Teak: Sustaining a Giant
Teak is a wood in constant demand by woodcraft artisans and those who are willing to pay extra for the extreme quality only teak can deliver. Each year, the supply of teak thins a little more and the tree is notorious for being difficult to replace naturally due to it needing so much maturity before it can be harvested for use; an entire human life can go by in the same time frame. Where it is grown, the soil and climate conditions can deeply affect this sensitive tree and render it unusable in its normal capacity. In some areas, its forests have all but been depleted due to poachers and inadequate reforestation practices. Not all hope is lost, however, and thanks to conservation specialists, this versatile, beautiful, and durable wood has a sustainable future as a giant boon to humans who desire its unique properties.
A hardwood native to Southeast Asia this handsome, lustrous wood is a tropical deciduous, meaning it sheds or loses its leaves in the dry season. Even these leaves are something special, as Javanese locals living in the jungles use them as sandpaper due to the rough toughness of the leaf. However, the main attraction to this tree is their astounding resinous oils held in their heartwood, or inner core. These precious oils possess both anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties that highly resist disease, termites, warping, rot and decay, most insect scourges and a host of other problem that usually plague the tree world. Teak is not just strong, it is also flexible; so resilient that the fierce storms that ravage the Asian coastlines do little more than bend the trees in the wind and rain, but it takes more extraordinary forces than that to break them.
While other trees might be able to match the initial beauty and warmth of teak wood with its pale patina and rich, golden brown color, no other wood yet discovered can even approach the laissez-faire luster and glow of teak. It needs so little care, that it really needs none at all and still retain its attractive state, looking like it has been stained or proofed. Truth is, the oils of the wood waterproof it naturally, making it the perfect substance with which to deck boats and ships, a tradition that has been followed for a very long time. The silica and rubber inherent in the wood also keeps it from getting slippery when wet and offers a bit of traction found from no other tree types. Those oils that waterproof the wood keep it from rotting at all, really, as can be evidenced by the 2,000 year old pieces of teak found in the cave temples of Salsette and other locations in West India that are still in amazingly good condition. When left untreated and out in the elements, teak will eventually take on a silvery gray sheen that is wholly cosmetic; internally, nothing has changed and nothing has been lost, the integrity and strength of the wood left intact.
The History and Future of Teak
Teak has been prized and sought-after since ancient times, going back to the Ming Dynasty that started in 1368, when the Chinese built ships using teak. However, it has been traced back to the 7th century as well, when teak was used in Siam, now called Thailand, to make furniture for royal dwellings, trade ships and temples. More common use began in the Middle Ages and by the 1800s; the Dutch had discovered its virtues and teak became highly prized for its beauty and shape-ability. Its warm, romantic aura fit perfectly into the life ideal of the wealthy Victorian age and a great deal of furniture was imported to Europe to fill the demand. It became even more valuable with shipbuilders when it was discovered that besides being extremely tough and waterproof, teak does not splinter under gunfire. At the time, shrapnel from splintering wood was the main claim of sailors’ lives during naval warfare.
Sadly, teak does not bounce back easily thanks to the immense maturity the wood needs to gain all its properties. It does not grow just anywhere and many places that have tried to transplant it have discovered an inferior product is born that lacks the abilities of native teak. The Dutch had established some plantations in Indonesia and those do well, but many consider farmed teak to be less in quality, though there is no evidence to this when the soil and climate are the same. Outside of the trees’ natural range, however, much greater care needs to be taken because the teak will be lacking. Currently, some farms outside the range doing well are located in tropical Africa, South America, and Central America.
Teak requires at least 40 years to reach maturity; then it needs to be ‘scratched’ around the tree base to drain the water for a full year before it can be cut down and sent to the lumberyards. Even then, teak is so heavy that it will not float, so it is left for another three years to dry. Teak is considered the strongest and best when gathered from its indigenous areas of India, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, and Thailand, though Thailand ceased cutting in the 1980s until it could better regulate the reforestation of the trees and preserve the original, very rare old growth forests. Because of its need to be so old before it is ready to be felled, teak continues to prove extremely rare and therefore, valuable. High quality teak furniture is an investment, but absolutely worth the cost. Some plantations tried to get around this by taking the teak down at 30 years, but this proved disastrous; the characteristic swirl of the wood, the coloring, and the oils simply had not developed though modern drying techniques are improving to a point where a few years of waiting can be deleted.
As teak continues to be in demand, whether for use on ship decks, land decks, furniture, or whatever the human mind can create, the need to sustain the sources becomes evident. The natural strength, resilience, beauty, and workability of the wood can’t be overstated. With proper care and planning, we can keep this valuable, amazing resource replenished, alive, and protected for future generations.
Spotlight on the Author:
I am Malkit Ram and my wife’s name is Bimla. Together, we run and publish Allteakboutique, a website that promotes the beauty of teak at very reasonable costs. This includes the high quality and famous teak furniture makers of Barlow Garden Furniture and Kingsley Bate Teak Furniture. To better promote the wood of my native country, my family and I left India to take up residence in Wolverhampton, England. My family consist of three beautiful daughters, one amazing son, and an American Bulldog named Kano, who believes he is also a child.
While I enjoy train spotting in my free time, a hobby brought on by being a train engineer, my wife and I also deeply enjoy the beauty of the outdoors and the splendors of nature. We are often to be found outside relaxing in our own personal garden, which has become a sanctuary from the hum and thrum of a busy city life.
More info visit http://www.giantchess.com