The main thing I knew about sisal is that the smell always gave me a massive headache. I used to manage a store that carried a lot of sisal baskets and rugs and had to arrange to have those placed far off in the corner.
The sisal fibre is traditionally used for rope and twine but also has many other uses, including paper, cloth, furniture and, even dartboards.
Sisal fibre comes from the agave plant and grows in a variety of hot and dry climates that are unsuitable for other crops - like Turks and Caicos, where fruit and vegetable crops had failed. From the first production companies in 1890 until around 1919, sisal export was a booming business in the islands. After harvest, its leaves are cut and crushed in order to separate the pulp from the fibres. It is a coarse, hard fibre not suitable for textiles or fabrics, but it is strong, durable and stretchable. It also does not absorb moisture easily, resists saltwater deterioration and the texture accepts a wide range of dyes.
Polypropylene, a thermoplastic resin, is reducing demand for sisal rope which could have been disastrous for the industry, but new uses have been found and now sisal can be found in specialty papers, filters, wall coverings, carpets, mattresses, and as a reinforcement in plastic composite materials for furniture and automotive parts. It's also being used as a substitute for asbestos in brake pads. And then there are those dartboards where it's been found to be the best material. Quality dartboards are made of sisal fibres; less expensive boards are sometimes made of cork or coiled paper.
Even the by-products from the sisal extraction are used for making biogas and pharmaceuticals as well as for fertilizer and animal feed.
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