28 Jan Teak Source Matters

Teak source matters!  Why it matters what you buy and where it comes from? Is your teak legally harvested, kiln-dried and grade certified?

Clients often ask us why there is such a large price range for teak furniture. Why not just buy your teak furniture from a discount store or the cheapest source online? We’re also asked whether teak is “environmentally friendly”. The fact is, that there are huge variations among teak, in terms of the price, quality, sustainability and durability. If the price seems too good to be true, chances are, it is! Very inexpensive teak may have been illegally harvested, be of a lower grade, not properly kiln-dried, or poorly constructed. Here are the questions one should be aware of when buying teak furniture:

1. Where does it come from – has the wood been illegally harvested or does it come from a controlled plantation?
2. Has the wood been properly dried before being made into furniture?
3. What is the grade of teak that has been used?
4. How has the furniture been constructed?

The benefits of girdling and kiln drying – longer lasting teak furniture

When it is time to cut a teak tree on a plantation (which should only be done during the dry season) the tree is not simply cut down:  it should be “girdled.” Girdling is the process whereby the tree is cut around the circumference and is left to die for about two years. When the tree is alive it weighs about 6 times more than that of a dead tree due to its water content. Leaving the tree to die for a period time before cutting prepares the wood for the kiln drying process – all of which enhances the longevity of teak furniture. Teak which is harvested illegally not only has negative impacts on the environment, but often results in furniture of sub-par quality that will not last as long. The top teak furniture manufacturers, such as Gloster, store the harvested wood prior to it being sawn into sizes used for production. Once it is graded for quality and cut into planks, the lumber is kiln dried to significantly reduce the original moisture content. The extended period of drying time ensures the integrity of teak, so that it does not split or warp once it has been made into furniture.

Good construction techniques – durable furniture

The manufacturers we work with construct their teak furniture using precise mortise and tenon joinery with properly dried teak dowels (rather than pine dowels), and high quality brass fittings.  Teak assembled using pine dowels will simply not hold up well over time.  Any outdoor furniture is naturally exposed to harsher conditions than indoor furniture; as such, it is important to buy pieces that have been well constructed.

Illegal harvesting versus controlled plantations

The majority of teak trees are grown in Indonesia, although teak is not indigenous to that country. Teak grows in many parts of the world, including Thailand, Burma, Philippines, Brazil and Costa Rica, but the bulk of teak plantations are now on found on the island of Java, where plantations take up 2.5 million acres. We strongly urge our clients to purchase furniture made of teak that has been harvested only from controlled, or certified plantations, as there are compelling socio-economic and environmental reasons. Here is what the Rain Forest Alliance says about plantation, versus illegally harvested teak:

“Villagers who harvest and sell illegal teak find themselves at the mercy of middlemen, who pay notoriously low prices. Illegal logging depletes the teak resource, removing long-term income potential. Without careful management, teak groves can quickly be degraded and the resource loses its value….. In the meantime, communities around the forest are further impacted by erosion and subsequent siltation and the depletion of water resources as unsustainable numbers of trees are removed. Conversely, on a well-managed teak plantation the stumps are removed after harvest and the soil is replanted with seed. And because teak grows on 20 to 30 year cycles, replanting should be a continuous process, which doesn’t happen when trees are taken illegally.” Read the entire article

In a well-managed plantation, tractors, trucks or other heavy machinery are generally not used. All the labor is done by hand or by ox, preserving traditional land-use practices. Between man and ox, the efficiency is impressive. These plantations offer important economic opportunities to local populations:  local workers are not only paid to work on the plantation, but they are able grow their own crops under the canopy of the trees. Here is what Gloster, one of the largest manufacturers of teak furniture, tells us about its plantations in Indonesia:“Plantation teak is inherently more environmentally friendly than natural forest timber because no teak trees existed until the plantations were established and, due to their careful management, trees are constantly being planted at a rate that exceeds those being felled. Most importantly, the plantations in Indonesia are actively managed to be a sustainable system which not only has low impact on the eco-system, but is also fully integrated into the Indonesian social system and maximizes local employment.”

Premium grade teak – more beautiful teak furniture

The teak manufacturers we choose to work with (Kingsley Bate, Barlow Tyrie and Gloster use only premium grade teak which has been legally harvested from controlled plantations. Premium grade teak is characterized by a straight grain structure, the absence of knots, splits or cracks and an even overall color. Very inexpensive teak furniture usually means corners have been cut:  it is typically made from a lower grade of teak, and from lumber which may not have been dried properly.