Why Is Teak A Preferred Wood For Boats?
It seems like every boat out there is covered in teak. From the teak trim to the teak deck, it is an immensely popular wood for everything from patio furniture to cutting boards and countertops. It's an extremely unique wood that has properties unlike anything else. Granted it carries a pretty hefty price tag, but there are good reasons for that.
We will dive into all things teak in this article. By the end, you will know without a doubt the answer to the headline question: "Why is teak so popular for use on boats?"
Origins and History
The magic of teak is a multifaceted affair that could be approached from 100 different angles, so we'll start with the basics. Teak's scientific name is Tectona grandis. It comes from the Lamiaceae family. This is the same family that contains the amazingly scented mint and sage. If you're thinking 'teak doesn't have a scent' then you might not have had the pleasure of encountering freshly cut teak which has a rich leathery scent.
While the scent of teak might be a pleasurable sensory experience for your workshop, your tools aren't going to enjoy the encounter. This wood contains silica that can blunt your equipment in no time flat. Teak is one tough wood. That's why it's been loved for at least 2000 years for a wide range of applications throughout its native region of southeast Asia. Teak grows best in Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.
Benefits of Teak on Boats
There are a ton of reasons that teak is such a ubiquitous choice for boats of every make and model. The pros of teak are as follows: Teak has a high oil content, high tensile strength, and exceedingly tight grain. These factors combine to create a wood that is tremendously weatherproof. There's a lot more to it than that, of course. Teak is resistant to rot, fungi, and mildew. Most insects have no interest in snacking on your teak deck either. You'll still need to care for it a bit, and in that case check out our teak cleaner and teak deck brightener!
Additionally, teak has a relatively low shrinkage ratio which means that changes in moisture will do little to change the size or shape of the wood. Teak is amazing. On top of all this, you can customize the finish that you put on your teak deck or teak trim to an insane degree. Do you like the luster of a varnish? Perhaps a more dull but natural look with some linseed or tung oil? You can also decline to use any finish at all which weathers to a very distinguished silver color.
Downsides of Teak on Boats
There are relatively few cons of a teak deck. The cost is probably the most notable. Teak is a popular material that is highly sought after, and this can make the cost quite prohibitive. Teak can also add a lot of weight to your vessel. If you're trying to max out your speed then teak is far too dense to achieve the desired result. Teak can also require quite a bit of maintenance if it's particularly aged, and it's not as easy as just installing a new deck due to that pesky prohibitive price tag.
The final and biggest issue that I've had with teak decks is that they are easily stained by some common things like oil and red wine. It is so sad to have people over and feel like I need to put a rug topside just because I had a few too many and ended up with a bit of a spill. All this isn't to mention the environmental effects of teak plantations that are trying to cash in on this highly sought wood.
Since the demand for teak is larger than the current supply and prices are continuing to climb, here's we'll discuss three possible alternatives for teak and reasons that they might not have taken hold quite yet. We're only going for real wood here. Synthetic teak is a decent choice, but nothing beats the feeling and prestige of real wood even if it isn't actual teak.
Shorea has many of the same properties as teak. It is for all intents and purposes the closest that we have. So why isn't it more commonly used? Well, shorea has had pretty strict regulations imposed on the harvesting of its timber for a significantly longer period of history. It can be requisitioned and used, but there are a fair number of hoops to jump through in doing so.
African teak, sometimes colloquially called 'poor man's teak' is a fair alternative to consider. It isn't as flexible, but that doesn't present much of a problem for our purposes. It's also a very mineral-heavy wood that is difficult to work, but so is teak. So why don't we see it more often? Honestly, it all comes down to looks and that colloquial name with negative connotations. If you don't mind any of that, you can fit your deck with iroko for 30% of the cost of a legitimate teak deck.
Brazilian walnut is ironwood that resists not only rot and insects, but even surface scratches and fire. Ipa wood is just as resistant to flame as concrete and steel which is a shocking statement, but completely true. It's so dense that it sinks in water, which can present a problem. The surface oils also make it difficult to paint. Woodworking is also nearly impossible with wood this uncannily hard. (If you want to see woodworking at its finest, check out these ship figureheads.) The South American sources of ipa don't seem sustainable, so we might just have to stick with the high prices of teak for the time being.