How to Prepare Abaca Fibers
Abaca is a species of banana with an inedible fruit. It does not matter, though, because abaca is harvested even before the fruit matures. The abaca propagates by producing shoots or stolons off the ground and creating segments. Roots grow from each segment down to the ground. This is where the new abaca plant grows. The stalk of the abaca is a pseudo-stem made of leaves tightly bundled together. This protects the flower while it matures inside. The tightly bundled leaves contain the valuable fiber.
Preparing abaca fibers is done in four steps: harvesting, extraction, drying, and grading and baling. Let’s do a quick run through the whole process.
Abaca is a species of banana with inedible fruit. The abaca propagates through growing shoots from the roots. Flower buds develop after leaves form from the stem. This is the time when the plant is ready to be harvested. The initial harvest of the abaca plant is done within 18 to 24 months after planting. Harvesting further has more steps to it.
STEP 1: CLEANING – In order to make sure the abaca plant is clean and free of parasites, the area around the base off the stalk is cleared off weeds and other dirt.
STEP 2: TOPPING – The leaves of the stalk are cut with a knife tied to a long pole. The harvesting process gets rough so topping the plant makes sure that the process does not damage other plants.
STEP 3: TUMBLING – With a sharp bolo, the whole stalk is tumbled off the ground. The tumbled stalks are piled somewhere else where tuxying will be done.
STEP 4: TUXYING – Tuxying is basically separating the different layers of the stalks. This is done by inserting a tuxy knife between layers and jerked and flipped to completely separate the layers. The different layers have different grades and quality of fiber.
Extraction is the process of separating the actual abaca fibers from the other materials in the stalk. Extraction can be done manually (hand-stripping) and by machine (spindle).
Hand Stripping is a fully manual. In this method, the tuxies are inserted between a block and the stripping knife. The foot pedal is to clamp the tuxy into place. The stripper then pulls the tuxy away from the knife with full force, both hands clasping the tuxy wound around a wooden pulling aid.
In machine stripping, the tuxy is wound around a spindle. This spindle spins and draws the fiber over knives. The speed depends at the position of the spindle. Machine stripping can extract more fiber in a shorter amount of time and with less effort. The grade of fibers are also more uniform.
Stripping is important in removing impurities tangled up with the abaca fiber. If these impurities are not stripped away, they will affect the fiber’s performance by making it brittle. It can even affect how the finished abaca products look.
After stripping, the fibers are dried on an open space. Drying can be done in two ways. The fibers can be sun-dried or air-dried in shaded places. The fibers are stored once fully dried. Drying helps preserve the fibers because the more water it has, the faster it will decay.
GRADING AND BALING
When the abaca fibers are dry, they are now separated and classified according to the quality. This process is guided by government and international standards. This makes sure that traders do get the quality of abaca that they paid for.
The abaca is baled for more convenient transport. This can be done manually by tying up amounts of abaca or by pressing machines. The standard bale of abaca fiber is equivalent to 125 kilograms and measures around 100 cm. x 55 cm. 60 cm.
The whole process of preparing abaca fiber is quite easy to follow. However, each step should be done with precision. Each fiber is just as important as the whole bundle. Superior quality must be observed by doing each step properly. This is not easy as even the machine-aided steps still require force and labor to be executed. This only brings us more appreciation to the craft of abaca fiber.
- Agricultural Process and Technology. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.chingbee.com/process-and-technology/
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2014, July 07). Abaca. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/plant/abaca