On Teak


There is some wood that I cannot bear to discard, no matter how small the scrap. A quick survey of my wood rack this morning revealed bundles of very old quartered yellow pine, huon pine, Honduran mahogany and stacks of little teak offcuts.

Though it has been a couple years since I completed the projects for “Campaign Furniture,” the teak from that book is still with me daily. I use it for making drawer runners, skids for tool chests and the occasional folding stool. It might be another 10 years before I get rid of it all.

As my teak is more than 50 years old, I wonder if it was harvested as per the following description (I thought I smelled elephants).

— Christopher Schwarz

“This (Tectona grandis) is the only true teak. As a constructive timber its only rival is British oak. Apart, too, from the limited shipments from Siam and Java, the world depends for its supplies on the forests of India and Burma. The teak forests suffered considerably during the Second World War. The value of the timber had been recognized by the Old East India Company and was used by the naval authorities early in the 19th century. Fortunately almost all of the areas in India containing teak are under government supervision….

“The tree, which may rise to 100 ft. or more in height, is noted for its exceptionally large and rough-surfaced leaves. These have been found up to 18 ins. or 20 ins. in length, with a breadth of from 9 ins. to 14 ins. To natives they serve as a substitute for glasspaper….

“The method of extraction from the Indian teak forests are interesting. Trees that are deemed by the inspectors to be in a condition or of a size that warrants their removal are first girdled; that is, an incision is made round the base of the trunk of the standing tree, right through the sap. This prevents the upward flow of the life juices of the tree and effectively kills the growth. It remains standing in this state for two years or more, and in the interval the wood loses a great part of its weight. This operation is necessary. If felled straightaway, the logs, owing to their great weight would not float; and, as the river currents are the only means of transport, this procedure has to be adopted. Consequent upon this method of extraction, and owing to the lengthy period it takes to prepare the wood for market after it has been floated to the mills, all timber is in a well-seasoned condition by the time it reaches our own and other markets. Trained elephants, with an intelligence that is said to be almost uncanny, are employed for handling the timber, and under the direction of native labour perform all the manual work, dragging the heavy trees down to the water-courses and moving the timber with their trunks while it is being converted at the mills and until it is finally shipped.”

— “Timbers for Woodwork” (Drake, 1969) edited by J.C.S. Brough

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in Campaign Furniture. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to On Teak

  1. woodworkerme says:

    wow never knew the story of teak .Also did you ever use any of that teak to make the spatulas around Christmas time.

  2. momist says:

    I have a few meagre scraps of teak, rescued from the patio furniture of an abandoned isolation hospital many years ago, when the dreaded ‘consumption’ (TB) was believed to have been eliminated. I too hoard them jealously.
    I do wonder if the ‘Teak’ currently marketed in modern patio furniture is truly the same species described in your post? If so, it has not been properly seasoned as it moves alarmingly when left out in the weather.

  3. I can send you my address if you wish to rid yourself of any of that teak.

  4. abtuser says:

    I have teak. Not 50 years old, but it’s teak. And it’s fun to work with.

  5. tomwiarda says:

    I lived and worked in a jungle area of Bangladesh in the mid 1970’s where they harvested teak and other hardwoods using elephants. I went once with a contractor to observe the trained elephants dragging the logs from where they were cut and loading them on to trucks. It was amazing to watch. Later the logs were cut into planks using pit saws.

  6. We have a buyer in Myanmar right now that can attest to the use of Elephants even today. Though I must say the good stuff isn’t coming out of India because the plantations are producing highly variegated color, narrow, and short stuff which at best would be common grade. The FEQ quality stuff is coming out of Myanmar and Indonesia almost exclusively. All of it is HEAVILY regulated thank goodness and to import it here you must have a license and like doing paperwork.

Comments are closed.