      By: Blanscape
      A clothes hamper showing vertical, rattan wood grain.
    • A wicker chair may use materials like straw of bamboo slats around a rattan frame.
      By: Andro
      A wicker chair may use materials like straw of bamboo slats around a rattan frame.