Hardwood: The Teak Names To Know Before You Go Furniture ShoppingShawn
Whether you’re looking for attractive, durable patio furniture or a beautiful new desk for your study, it’s only a matter of time before you come across teak – a type of hardwood that many experts call the “king of all woods.” Why? Because it is classy, gorgeous, and rare. Owing to its high demand, teak is sometimes difficult to find, even though it comes in quite a few varieties from many regions of the planet. That’s why it is helpful to know a little more about teak before you go shopping. By understanding that this wood can come under a variety of names, you’ll be able to smarten up your furniture search and find a great piece for your home.
Teak: A Few Common Questions Answered
What is it?
Teak wood is prized in the furniture industry for its densely-packed, tightly-grained surface as well as its natural golden color. While much teak wood is stained and/or painted before it makes its way onto your patio, much of it is left virtually untreated. This lends itself to the newer decorating trend where homeowners prefer wood to retain as much of its natural characteristics as possible. Teak is also highly valued due to its durability; due to its oils and high levels of rubber, it is a standout material when it comes to enduring tough weather conditions and rot.
Is this the right wood for my garden?
Quite possibly! Teak wood tends to be one of the more expensive varieties on the market, but you can’t say that you won’t get your money’s worth. Its natural properties make it perfect for outdoor conditions, even if you live in a place where constant rain and cold will put your furniture through the paces.
Does it rot?
While some manufacturers will praise teak as the wood that “does not rot,” that’s a bit of an over-exaggeration. Eventually, even the hardest, most impervious wood will succumb to rot when left in the worst possible conditions. That said, teak is about as close as you can come to an indestructible wood. If used as outdoor furniture, there’s no reason why you can’t get at least 20 years of use (and probably decades more). If used indoors, it will likely last your entire lifetime.
My teak furniture turned gray! Why?
While teak is unparalleled when it comes to withstanding the environmental effects of the weather, it isn’t impervious to UV rays. Over time, the sun will eventually oxidize the surface of the wood, turning its natural golden color into a silver/gray that many furniture owners find just as beautiful. Keep in mind that this color change does nothing to the quality of the furniture – it is a purely surface-level change.
Teak Wood: Things to Think About When Shopping
When looking for durable furniture, many homeowners fall in love with the natural properties of teak, and that can lead them down a path that excludes other possibilities. It’s always a good idea to keep an open mind when shopping, because you might otherwise miss a furniture-type that is more suited to your needs (to say nothing of your budget. Here are some things to think about before buying teak furniture:
Price – Price is usually at least a moderate concern when shopping for furniture (congrats to you if it isn’t!). It’s especially important to take the price tag into consideration when leaning toward teak wood, because it is one of the most expensive materials on the market. If you’re planning to sell your teak deck shortly after building it, for instance, it may not make financial sense. Teak is the kind of material you want to invest in for its long-term properties.
Environmental Concerns – Teak wood is, unfortunately, associated with decades of unsustainable deforestation practices across the Southern hemisphere, which leads many to avoid it. It should be noted, however, that sustainable cutting practices have shifted dramatically in recent years; you can find teak these days that was grown and harvested in an environmentally-considerate way.
Furniture Oil – There are mixed messages out there concerning whether or not you should regularly oil your teak furniture as a measure to prevent the color change we mentioned above. If you’re determined to let the teak maintain its natural color, find it a shady spot where it won’t be constantly bombarded with UV rays. If that’s not possible, you may want to oil the furniture a couple of times a year to stave off oxidization. The tradeoff? You may promote the growth of mold and mildew.
Now that we know a bit more about this popular form of hardwood, let’s get into the main event! Teak comes from many parts of the world these days, and there are even engineered alternatives that some people swear by. Before you get out there and do some shopping, let’s run down the teak names you need to know.
When you’re looking for genuine teak and nothing else, this is the name you want to keep an eye out for. Grown primarily in Asia (well, Burma more specifically), this is the type of wood that all other teak-named trees aim to replicate. This type – the only natural-grown species – is used throughout India and has played an important role in furniture construction for hundreds of years. Because it is so successful in warding off rot (and wowing customers), other tree growers have attempted to call their wood “teak” due to the similarities in properties, colors, and grain patterns. These trees may or may not share any genetic relation to Tectona grandis. This is why there are so many different names for “teak” out there. This is the original, and it is still the best of the best.
Found in Indonesia and throughout Southeast Asia, Indonesian Teak is a prized type of birch that shares many of the high-quality properties of the true Burmese Teak wood. There is no shortage of uses for this wood, and its plantation origins ensure that it is more environmentally friendly than genuine teak. It comes with a similar golden color, making both the wood and the trees themselves beautiful in an ornamental sense.
African Plantation Teak
If you want the aesthetic quality of Burma teak but find the material a bit too expensive to justify, you may want to consider African Plantation Teak. Planted and grown in Africa under controlled conditions, this tree needs 15 to 20 years to reach maturity. As a result, the wood is lower in natural oils than the types discussed above. Unfortunately, this has a big effect on its durability; unlike the two teaks we’ve mentioned already, you can not expect this teak to stand up quite as strongly to weather over a long period of time. Still, if you can find a great piece of furniture made from African Plantation Teak and the price is right, it may well be a wise purchase.
South American Plantation Teak
This type of wood is so similar to African Plantation Teak that you will likely struggle to tell the difference. Their primary characteristics – color, oil levels, growth time, and even grain patterns – are so closely related to the other plantation wood that you can essentially substitute one for the other with no distinction. While manufacturers may try to promote these woods by saying they were grown using seeds from original Burmese teak trees, keep in mind that there are significant differences in quality – particularly as it pertains to longevity.
The woods we’ve talked about thus far have at least some botanical relation to the genuine Burmese teak; that isn’t true of iroko, which is sometimes referred to as African or Nigerian teak. Made from the iroko tree, this “teak” is tough and durable just like its given popular namesake. However, due to its relative supply and its unattractive appearance (according to some), it can be had for a much more reasonable price. Its natural oils make it a hearty substitute for teak in marine applications as well as for outdoor furniture.
With a color that is not quite as rich and lovely as Indonesian or Burmese teak, Banyuwangi is nonetheless considered a “true” teak in the marketplace, and it can be used as an acceptable substitute for Tectona grandis in most applications. It is a strong variety that comes with all of the wonderful properties that make this kind of wood so versatile and durable. If you’re looking for a high-quality decking material that will go a little easier on your wallet, this is a good place to start.
Native to Indonesia, the Bojonegoro teak is treasured across many continents for its high-quality wood, which is only (arguably) rivaled by Burmese teak itself. It shares much in common with that wood, and you can see the similarities for yourself when you look at its golden-brown color and its straight grain patterns. Unfortunately, this tree has long been a target for timber smuggling, so it’s not always easy to know for certain if you’re getting wood that was harvested in a responsible, legal, non-exploitative manner. Make sure you’re buying from a reputable manufacturer that puts a premium on legally-sourced wood.
South American Teak Wood
Like everything else in the world of teak wood, it pays to pay strict attention to how your furniture or wood is being marketed. The names are often very similar, and this is not accidental. In this particular case, you should know the difference between South American plantation teak, which is a close relative of Burmese teak, and South American teak, which actually comes from another tree (sometimes known as garapa and sometimes as Brazilian ash). It is a very hard, durable wood with a long lifespan, but it is important to know that – much like Banyuwangi – it is not a “true” teak.
Before we close out our list, we should discuss a few “teak” woods that are not only unrelated to original teak wood from Burma but don’t actually come from a specific tree at all. These are engineered woods (like plywood) that use a combination of wood and other materials to create a finished product that looks (to varying degrees) like the real thing.
A teak alternative from Scandinavia, Kebony is a relatively new type of engineered wood; it only debuted in 1997, though it has been going strong ever since. The difference between Kebony and other engineered wood isn’t found in its makeup – primarily maple wood – but in the chemical treatment process that removes moisture from the product. When exposed to the elements for a long time, the wood begins to take on the familiar colors of original teak wood.
It’s unlikely that you would ever be in a position to confuse Treadmaster Atlanteak with any other form of teak, but it’s worth talking about it in this list…even though it’s not actually a wood at all. Made from thermoplastic, it is used almost exclusively to create non-slip coverings for boat decks. The only similarity it shares with genuine teak is in its appearance. Even then, the resemblance is passing at best.
Much like Atlanteak, Esthec is primarily used to create slip control coverings for yacht decks. Some boat owners and manufacturers prefer to use synthetic teak because of its sizable cost advantage, and they often turn to Esthec for the closest artificial traits. This Norwegian material comes pretty close to replicating the look and texture of teak, and with some additional staining, it is nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.