Outdoor Furniture-Teak: Understanding Teak

Before you invest in teak outdoor furniture, you should invest some time in understanding where it comes from and how to make an informed purchase decision.

Tectona grandis is a deciduous (annual) hardwood tree indigenous to the dry, hilly terrains of Southeast Asia and Indonesia. It is extremely lean-grained and highly resistant to decay, warping, shrinkage and swelling. These characteristics make teak patio furniture extremely durable. Teak has a high natural oil content which acts as a natural preservative, allowing furniture made from this wood to be left outdoors for decades.

How durable is teak? Early sailing ships were often made from teak, which were impervious to a maritime environment (salt water, rain, high winds). In fact, the many of the first outdoor teak benches were made of recycled decking from old sailing ships. Public parks in England boast recycled teak benches many of which are nearly centuries old, as England had one of the first modern navy.

Teak wood ages gracefully – kind of like Sofia Loren or Paul Newman. If left to the elements, teak develops a silver grayish coloring which, over time can be left as or revived to its original patina by lighting sanding and the application of a little teak oil. Many people prefer machine made furniture.

Teak furniture manufacturing in Indonesia is generally placed in one of three categories: handmade, semi-machine made, or fully machine made.

Contrary to popular belief, the words "handmade" and "furniture" do not go well together when it comes to teak outdoor furniture.

Handmade means just that: handmade. An Indonesian "teak factory" that makes manufacturers handmade furniture looks an awful lot like a rural village with "artisians" sitting around in their yards whittling. This may look good in those home-made vacation videos or as neighborhood barbeque conversation, but home made means less than perfect furniture.

Handmade teak furniture may feature "character" or "unique detailing" but no two will look precisely alike. Handmade teak is probably the cheapest that money can buy, since Southeast Asia boasts some of the cheapest labor around.

Semi-machine made furniture is produced using power tools in a factory. Cuts and bores are more precise although pieces are extremely fitted by hand. A skilled and experienced furniture maker, with the proper training and experience can produce very legitimate semi-machine products with a higher degree of uniformity than handmade.

Of course, semi-machine made furniture is more expensive to produce than handmade furniture but is almost always worth the difference.

Full machine factories exclusively use power equipment, tooling, dies and processes intended to take the guess work out of the manufacturing process. Two exact pieces of teak furniture made from a full machine factory will be indistinguishable from one another and looks more "expensive".

Robert Von Voigt

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