Botanical Name: Tectona, Grandis Teak is a deciduous hardwood found in the tropical regions of Southeast Asia. Today, it is also grown in Central America and parts of South America. Color ranges from a pale yellow to a rich reddish hue when freshly sanded, but ages to a medium golden brown with streaks of darker brown over time. The grain may be wavy or straight, and the texture of the wood is coarse and oily with a dull luster. Teak is a very heavy wood that stands up well even under wet conditions.
A brief history of teak
True teak has been prized since the 7th century for its beauty and durability. Early common use was in shipbuilding, after ancient shipbuilders discovered that teak is resistant to moisture, decay and insects due to properties of the natural oils in the wood of mature trees. The oldest British warship still afloat, now called the HMS Trincomalee (originally the Foudroyant), was constructed of teak in 1817 and restored to its original beauty in 2001; it currently graces Hartlepool Historic Quay. Restoration was extensive – it was described as a rotting hulk – but the very fact that the ship was still afloat after 184 years on the water is a testament to the remarkable durability of teak. This durability has also made teak a popular choice for outdoor furniture and decking for centuries, and reclaimed teak from decommissioned boats is often put to new use as flooring or furniture. Teak is still used in shipbuilding today as well as for furniture, flooring, and veneers. The weight of teak makes it a difficult wood to transport. In the primary growth regions of Southeast Asia, the wood is still transported in a centuries old method using trained elephants. The elephants drag the sawn logs through the heavy undergrowth of the forest and stack them neatly in response to a bell. Since the logs are too heavy to float and the forest too thick for trucks, elephants remain the only practical and affordable method of retrieval.
The Janka scale uses 0.444″ steel ball pushed into a 2″ x 2″ x 6″ piece to determine how hard the wood is. The test determines out how many pounds per square inch, or PSI, of force is needed to push the steel ball half way into the wood plank. Teak measures 1000 – 1155, relatively low on the Janka hardness scale, making it a softer wood than most hardwoods. Care must be taken to avoid dents and scratches in a teak floor. True teak may be solid flooring or a veneer surface on engineered flooring. Solid teak flooring can be sanded and refinished many times over the life of the floor. High-end engineered flooring may be sanded up to five times – read the manufacturer’s instructions for details – but cheaper, more common teak engineered flooring may not be sanded. Know what you are buying. If you plan to replace the floor in 20 years or less, then engineered flooring with a teak veneer is the most practical option. If you want an investment floor, solid or high-end engineered teak flooring is recommended.
True teak may be solid flooring or a veneer surface on engineered flooring. Solid teak flooring can be sanded and refinished many times over the life of the floor. High-end engineered flooring may be sanded up to five times – read the manufacturer’s instructions for details – but cheaper, more common teak engineered flooring may not be sanded. Know what you are buying. If you plan to replace the floor in 20 years or less, then engineered flooring with a teak veneer is the most practical option. If you want an investment floor, solid or high-end engineered teak flooring is recommended. If refinishing is necessary, it should be noted that teak dust is an allergen and may cause either respiratory reactions or contact dermatitis (rash) in some people.
Where to use
Wood floors are never recommended for use in rooms where standing water is common, like bathrooms. Teak has a natural warm, solid feel that is easy on the feet and legs. It can be used in almost any room, bearing in mind that it will dent and scratch easier than many other hardwoods. Placing pads under furniture legs, rugs or runners in high traffic areas and keeping pet nails clipped will help protect your beautiful true teak floor, potentially for centuries of use. As an added precaution, spike heeled or sports shoes with spikes should not be worn on teak or any other kind of wood flooring. Ideal locations for teak are low-traffic, low-impact areas like living rooms, bedrooms and dens. Direct sunlight can cause permanent color changes in the wood over time. As a precaution, keep blinds closed or cover floor areas under uncovered windows.
Care and Maintenance
With the proper precautions outlined above, teak is an easy care flooring option. Running a soft dustmop or vacuum over the floor daily and a mop dampened with a simple solution made of ¼ cup of white vinegar to a quart of warm water once a week should keep your floor clean and beautiful. Teak flooring needs to be oiled occasionally to retain its natural sheen. This will require thorough cleaning with a damp mop to remove all dust and dirt, followed by use of a cleaner made specifically for teak. This cleaner is applied using a firm-bristled brush (non-metallic) and a lot of elbow grease. Once applied, it should sit for 24 hours. Following the cleaning process, teak oil should be applied following the directions on the packaging. The oil may alter the color of the floor with each coat. Apply as many coats as you wish to achieve a rich, deep finish.
While it is true that teak trees take 30 years or more to mature properly, the extreme durability of teak flooring makes it an environmentally sound choice if grown and harvested in a responsible manner. Old-growth deforestation is generally due to logging practices now considered illegal. Consumers, like sellers and manufacturers, have a responsibility to find out where the wood comes from. Each part of the manufacturing process should be documented. If your dealer cannot show documentation of the origins of the wood, or the logging company has a dubious reputation, don’t buy it. It’s that simple. Another environmental plus for teak is reclamation. Teak wood flooring is often recovered from old ships and decking, re-milled and given new life as flooring. Some of the most beautiful and highly sought after floors are reclaimed and hand scraped and finished for a uniquely rare and beautiful floor you can be proud of for many reasons, including environmental responsibility.