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Teak Wood for Outdoor Furniture

Teak, which is also sometimes called jati, is a genus in the Verbenacaea family of tropical hardwoods. There are actually three types of trees commonly referred to as teak: Tectona Grandis, known as Common Teak, is both the most common and the most commercially important variety, and is widely distributed and used in India and Indo-China, and increasingly throughout the wider world market; Tectona Hamiltoniana, or Dahat Teak, is an endangered species endemic to the forests of Myanmar; and Tectona Philippinensis, called Philippine Teak, is a species endemic to the Philippines which is also endangered. Due to the rarity of these last two varieties, Tectona Grandis, usually called simply Tectona, is almost always the species of note when people talk about teak wood.

Classic Octagonal Folding Table

Native to the south and southeastern portions of Asia, teak is most commonly found in lush monsoon forest vegetation. They are large trees that grow as high as 30 or 40 meters (90 – 120 feet) and, as deciduous trees, they lose their foliage during the dry season common to all monsoon areas. The word teak is derived from “thekku,” which comes from Malayalam, an Indian dialect from the southern state of Kerala, where the wood is common.

Teak has served as a choice material for woodworking of many kinds for centuries, particularly in the crafting of furniture and objects that are to be out of doors and exposed to weather. Its popularity has not lessened in recent years; if anything, it has increased exponentially as the world market expands. Teak is a perfect material for crafting because it is easily shaped, durable (it is a hardwood tree, after all), and most especially because teak posses natural oils that protect it from all types of potential damage. These oils and its dense, compact grain make it highly resistant to rot, warping, shrinking, and swelling, as well as to water and other weather conditions. The presence of these oils means that an object made of teak, whether chair or boat, resists water to a high degree without any additional treatment or coating.

This natural attribute has been used to advantage by South Asian people for centuries; they commonly used teak to make nautical equipment such as boats, floats, and docks. In recent decades, however, it has become a popular material across much of the world for these same uses and others, such as for furniture. Teak patio or outdoor furniture in particular has become popular. As teak ages or weathers the preservative oils in the wood change, giving the piece an elegant silver-gray patina that is highly attractive and unique. In the past teak has experienced several booms in demand, the most prominent of which took place in the 1950’s and 60’s. This style has come to be called Danish Modern. These teak items from the past are becoming very popular nowadays as antiques, and antique teak furniture has a market all its own among collectors, who value the patina look especially. This has in no way decreased contemporary demand for new teak furniture or equipment. Demand for teak continues to increase in the world market, particularly in the western hemisphere.

To accommodate this market many forestry plantations have been founded across Southern Asia that take advantage of local seasonally dry tropical areas. The size and number of these plantations have created a sustainable source of teak for the massive world market, at least in terms of the common tectona grandis genus of the wood. Another great benefit of commercial teak wood is that teak trees are not indigenous to rainforests, so the trees can be harvested on a large scale without harming these delicate, threatened areas.

However, the high demand and frequent harvesting of teak has not come without complications. The attributes that make teak wood so desirable – natural oils for water resistance, strength and durability – increase as the tree ages. Thus, the oldest trees have always been the most desirable. Not surprisingly, these old-growth teak trees have become very rare and it is difficult to find old-growth items anywhere today. The trees in the plantations are harvested far too regularly to allow them to fully mature into old-growth trees, and these younger trees do not offer the same grade protections as the older variety. Wood from younger teak trees, while still oil laden and durable, is undeniably more prone to splitting and water damage. It is still a highly prized wood for outdoor construction and furniture, however, and offers better protections than most other woods.

Almost all teak is exported by Indonesia and Myanmar, and the industry is a very important part of these countries economies. Knowing this, programs have been instituted to ensure that supply of teak will continue to meet increasing demand. One program being investigated involves experiments designed to stir vegetative propagation from one-year-old stem cuttings, which would greatly increase the rapidity of plantation regrowth. With its variety of uses, worldwide demand, and economic value, teak promises to be a popular woodworking material beyond the immediate future.

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