Teak Furniture

The Case Against Cheap Teak Furniture

When making any purchase, it’s tempting to choose the lowest price option and purchasing outdoor teak furniture is no different. But just like everything else, the cheapest price can often leave you disappointed in the long run. You are left wishing you had spent a little more and gotten a product that would last much longer and been of higher quality. In short, you’re looking for the best value.

When choosing outdoor furniture, teak wood has long been established as the best, most durable wood. This is due to the unique combination of the density of the wood and the natural oils and resins that grow in the wood. While there are some woods that are almost as dense as teak, they do not contain the natural oil content. Likewise, some trees that contain similar oil content are not nearly as dense. There are several things to look for when choosing the best teak and the best value.

Raw Materials

Country of Origin
It’s important to start with the best raw materials available. Teak is native to Thailand, Burma and parts of India. Teak is not native to Indonesia or China, where much of the mass produced products come from these days. Burmese teak is not available in the U.S. because it is embargoed. The best raw materials and teak products in the world currently come from Thailand.

Age of Tree
The best products on the market use trees that are over 40 years old before being harvested. In many cases, this is twice as old as some of the mass produced products. A 40 year old tree can have as much as 4 times the natural oil content as a 20 year old tree and is much denser. Often, furniture made from 40 year old Thai teak trees will appear darker in the showroom than other products due to the high oil content. So, the dark richness of the wood is an indicator of the quality of the materials (assuming no finish has been applied to fool you.)

Metal pieces
All metal used on the furniture should be either brass or stainless steel to avoid rust and corrosion.

Manufacturing Standards

Joinery
Many outdoor teak furniture items look the same in pictures and on the internet. Even in the showroom, brand new quality items may be hard to distinguish from inferior copy cats. One sign of high manufacturing standards is the method of joinery. The best outdoor teak furniture uses mortise and tenon joinery. Here is a sample:

example of mortise and tenon joint in teak furniture

Mortise and Tenon Joint

The Tenon (tongue) is inserted the mortise (hole or notch). Then, wooden dowels (pegs) with a touch of outdoor glue are inserted into the holes, creating a very strong joint. There should be no gaps or spaces in the joint, including the holes for the pegs, once the joint is completed. These tolerances are very important. When looking at an item in person, there should be no gaps or spaces. If gaps are visible in the showroom, they will only get worse outdoors. This will be hard to determine online, so make sure any online vendors welcome customers to see the products in person before buying – even if you don’t intend to. Here are a few examples of inferior joinery, which are unfortunately too common:

screws in teak furniture

example of screws in teak furniture

This rocking chair was put together by simply screwing pieces together. Not only are these screws unsightly, but they will eventually pop out.

example of nails in teak furniture

nails in teak furniture

This chair was assembled with screws and nails. Nails will pop out long before screws. Why use nails at all? To save a few pennies. This is a clear sign that the manufacturer is not interested in quality.

not well built teak furniture

example of not well built teak furniture

solid joints in teak furniture

example of a solid joint

The top photo above shows the seat of a captain’s steamer simply glued to the frame. The bottom photo shows each slat properly joined to the frame with a mortise and tenon joint.

Kiln Drying
This is the process of taking the moisture out of the wood. This is important because the more moisture a product has the more it will shrink and expand in the elements. This causes the joints to weaken. This is a time consuming process that is not performed properly – or at all – by many manufacturers.

dowel pops in teak wood

Teak dowels popping out because the wood was not kiln dried satisfactorily

In the example above, although this was sold as quality teak, the shrinking and expanding of the wood has caused the pegs to pop out of the mortise and tenon joint. Eventually, they will come all the way out. So, even though a mortise and tenon joint was used, not properly drying the wood compromises the joint. Using nails and not drying the wood, can lead to situations like this:

nail pops in cheap teak

Nails popping out of cheap teak furniture

The shrinking and expanding has caused this nail to pop out of the back of the chair. Ouch! This is why nails should not be used and wood should be properly dried. In many cases, the manufacturer may paint over the nails, or put some putty on top of them, so they are not noticeable when the item is first purchased.

Finishes and Stains
Because of the unique qualities of teak wood, quality teak outdoor products do not need to be stained, varnished, lacquered or finished in any way. Companies that offer pre-stained, pre-finished, pre-weathered outdoor teak furniture are simply trying to hide imperfections in their products and confuse consumers.

Summary

There are many elements that go into making quality teak outdoor furniture. Many manufacturers use inferior raw materials and manufacturing processes to sell cheap outdoor teak furniture. These short cuts lead to very low quality products. Consumers should look for products that are made with the best materials and craftsmanship. Many products look the same in pictures and online, so make sure a seller offers the ability to touch and feel the items prior to purchase and stay away from websites that hide their physical address.

 

Read our other blogs and visit our teak furniture website to learn why teak from Thailand is the best and how not all teak furniture is created equally.

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