Some little larvae feasting on a twenty-dollar rattan shelf might not give you pause, but at some point they’ll be looking for the filet mignon.
Is there a little pile of fine powder underneath your couch or dresser that keeps magically reappearing? If so, you’ve got powderpost beetle larvae squatting in your furniture.
Some little larvae feasting on a twenty-dollar rattan shelf might not give you pause, but at some point they’ll be looking for the filet mignon, that teakwood bed or mahogany bookcase. The only way to stop them is to kill the larvae and seal up the wood.
There are many kinds of powderpost beetles but their lives, and deaths, are similar enough to lump them together here. Their preferred diet is newly cut hardwood and bamboo. After mating, the female seeks a suitable place to lay eggs and bites the wood, leaving a series of grooves on the surface. These tasting marks may serve to determine whether the timber contains starch, which is what the larvae eat, and they also expose the wood pores to deposit eggs into.
A number of insecticides are labeled for surface treatment of bare, exposed wood. Spraying or brushing these materials on to infested wood creates a barrier that kills adult beetles and newly hatched larvae. But you don’t need highly toxic poisons to solve your problem.
Insecticide formulations containing sodium borate are especially effective against powderpost beetles in that they penetrate and kill beetles within wood, as well as those entering or exiting the wood surface. Sodium borate is more commonly called borax, a miracle compound that used to be in every cupboard. Though it’s a very effective insecticide, it has very low toxicity so you don’t have to worry about Fido or Junior being around when you use it.
Although the borax solution will not penetrate paint or varnish, it will penetrate wood surfaces previously treated with a water-repellent stain. A wood floor infested with powderpost beetles can likewise be treated with the borax solution but would first need to be sanded to remove the finish. Furniture made in Cambodia is typically top-coated by brush and there will be many gaps in the finish, especially at the end grain where wood and bamboo suck up more liquid. This gives powderpost beetles plenty of places to get inside.
Borax is purchased as a white powder, but its sale is restricted in Cambodia due to the fact that some people put it in food as a preservative. All of the big markets such as O’ Russei and Olympic sell it, however, and the shopkeepers will call it either borate or borak. Formaldehyde is another preservative I would advise not to use as a seasoning, by the way.
Get to work
Mix 500 grams of borax in 3 litres of warm water, which will dissolve it more readily. Always add the borax powder to the water; adding water to dry powder tends to form clumps.
Turn the piece of furniture upside-down. After mixing the solution, thoroughly brush it on all of the exposed areas, especially where you see the tunnelling. Get it into the cracks and seams but don’t let it pool up. You want the solution to soak into the wood, not drip down the sides. When no more solution will soak into the wood, wipe up the excess with a rag. Turn the furniture back upright and repeat.
Allow the water a day or two to evaporate. You can tell if water is still evaporating by feeling the wood. If it feels cooler than surrounding furniture, then water is still evaporating from it. If any white areas form, that is simply excess borax that can be cleaned with soap and water. The borax will stay in the wood and kill any insect that tries to eat it by wreaking havoc on their insides. The borax also acts as a fungicide and wood preservative.
When the furniture is fully dry, apply the matching topcoat and you’re now bug-free.
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