In recent years there has been an 'explosion' in the sale of cheap teak garden furniture from the Far East. We have had an increasing number of calls regarding some strange 'characteristics' of newly purchased outdoor furniture from other suppliers becoming warped, cracked, glue failure, timber being an uneven patchy colouring and even rotting of timber.
We decided to write this comprehensive guide following these phone calls to allow you the customer to make an informed choice in to what the important factors are to look out for when you make a furniture purchase in an unbiased manner as possible.
Faraway Furniture pride themselves on producing the very finest of garden furniture at prices that are reasonable. Whether you choose to purchase from us or not we advise you to follow this guide and ask the retailer plenty of questions before going ahead with your furniture purchase.
Fully Machine made furniture is best. Faraway Furniture's garden furniture sets are all fully machine made. Fully machine made teak garden furniture is more expensive (roughly 50% more expensive in Indonesia) to produce than handmade or semi machine made due to investment in machinery, technology, training and strict processes. The proportion of contact of wood on wood will be close to 100%. For instance two stacking armchairs from our factory will be structurally identical in every way. Joints and components are machine made to fit perfectly and precisely every time guaranteeing longevity. This perfect fit ensures that the strength comes from the tenon and mortice joint and not reliant on the glue to hold the furniture together. Every piece of furniture is assembled and then disassembled in our factory before being packaged in keeping with our quality control process. Our furniture is then fully assembled for the customer by carpenters here in the UK.
Semi-machine furniture is made using hand powered tools in a factory where components are fitted by hand. The end product is totally dependent on the training, experience and skills of the person making the furniture. Due the high turnover of workers in the 'factories' it is extremely difficult to predict the quality of the end product.
Handmade production brings to mind a romantic notions, however it is the cheapest way to produce furniture as labour costs in the Far East are relatively low. In Indonesia this type of furniture is known as the 'cottage industry' and is made by carpenters and workers in their houses and patios. Although this is brilliant for Indonesian tourism it is the worst method of furniture production. This village furniture is then purchased by warehouses who then attempt to 'finish off' the furniture to look presentable and then sell on to retailers/importers. There are no quality control procedures and products are of inconsistent quality. The teak used is often 'village teak' and not from responsibly managed, sustainable plantations and therefore not legal. Two chairs from a handmade production will never be identical and are less than perfect. Frequently methods of fixing timber are irregular and inferior, wood filler is often used to cover knots and imperfections. Often the tenon joint is too short and does not meet the end of the mortice and relies on the glue for strength. These imperfections means the furniture will not last a season.
[Read our teak comparison case study with pictured examples]
Grade A Teak: Term covers usage of the mature heartwood section of the teak timber. It is a uniform 'warm honey' colour, close grained, oily to the touch, very dense and rich in protective oils. Burmese Grade A teak will contain mostly a straight grain while Indonesian plantation grade A teak contains more of a unique curvy grain. This grade of teak makes up only 20-25% of a mature log therefore making it far more expensive to purchase (over 12 times more expensive than Grade C timber!). A very strong wood, that is naturally resistant to the elements and should easily last a lifetime.
Look at the cross section of this Trinidad arm chair as an example and note the closeness of the grain and the even honey colour throughout:
In the following picture you can again see the grain of the wood used to make the triangular planks of the table from our Hawaiian 8 seater teak garden set.
Also note the even, almost glossy colour of the wood. This is a sure sign of oil rich grade A teak.
Grade B Teak: Term covers usage of the semi-mature outer heartwood (but still heartwood). Normally a lighter duller colour with greater variation then Grade A, uneven grain with slightly less of a shine once sanded. Some small knots are acceptable on this grade. This grade of teak makes up around 25 - 35% of a mature teak log and is not as oily as Grade A teak.
Grade C Teak: Term covers usage of sapwood from the outer sections of the log which is the living section of the tree. It is used by the tree to transport water and minerals to the rest (crown) of the tree. It is much softer then heartwood, very patchy with a high contrast in colour (light/dark) and very easy to damaged. With large colour variations, virtually no protective oil content, large water content and the allowance for large knots (even dead knots that are removed then filled using wood filler) it is considered an inferior wood to use. Due to its lack of practical usages, it is extremely cheap to buy and in fact in the old days the sapwood was thrown away as it was considered worthless. It has none of the characteristics of teak heartwood and it is not even recommended for indoor use due to the certainty that it will split and warp in a short length of time. Sapwood is the section of the timber used to pull water to the rest of the tree. Consequently, it has extremely high levels of water and no natural oil whatsoever. You might as well buy cheap Pine furniture as it will last just as long if not longer! This grade of teak makes up around 40-50% of a mature log and 100% of immature logs. This is a very weak timber with a very low lifespan.
Here is an example of untreated grade C teak.
Used as a common way to deceive and fool the customer into thinking they are buying Grade A teak.
Some teak is treated with a toxic acidic known as H2 SO4 (sulphuric acid) to even out the patchy appearance of low grade teak and makes the timber a homogenous colour. The chemical is dangerous and particles during sanding/normal wear and tear can cause respiratory problem and mild internal or external burns. Particularly toxic for pregnant women, this is a very nasty chemical which should be banned. Another common chemical treatment used is H2 O2 (hydrogen peroxide) which disguises the appearance of low grade teak. These types of chemicals will dry the wood causing brittleness, strip the natural oil content, therefore weakening the timber to the same properties as softwood.
How to Spot?: Look out for suspiciously dark coloured teak. If you suspect the teak has been chemically treated, look out for individual pieces that do not contain any grain. If both sides of the piece are of a similar colour then it is most probably chemically treated teak. Sadly, there are an abundance of UK retailers that use this underhand methods to fool the customer into thinking they are buying Grade A teak.
[Read our teak comparison case study]
Below is one of our own Grenada chairs and next to it is a cheap copy from one of our competitiors. To the untrained eye, these chairs would look, if seen individualy, identical.
Good quality teak is not just defined by its grade. In fact Grade A teak which has not been dried to a maximum level of 12% will not stand the test of time. The moisture content (ie the amount of water contained in the wood) affects the behaviour of teak as it dries. Moist teak with high moisture content is far more likely to warp, shrink, crack or split. Why do suppliers and manufactures not properly kiln dry timber? Simply put, it is a cost cutting exercise! Kiln dryers are very expensive to run, buy, maintain and install. In fact, the vast majority of 'factories' in Indonesia do not have kiln dryers. It is estimated that over 35% of the cost of a, properly kiln dried piece of teak garden furniture is directly attributable to the kiln drying costs. Huge savings can be made by suppliers by not following a kiln drying procedure. All reputable retailers will know EXACTLY what it is they are getting from their manufacturers and if they don't, you can bet it's full of water
Throughout Java in Indonesia it is a common sight to see what we call 'furniture forests' (see image). These are outside areas which manufacturers use to air dry freshly made 'green' furniture or timber. Air drying in a country that regularly has humidity running at a minimum of 70% to a maximum of 96% is like trying to dry a towel in a steam room, i.e. impossible. This is the exact same garden furniture that you see on some 'cheap' websites and famous auction sites.
Even the small proportions of manufacturers that have Kiln dryers installed often do not dry the Teak properly with the correct schedules and temperatures. These ovens are very expensive to use and the drying process is a slow one. If the manufacturer tries to dry the wood too quickly, it would warp and become unusable. It also becomes much more time consuming and expensive to dry Teak from 12% to 8% then it is to dry it from 22% to 18%. So, to keep competitive, they will, if you are lucky, dry the wood to only 22% and then remove it to begin making the furniture. Please be aware that timber incorrectly dried will be heavier due to the high water content. It is our advice, that if you are going to buy such garden furniture, you should consider normal hardwood furniture as all of the redeeming qualities of teak are non-existent and unless treated frequently your teak furniture would be unusable in as little as one season. AVOID!
Good quality retailers use strong, hard wearing European polyurethane or PVA and resin glues to ensure your furniture has a long life span. In the Far East it is extremely common for lower quality cheap glues to be used to keep costs down. Low quality glue will simply fail and your teak garden furniture will not stand the test of time.
Marine grade, high quality brass or stainless steel should always be used in the construction of your Teak Garden Furniture . Low quality fixtures and fittings will rust quickly and affect the appearance and strength of your furniture.
Quality retailers usually own their own factories and have strict procedures in place. As we have our own factory we have a specially trained in house team of European Quality Controllers to ensure standards and processes are adhered to in a consistent manner. Each piece of furniture in our factory has its own unique identification reference and must be signed off by three levels of quality control. This ensures no sub standard furniture ever reaches the consumer. If no quality control procedures are in place there is a high probability there will be problems with the furniture. Most retailers/importers rely on the manufacturer to carry out the quality control which is counter-productive for obvious reasons.
Curved slats, seats and seat backs means comfort but use larger pieces of timber and therefore cost more to produce.
We put a lot of time, technology and investment into our designs to ensure every piece of our garden furniture collection is comfortable and well proportioned.
Finally be very wary of teak garden furniture websites that do not show close up photos of its garden furniture. Not only does this enable you to get a clearer 'feel' for the furniture you are purchasing online but it also enables you to pay close attention to the workmanship used to make the garden furniture. A company which is proud of its workmanship and quality control would be happy to highlight such workmanship. We have tried where possible to include such close up photos for that exact reason.
Our teak timber is sourced only from reputable, legal, responsible government controlled plantations (Perum Perhutani) which are harvested at 20 year cycles. Lower quality teak is refered to as 'village teak' and often harvested from illegal plantations.
Our furniture is fully machine made using the highest quality sustainable teak. All our hardware is made of quality stainless steel. All our furniture comes with a 10 year guarantee. We do not have expensive salesmen or showrooms and are able to offer our customers superb quality at excellent prices. Comparable quality garden furniture is often 2 or 3 times higher in price than that of Faraway Furniture.
This, we have to admit, is one of our pet hates. We often see sites harping on how their garden furniture will last a lifetime with extensive generic (often copied word for word) writing about how durable teak is.
However, upon a closer inspection, often buried deep in their Terms and Conditions you will find an extremely restrictive 1 year guarantee.
We have even seen a few that do not mention guarantee at all, and in one case, they only provided 1 month. Apart from the obvious lack of legal standing in offering anything less than one year, just ask yourself one question.
If they are so confident in the quality of their furniture, why are they offering such a restrictive guarantee on a product that should last for years? On the other scale, I have seen sites offering 20 year guarantees but again upon closer inspection the restrictions are blatantly clear and in my opinion verge on the ridiculous. In one case, the 10 year guarantee was split into two sections. The first two years are parts and labour and in the next 8 years only parts are covered. Trust me when we say this that if a part has to be replaced on a table, the labour is going to be the expensive part and most probably more expensive then to actually buy a brand new table therefore effectively making the 10 year guarantee meaningless. Always check to see what the guarantee small print says and if it's not clear, ask for it in writing.
For absolute piece of mind Faraway Furniture offer an extensive and full 10 year guarantee with no' ifs and buts'.
We hope you have read and enjoyed this comprehensive guide. Please don't assume everything you read on websites is correct. These days, any budding 'entrepreneur' can start a website in less time than it takes to write this article. The main motivation in writing this article is to get you to question the abundant amount of inaccurate information that exists on some teak furniture sites. I did not wish to use this article to point my finger at other sites, but rather as a method of providing you with the most important tool you can have in spotting those dubious sites; Knowledge.
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