December 14, 2022
Not so long ago, a close friend who had recently dabbled in woodworking asked me whether Teak wood is a good insulator. I told him it is a good choice as an insulator because it does not get too hot or too cold, even during frigid and hot months. Yet, teak wood is not only a good insulator. It has many other remarkable qualities that make it ideal for many applications. But what is Teak wood?
The scientific name of the tropical hardwood, Teak, is Tectona grandis. It belongs to the family Lamiaceae, and it is a deciduous tree, meaning it sheds its leaves during autumn. It also bears small but fragrant flowers formed in dense clusters. Teak is native to Southeast and South Asia, primarily in India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. In Southeast Asia, it is native to Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.
What is the Hardness Rating of Teak Wood?
Teak wood gets classified as hardwood and strong wood. Its strength hinges on its close grain, meaning it can withstand the vicissitudes of weather and temperature. Besides, it is not susceptible to twisting or warping compared to other wood types.
The hardness of wood is measured using the Janka Hardness Test. This test measures the wood’s ability to withstand wear and denting and gets expressed in Kilo Newtons or Pounds-force.
Teak wood has a Janka rating of 1,155 lbf, making it harder than Black Cherry and all softwoods. However, compared to other hardwoods like Brazilian Cherry (2350), Hickory (1820), and even White Oak (1,360), Teak is less hard.
Teak, although hard, is not immune to shape and texture change over time. Minor splits and fractures may appear on its surface when it dries and matures. Yet, this must not be a cause for alarm for you because such an occurrence is quite natural due to calcium deposits. Nevertheless, this doesn’t affect the wood’s structural integrity.
Teak, as a hardwood, offers dimensional stability. It has around a 5.3% shrinkage coefficient. Compared to Brazilian Teak and Oak, the shrinkage of Teak is far smaller.
The Colors and Grain Texture of Teak Wood
One way to distinguish Teak from other wood types is by looking at its color. The heartwood of Teak is somewhat yellowish, and it darkens over time. At times, you will see dark patches on its heartwood. Besides, Teak wood exudes a scent akin to leather when newly cut.
The sapwood of Teak, however, carries a light yellowish-brown color. You can distinguish its sapwood from its heartwood due to the medium-brown to golden color of the heartwood. Besides, the heartwood has straight grains with a slightly greasy texture due to natural oils.
The premium or A-grade Teak doesn’t exhibit any blemish or knots. This teak wood grade usually gets exported, while local artisans and builders use the other grades.
People buy Teak because of its distinctive color, which is lustrous, rich golden brown, and quite unique. This color is due to the natural oils of Teakwood. Nevertheless, Teak’s color can also fade when these natural oils dry out.
This drying-out process happens if you leave the Teak wood outdoors, exposed to the elements of nature. You can restore the original Teak wood’s color by treating it with teak oil. Yet, even with the constant application of oil, its color will fade over time.
Applications and Uses of Teak Wood
Teak is remarkable for its warm color, strength, durability, and resistance to damaging elements and pests. Thus, it is a versatile wood that can adapt to any situation and condition. Shipbuilders love to use Teak for its high water resistance. Besides, it doesn’t splinter quickly, making it a good choice outdoors and indoors.
Since teak wood has natural oil contents, tight grain, and high tensile strength, it is perfect for applications that require high weather resistance. You can use it for boat decks and outdoor furniture. You can also use it for indoor flooring, cutting boards, countertops, and veneers.
Teak wood gets also used for deck railings. Besides, it gets used for making window frames and doors. It also gets used for beams and columns. You can work this wood efficiently, but it can also blunt your cutting tools due to the high silica content of the wood.
With the incredible resistance of Teak against water and weather, many prefer to use it for outdoor applications. Teak furniture could last even a century if exposed to water and UV lights. Indoor furniture, of course, will last longer.
You can use Teak for indoor furniture and as a decorative wood. You can also use it for flooring or millwork, or shelving. Nevertheless, Teak is not inexpensive.
Different Types & Species of Teak Wood
There are varying types of Teak wood, and if you intend to use it for your woodworking projects, it will be best to familiarize yourself with these different types:
1) Indonesian Teak Wood
Indonesian Teak wood refers to a tropical hardwood native to Java, Indonesia. It can grow up to forty meters with a maximum diameter of 1.5 meters. However, this Teak species gets rarely found because it often gets cut down for furniture making.
The Janka Hardness rating of Indonesian Teak wood is 980 lbf. It will fully mature within thirty years and gets considered to be an excellent plantation for Teak wood.
The Indonesian Teak wood, however, is second to Burma Teak wood regarding quality. It features a broader grain with lots of natural oils. It also has sound knots. Besides, it has a light-brown tone with hues of light grey.
Indonesian Teak wood got formerly used for rail pads. It also gets used to make the President Cup Trophy instead of metal or gold. Besides, the more leaves the Indonesian Teak tree has, the younger it is.
The Indonesian Teak grows in calcareous and dry areas. This Teak tree found in Indonesia initially came from India. In the 15th Century, Teak seeds were shipped to Indonesia when new Hindu kingdoms developed in this archipelago.
2) Burmese Teak Wood
Burmese Teak wood has the scientific name of the Tectonic Grandis. It grows in Southeastern Asia, Latin America, and Africa. It has a maximum height of 130 feet, and its Janka Hardness rating is 1,050 lbf.
This old-growth tree is native to Myanmar and Burma. Hence it is referred to as Burmese Teak. It fully matures when it reaches 50 years of age and is the most excellent Teak wood you will ever find today.
The Burmese Teak features a golden hue, elegant grains, and many natural oils. It gets also considered the hardest and most durable Teak. Its heartwood exhibits medium-brown to golden hues, becoming darker as it ages. Its grains seem impeccable, but in some instances, they can be wavy.
Burmese Teak also has a coarse texture characterized by a natural sheen. Its wood is perfect for shipbuilding and outdoor furniture. Besides, it is excellent for many woodworking projects.
3) African Plantation Teak Wood
This Teak has the scientific name of Afromorsia Elata and is grown in Central Africa. For this reason, it gets referred to as such. It has a maximum height of 160 feet or 48.768 meters with a 1,070 Janka Hardness rating. It can mature at the age of 25 years and can get harvested.
This Teak has low natural oils and is less durable and robust than Burmese Teak wood or Indonesian Teak wood. It has a pale light brown hue, and its grains get widely distributed. Besides, it comes with sound knots.
This Teak wood is also less heavy compared to other Teak wood species. Nevertheless, it is durable. You can use it for many woodworking applications, including wood joinery, boat building, decorative veneer, etc.
4) African Teak Wood
Another type of Teak wood has the name African Teak Wood. It also grows in Africa and has a maximum growth of 120 feet. Its hardness rating is 1,000 Janka. Moreover, this wood gets also referred to as Iroko. It has larger and fewer pores.
The African Teak Wood has straight grains with minimal knots. It is also resistant to damage and rotting. You can use this wood as a substitute for A-grade Teak wood for outdoor applications and construction.
5) South American Teak Wood
One Teak Wood species that grows in South America gets also referred to as the South American Teak. Its real name is Garapa, and It is called Brazilian Ash and is dense and durable. It features a golden hue with fine grain.
It is not that expensive, but moderately priced. Moreover, it is excellent for exterior applications like decking. It will surely outlast other popular wood types used for decking.
This wood gets marketed under the name Teak because it has similar properties and uses as Teak. Nevertheless, it is not a real Teak.
Its Janka Hardness rating is 1,650 lbf, and it is very stable. It is not that easy to work with, but moderately easy, even if it is dense. It also doesn’t necessitate any treatment to make it last.
6) Thailand Teak Wood
Thailand Teak wood is native to Thailand and can grow up to 120 feet. It has a Janka Hardness rating of 1,100 lbf and is superior to the Burma Teak variety. It is the best Teak wood due to the optimal growing conditions in Thailand.
Nevertheless, this wood is listed as endangered because of overcutting and overexploitation. Hence, the government prohibits the cutting of this tree. At present, this wood is not available in the market.
7) Dahat Teak
Another type of Teak is the Dahat Teak which is grown in Myanmar. We don’t know the exact number of this Teak species. Moreover, as of the moment, this tree belongs to an endangered species.
This wood is expensive because it is rare and has a maximum height of 26 feet. Its trunk is 2 feet and three inches wide at its maximum.
8) Indian Teak
The Indian Teak has a Janka Hardness rating of 1,070 lbf and can grow up to one hundred feet. It is native to India and is popular wood. It is similar to Burmese Teak in excellence and is in high demand.
However, it isn’t easy to find this wood in the market. This wood has beautiful color and is dense. It is also replete with excellent natural oils. Thus, it is perfect for elegant furniture.
9) South American Plantation Teak Wood
This wood is grown in South America and has a maximum height of 120 feet. It also has a hardness rating of 970 Janka. It is somewhat like African Teak wood in color and other qualities. It also has a similar wood grain arrangement. You will find it hard to differentiate these two Teak wood types.
10) Chinese Teak Wood
The Chinese Teak wood gets also referred to as the Golden Teak wood. Nevertheless, it is not a genuine Teak. Its actual name is Black Locust or Robinia. It is like the natural Teak. Thus, it gets often used as an alternative to the real Teak. Claims say this wood can get harvested within five to seven years and still produce good quality lumber.
The Chinese Teak wood has a grain arrangement similar to the genuine Teak and is relatively stable and hefty. As a tyro in woodworking, you may find it hard to differentiate natural Teak from Chinese Teak.
Chinese Teak is less expensive than genuine Teak. Its wood has qualities that are somewhat in between softwood and hardwood. This wood is planted as an avenue tree and for the plywood industry.
11) Brazilian Teak Wood
Brazilian Teak wood is grown in South America and can grow up to 80 feet. It features a Janka Hardness rating of 3,540 lbf. Besides, it gets referred to as Cumaru or Ipe. It is not a genuine Teak but is quite hard and stable. It is also durable and resistant to pests and worms.
Brazilian Teak wood’s grain arrangement is not the same as that of genuine Teak wood, and its color is reddish-brown instead of the typical golden brown. It is rot and decay-resistant. Plus, it is resistant to termites and other pests.
Brazilian Teak wood allows for an excellent and shiny finish, and it is smooth. Furthermore, it exudes a vanilla-cinnamon odor that you would surely love.
Cumaru is quite expensive, and it is very much available likewise. It is very dense, however, which makes it challenging to work with.
12) Philippine Teak
The Philippine Teak is also an endangered species of Teak. It is native to the Philippines, and thus, it gets named after that beautiful country. This Teak wood is hard and heavy with a density of 0.710. It is light yellow, and its grain is waxy with a fine texture with thinner rays. It also has whitish deposits and is ring-porous.
Philippine Teak has high density and strength, which you can use for heavy-duty structural applications. Its scientific name is Tectona philippinensis. Locally, it is called Bunglas or Malabayabas. It is glossy, heavy, and hard. It also has smaller pores compared to the Tectona Grandis.
Classifications of Teakwood by Grade
Teak wood gets also classified according to grades. This grading of Teak wood hinges on the wood’s durability when used for furniture making. Below are the different grade classifications of Teak wood:
A-Grade Teak wood belongs to the highest quality of Teak. This wood originates from the heartwood or the log center. This wood is also taken from a fully mature tree. Thus, it has an elegant golden color and uniform texture. It also features high glossiness and close grains with rich natural oils.
This wood is highly resistant to weather because of the natural oils that enable it to resist harsh outdoor elements. These natural oils also repel insects and pests. Besides, it only consists of one-fourth of the total log; thus, it is costly.
B-Grade Teak wood is derived from part of the outer heartwood. It consists of one-third of the Teak wood log. Thus, it is less expensive than Grade A. It also features a lighter color, and its grain is uneven. Besides, it doesn’t have the luster of Grade-A wood. Moreover, it carries minimal natural oils and is not totally weather resistant. You can enhance its resistance to weather by staining it.
C-Grade Teak belongs to the lower Teak wood quality. It is taken mainly from the sapwood. It doesn’t have natural oils, and its color is not even. This wood grade is usually softer and can get easily damaged. Besides, it doesn’t have natural protection from pests and insects. You can’t also use this for indoor furniture because of its low quality. It is also less expensive and is not that durable.
Workability of Teak Wood
After knowing the different types and grades of Teak wood, you can now distinguish one type of Teak wood from another. Nevertheless, it will also help if you know the level of workability of Teak wood:
Sanding Teak wood can be slightly tacky because of its natural oils. You can use a stiff brush for this purpose. When sanding, you need to stop intermittently to do away with dust. However, its surface becomes shiny and beautiful when sanded using fine-grit paper. The reason is its natural oils enable better polishing on its surface.
You should be wary, however, of allergic reactions to Teak dust because some people exhibit such allergies. So, it will help if you wear your dust mask when sanding.
You will find planing Teak wood easy due to its natural oils. You can also crosscut and rip it with ease. It is even easier to work with Teak than Oak. Though dulling of bits may happen, you can also easily route this wood.
When drilling this wood, you can use a high-speed bit to make a clean hole. Besides, it is easy to chisel and carve. Thus, Teak wood is excellent for dovetailing and joineries. Moreover, it doesn’t crack or split when milled and dried correctly.
Teak is moderately easy to machine. It is hard, but it crosscuts and rips easily. It will help if you use carbide blades when dealing with Teak because its natural silica can dull your cutting blades quickly. This dulling of cutting edges is due to this wood’s natural oil and silica content.
Teak is also not easy to finish. It has natural oils that could interfere and react with the adhesion and drying process of the finish. You can remove its surface resin when finishing to lessen its repelling tendency. You can also remove this resin using one-hundred percent pure solvent that jives well with the finish.
You can use Epoxy to glue this wood together, especially if you will glue large surfaces. The most recommended glues are Gorilla Glue and Tightbond. You can also apply glue directly to freshly-cut Teak wood. If you find the surface oily, you can use acetone to scrub the oily area. Afterward, let the wood surface dry.
You can use your chisels and mallet to carve this wood. This wood, of course, is easy to carve and takes fine details. Nevertheless, its silica content can cause dulling of your tools, and thus, it will help to use power carvers using carbide burrs when dealing with this wood.
How Can You Maintain Your Teak Wood Furniture?
Teak wood will last longer even if you don’t treat it. It has natural oils that prevent rotting and pest attacks. Thus, you can just leave the wood unfinished. Nevertheless, if the wood is unfinished, it may turn gray when exposed to UV light over time.
You can prolong and preserve its natural tone by applying a finish, primarily if you use it outdoors. You can use marine or spar varnish for this purpose. Marine varnish can help limit the effects of UV rays on this wood. Thus, you can prevent discoloration using this process. It is not advisable to use conventional polyurethane varnish because it doesn’t carry UV inhibitors.
Aside from applying varnish and finish, you can also preserve its natural tone or color by using teak oil coating on the wood. This oil penetrates the surface, being made of varnish and tung oil.
Remember that you must maintain outdoor teak furniture regularly to prevent mold buildup. This way, you can keep the wood looking good over time.
To maintain the Teak wood, you can start by cleaning the surface with soapy water. Then scrub the surface with a non-abrasive tool. You can remove the residue using a clean cloth. Afterward, you can apply teak oil and wipe the spills.
As you read this post, you will learn that Teak wood is highly sought-after because of its sterling qualities. In fact, it is referred to as the king of wood because of its many applications and advantages. This wood is versatile. And its dimensional stability is remarkable. Moreover, its appearance, strength, and other qualities are exceptional.
Nevertheless, if you intend to use it, you will soon find that it is limitedly available. Besides, it is expensive because it is scarce. Moreover, it can wear down your cutting tools because of its hardness. It also needs regular maintenance, especially when used outdoors, to maintain its color and glossiness.
Liam is a 37-year-old woodworker and interior designer who loves to make every furniture project an art piece. He is very experienced in furniture design and woodworking project planning.