Teak wood is a highly prized product that offers a wealth of benefits for those who are interested in durability and longevity. It’s not always easy to find quality teak, and you will likely pay a high price if you do. Understanding more about where teak comes from will help you see the immense value in this wood.
What Is Teak?
Teak is a wood that’s native to southern Asia. This tree actually belongs to the mint family. It has a straight grain, uneven texture, and moderate to low luster. The natural oils in teak give it a greasy or oily feel when it’s raw and unfinished. Freshly milled teak has a rich leathery smell. The bark is about half an inch thick and gray or brownish-gray, while the sapwood is white. The heartwood in the center is a golden yellow. When seasoned, the wood becomes a rich brown with mottled streaks that are a bit darker.
The trees grow to more than 130 feet in height and may live up to 100 years. The trunk is typically straight but may be slightly thickened at the base. The rough leaves on teak trees have a dusky green hue and fall off during dry seasons; the leaves regrow when it rains. Teak trees also have pale blue flowers that grow in clusters, and they produce fruit known as drupes.
Teak has been used to construct and decorate the homes of the wealthy since the seventh century. The best teak wood comes from mature trees, which can take up to 80 years to grow. For this reason, teak wood is often reclaimed if no longer in use, as the species is greatly prized and availability is often limited.
Where Do Teak Trees Grow?
Teak trees, or Tectona grandis, are native to Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, India, and Indonesia. Teak is most commonly grown on plantations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. These trees prefer monsoon rainforests and do not grow well in coastal areas. They enjoy plentiful daily sunshine and well-draining soil. In some places, they’ve been decimated by overlogging.
Indonesia takes teak especially seriously. The PT Perhutani company maintains teak plantations across the island of Java where a set number of trees can be felled each year. Every felled tree is replaced by a new one, so the supply is carefully maintained and these teak trees are well protected.
How To Identify Teak Wood
You can often identify teak by its grain. Teak typically has long grains as the result of plain sawn cutting. Teak trees are usually cut in the same direction to produce the longest planks of wood. Teak wood varies in color depending on the variety of tree and where it was grown. It’s usually somewhere between a yellowish white and deep golden brown. Golden brown is the most popular color for teak wood. Teak gets darker with age, so you should keep this in mind if you’re examining an older piece of furniture or construction.
You can stain teak, which will change the hue, making it more difficult to properly identify. In this case, you’ll need to rely on other factors. Teak is rich in natural oils that give off a leathery fragrance. Smelling the wood can help you determine whether it’s authentic teak. Teak is also very dense and therefore heavy for its size. Imposters are often more fibrous and porous.
One of the most distinctive characteristics of teak is its water resistance. Treated or not, teak stands up well to water. If you place a drop of water on the wood and it’s quickly absorbed, you’re not dealing with real teak.
Due to its rarity and durability, teak is a pricey option for any project. If you’ve found a great bargain, you probably have a teak look-alike. There are many teak alternatives on the market that feature PVC, cork, expanded foam, or modified softwoods. These are usually sold as synthetic teak.
What Is Teak Used For?
Teak is extremely resistant to water, decay, and termites, making it a popular choice for outdoor applications. It has moderate resistance to powder post beetles and marine borers. These qualities make it a prized choice for boat building, exterior construction, and outdoor furniture. Teak does not darken, crack, or warp when it comes into contact with metals, which makes it especially useful for building. The wood gradually darkens with age but is extremely durable and so has a very long usable lifespan.
The best teak wood comes from trees that are 40 to 80 years old. Before teak can be turned into lumber, it must dry for one to two years. Teak wood is often repurposed because of its durability and long lifespan. Thus, a quality piece of teak may serve multiple purposes in its life.
Teak Care and Maintenance
Since teak can be difficult to obtain, it’s important to take good care of any teak wood that you do have. Teak is naturally resistant to many types of damage, but this doesn’t mean that you can afford to ignore it entirely. Clean your teak furniture or exterior elements at least once a year with mild dish soap and water. Scrub with the grain using a soft brush. If you have a serious stain, you can lightly sand it with fine-grit sandpaper. For difficult marks, such as grease, you may need a commercial-grade teak cleaner.
For larger elements, such as a teak pergola or a sizable set of furniture, it’s often best to invest in professional teak restoration. The restoration process involves carefully cleaning the teak, removing coatings, and lightly sanding the surface. After this, the teak is cleaned, dusted, and allowed to try. The final step is the application of a protective coating to keep your teak looking beautiful long into the future.
If you have teak elements in your home construction or valuable teak furniture on your patio, it’s important to take good care of them. Our experienced team members at Teak Master are experts at fine wood restoration, maintenance, and repair. Contact us now to learn more about what we can do for your teak wood.