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Teak wood logs laid on the ground

The Ultimate Guide to Teak Wood: Characteristics, Types and Tips to Maintain Your Furniture

Many homeowners rave about teak wood because it comes in a variety of colours, ranging from a fresh yellowish-golden shade to dark brown. Its durability and workability make it easy to craft great furniture. Coupled with its rot and pest resistance, it’s regarded as a superior wood.

However, teak is expensive so you may be wondering if it’s worth it. In this article, we’ll give you a rundown of this wood, where it comes from, and whether teak wood is the best choice for you.

What is Teak?

Image of a Teak tree flower

Known by its scientific name as Tectona grandis, teak wood is native to South and Southeast Asia.

A teak tree is large and deciduous, growing up to 40 metres. It has egg-shaped leaves with a wide base, and sports delicate white flowers on its branches. These trees bloom from July to August and bear fruit from September to December. 

Origin of Teak Wood

There are 3 species of teak, each with different origins. Tectona grandis grows naturally in Southeast Asia in countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.

Due to unsustainable logging over the past century, most of the natural teak forests have disappeared, except for those in Myanmar. At present, the teak forests there account for nearly half of the world's naturally occurring teak. 

There are 2 other species, T. hamiltoniana and T. philippinensis, which are found in Myanmar and the Philippines.

Burmese Teak vs Plantation Teak

Due to political instability, many countries refused to source their teak from Myanmar which led to the emergence of plantation teak in the past few decades. Demand increased and many companies started to grow teak in Costa Rica and Mexico. 

Here’s the rundown of the differences between the 2 types of teak:

Burmese teak Plantation teak
Colour
  • Comes in a wide range of colours, from golden yellow to deep brown
  • Lighter in colour
Grain
  • Tighter, interlocking grain
  • Grain is less tight as some of their trees grow fast
Hardness
  • Has densely packed wood fibres and minerals
  • More likely to retain its shape and less likely to warp
  • Less densely packed wood fibres
  • Has a greater chance of checking, warping and bowing
Resistance to rotting
  • Natural oils prevent the wood from absorbing water and mould from growing
  • Has fewer knots*, making the wood more resistant to rotting
  • Boards trap moisture and are less resistant to rot and mould
  • Knots present in its boards
Maintenance
  • Teak sealant should be applied every 6 months or year
  • Teak sealant should be applied 2 to 3 times a year

*These are circular indications that branches grew from the piece of wood.

Fun fact:
The silica that’s present in the soil in Myanmar produces the oils which form a protective layer on the Burmese teak itself. This may not be present in the soils of other plantations, which account for a difference in quality.

Teak in Singapore

So where can we find teak trees in Singapore? Well, the one and only teak tree at the Singapore Botanic Gardens dates back to 1884, and was grown from a seed. It’s taken nearly 140 years to reach its present size, which is no mean feat as Singapore’s climate is not conducive to its growth. 

This tree is also part of t​​he Heritage Trees Scheme, which conserves and educates the public on Singapore’s mature trees.

Characteristics of Teak Wood

What makes teak distinct from all the other types of wood? Read about its important characteristics below.

Colour

Colour swatch of Teak wood

Teak has many variations in colour, ranging from a light golden yellow to a dark brown. When left outdoors, any inconsistencies in colour will even out.

Grain

Most of the time, teak wood has a straight grain, although it can be wavy and interlocked at times. Cheaper grades of teak wood will have knots. 

Hardness

The Janka hardness test measures the hardness of wood against shear and wear. The higher the value, the higher resistance against wear and tear.

On the Janka scale, teak has a rating of 1,000 to 1,155. It’s harder than mahogany, pine, chestnut and white pine. Thus, this type of wood is highly durable.

Advantages of Teak Wood

Teak wood has multiple advantages, especially with regard to its gorgeous colour, durability, and water resistance. Read on to find out why many people choose teak for their homes and furniture.

Beautiful Colour and Grain

Teak has mostly straight grain, paired with its myriad of colours ranging from a golden yellow hue to a deep brown, making it a highly sought-after wood. 

Among carpenters, it’s considered to be one of the most beautiful woods. Some also favour the silver-grey patina that untreated aged teak has that results from exposure to environmental elements.

Durability

Its wood boards don’t shrink, warp or grow mould when exposed to the outdoors. As teak wood has densely packed wood fibres and minerals, it has high durability and is more likely to retain its shape.

Water Resistance

Teak has a high oil content that smells like leather. This natural oil coats the wood, preventing pests and rain from damaging it. 

Teak wood that’s allowed to age properly, specifically after 25 years, is more likely to be water-resistant as there’s an accumulation of protective oils that prevent the wood from rotting.

Long-lasting

Teak furniture can last from 50 to 70 years when placed outdoors, and may last longer indoors. Even without treatment or preservatives, the wood can last a long time, especially if you invest in ways to care for it.

Disadvantages of Teak Wood

Teak is easily one of the best woods to make furniture with, but it does come with a set of drawbacks. Here are the cons:

Cost

Teak is one of the most expensive types of wood on the market. The demand for this wood outstrips supply, and the lack of sustainable farming practices has only caused the prices to increase. However, a piece of teak furniture may be worth its price as it lasts a long time.

Requires Additional Care

In snowy and rainy weather, it’s best to bring your teak furniture indoors as moisture can wear it down.

Additionally, if you want to preserve the original colour of your teak, you’ll need to buy extra accessories such as sealants. Depending on the wear of your furniture, you should either apply the sealant to your piece every 6 months or every year.

May Cause Allergies

The dust from teak wood has been known to cause eye, skin and respiratory irritation. More severe reactions include rash, nausea, asthma-like symptoms, and affected vision.

Although such severe reactions are uncommon, it’s best to be cautious, especially if you have sensitive skin or are prone to asthma attacks.

How to Tell If Your Teak Wood is of Good Quality

It’s important to be aware of the different grades of teak, especially when sourcing for a piece that you want to last. Here’s a look at the different grades of teak and how they measure up, with Grade A being the highest quality.

Grade A Teak Grade B Teak Grade C Teak
Grain
  • Close grains
  • Uneven grains
  • Uneven grains
Colour
  • Uniform, golden brown colour
  • Lighter colour
  • Uneven colour
Durability
  • Resistant to insects and moisture due to the high concentration of natural oils
  • Contains traces of natural oils 
  • May not withstand harsh weather
  • Wood is soft
  • Can be easily damaged
Part of The Wood It Comes From
  • Taken from the centre of the log (heartwood)
  • Comes from a fully mature tree
  • Comes from the outer heartwood
  • Comes from a fully mature tree
  • Made from the sapwood, which is the outer section of the tree
  • Comes from immature trees

 

Although it seems easy to tell Grade A, B and C teak wood apart, this may not be the case. Many furniture stores use chemicals to make Grade B and C teak look like Grade A wood. 

As such, it’s best to source for a reputable and reliable furniture store that’ll guarantee the quality of its products.

Tips for Maintaining Your Teak Wood Furniture

To ensure that it lasts a long time, teak requires additional maintenance. Here are some tips on how to preserve its beauty and quality.

1. Apply a Teak Sealant

There are many ways of maintaining this wood depending on the colour that you wish to preserve. For example, a silicone-based teak sealant would help retain its rich golden-yellow colour. 

However, applying a sealant goes beyond cosmetic reasons as it also protects the wood from mould, UV light and moisture.

These are the steps to applying a teak sealant:

  1. Leave your teak furniture in the sun for 2 weeks to allow the wood’s grain or pores to open up, making it easier for the furniture to absorb the sealant.
  2. Spray the sealant onto the wood, ensuring that you get the hard-to-reach areas.
  3. Rub the sealant into the wood using a lint-free cloth. 
  4. Wait for it to dry before bringing it back to its designated area.

2. Keep Teak Furniture Indoors in Wet Weather

Be it winter or the monsoon season, teak will still fare well. However, if you wish for your furniture piece to last longer, it would help to bring it indoors during the winter or in Singapore's case, during the monsoon season. 

Alternatively, you can cover your treasured pieces with a waterproof cover if you don’t want to shift them indoors.

3. Clean Bird Droppings Immediately

It’s inevitable that birds may stain your furniture, so be vigilant and wipe any bird droppings away immediately to prevent staining and maintain its colour.

4. Use Cleaners Specific to Teak Wood

While all-purpose wood cleaners are said to be a one-size-fits-all solution, it’s best to use a cleaner that’s specially catered to teak. Other cleaners may not be specifically formulated to clean this type of wood and may damage your furniture.

If you’re unsure, talk to your furniture seller about the recommended teak cleaner to use.

5. Avoid Using Oils On Your Teak Wood Furniture

There are many oils that are marketed to preserve teak wood. However, it’s recommended to avoid using them. These oils destroy the natural ones found in the wood, and you’ll have to keep oiling your furniture to stop it from drying out.

Using teak oil is especially detrimental to the wood as it encourages mildew growth and black spots. It also affects your furniture’s appearance as the colours will change unevenly as time passes.

6. Avoid Using Stains, Varnishes and Polyurethane Finishes

Using varnishes or stains on your outdoor teak furniture can cause the wood to chip. Some of these products also trap water in the wood, which may cause it to rot from the inside. 

Furthermore, varnishes, stains and polyurethane finishes may cause flaking, peeling or cracking. This gives you more work eventually because you’ll have to sand it.

7. Avoid Painting Teak Wood

Similar to using stains and varnish, painting teak can cause it to flake, peel or crack. Moreover, it can be difficult to paint this wood as its oils repel paint. 

If painting is a must, it’s recommended to wait for 6 to 8 weeks for the oils to surface. After which, prime it with aluminium oxide before starting. 

FAQs About Teak Wood

What is teak wood used for?

Teak can be used to make boats, the exterior of buildings, and furniture.

Is teak wood good for furniture?

Teak is hard, durable, and strong, making it great for furniture. Many dining tables, chairs, bed frames, and benches are made out of teak.

What is the difference between teak wood and oak?

Teak is slightly harder than oak. However, the latter has less oil and is stronger and more durable. It also has a higher resistance to moisture and humidity.

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