What is ‘Plantation Teak’ is it the same as normal teak?
Teak is one of nature’s best natural materials which has led to the timber being grossly over harvested for both house and boat building. For example, the area of natural teak forest in Thailand decreased from 2,324,300 hectares in 1954 to about 150,000 hectares in 2000 (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation).
The felling of naturally grown teak has now been banned in all countries and only Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) plantation grown teak is now legally available. This is fast growth timber developed by advanced tissue culture which allows teak trees to mature in less than 15 years, compared with over 40 years for traditional natural growth teak.
Plantation teak was first introduced in the 1990’s alongside traditional teak and was initially marketed as ‘Blonde Teak’ due to its pale colour. It is now the only variety available in quantity so the term has now been dropped. The colour difference is due to the wider bands of fast growing spring wood. A tree’s growth rings are made up of alternate bands of springwood and slower growing summerwood. There is no growth in the other seasons.
The springwood is a wide band and is light in colour; it is relatively soft and has a thin walled cellular structure. Summerwood is a narrower, darker band and the cell structure is much stronger. It is these alternating coloured bands that create the attractive grain pattern in the face of the timber. In fast growth teak the springwood bands are wider and softer due to the advanced growth rate, hence the grain appears lighter in colour.
The timber is also less durable than old growth teak. The use of pressure washers or deck scrubbing has the effect of scouring out the soft springwood leaving the harder summerwood and the caulking as raised ridges. This raised grain will then be rapidly eroded by foot traffic. For this reason a modern manufacture of fast growth, or Plantation Teak product should never by cleaned using a pressure washer or by aggressive scrubbing along the grain.
Many boat owners see brown stained water being washed overboard during pressure washing, and think it is dirt that they are removing from the surface. It is not dirt, it is the wood itself and its protective oils that they are washing overboard. Not only are they eroding the soft springwood they are also washing out the natural oils which protects the fibres and prevents shrinkage and warpage.