Sustainable Style: Reasons to Choose Reclaimed Teak for Your Garden
Teak has a formidable reputation in the world of carpentry and furniture manufacture.
A tropical hardwood native to south and south east Asia, teak is renowned for three qualities in particular - a tight grain structure which makes it incredibly strong and hard-wearing, a high oil content which makes it naturally water resistant, and a beautiful range of colours, from yellowy golden brown to deep bronze to silver-grey, which change as the timber ages.
Thanks to its natural water-resistance and durability in particular, teak has long been prized in the West for making outdoor furniture. Requiring little in the way of varnishing or on-going care, a teak outdoor table set is quite literally capable of surviving for generations, toughing it out in all weather conditions.
However, in these more environmentally-aware times, the popularity of teak has started to raise some concerns. Naturally-occurring ‘old teak’, the highly-prized timber from forest giants hundreds of years old, has become increasingly rare the greater demand has become. Not only have most of the oldest trees now been felled, but such is the value of teak, no one is prepared to let younger trees grow to their full majesty any more.
Most of the world’s teak used in furniture production now comes from commercial plantations, mainly in Indonesia and southern India, but also in sub-Saharan Africa and Central America. While many of these plantations are carefully and sustainably managed, expansion of plantations, especially in parts of Africa and Central America where teak is not indiginous, does raise concerns about the clearance of local forest habitats.
So should we be wary about opting for teak furniture for our gardens, regardless of its many benefits? There is another option - choosing furniture made from reclaimed teak.
Long before its wonderful properties came to the attention of the world at large, teak was widely used as a primary building material in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India. Houses, boats, flooring and even railway lines were all constructed out of the incredibly hard-wearing and tough lumber which in those days was cut straight from the native forests.
But as time has gone on, the taste for wooden frame buildings in many of those countries has been overtaken by brick and concrete; wooden boats have been replaced by aluminium or fibreglass. The result is, there is a lot of old teak lying around from houses that have been pulled down and so on. And because of the nature of the timber, it is just as strong and as durable as it was when it was first cut from the tree.
Nowadays, rather than leaving all of this disused teak to rot somewhere (a very long process indeed), dozens of enterprising crafts companies have sprung up repurposing this recovered wood into outdoor furniture. Once it is stripped and sanded to remove whatever paint, tar or grime was covering the surface, much of this remarkable wood is found to be as good as new underneath - even if it formed part of a house or a boat or a railway track for decades previously.
Reclaimed teak furniture is therefore a fantastic way to enjoy all the benefits of this truly stunning type of wood without worrying where it has come from. From a sustainability point of view, it makes sense to ensure that we get the absolute maximum use possible from every tree cut down. In the case of teak, thanks to its unique natural properties, wood cut even a hundred years ago and used for any number of purposes since can still make hardy, long-lasting and beautiful furniture for your garden.
Plus, just think of all the stories it would have to tell, if it were able to.
Visit the Jo Alexander website to find out more about teak garden furniture.