Burmese teak, harvested from Myanmar, has such an innate beauty that simplistic designs still make stylish furniture

Teak usually refers to the timber taken from the tree Tectona grandis. Sometimes referred to as ‘Burmese Teak’, the Tectona grandis is a large, deciduous (loses its leaves, usually in Autumn) tropical hardwood tree native to south and southeast Asian countries, particularly Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka.

 

Fresh from the mill. Teak in a Chinese factory, ready to be fashioned into an outdoor dining table

Freshly milled, the wood can have a strange leathery fragrance. The heartwood can be a dark golden yellow to a browny-red and will darken with age, whereas the sapwood is a more off-white to yellow brown. When first cut it can be streaky or blotchy.

 

Harvested for centuries, the natural population’s of the tree have dwindled. However, the timber industry, as a result of the demand for the wood, has seen a large increase in cultivated wood. Native countries such as Indonesia cultivate and supply the product for a large amount of the world’s demands. However, many African countries and even Central American countries cultivate it as well, and it has been at the center of some conflict.  Despite this, natural populations are generally considered to be of higher quality, often attributed to the age of the trees being used. Whether true or not, this has seen a greater demand for teak directly from Burma where deforestation controls are less stringent and non-plantation teak is regularly harvested.

There are multiple varieties of wood that are often referred to as fake teak. Much of the ‘teak’

A piece of African fake teak used to create a stylised chinese tea table

coming out of Africa is fake teak and tends to be less resilient to the elements as its real equivalent. Over time, it can also take on a different odor. However, this fake teak is still used as it has some of the same properties of real teak and is significantly cheaper.

 

A chinese worker specialised in manufacturing teak furniture

Teak is big business. The demand for the wood is primarily fueled by its interesting properties. Teak is a tight grained, strong wood with silica present and a high oil content. Although these properties make it difficult to treat with other oil and varnish, they give the wood high natural protection from the elements and from termites. Subsequently, it makes great material for boat building, outdoor construction and furniture (particularly outdoor furniture and patio furniture). The wood also has an innate beauty that seems to grow with time. Exposure to the elements, particularly the sun, can cause teak products to take on a silvery-grey color. It’s these properties that drive the demand for the wood up but also make it an expensive commodity.

Teak is considered a generally easy to work wood with hands or machines. For this reason it can be used in artistic displays such as sculpting or small project ventures. The drawback, however, is that the silica content causes edged tools to go dull quickly.

So, when considering a project, if you are taking into consideration the durability of your materials and are looking for a material that expresses its own beauty, aging and changing with time, consider teak. It may not be the most affordable material initially, but its natural resistances can save you money over time.