A Surprising History of Teak and Its Uses

Largest living teak treeeTeak outdoor accessories have always enjoyed a distinct reputation.  Known for durability and a sleek, rich appearance, when you invest in outdoor items made from teak you are joining a long line of wise consumers that stretches back centuries.

Teak trees are native to South East Asia and are found across India, Myanmar and Thailand.  The heat and nearly tropical conditions in those areas are ideal for the tree’s growth.  One teak tree can reach heights of up to 200 feet, producing a massive amount of timber in one specimen.

Original Uses

Native tribes of southern Asia discovered the durability of this lumber and used it to build tribal homes, tools and quite possibly furniture.  They were a long way from the designs and quality found in today’s teak outdoor decor, but the appeal was obvious even then.

Interestingly enough, teak has long been used in southeastern Asian countries as a medicine to soothe digestion difficulties, as well as fight headache and stomach pain.  The bark was brewed into a tea-like drink that many found useful in combating fever.

Not only did healers value this wood, but sailors and ship builders alike bought into the strength of teak and began to use it exclusively for ship construction.  As far back as the Middle Ages ship floors and frames were built out of teak.

Life was different then and sailing for pleasure was unusual.  Deck chairs and furniture were utilitarian and used mainly by the rich and royal.  There’s no record of Henry VIII using teak on his famous River Barge, although it would have been a likely choice for everything from the intricate details to the floor boards.

Industry and Trade Take It Over

Commercial production of the timber began in the seventeenth century when the first plantation was opened in Sri Lanka.  The tree has been grown extensively in Java, Indonesia before that, but industry was tightening its grip on the tree by 1680.

A powerful empire at the time, the British demanded teak for use on their Navy ships.  The lumber was also used to build bridges all over Europe and Asia, with some still standing today.

Time marched on.  Teak had a highly recognized value when used in the outdoors and in marine environments.  Palaces across the civilized world included teak pillars and other structural supports.

But the timber’s day in the spotlight had yet to come.

Recycling Old School

As a British Navy ship aged it was well looked after and meticulously maintained.  Teak wood was not only naturally resistant to rot and pests, it also resisted corrosion when used with metal.  This was a valued advantage of teak and allowed the Navy to extend the life of their vessels considerably.

But all good things must come to an end and ships are no different.  Naval officers and crew dismantled teak ships as they reached the end of their career with the British.

It was the late nineteenth century and the Victorian age of resting in the outdoors was just catching on.  There is no record of the demolishing crew member that first had the idea to reuse teak floor boards for a bench top.  But the design had merit and soon, teak benches were being placed all around.  It was a true case of recycling that would make our eco-conscious proud.

British parks, favorite locations of the country’s elite and poor alike, were soon dotted with teak benches.  Apparently some are still in use today, over a century old and still comfortable.

Benches led to chairs, tables, storage units and kitchen accessories.  Once the fashion of outdoor teak items caught on, there was literally no stopping it.  Teak began to show up in accessories for the patio, items with both function and décor.  From umbrellas to tabletops and serving trays, teak made a splash in a big way.

Richness and Class

There is a deep color and rich appearance inherent in teak that makes it stand out from pine, cedar and cypress – all lumber used often for outdoor decor.

Natural oils in the wood not only look fantastic, they offer protection from the drying effects of the sun.  This means that your teak outdoor items will crack and split less, no matter how extreme the climate.

Outdora offers a selection of teak accessories, including umbrellas with durable teak poles and outdoor kitchen accents that provide clean, attractive cooking surfaces on modern grills.  Durable culinary tools such as cheese boards are made with the wood and a set of bronze wind chimes encased in a gorgeous teak tower boasts a distinctive, Asian sound.

The value of teak is just as strong as it was centuries ago.  On the sea, as herbal medicine or in the backyard, this timber is still to be prized.


Diana Dart was born into the patio design business.  Working in her family contracting business for years, she’s now part owner and loves spending her time helping homeowners create an oasis in their backyards.  She’s also published countless articles about gardening, curb appeal and landscaping online and in various print publications.

2 Replies to “A Surprising History of Teak and Its Uses”

  1. This is the best piece I have found, when most other bloggers addressing this won’t stray from the standard dogma. You have a way with words, and I shall follow you as I like your writing.

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