How to Identify Teak Wood

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Are you a lover of retro and vintage home decor? I’m guessing yes, or you wouldn’t be here. So, then you know that Teak is a popular wood used in mid-century modern furniture. It’s a must have wood type for all retro home decors. But how can you identify teak wood from other wood types?  How can you be sure that vintage piece of furniture is Teak?  What are the characteristics of Teak?  And why is Teak just so damn popular?!

Teak wood has long been a staple in furniture due to its durability, beauty, and its ability to withstand outdoor conditions. This makes it rather unique among wood. Because of its natural water resistance, it has become the go to wood for use on boats and garden furniture.  

Table of Contents

Why is identifying wood important?

When we first start out in furniture refinishing or restoration, it can be overwhelming trying to determine what type of wood you are working on.  It may not even seem an important fact to know.  Unfortunately, that would be a huge mistake to make.  Knowing the type of woods you are working with, can up your furniture refinishing job.  Firstly, if required, you can make better veneer repairs when you are able to match wood types.  You can purchase products that colour match, such as toners and corrective colour sticks.  Furthermore, if you know the project you are working on is Teak, you would know that it is a naturally oily wood which means water-based products could fail when used on a younger piece of  solid Teak.

Midcentury modern after refinishing and restoration work, with water based top coat as type of wood finish
Teak vintage furniture
Upcycled cocktail cabinet in art deco style. Large drink cabinet in teak and mahogany woods
Teak and Mahogany wood

The 5 characteristics of Teak wood

Each type of wood can easily be identified based on 5 common characteristics of wood.  

Colour

Teak is famed for its golden-brown colouring. However, the younger woods will be more golden-yellow then brown.  This is due to Teak darkening in colour as it ages.  Furthermore, exposure to sunlight will also affect the colour of teak.  The sapwood of Teak can be very light in colour, nearly white.  I have once had a solid teak buffet top, which was warm, dark brown with reddish undertones and just one corner was extremely light in colour.  This was probably cut in such a way that the corner was sapwood.

Grain

Teak wood grain is rather straight with only slight waves. Teak lacks what I consider to be dramatic wood grain patterns, with swirls and cathedrals.  It does, however, have darker coloured straight to wavy grain lines throughout.

Vintage Teak Coffee Table with a fresh coat of oil

Weight

As teak is a hardwood, it is dense and heavy. It will be heavier than other woods, of the same size. A 10cm cubed piece of Teak will weight 0.98 kg. 

You can calculate weights of wood with this handy calculator. 

Texture

As mentioned, teak has a natural oil, that continues to remain in the wood. You can feel a slight oiliness to teak wood, where other woods would feel dry to the touch.

Scent

Due to the oiliness of the teak wood, there is also a very distinctive scent. Many consider it to be a smell similar to leather.

teak wood grain is a characteristic on how to identify teak wood.
teak wood grain is a characteristic on how to identify teak wood.
Teak has a range of tones from pale golden yellows to deep browns and reds.
teak wood grain is a characteristic on how to identify teak wood.

Via these 5 characteristics, you have a good checklist to examine if that piece of vintage furniture is made with teak.

Origins of Teak wood

Teak is a hardwood which originates from Southeast Asia and specifically from Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, India, and Indonesia.  However, these days Teak can be grown in plantations throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  Unfortunately, due to its high value and demand, Teak forests are in trouble from overlogging.  Therefore, when purchasing Teak, take the time to learn about its origins and if it was sustainably farmed.   

If we all do our bit, we can help to maintain the natural Teak forests.

View of a Teak Forest.

Common Uses of Teak wood

Teak is a prized wood for its durability, its warm tones, it’s resistance to rotting and the fact that many insects avoid this wood type.  This wood became very popular for indoor furniture in the 1950s and 1960s, with Teak becoming one of the most recognizable wood tones for Mid-Century Furniture.

Furthermore, it’s natural oil makes it water resistant, which makes Teak the preferred choice for outdoor furniture. When teak is left outside, the wood itself will weather and turn a shade of grey.  You can maintain the original colour by cleaning and protecting the surface with a teak oil for outdoors. By knowing how to identify teak wood, you can ensure you purchase a garden set which will stand the test of time outdoors. 

Also due to it’s water resistance, teak is commonly used on boats.

Teak outdoor furniture, teak is identified by the orange tone and particular wood grain
Teak Wooden outdoor furniture, which has gone grey

Sustainable Teak

Teak had been heavily over-harvested which has lead to extreme controls around Teak Wood.  

Today most Teak sold has been farmed sustainabily.  To be sure, always check for the FSC certified lable.

Now you can identify Teak

Next time you are on the hunt for vintage furniture and searching for something to add to your retro home decor, consider looking for Teak.  This warm toned wood is a key component of the retro style.  Via the 5 key identification factors, you can easily differentiate teak from other popular woods at the time, such as walnut or rose wood.

As a furniture refinisher, by identifying teak wood you can better understand how you need to move forward in the restoration process. 

 

Use a coaster to protect your vintage furniture, oiled teak coffee table

Care for your Indoor Teak Wood

How to care for your teak furniture with teak cabinet as background

Now that you can identify teak, how should you care for your indoor teak furniture?  Teak was popular in mid-century modern furniture.  Which means that beautiful cabinet may be 60 years old.  Good maintenance will help to ensure your cabinet continues to wow for another 60 years.

Helpful Tools I Use for Identifying Wood

Educating yourself on wood types can be a struggle and turning online does not always make it easier.  

The following tools I use to help me identify wood types and may be of a use for you.

The Wood Identification & Use book by Terry Porter is by far the most helpful book I own for wood identification.

While it is not always easy to identify wood based on photos, this book remains the best I have found so far.

Wood Identification and Use by Terry porter
Various pieces of veneer as part of the wood identification kit from Sauers

By far the most helpful tool I have for identifying wood types is the Wood Identification Kit by Sauers. 

Wood Identification Kit from Sauers

The beauty of natural wood - Extra

solid Teak Top with a section of sapwood in a lighter tone.

On the left you can see the solid teak wood buffet top.  The teak had a brown-reddish tone except for a section which was light golden yellow.  This is a section of sapwood. 

How to Identify Other Wood Types

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Hey, I'm Sarah, the owner of Bold Wallflowers.

I'm on a self-taught journey through furniture refinishing and restoration, loving every experiment in my workshop.

Join me as I share my discoveries and gained knowledge with our vibrant community of fellow refinishers!

This post may contain amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases, if you decide to make a purchase through the provided links, at no additional cost to you.

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