What Does Reclaimed Teak Mean?
south east Asian TEAK
‘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 old growth teak from a 1946 building in Rangoon 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 old growth 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 buildings, boats, boardwalks etc for another 50-150 years and seasoned in-situ. Newer teak comes from plantations and therefore lacks the structural integrity of old growth teak. So, reclaimed means many things to many people. To us it means teak and other hardwoods sourced from structures built using old growth teak in 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 during Hurricane Nargis in 2008. Many of these trees where hauled from the devastation 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 rural and urban infrastructure in south-east Asia. 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 anywhere today.
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. An old growth, 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 the 1920s, shows what real old growth teak looked like before it was harvested n the 1920’s. 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 (and hopefully would not ever) be cut down.
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.
Old growth Teak has qualities of durability and beauty that simply cannot be replicated from those grown elsewhere. Seeds from teak trees planted in India, Thailand, Indonesia and beyond in places like Costa Rica, Nicaragua and even Ivory Coast in Africa would take hundreds of years to grow into an old growth forest. None of those regions have been able to produce teak like the original teak trees that have evolved in south-east Asian locations. Ask a forester why, and the most scientific answer you’ll get is-there is something in the soil in in these locations that is particularly conducive to teak. It just grows better there. There is also bio-cultural narrative that comes with teak from these parts. 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 old growth teak from very specific locations in south east Asia. You can see, touch and feel the difference geography makes.
The British, recognizing the superior qualities of high quality teak needed for making powerful Man ‘O War ships, eventually colonized parts of SE-Asia in the early 1900s and did not withdraw until 1947. During that period vast swaths of old growth teak forests 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. 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 Bago Yoma region which is considered the Napa Valley for Old Growth teak. Today there are plantations all over SE Asia 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 plantations will be left to mature slowly over 60-80 years in order to insure future generations of wood workers have the experience of working with old growth teak.
This is important. Techtona has applied for full chain of custody FSC certification of all reclaimed hardwoods in SE Asia. Taking the extra step (and expense) insures everything possible has been done to protect the forests, and the economy in the local communities. We hope to have this certification soon.
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