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Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Lawns, Ground Cover, & Wildflowers

What About Teak? (page 5 of 7)

by Yuri Bihun

Teak: Queen of Tropical Timbers

Teak: Queen of Tropical Timbers
Milled teak ready for the furniture production line.

Teak is sometimes referred to as the queen of tropical hardwoods and according to 19th century German botanist Sir Dietrich Brandis, "...among timbers, it holds the place which the diamond maintains among precious stones and gold among metals." Teak varies from a yellow, strawlike color to rich, deep brown variegated with black streaks and a sharply demarcated, yellowish sapwood. When first cut, teak darkens with exposure to the air and has an oily surface and feels sticky to the hand with peculiar scent reminiscent old shoe leather. According to William Lincoln, British wood expert, the quality and color of the wood varies greatly with growing conditions and region. "The naturally grown teak from Burma is a uniform golden-brown color without markings but most other teak is rich brown with darker chocolate brown streaks. Indian teaks are straight or wavy grained and mottled and so oily to the touch, it is marked with white glistening deposits."

Many woodworkers claim there is a marked difference between naturally grown stands and plantation timber. Because of faster growing conditions, the rings are wider and the density and oil content of plantation-grown timber is lower. Boatbuilders, in particular, prefer the color, tight vertical grain and higher durability of slow-grown, natural teak. The weight of teak varies from 38- to 43 pounds per cubic-foot, or a little more than half an equal amount of water (specific gravity is .55). For comparison purposes, this is somewhere between white ash as red oak. The wood is kiln-dried for months to reduce water content, eliminating shrinkage or expansion that could stress joints. Teak dries slowly but once seasoned properly, it is vary stable wood with little movement in service.

Although it doesn't have the high silica content of some tropical hardwoods, blunting of tools can be rather severe and carbide cutters are recommended. It has a tendency to split and pre-boring is necessary for nailing. Teak is easily worked with both hand and machine tools but the dust can cause skin irritation. The mechanical properties of teak make it unsurpassed as a utilitarian wood used for a wide spectrum of applications: fine furniture, cabinetmaking, interior and exterior joinery, floors, exterior structural works and garden furniture. Teak is also cut for all grades of plywood. Sliced and decorative face veneers became popular in the post-war Europe with the Scandinavian style furniture and architectural interiors. It is also fire and acid resistant and has been used for chemical vats, fume ducts and laboratory benches

Teak's most outstanding characteristic, however, is its durability and high resistance to water absorption, hence its wide use in ship and boat building for decking, rails, and hatches. Another unique property is it does not cause rust or corrosion in contact with metal. The heartwood of teak is very resistant to decay fungi and termites, but is not immune to marine borers so is not generally used for posts and pilings.

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