The Definitive Wood Guide: Teak
The history of Teak Wood is rich. In the middle ages, teak wood was sought out by shipbuilders because the wood was impervious to water. It also withstood mildew and didn’t decompose.
As trade expanded craftspeople started using it for all manner of furniture. They also used it to construct buildings.
- Characteristics of Teak
- Types of Teak
- How Does Teak Age?
- What Are The Most Common Finishes?
- Care and Maintenance of Teak
- Popular Teak Pieces
- Is Teak Eco Friendly?
As woodworking techniques developed the profession of cabinet making began. Cabinet makers were soon masters of Teak furniture. Tables joined cabinets using Teak. Chairs were not long after that.
Characteristics of Teak Wood
Teak wood is exotic. It emerged from the Southeast Asian tropics. Teak is a tropical hardwood tree species with the Latin name Tectona grandis. Large and deciduous it grows in mixed hardwood forests. It is one of the Lamiaceae tree family.
Teak is natural and durable. It is quite hard and heavy wood. It has low levels of stiffness and is shock resistant. But, it is a hardy wood when fighting against decay resistance. Teak is particularly good for resisting acids.
The trees stand out for being some of the few that produce high amounts of wax and oil. These products protect the wood from hot and moist environments and the pests that go with them.
Teak retains it extracts. It means that teak products have in-built protection from most of the elements. It is why Teak has become so prized for outdoor furniture.
The colour of teak wood changes over time. The majority of us are familiar with its tawny honey-golden hue. It is not how it is at the start. Then it tends to be dark and a bit blotchy. When it decays, the wood turns silvery-grey.
Its durability and attractive colouring make teak wood prized and expensive.
Types of Teak
Teak comes in many forms but would solid wood be better than laminate? And is laminate preferable to veneer? To answer these questions you have to understand the differences?
Solid wood, laminate, and veneer all have their advantages and disadvantages. But, there are many misconceptions about each of the three types.
Laminate furniture isn’t made of wood. The process involves pressing together many layers of flat paper and plastic resin. This goes through a printing process that gives it the effect of the wood grain. It is common for colours printed on the top layer. This can then create the impression of being a manufactured product.
Laminates stand up to heat and resist scratches. A good laminate can continue to look new and shiny even after when it is well used. It is why many people looking for furniture for their busy areas like the kitchen, often opt for laminate.
Veneer’s construction is like that of laminate. The biggest difference is that the veneer’s outer layer is real wood. It is the veneer’s inside that is a synthetic material. This can include low quality wood, flat paper, MDF, or even particleboard. It looks like solid Teak wood but it’s more lightweight. Compared to laminate, a veneer is softer. It means that it is less durable.
Solid wood is what it says – solid pieces of wood. Furniture made with it has all the attributes, features and quality of the original Teak.
The style you choose among laminate, veneer or solid wood depends on your need and your budget.
How Teak Ages
New teak furniture comes in a honey brown hue. It is after all teak’s natural state. It can often appear polished. This polished look is the result of the natural oil in the wood. The oil that is on the surface evaporates after a few days – especially if left outdoors.
The oil stays below the surface and gives the wood its durability. When allowed to age outside, teak turns a handsome silver grey. It’s a process that takes around nine to 12 months.
The time depends on how much ultraviolet light and rain exposure the teak contends with. The greying process does not affect the wood’s integrity. Indeed, this aged character suits all garden settings. Its popularity is down to the natural look and the need for very little maintenance if any.
As a natural material Teak often displays fine cracks. These disappear when the atmospheric conditions change. They are normal, especially in the arms and legs of furniture. They do not affect the lifespan or durability of teak outdoor furniture.
What Are The Most-Common Finishes?
Teak contains resin. This helps protect the wood. It also gives it a natural resistance to water, rot and insect infestations. Even though teak is resistant to weather, it still benefits from a good finish.
Once cut Teak’s honey-brown hue darkens. This is down to the resin in the wood. For even darker teak, the wood needs exposure to sunlight. This takes anything from a few days to weeks.
The longer the exposure, the darker the teak will get. It stabilises and takes on a dark, almost chocolate-like colour.
Teak finishing can take place immediately after cutting. This can preserve the lighter colour. But you need to be aware the wood will still darken over the years.
Lacquering provides options. You can adjust the finish to give satin, medium or high-gloss effects.
Teak takes finishing products containing oils. These can include linseed, walnut, tung, or lemon. The oil penetrates the teak’s cells.
There the oil hardens to protect the wood from the inside out. Oil products work well on teak used outdoors.
They don’t cause the surface to become glassy like with lacquer or varnish. But they are effective against sunlight and inclement weather.
Marine varnish is also called spar varnish. It contains oils, along with tree resins, drying agents and solvents. These all combine to create a durable formula that works particularly well on teak. Marine varnish takes a long time to dry. But once dry its hard finish resists water.
Care and Maintenance of Teak
Teak furniture needs proper care. The hydrometrical conditions of our environment mean that cracking and movement may occur. It’s normal.
Polishing teak brings the wood’s natural oils to the surface. Because the wood has high density any stains applied stay on the surface. They do not penetrate the wood with ease. But, spills need removing as soon as possible, if possible immediately.
To prevent damage a coating would protect the wood from the outset. Recommended is oil like Occulto Oil. This seals the timber’s pores and creates natural protection.
Regular dusting is a must. For this use a dry cloth. When you are cleaning use a damp cloth along with some natural soap. You should always wipe in the same direction as the grain. The soap you use should not contain detergent or any other chemicals.
Stubborn stains and superficial scratches come off with extra fine sandpaper. Again always apply in the direction of the wood grain.
Teak furniture left outside even uncovered for all 12 months of the year survives well. It does not matter where you live. If you do use a cover make sure it allows the wood to breathe. Any furniture stored undercover should not be in a heated room. This would dry out the wood and exacerbate any cracks.
Some of the joints of teak furniture are not glued. So, now and again the slats in the back of chairs, for example, may need tightening by their fasteners.
Teak ages well. But the furniture needs a good dusting regularly. Try to avoid using commercial cleaners. They can leave residues and damage oiled finishes. If your furniture is oil finished aim to apply natural linseed oil once a year.
Popular Teak Pieces
Olson + Baker stock a great deal of teak furniture. Among our most popular pieces is the Ethnicraft HP Bed in Teak.
Alain van Havre Designed Pieces
The Ethnicraft HP Bed in Teak is sharp and stylish. Its minimalistic geometrical shape brings function and design together. The contemporary design combined with the warmth of its teak wood is inviting.
There is also an HP bedside table made of solid teak with metal legs.
Once quite abundant, Teak trees take over 100 years to mature. The species is not endangered. But there are far fewer trees today than in the past.
Another Alain van Havre designed piece that turns heads is the Teak Oscar desk with drawers.
Whether you are a fan of minimalistic or need enhanced storage, the Oscar desk is ideal. It comes with or without drawers, but the teak drawer doors are hand-carved by artisans. The wood is so durable, each piece of quality teak furniture lasts at least 50 years.
Bodil Kjær Designs
This applies to Carl Hansen’s BK12 Outdoor Two Seat Lounge Sofa too. It was in 1959 that architect Bodil Kjær launched the Indoor-Outdoor Series. This included the comfortable BK12 lounge sofa. Dane Kjaer crafted this from solid teak. She also gave it a slatted seat and back. The sofa derivative also displays a similar geometric sensibility.
Armrests, runners and legs enhance its quality. Morticed to form sleek squares, the BK12 lounge sofa is good indoors and outdoors.
Kjær also designed the Carl Hansen BK14 Outdoor Sun Lounger. This is a sleek and streamlined but robust piece. It is as pleasant to look at as it is to lie on. As other Indoor-Outdoor Series pieces, its inspiration is Cubist forms.
The sunbed’s solid teak weathers well over time. There are cushions available in weather-resistant Sunbrella fabric as well.
Is Teak Furniture Eco-friendly
Teak is beautiful, weatherproof and durable. But there are concerns. In Asia, for example, the teak industry has had a severe impact on the environment.
The teak wood in furniture sold by Olson + Baker is grown uses a new, sustainable approach.
It is grown in Costa Rica. It has the approval of the globe’s most ecology-advanced government. This is re-foresting, instead of de-foresting. The land used cleared decades ago, is now planted with a mosaic of different tree species.
The trees grow straight. This results in better-quality wood. The trees are then harvested in succession, so the forest as a whole is never cut down at once. It means there is steady and sustainable work for local craftsmen.
The timber operations also provide fair wages. There is social security and insurance plans are in place. A pension plan empowers women. The profits support local schools. Investments go into the expansion of ecological forestry. Reforest Teak applies environmental and social policies. This happens at every stage of the planting and felling process. The organisation holds the Forest Stewardship Council’s Chain of Custody Certification.
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