Teak wood is a product of a tropical hardwood tree known for its beauty and durability. These are among the reasons you chose teak as a material for making outdoor furniture.
What you probably don’t know is that there are varying degrees of quality of teak and even fake teak wood. There are, in particular, three grades of teak. Grades A to C. Teak tree grows most notably in Myanmar, China, and the Philippines. Further, there is also synthetic teak.
Let us guide you on how to identify teak wood, go through the characteristics of true teak wood, the differences between the types of teak wood, and applications for the wood.
We’ll also go through the proper maintenance so that the attractive pieces of furniture stay in top shape.
But first, how do you identify wood types in general? Find out!
What Does Teak Wood Look Like?
Teak wood has a long straight grain resembling dark streaks. In its natural state, the wood has golden brown to a yellowish-white color.
However, teak can mask its true color if stained, as usual with any stained wood. Ensure to ask and identify these features if you’re looking for teak wood.
With the popularity of teak, sometimes lower quality furniture is polished to look like teak. This lower-quality furniture looks tempting and a good proposition. The problem is, these won’t last as long.
Make sure you get the real thing instead of inauthentic, low-quality furniture made from other woods. Here are the characteristics of real teak wood:
How to Identify Teak Wood
1. Original teak wood colour
Teak wood color varies depending on the wood’s species and from which part of the tree it was cut. The original teak wood color ranges from dark golden brown and different golden tones to yellowish-white.
The yellowish-white is the sapwood or the tree’s outer layer. The heartwood, meanwhile, is the part that’s golden brown and is stronger; it has the typical oil that keeps insects away.
Grade A exudes warmth with its golden honey hue. Grade B’s brown color varies but basically is dark golden brown. A classified C teak has patches and its brightest color is yellowish-white.
True teak wood lightens due to exposure to the sun, from dark to light and golden in a matter of hours. Further exposure will cause this bright golden yellow color to turn to a shade of silver-grey. And if you find black spots, these are caused by mold and mildew.
2. Real teak wood texture or Teak wood grains
You can identify teak wood by its very attractive straight grain and smooth surface, smooth enough that it will not snag clothes. Said grain is a result of plain sawing.
It can sometimes have a wavy grain or interlocked grain, yet it still has a generally straight grain. You will notice these as the straight grains are darker than the rest of the wood.
This generally straight grain can be seen in the growth rings. These growth rings reflect the weather conditions the tree has gone through in its lifetime and indicate its growth pattern.
This growth pattern shows unpredictability as teak grows at different rates across different seasons. In case the wood doesn’t have a straight grain pattern, ask the dealer about its origin.
Is teak wood heavy? Dry teak weighs around 41lbs/ft³ or 655kg/m³. It is very dense and semi-heavy wood compared to other types of lumber. Thus, if the lumber feels light, it’s not teak.
For comparison, English Elm, also used for outdoor furniture, weighs 35 lbs/ft³ (675kg/m³), while Honduran Mahogany is at 37 lbs/ft³ (590kg/m³).
Given that it is moderately heavy, be ready to have a sturdy and thick furniture set.
4. Oil content
A teak tree stands out because teak naturally produces its own oil, and it can make a lot of oil. You can identify teak wood furniture by its oily touch and the strong smell of old leather.
Oil has a lion’s share of its mass. As a teak tree grows, the oil can cover five percent of the tree’s weight. That’s why the older the tree, the greater protection it has against the weather and termites.
This is the main difference between teak and other solid wood, which has less oil and more water. It’s this oil that also gives teak its color.
When the oil dries up, the color changes from the original golden brown, golden yellow, or dark brown to silver-grey in nine to 12 months.
Even though the volume of oil increases the older the tree grows, young trees, for instance, those 15 years young, have the same mechanical properties as mature teak trees (20 to 25 years old).
The smell of teak wood also comes from the oils. You can identify teak wood furniture by its leather-like scent. If in case you don’t smell anything, it’s probably not original teak wood furniture.
Pro tip: Teak, which has higher quality, will have more oil; thus, you will pick up the leather-like smell easier.
6. Water test
Do the water test to know if you have original teak wood furniture. First, put drops of water on the lumber. You’ll see the droplets sit on the surface with high-quality teak wood, not absorbed immediately, as what you’ll see in other woods.
Types of Teak Wood (By Origin)
1. Burmese teak wood
These trees grow in the forests of Myanmar. The wood is a golden or medium brown that grows darker with age. If you look closely, the grain is straight, though sometimes they interlock.
These are best known for durability and resistance to water and rot. Easy to work with and polish, these are used for carvings and possible design elements.
In addition, it’s easy to maintain. You’ll only need to wipe with a cloth daily and re-polish after a few years so your project will shine again.
Indonesian teak wood is grade A and has top-notch durability and resistance. Plus, it ages well. Alternatively, you can apply teak oil to your outdoor furniture, and it will have a honeyed tone.
This type is certified by Friends of the Earth and the Rainforest Alliance–primarily because the wood is grown for harvesting and preserving the rainforests of Indonesia.
Although a tad expensive, you can count on indoor furniture to withstand different seasons for years. And if you apply oil, the years will turn into decades.
3. African plantation
True to its name, this type is cultivated teak–the trees grow in African plantations. The drawback is the tree is harvested after 15 to 25 years.
This translates to having less natural oils — having less resistance to rot and termite versus Burmese or Indonesian teak.
Nonetheless, African teak wood looks similar to other types – having brown, green, or yellow-brown bark. It also has a straight grain but is farther apart.
Moreover, you can manipulate it with your hands or with power tools. This type is ideal for doors and windows, parquet, furniture, and garden furniture.
4. South American plantation
This has the same color, oil content, quality, and wood grain as African teak. Its rich golden brown color draws in people, so much so that it can be a focal design element in a room.
This type also has natural protection against water, rot, and termites. Its natural oil makes it smoother the more it is used. Plus, this type has less contraction rate when exposed to wind, heat, and even ocean water
Indian teak wood is comparable to Burmese teak as it’s grown in old-growth forests in India. This type has the chance to grow for a longer time. The added time means more oil, making the teak wood better protected from the elements and termites.
Moreover, it will have an amazing finish on the furniture. These attributes attract a high demand in the international market for this type.
Deemed to have the highest quality among teak types (even better than Burmese), the climatic and geographic conditions strengthen the teak trees. This is because the tree’s roots must stretch deeper into the soil to reach the water.
These harsh conditions strengthen the tree, which serves as a guarantee that the furniture from the wood can also endure the elements.
This makes the wood ideal for outdoor furniture. Because of high demand, the Thai teak tree has been declared a part of endangered species and is no longer available in the international market.
Brazilian teak wood, more popularly known as cumaru, is not real teak. Its dark to reddish-brown hue grabs the eyes; has a fine grain and is resistant to damage from worms and moths, as it had thrived in the Amazon forest.
It stands out for being strong and hard, and for its smooth surface. Plus, it emits a tinge of cinnamon and vanilla, when you work on it (as opposed to the leather smell of other teak types).
With these and the protection from natural oils, you’re sure that the wood will last long. A bonus is that it maintains its great finish over time.
The only drawback is that it’s difficult to work on, because of being hard and its interlocking grain. Thus, you’ll need pre-drilling or hidden installation hardware.
8. African plantation
African teak wood, more popularly known as afrormosia, looks the same as the other types. It has brown, green, or yellow-brown tones on the bark and the grain is straight.
It’s not real teak wood, yet it has similar weight, strength, and rot resistance. Because it’s only allowed to grow from 15 to 25 years, it has fewer natural oils. This translates to less protection from rot and insects.
Nonetheless, this is ideal for joinery, building a boat, and decorative veneer. Compared to teak wood, afrormosia costs less and is also easy to work with.
9. South American
This is similar to African teak wood in quality, color, teak natural oil content, and arrangement of wood grains.
This is also not real teak wood, but Robinia wood or black locust wood. Its grain looks the same as teak and is stable and heavy. Plus, it can also withstand different weather conditions.
The big difference is in the teak wood price, as Chinese teak costs 40 percent less.
Is Teak Great for Indoors or Outdoors?
Original teak wood is excellent for outdoor projects and equally great for indoors. The big difference is that it’s usually graded A, the best quality teak used for indoor furniture.
For one, grade A has a deep golden color and even grain. Thus, it’s unnecessary to put varnish or stain on it. It’s also resistant to impact, reducing the need for maintenance while maintaining its integrity for years to come.
Pro tip: Put oil regularly on the furniture to prevent water stains, marks, and cracking. Outdoors, the wood can withstand a beating from the weather. Thus, it’s great as park benches, pool benches, and outdoor furniture.
Teak wood is stiffer than other solid wood and has a wide range of uses, unlike softwoods. Whether for flooring or a simple bathroom mat, teak wood is resistant to impact and needs little maintenance.
Advantages of Using Teak Wood
Being resistant to light and heat and immune to moisture and water are the advantages of using teak wood. That’s why teak outdoor furniture is in-demand among furniture makers versus other cheap solid wood.
A teak tree is a tropical hardwood tree classified under the family Verbenaceae. Trees from this family typically live for 100 years, and the quality of wood improves over time.
Its durability can be seen in how a teak tree bends against strong winds but does not break. Plus, the tree’s rubber content makes it a dimensionally stable wood, with a dimensional stability coefficient of 0.34%.
This means it only shrinks or swells minimally when moisture content increases or decreases or there’s a change in the environment.
2. Weather resistant
With teak’s high rubber content and tight grain, it can withstand moisture, water, and extreme heat even if teak outdoor furniture is placed directly under the sun. The wood is also immune to rot.
Related: Can Teak Wood be Painted?
3. Termite resistant
Teak’s natural oils make it termite-resistant and immune to fungal stains and other pests. In addition, you won’t need to polish the wood.
Yes, termites can still eat the wood, but they don’t like doing so. Thus, it’s advisable to dab orange oil –citric acids to irritate and kill termites.
It’s common for teak to last 70 years. This can be attributed to lumber’s natural protection against pests, moisture, and heat.
Despite being hard, teak can be carved using chisels and a mallet. Just be ready to re-sharpen your tools as the silica in the wood can accelerate tool wear. It’s also best to do shallow cuts to prevent your cutting edge from getting lost in the grain.
Read also: Pros and cons of rubber wood furniture
Given teak’s resilience against moisture, water, heat, and termites, it’s one of the most preferred lumber in the following applications:
- Making boats – used in decking, toe rails, cockpit, cockpit coamings, aft bulkhead, bridge cap rail, and helm pod.
- Floor surfaces, doors, and windows – its natural beauty makes it a hit inside the house.
- Outdoor furniture – good for decks, chairs, tables, loungers, balconies, and pools.
- Water bottle – because teak cannot be pervaded by water.
- Frame for sunglasses – a testament to the wood’s beauty.
- Bicycle frame – its strength and durability.
Caring for Teak Wood Furniture
Here are our tips to keep your teak wood furniture clean and beautiful for a long time.
1. How to clean
Clean your teak wood furniture regularly. We can’t avoid fruit, bird droppings, dirt, grease, and leaves from constantly appearing.
But there’s nothing a brush with stiff bristles and warm water cannot remove. Follow the wood’s grain to avoid scratches. For more stubborn stains and dirt, use dishwashing soap and warm water.
Let the solution stay on your teak wood furniture for at least five minutes. Then wipe it dry with a soft cloth or use a hose.
2. How to retain color
At the onset, your furniture has the color of honey. Over time this changes to soft silver-gray, brought about by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
There’s a way, however, to maintain the honey color of your teak wood furniture. Simply apply a teak protector. This prevents oxidation – which causes the wood to turn grey– and prevents oil stains caused by food and drinks.
3. How to preserve
The biggest enemy of teak wood furniture is the sun’s UV rays. Thus, you need a cover for UV protection. Store the teak wood furniture when not in use and during the winter.
Apply a good teak cleaner or rub faded areas with fine-grit sandpaper. This will bring out its original golden hue. Don’t use harsh chemicals, steel wool, or a power washer that might damage the teak wood furniture.
Moreover, immediately remove rainwater or any pool of water to prevent stains. These are the most common finishes.
Oil – shields against the sun’s UV rays. The problem is that oil sips teak’s natural moisture, causing deterioration.
Lacquer – gives the best finish for indoor projects. UV rays break down lacquer and varnish over time, thus damaging your furniture.
There are, however concerns about using lacquer on teak wood furniture. Lacquer is highly flammable and bad for the health if inhaled.
Varnish – You might think varnish or stain will protect your teak wood furniture. But water can still get through the varnish, causing flaking, peeling, and cracking. Varnish teak wood furniture, where it’s unlikely to get wet.
Read about the difference between teak and walnut to understand their contrasting characteristics.
How to identify teak wood?
- Color – The real teak wood color is golden brown.
- Grain/Texture – Original teak wood grain is long and straight
- Weight-Dense and semi-heavy wood
- Oil content-Teak wood has an oily touch
- Scent-Teak wood has a leather-like smell
- Water test-Droplets of water sit on the surface of the teak wood and are not absorbed immediately.
Is teak a good material for outdoor furniture?
Yes, teak is a good material for outdoor furniture. Teak is one of the strongest and most durable hardwoods. Even more, it has a natural oil that repels moisture, rain, and extreme heat, making it weather resistant. Consider buying teak if you are looking for wooden furniture, specifically one that can stay outside.
Do I need to put a stain on teak wood?
Yes, you can put stain on teak wood. Mostly, it is perfect to apply oil stain as the wood is used for exterior purposes. Although you can also use water-based, oil-based stains tend to be more durable. This backs up the water resistance property and durability of teak wood.
How long will teak furniture last?
Teak furniture will last for approximately 75 years. But with the lumber’s strength and natural protection, it can last 100 years. The lumber’s strength and density make it resistant to rot, insect damage, and warping. Plus, teak produces natural oil, preventing it from drying out and making it durable.
How to identify Burma teak wood
Look for uniform golden brown color to identify Burma teak wood. This specie of teak is the heartwood, and you’ll hardly see any mark. You can also feel the touch, which should be oily considering its natural oil content.
How to check teak wood Summary
With teak’s popularity and the different types, you must know how to identify teak wood. We don’t want to waste money on copycats.
When looking for teak, ensure the wood has a golden brown color and a straight and tight grain. Also, feel and smell the wood.
Plus, check the labels attached to the lumber, and inquire with your favorite furniture store to ensure the teak is authentic.