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A Guide to Teak Wood: DIY and Continual Care

Posted by My Teak Shower Bench on 2/4/2016

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Teak wood comes from tectona trees grown in Southeast Asia, primarily Indonesia, Myanmar, and Thailand. Sometimes other woods, such as cumaru, grown in Brazil, are sold as teak for cheaper prices. Don't be fooled.

Teak is one of the world's most durable woods; it is close grained hardwood making it great for carving and long-lasting furniture. The heartwood of tectona trees has a special resin that makes the wood very water-resistant, so outdoor furniture and bathroom furniture is often made with teak. Many boats are also made with teak.

teak-tree-plantation.jpgThe heartwood of tectona trees is reddish brown and darkens with age, while the sapwood (outer layer) is whitish to pale yellow brown, so you may see some variation in color with teak furniture. With excessive exposure to sunlight, teak furniture will fade to a silvery-grey, but with yearly maintenance outdoor teak furniture will maintain its original color.

How does regular maintenance help maintain the original color of my teak furniture?

Teak wood is high in natural oils, which protect the wood against wet and cold weather (hence why it grows so well in southeast Asia). Applying teak oil to your outdoor teak furniture about once a year will ensure continued protection from the elements allowing the wood to maintain its strength and beautiful color.

Teak is also resistant to insect damage and rot.

Unfortunately, because of teak's awesome characteristics, demand has skyrocketed, which has led to deforestation in some Southeast Asian countries. To combat this issue many of the countries, such as Indonesia, have created teak plantations that focus on sustainability. Tectona trees are perennial, so they continue to grow back year after year, that fact combined with sustainability efforts on plantations will ensure a continued supply of teak without damaging southeast Asia's environment.

The number of sustainable teak plantations is on the rise.

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Note: Teak is a very expensive wood to purchase, so I recommend you have some previous experience with woodworking before you dive into a DIY teak project.

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Consider the size of the furniture you want. Where are you going to put it? Will it fit in the intended space? It may be a good idea to draw an outline of the room your new furniture will go in, make sure it's drawn to scale. You may have to do some rearranging, but at least your finished product will fit well in it's intended space.

Another thing to know before you start your project is whether you want to use any upholstery. If you're making a teak chair or bench and you want to attach a cushion to the seat, make sure you buy a durable, long-lasting fabric, and all the equipment to attach it! Teak creates long-lasting furniture that you can pass down through the generations if it is well maintained. Shouldn't your upholstery be held to similar standards?

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As mentioned previously, teak can get pretty expensive, so once you've purchased your materials, you'll want to be extra careful with them.

When you're ready to start cutting your pieces (if you didn't have them pre-cut), make your measurements more than once. You'll want to be exact, so you don't waste the piece you're working on.

Facts to Keep in Mind During Construction:

Teak can be pretty rough on tools, especially bits and blades, because of its hardness. There are a couple of ways to avoid ruined tools: 1) use sharp carbide cutting blades and bits, 2) make sure your tools are pitch-free, and 3) use blades with high TPIs (teeth per inch) for a cleaner cut and less waste.

woodworkingjoints.pngYou can use mechanical fasteners (nails, screws, etc.) to join your pieces or traditional woodworking joints (dovetails, mortise joints, etc.). Generally woodworking joints have a better aesthetic.

If you decide to use woodworking joints and glue, follow this process:

1) Wipe down all surfaces of the joint, where the glue will be, with acetone or denatured alcohol using a clean rag.

2) Allow to dry.

3) Glue and clamp your joints.

Why? The heartwood resin is not only water-resistant, it is also pretty resistant to glue and other liquids.

dust-mask.jpgSafety Precautions: In addition to normal woodwork safety precautions, such as safety glasses, hearing protection, and appropriate clothing, you'll need to wear a NIOSH-approved dust mask because teak sawdust can actually be toxic if inhaled. Using proper ventilation in your woodworking room is also a must.

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Many wood products are finished with a wood stain, but teak is different. Instead of using a stain, use teak oil to enhance the natural beauty.

Steps:

1) Clean the completed teak furniture with a clean rag or non-abrasive pad and a soft cleaner (strong cleaners will eat the teak).

2) Liberally apply teak oil to the cleaned surface

3) Allow the oil to soak into the wood for several hours

4) Wipe off any excess oil

You have now made your own teak furniture. Congratulations!

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(Purchased and DIY Furniture)

Because teak furniture is often exposed to the elements, it needs yearly care. If you don't mind silvery-grey weathered patio furniture, then you can do maintenance less often. What kind of maintenance am I talking about? It's pretty simple, just follow these steps:

teaktable.jpg1) Clean the entire surface of your teak furniture with a soft spray cleaner and non-abrasive pad

2) Clean off additional residue and resins with a clean rag and acetone or denatured alcohol

3) Apply a liberal coat of teak oil

4) Allow the oil to soak into the wood (several hours to a day)

5) Apply another coat of oil if needed

6) Wipe off any excess once you've allowed the oil to soak


Fun fact: Teak has a leather-like smell when it is freshly milled.

Care Tip: Keep teak oil on hand for regular maintenance.