What's so great about teak wood furniture?

What's so great about Teak furniture? Durability and natural weather resistance are two of the big factors.
What's so great about Teak furniture? Durability and natural weather resistance are two of the big factors.
Captured Nuance/iStockphoto

Anyone who does a little research before buying new furniture -- especially patio furniture -- will almost definitely run across a few ads for teak wood. One of the first things that will jump out at potential buyers is that furniture made from teak wood is consistently among the most expensive. Why? The reason is that teak is valuable both for its elegance and its durability. Beyond its beauty, it also possesses some natural properties that other woods don't have.

Teak has always been a prized material. The tree that teak comes from, Tectona grandis, is native to the tropics. Since around the 7th century, it has been used to outfit and adorn the residences of the wealthy and powerful [source: AmegaWood]. The wood's reputation made its way out of the region through the Dutch, who colonized Indonesia. They used the wood for shipbuilding; teak makes for an excellent ship wood due to its ability to ward off dry rot (we'll get to that in a minute).

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Teak is found in Southeast Asian nations like Thailand, Burma and Malaysia, but perhaps no central government takes its teak quite as seriously as Indonesia's. Since the country's post-colonial era began in the mid-20th century, the Indonesian government has had a corporation in place dedicated to managing one of the nation's most valuable natural resources. The company, PT Perhutani, maintains the official teak plantations on the Indonesian island of Java. Here, a predetermined number of trees that can be felled each year. Each tree is replaced with a new one that's planted on the plantation.

Since the best wood furniture made from teak comes from mature trees, it can take around 80 years before a teak tree planted today is harvested for wood. Because of this, and because teak is such an excellent wood material, old teak is often reclaimed -- for example, from old structures slated to be torn down -- and given new life as furniture.

Why is teak wood so prized and so valuable? Find out on the next page.

The Value and Benefits of Teak Wood Furniture

Teak weathers into a nice silver gray finish. Its durability make it a great material for outdoor applications like this yacht's deck.
Teak weathers into a nice silver gray finish. Its durability make it a great material for outdoor applications like this yacht's deck.
Jivko Kazakov/iStockphoto

It's pretty clear that people prize teak wood above your average length of pine or oak. But why is that, exactly? The answer lies in the natural oils and rubber found within teak.

You'll find an abundance of natural oils and rubber locked right into the tight grain of the wood. All woods contain oils that protect the tree -- think maple sap or tea tree oil. Teak, however, can retain these oils and its rubber even after being felled and processed. Because of this, teak has greater naturally weather-resistant properties than just about any other type of wood. When dried to a proper moisture level -- around 10 percent of its original content -- the oils and rubber weatherproof the wood. The oils also protect the wood from dry rot, which is a common problem in older wooden furniture. What's more, the oils and rubber protect the heart of the wood from invaders like fungi and parasites that can destroy other woods. Protecting wooden furniture from such intruders requires applications of weatherproof oils and treatments; not so with teak.

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All of this makes teak a perfect material for outdoor furniture. As it weathers over time, the wood goes from a honey brown color to a slivery gray. Although teak is expensive, you can take the money you would have spent on annual waterproofing and apply it to buying outdoor teak furniture. Since teak is also an extremely durable and strong wood, a teak patio set owner can expect his or her purchase to last for many years. In caves in Western India, objects made from teak more than 2,000 years ago have been found intact -- astonishing for untreated, uncared-for wood [source: Sims]. This also offsets the initial costs of teak, especially once you consider furniture replacement costs.

Some teak wood is better than others, however. One type of teak, called sapwood, doesn't have the same robust properties that teak made from the heart of the tree possesses. Sapwood is named for the outer layer of any tree; the inner layers of the tree are collectively known as the heart. Trees grow outward from the center, so the tree's natural oils are found in more abundance in its heart. This makes teak heart wood more valuable than sapwood, which makes heart teak more expensive. Moreover, a tree has far more sapwood than heart wood, which also accounts for the increased price.

If you decide to take the plunge and spring for well-made teak heart wood furniture with low water content and that's certified to have been sustainably harvested from the PT Perhutani forestry reserve, there's not much you'll have to do -- except sit back and enjoy it. Sure, you're going to pay a high price for your furniture, but you'll likely be satisfied with your purchase over the long haul.

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Sources

  • Sims, Steve. "Teak furniture and the benefits of using Teak wood." Ezine Articles. Accessed March 24, 2009.http://ezinearticles.com/?Teak-Furniture-and-the-Benefits-of-Using-Teak-Wood&id=260660
  • "About Teakwood." Teak Garden Indonesia. Accessed March 24, 2009. http://www.teakgardenindonesia.com/about-teakwood/
  • "About our Teak products furniture." Balinese Furnitures. Accessed March 24, 2009. http://balinesefurnitures.kayukayu.com/furniture_tutorial/furniture_product.html
  • "History of Teak." AmegaWood. Accessed March 24, 2009. http://www.amegawood.com/teak_general_history.php