What Does Reclaimed Teak Mean?
RECLAIMED OLD GROWTH
‘Reclaimed’ is a relative term. When you buy reclaimed wood you should ask how old it is, what it was used for and if there is a paper trail that proves it. A 2×4 of reclaimed Burmese old growth teak from a 1946 Rangoon building is worth more than a 2×4 of plantation teak from a 1946 structure in Java Indonesia. Why? Assuming both are in good condition, the Burmese teak has greater age. It was cut from non-plantation teak trees between 90-200 years old at the time of harvesting. This teak then found a home in Burmese buildings, boats, boardwalks etc for another 50-150 years and seasoned in-situ. All non-Burmese teak comes from plantations and therefore lacks the structural integrity of Burmese teak. So, reclaimed means many things to many people. To us it means teak and other hardwoods sourced from Burmese structures dating back to the 1940s and much earlier.
Pre-consumer reclaimed wood is most often wood which is discarded in the production process. Many mills across Asia discard fine chunks of wood such as this grade-1 First European Quality (FEQ) teak cut-off shown in hand above. We collect and repurpose this new wood into engineered paneling, flooring and furniture such as the table tops shown in the above gallery. There are grey areas as well such as wood that was certifiably knocked down in storms. An example of this would be the many Kokko trees (albezia lebbeck) which came down in Rangoon during Hurricane Nargis in 2008. Many of these trees where hauled from the streets of Rangoon and left to air-dry for years before being turned into beautiful furniture. TECHTONA has a significant amount of this Kokko wood and we sell it as pre-consumer reclaimed.
Post-consumer reclaimed is any wood that was certifiably used for a prior structural or artistic purpose. The majority of our wood is post-consumer reclaimed. The photos here show buildings in the process of being dismantled. Old growth teak, ironwood and other hardwoods have for centuries undergirded Burma’s rural and urban infrastructure. It is a myth that hardwoods from demolished structures in Asia are carelessly burnt or discarded. All of it is highly valued. Much of it is bought and sold within domestic markets for eventual re-milling into furniture, flooring and decking and re-enters the market as some of the finest hardwood products available today.
Burmese old growth teak has qualities of durability, beauty and utility that are unmatched by teak grown commercially on plantations. This has everything to do with age. A Burmese natural forest teak that has been allowed to mature, in competition with cohort trees in hilly terrain for 90 years or more will take on that special golden honey color which takes time to grow out from the heartwood to the periphery of the tree. With every year of growth, teak’s famed attributes of beauty and durability become more pronounced, adding immensely to its value. The historical photo shown here, taken in upper Burma in the 1920s, shows what real old growth teak looked like. After girdling, the tree was left to air-dry standing for 3-5 years before it was extracted by elephant. Such trees only exist in the most remote regions of Burma’s forests today. They are historical/ecological treasures that should never be cut.
Plantations are built for speed. Teak trees on plantations can be cut after a mere 9 years. Any time you see white looking teak with wide margins between the tree rings you can be sure it was grown on plantation for quick harvesting. Teak grown in Burma, even on plantations, has qualities of durability and beauty that simply cannot be replicated from those elsewhere. Seeds from Burmese teak trees were planted in India, Thailand, Indonesia and beyond in places like Costa Rica, Nicaragua and even Ivory Coast in Africa. Except for areas of Thailand and India, both immediately contiguous with Burma, none of those regions have been able to produce teak like the original teak trees that have evolved in Burma. Ask a Burmese forester why, and the most scientific answer you’ll get is-there is something in the soil in Burma that is particularly conducive to teak-it just grows better there. There is also bio-cultural narrative that comes with teak from Burma. It is the source of all original teak. Buying teak elsewhere is analogous to buying a barrel of Jack Daniels whisky from a distillery in Japan. You want your Jack distilled in Tennessee from mash grown there. Likewise, you want your teak grown in Burma.
The British, recognizing the superior qualities of Burmese teak needed for making powerful Man O War ships, eventually colonized the country in the early 1900s and did not withdraw until 1947. During that period vast swaths of Burma’s easy access old growth teak forests near Rangoon in the south and near Katha in the north (where George Orwell lived for two years in the 1920s) were cut to feed insatiable demand for the golden hardwood. Why? Because on boat decks, true old growth teak does not heat up in the sun-you can walk barefoot all day long on it. Old growth teak has silica in the grain which inhibit slipping on teak decks when wet. And perhaps most importantly, old growth teak has that unmatched balance between natural oil, silica and hardness that resists rot when wet. It lasts. As early as the mid 19th century (1850s) teak plantations were being created in southern Burma’s Bago Yoma region which is considered the Napa Valley for Burmese teak. Today there are plantations all over Burma-and that is a good thing. It takes pressure off the last stands of old growth teak. Some of this teak is being harvested in as little as 9 years-and like teak harvested in other countries that young, it lacks the properties of true old growth teak. Other Burmese plantations will be left to mature slowly over 60-80 years in order to insure future generations of Burmese wood workers have the experience of working with old growth Burmese teak.
This is important. Techtona has applied for full chain of custody FSC certification of all reclaimed hardwoods in Burma. Taking the extra step (and expense) insures everything possible has been done to protect Burma’s forests, and economy. We hope to have this certification soon.
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