All You Need To Know About Teak

Teak, bearing the enviable accolade of “the King of Hardwoods” is one of the most sought after woods in the world, and is well-known and valued for both its impeccable beauty and durability. In fact, many of us would have heard our elders sing praises about this hardy material. Over the years, however, there is a worrying trend of retailers using very young Teak in furniture, which results in lower-quality and unsustainable products. This article aims to inform the reader of the basic knowledge of Teak so that one can become an informed consumer.

#1 What makes Teak Tick?

Good quality Teak is durable, stable, and has a high oil content. Such trees are older and grow in favorable conditions.

Logging of Teak

Only older trees produce good quality Teak that is durable and stable. Such wood displays minimal expansion, shrinkage, and warpage when exposed to different environments. What gives Teak its strength and stability is its densely-packed wood fibers, which are only found in older trees. Most trees grow more rapidly in their younger years, which results in more loosely-packed wood fibers of lower strength and stability.

Fun Fact: Teak antique furniture over 200 years old from colonial eras that look as good as new after refurbishing.

One of the reasons for the durability of Teak is its high oil content. This oil protects the wood from water damage, decay, insects, and bacteria, making it rot-resistant and weather-proof! Oil content is determined by age (older trees can produce and accumulate more oil) and soil content (high silica content is conducive to oil production).

Fun fact: Built from Teak in 1816, HMS Trincomalee is the world’s oldest warship that is afloat. A testament to Teak’s longevity, steel-based contemporary vessels can only last around 50 years even with the benefit of modern manufacturing and protection methods.

#2 Types of Teak

Burmese Teak is typically harvested from forests in Myanmar where the tree is matured and the lumber is stable and durable. As the demand for Teak increases, Plantation Teak was grown instead in countries such as Indonesia and Costa Rica. Unfortunately, the soil chemistry in these countries is different and inferior. This often results in a less consistent, less lustrous, and lighter colour. Furthermore, Plantation Teak is rapidly grown and harvested which results in grains that are further apart and less defined. This affects the beauty of the furniture that will be made from the wood. The fast growth and harvest rate may result in lesser quality where the wood is more likely to crack or warp. This means more maintenance will be needed to make up for the deficiencies.

Burmese Logged from trees that are over 80 years old. Extremely stable and durable. High silica content in Burmese soil enhances oil content Much of the teak is in the wild rather than cultivated ones. The slower growth results in denser woods.
Indonesian Logged from plantation trees Teak is not native to Indonesia, but rather, was introduced by the Dutch as plantation wood during the colonial era. In general, Indonesian Teak is lighter in color and does not contain as high oil content as Burmese Teak. Even within Indonesian Teak, there is higher-quality teak from government plantations, in which the trees reach a certain maturity before logging. In comparison, some non-government sources log very young trees that are less than 10 years old. This results in a much less durable product.

Cross section of Teak logs

#3 How to identify higher-quality Teak.

Sapwood - Sapwood makes up the outermost layer of the tree under the bark, and is less dense and lighter in colour than heartwood (the center portion). Older growth trees tend to have narrower sapwood (2cm or less), while younger, fast-growing trees have a relatively higher proportion of sapwood.

Growth rings - Faster growing trees have growth rings that are further apart. In general, trees grow faster at a younger age. Hence, looking at an old log, you will find that the growth rings are wider nearer to the center but narrow as more rings are added. In general, pre-maturely logged Teak does not have the tightly-compacted growth rings seen in older growth Teak.

Evidence of Oil - In general, high oil content causes the wood to be darker in color. Coagulation of oil in certain logs with exceptionally high oil content can also manifest in black streaks (note: This can be difficult to spot for the untrained eye).

Fun fact: Myanmar banned the export of raw wild Teak in 2013 in a bid to boost their local manufacturing sector. The Burmese teak carried by Grey and Sanders was exported before the ban and has been as a result been air-dried for almost a decade, adding to its stability.

Teak at Grey and Sanders

At Grey and Sanders, we use high-quality teak for our wood slabs. We have slabs cut from logs harvested from Indonesian government plantations as well as wild Burmese Teak. To ensure quality, we only use logs of diameter 60cm and above, which are at least 50 years old for Indonesian Teak and 80 years old for the slower growing Burmese teak. To find out more about this stunning material, contact us to find out more!