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- Latin: Tectona grandis (IE true teak).
- African name: Baikiaea Plurijuga (Rhodesian Teak)
- Other trade names: Burma teak, Rangoon teak, moulmein teak, gia thi, jati sak, kyun, mai sak and rosawa.
Teakwood is an average hardness wood from the Verbenaceae family, found in various parts of southern China, Southeast Asia (Burma/Thailand) and India, though it is also grown in plantations in the Philippines, Boliva and Indonesia. Teak is also is found in Africa in places like Zambia and Zimbabwe. It grows in forests at times though not always, near the coast, and is actually not a rain forest wood, despite this common perception. At present, much of the teak coming out today is from Burma, which has a long history of Teakwood trading going back as far as the 14th century and today supplies more then 75% of the worlds teak. The name “teak” comes from the Malayan word “tekka.”
The tree itself, has a straight, but often buttressed stem, a spreading crown, and four-sided branch lets with large quadrangular pithes. The leaves resemble those of the tobacco plants in shape. The branches terminate in small white flowers and the sapwood white. The unseasoned wood has a pleasant and strong aromatic fragrance and a beautiful golden-yellow color, which on seasoning darkens into brown, mottled with darker streaks. The wood is generally straight grained (though at times can also be wavy) and extremely dense, with a square foot of the wood weighing 40 pounds. Its often said to be resistant to termites as well as impervious to splitting, buckling, or rot due to its high content of oils and resinous materials. Of course the downside to this when making furniture, is that Teak can be particularly difficult to glue, because of its oily nature as the natural oils in the wood interfere with a glue’s ability to bond. Its density along with naturally occurring silicon in the wood also makes it blunt tools faster then many other woods.
Teak when used in furniture construction (and thus to be considered during the materials selection process is) generally graded according to the quality and flawlessness of the wood.
- Zero Defect (Grade A)
No sap wood, knots, or pin holes and the color and grain are very uniform, without any natural deep black highlighting the grain. Natural sheen to the wood as opposed to a shine. No watermarks.
- Natural (Grade A and B)
No sap wood, pinholes or knots, and the color is uniform. Good grain, though some natural black highlighting the grain is allowed. Natural sheen though some shine as well.
- Rustic: (Grade C)
Considered to be low grade teak. Sapwood. May be manipulated with chemicals or stains to alter its appearance to look like a sightly higher grade. Visible dark heavy grain.
Because the wood contains naturally occurring elements of rubber and oil, Teak wood is extremely durable and in places like India and in Burma, Teak beams have been known to last in palaces and temples of more than 1,000 years old. Sunken ships in the Atlantic carrying teak timber have been salvage 75 years later only to discover that even after being submerged for close to a century in the Atlantic, the timber remains in perfect condition, with the original saw and hammer marks still visible. Very impressive! A highly prized material, ancient Burmese and Thai royalty considered Teak to be a royal tree. Maybe one reason was because Teak takes more the 120 years to reach maturity from the seedling stage.
Teak has been and continues to be used in a range of applications from furniture, to flooring to shipbuilding. An unusual characteristic of Teak is when it comes into direct contact with iron, the oil in the wood acts as a preservative for the iron (and thus its use in shipbuilding – virtually every passenger liner ever built had a deck made from teak.)
In Chinese furniture, Teak was often seen in western style “colonial Shanghai style” and art deco pieces especially during the 1920’ies and 30’ies. After the first colonizers reached Burma in the early as the 1820’s, furniture ranging from Victorian style furniture to British campaign style to art deco style began coming out of the region and was popular in cosmopolitan cities in Asia. Today Teakwood sculptures, Teak garden furniture, recycled Teak furniture and Teak outdoor furniture are strong sellers, primarily due to the durability of Teak wood. Indonesia and Thailand are major sources for Teak wood furniture.
More info on Teak wood