Search online, and you can find a huge selection of teak garden furniture at a vast range of price points. So how do you know whether the furniture you are looking at will be good quality, will stand the test of time, and whether the timber used to make it was sustainably sourced? Here are a few tips on how to make sure you are buying ethical, well-made, long-lasting teak furniture…
Ask where the teak originates from
Teak is a dense, close-grained hardwood that comes from the Tectona grandis tree, found mainly across south and south-east Asia. However, the calcium rich soil, combined with climatic conditions in Indonesia, specifically, provide the perfect growing conditions for Tectona grandis, and mean that there is no need for heavy use of fertilisers and chemicals. Interestingly this tree wasn’t indigenous to Indonesia but brought to the country by Buddhist monks in the 16th century, where it thrived. The Dutch then created large teak plantations to service ships plying the Dutch East Indies spice routes.
The high demand for teak across the globe comes with the danger of deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats – but Indonesia was quick to set up systems to control how their teak was harvested. In the 1970s, a State Forestry Corporation called Perum Perhutani was established, who are committed to supporting production but also to conservation and maintaining community, biodiversity and soil fertility. They control 2.5 million hectares of forest – mainly producing teak – but enforce strict policies about when and which trees are felled, and ensure replanting is carried out appropriately.
In 2001, Indonesia made further strides in promoting the legal trade of timber products and improving forest governance. They established a national timber legality assurance – SVLK (Sistem Verificasi Legalitas Kayu) which incorporates a sustainable forest management standard (PHPL).
An additional EU body, known as FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) was established in 2003 to counter the import of illegally harvested timber. In 2016, Indonesia became the first country to meet FLEGT’s requirements with the SVLK system used to prove compliance of all its timber exports. Post-Brexit, Indonesia’s certification complies with UK Timber Regulations under the same arrangements that applied under FLEGT.
Teakunique only imports FLEGT-certified furniture from Indonesia, ensuring it is from the best possible, sustainably managed source.
Ask about the quality of the teak
Grade C is an inferior quality wood – often taken from young, immature trees or from the outer sections of a mature log. It has very little in the way of natural protective oils and tends to have a yellower hue than better quality teak, or more variation in the colour. For that reason, it is often treated to make it a darker colour before sale, making it harder to distinguish from better grades. The main way to spot it is by price – if the teak furniture sounds cheap, or too good to be true, it probably is! With that price comes a product that is significantly inferior in terms of performance and durability, as well as beauty.
Grade B teak usually comes from the outer heartwood section – again it will have a lighter, more uneven colour. It contains more natural oils than Grade C teak, but still not enough to allow it to easily withstand the temperature extremes of the British climate. Again the price will show – certainly over the longer term – in strength and durability.
Grade A and B+ teak is always taken from the centre of the log (or heartwood) of a fully mature tree. It should have a uniform honey-colour and a close, even grain. It is very high in the natural oils that will protect the wood from weather, and even from pests and woodworm. Only about one fifth of a mature log will be heartwood teak – which is why it commands a higher price.
The story doesn’t end there – moisture levels in the timber have a huge impact on whether it will crack or warp over the years, so kiln-drying is used to reduce the moisture content even further. This make ups about one-third of the production cost of furniture; it is a time-consuming and expensive but necessary step.
We choose to only use the best grade heartwood teak, slowly kiln-dried to a low moisture content for our furniture. This results in the high levels of quality and longevity that we offer.
Ask how it was made
At first glance, much of the ‘budget’ furniture on the market looks similar to better quality alternatives (except maybe the colour). Many of the most popular designs are quickly copied and mass produced using lower grade teak and lower cost production methods. Joints may not be properly machined or poorly assembled – they are glued together or improperly supported with corner pieces or additional screws. These may look great for a year or two, but time spent outside will quickly results in wobbles and breaks.
We always insist on proper teak joinery for our furniture, and only work with Indonesian makers who are happy to meet our exacting standards. Where teak joinery isn’t possible, we specify the best quality hardware. Recently we have taken the decision to change our bolts from brass to stainless steel – which offers improved strength and longevity. Many of our designs also feature wider legs or thicker table-tops, than most furniture on the market – because we know that these small changes give additional stability and a high quality feel.
Teakunique is not about offering high quantities of mass produced furniture, but rather to try to offer the highest quality furniture at the most competitive possible price. We understand that buying teak garden furniture is a big financial commitment, and that buying online is always going to be something of a leap of faith. Yet not having an expensive showroom is one of the ways we are able to keep our prices down.
As a small family business, our reputation is incredibly important to us. Our many returning customers and positive reviews mean that we are confident that we are doing something right!
Whoever you buy your teak garden furniture from, this really is a purchase that will benefit from the old adage ‘buy once, buy well’.