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What About Teak? (page 6 of 7)

by Yuri Bihun

Elephants and castles: Traditional Harvest of Teak

The art and science of modern forestry was virtually unknown outside middle Europe when Sir Dietrich Brandis first went to British colony of Burma in 1856. Over a period of 40 years, he established the foundation of the "Burma Selection System," one of first examples of systematic timber harvesting and a pioneering work in silviculture. Because the only practical method of bring teak timber to market was by floating it, Brandis devised a system of harvesting based on traditional Burmese methods. Until recently, no mechanized equipment was utilized in the harvest of natural teak forests and traditional harvesting methods are still the primary method of logging.

Teak, like most tropical hardwoods, is extremely dense and heavy; and unlike softwoods, it won't float unless it is practically bone dry. Therefore, teak trees are systematically "girdled." A broad circular cut is made with an ax or chainsaw through the bark and sapwood right into the dark brown heartwood. In affect, this girdling disrupts the translocation of carbohydrates and within a season or two, the tree is dead. After two or three years of drying on the stump, the trees are felled, cut into logs and dragged or "yarded" to feeder streams by oxen, water buffaloes and elephants. The yarding is done during the rainy season when the ground is moist and slippery so the heavy timber glides easier. The logs are floated singly down the smaller streams and when they reach the main stream or river they are collected and formed into rafts. Log rafts are transported to manufacturing facilities to be transformed to lumber, veneer and secondary products or gearbulked on commercial vessels for export around the world.

Care And Maintenance Of Teak

In addition to longevity, a key virtue of teak is that it is virtually maintenance-free, even with long exposure to rain, snow or strong sunlight. Teak furniture requires little to no care and will maintain its strength and attractiveness for decades. The polished appearance of teak furniture comes from oil occurring naturally in the wood. The surface oil will evaporate after a few days outdoors but it is the sub-surface oil gives that gives the wood its durability. After a short time outdoors, six to nine months, depending on the amount of exposure, the untreated furniture acquires an attractive silver-gray patina which is part of the look associated with teak.

During the weathering process, small cracks in the end grain, or lifting of the grain may occur on the top edges of the arms and legs. Called "checking," his is a natural process, as wood expands and contracts slightly when left outdoors. The grain will return to its original smooth finish after the initial weathering process and has no affect on the stability of the furniture. Water spots or other discoloration may also occur during the weathering process. These will even out, and the furniture will achieve a uniform silver-gray. Some of these oils bleed out following the first few rainfalls and care should be taken to protect cushions and upholstery until the furniture has seasoned. According to teak dealers, once the teak has this patina, it is advisable not to apply any oil at all because it may cause mildew or irregular coloring. For indoor furniture use, manufacturers suggest using Briwax or Johnson's Wax.

The only maintenance necessary for teak furniture is periodic cleaning. A leading teak dealer, Kingsley-Bate, recommends a solution of four parts laundry detergent or dish-washing soap and one part bleach applied with a soft bristle brush and thoroughly rinsed to remove the dirt and any remaining solution. For deeper cleaning the use of teak cleaner is required. To keep the furniture the original golden color, various teak sealer products will maintain the color but must be reapplied on a regular annual basis. After the furniture has weathered, these cleaners will restore the furniture to the natural golden color regardless of how long the piece has been outside.

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