As teak lumber grows in prevalence throughout the marine and general construction industries, builders and consumers alike should understand the difference between old-growth and plantation-grown teak.
Teak lumber can be naturally sourced from forests in Central America, Indonesia, and India. Also known as Burma teak or Rangoon teak, this wood has a distinctive appearance and excellent physical properties and workability. Its tell-tale yellowish, golden brown heartwood and grayish white sapwood boast straight grain patterns and medium luster. While the wood’s texture is course and uneven, it often feels oily to the touch.
This hard and heavy wood boasts amazing decay resistance and dimensional stability—qualities that make it well-suited to marine applications. It’s also moderately heavy and hard, with moderate bending strength and steam bending. Importantly, teak lumber isn’t too stiff to be bent along the rounded sides of a boat.
While teak’s inherent silica can cause wear to cutting tools, the wood does respond well to both hand and machine tooling. The wood’s oiliness makes it respond to gluing best when it’s freshly cut, and pre-drilling helps screwing and nailing. As you might expect, the oily nature of this wood can cause adhesion issues, but the wood still stains and finishes quite well.
Uses for teak lumber include ship building and boat decking, high-end joinery, interior flooring, paneling, decorative veneers, plywood, and carving applications. Perhaps best-known for its use in the luxury boating industry, teak lumber is still the primary wood used for high-priced boats.
Many ship-builders prefer vertical grain teak for boat decking, because it’s easier to match across such a wide surface. First European Quality (FEQ) teak lumber provides the kind of consistent graining and coloring that high-end ship-builders require.
The silica content that results from the sandy soil in which the old-growth variety grows is what makes teak wood remarkably water-resistant; plantation-grown teak still contains the silica, but much less of it. As you can imagine, most marine applications benefit greatly from the use of old-growth teak.
Old-growth teak has historically hailed from Burma, or Myanmar. Since 2003, however, that nation’s repressive government has prompted the U.S. to disallow Burmese teak lumber from being imported directly into the U.S. Instead, it is exported to Europe, first, where it’s given the coveted FEQ grading.
While the less readily available old-growth teak is still prized by ship-builders, less dense plantation-grown teak is gaining popularity for interior trip and outdoor furniture. Costing nearly 1/3 the price of old-growth teak, the plantation variety continues to thrive in a struggling economy.
While many wholesale lumber dealers are eliminating the headaches that come with piles of documentation and other issues that come with keeping an inventory of old-growth teak, J. Gibson McIlvain continues to supply the boating industry with the highest quality wood available.