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Gardenside  :: About Teak Furniture

About Teak Furniture

Enduring Teak
by Gardenside, Ltd.

When one works with a product such as teak, which has a long-standing reputation for enduring qualities, it is easy to assume that others are familiar with the many reasons for its high rating in the outdoor furniture business. But unless you are in some way involved in the timber industry or another profession which requires technical knowledge of the quality of various woods, you probably don't know everything there is to know about teak. If you are looking for garden furniture, there are some interesting facts about teak and its use in the outdoor furniture market that will help you choose what type of furniture to specify.

The most important characteristic of teak is its durability in all weather conditions. Teak is an extremely dense, grained hardwood that resists rot, warping, shrinking and swelling. Its high natural oil content continually preserves the wood so it can be left outdoors for decades.

How durable is teak when left outdoors? It is said that the first outdoor teak benches were actually made of decking from old sailing ships. The decking on these ships was in such good condition when the ships were about to be scrapped, the wood was recycled and remade into outdoor furniture. Public parks all over England are furnished with teak benches, some of which are nearly a century old.

Here in the United States, teak benches can be found in the tropical gardens of hotels in Hawaii. Tables and chairs made of teak provide maintenance-free outdoor dining for skiers in Colorado resorts, and teak steamer chairs can be found from the coast of Maine to the Arizona desert.

Teak furniture is very smooth to the touch and does not splinter. Teak even smells good -- it has a faint, pleasant aromatic smell. Not only does teak have a warm appearance, but it also stays very neutral in temperature compared to plastic or metal furniture when exposed to the heat of the sun or cold winter days.

Teak also is one of the few materials that actually beautifies with age. The silvery gray patina that develops over time gives teak outdoor furniture a richness and stately appearance. The slow, natural weathering of teak results in outdoor furniture that blends in naturally to become part of its environment.

When untreated teak furniture is used indoors (as in restaurants, office lobbies, shopping centers, etc.), the wood grain evens in tone, taking on a very rich, golden brown color.

Ecologically Correct
True teak, Tectona grandis, cannot grow in rain forests. It is a hardwood, deciduous tree growing in the dry, hilly terrains of Southeast Asia. Fortunately, strong efforts have been made in the past decade to assure carefully controlled, sustainable-yield sources of teak from Southeast Asia. The teak outdoor furniture sold in the United States comes from tree farms, rather than natural forests.

It is also important to note that the manufacturing of wood products, such as teak outdoor furniture, is very energy-efficient when compared to the energy required to produce aluminum or plastic. Wood comes to us as a finished product from trees, whereas plastics, aluminum and many other materials must be manufactured before being made into furniture. For example, in order to obtain the "raw material" for plastic furniture, factories must be built to manufacture the synthetic resins needed to produce plastic. Resins are produced by heating various chemical compounds, and then processed again to produce plastic products.

In an effort to conserve energy and resources, some conscientious teak furniture manufacturers use the small scraps of teak (normally discarded) as fuel for the boilers. This heats the kilns to dry the teak before furniture manufacturing begins. More integrated wood-product plants salvage larger scraps to make other wood products such as parquet flooring.

And what about our landfills? We can find plenty of old plastic, metal, and aluminum furniture that hasn't been properly recycled, but furniture made of wood is not a problem. Teak outdoor furniture is simply so durable and usually so timeless in style that it is used for generations. And, if and when it ever is discarded, no harm is done to the environment by returning untreated wood to the earth.

Design that Works
Outdoor furniture made of teak is usually very classic and simple in design. The natural appearance of teak wood lends itself to uncomplicated designs that subtly blend in with the surrounding architecture and landscape. The stateliness of teak furniture works equally well on the terraces of traditional country inns or in the lobbies of the most contemporary hotels.

Over the past 10 years, as designers and architects have become more acquainted with the versatility and durability of teak outdoor furniture, the range of available styles has grown. Along with the classic designs, more streamlined, contemporary designs have reached the market. While it is always good to have a broad range of styles to choose from, it is important to avoid styles so modern that they appear to be interior furniture brought outdoors.

When choosing teak outdoor furniture, look for styles that will enhance, but not overpower, the landscape or setting for which it is chosen. Attention should be paid to the scale of the surroundings. For example, vast, estate-like buildings require benches and dining groupings quite substantial in dimension and weight. In contrast, smaller, more delicate architecture needs lighter-weight furniture

Consider Comfort
Well-crafted teak pieces have no sharp edges or angles—armrests, seat slats, back rests and back slats should be chamfered and sanded to round out angles. Similarly, all edges and corners of tables should be rounded. And although many outdoor tables have traditionally been designed with pedestal-type bases, outdoor dining is meant to be informal and relaxing. Stretching out one's legs underneath a table with a pedestal base is impossible—look for a simple base that allows plenty of legroom.

The number of back slats on a backrest can make a big difference in comfort—the closer the spacing, the better. Also, the front edge of benches and chairs should have an extra horizontal seat slat that prevents the vertical front rail from cutting into the back of legs. This requires additional material and workmanship, and is an important aspect to consider when comparing seating options.

Details in Workmanship
Most (but not all) outdoor teak furniture is manufactured with mortise and tenon joinery that provides extremely sturdy finished pieces and tight-fitting joints. The precision of the workmanship varies from manufacturer to manufacturer—joints should fit tightly together with no gaps whatsoever. Be wary of furniture patched with wood putty to hide defects in workmanship, as well as furniture that must be glued together—it will not withstand prolonged outdoor use. The use of dowels to secure the mortise and tenon joinery not only adds to the strength of the construction, but also allows for a perfect finished look with no visible hardware. Dowels should be made of teak to blend in with the furniture.

The quality of the fine sanding on the finished furniture is one of the most important details. This is where one can separate mass-produced pieces from handcrafted ones. Teak garden furniture should be extremely smooth to the touch, with no rough edges whatsoever.

The Value of Teak
For years, teak has had the reputation of being costly, and from some sources it still is. However, competition in the market has brought prices down to more reasonable levels. Today, teak is one of the best values available in outdoor furniture. Be sure to consider design details, workmanship and comfort when comparing prices, and before specifying, to be sure you are getting the value you expect. Don't assume the quality is better if you pay more.

Over the next decade, we will continue to see more and more wood used in outdoor settings as plastic and other materials are phased out. Teak has always been, and will continue to be, a highly prized material for outdoor furniture because of its beauty and durability.