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What is Teak Wood?

Teak (Tectona grandis) is a native species in the rain forests of Burma, India, Laos, and Thailand, and now grows in about 40 countries throughout the tropics.

Domestic uses have tamed a species of wild popularity in the nautical world. In the early 1800s, sailors and traders discovered that girdling selected trees, found deep in a Southeast Asian rainforest, allowed the timber to die and dry on the stump over a period of several years. This made logging teak much easier, as the wood was much lighter and more moveable. Still, harvesters used elephants to drag these massive logs for miles to a river. When the monsoon arrived, rain swelled the riverbanks. Teak floated downstream from the interior and landed a prominent role in the decks and trims of European and American boats.

Teak’s Characteristics

Wood hobbyists are seduced by the species’ coloring, which can run from yellow-brown hues to dark golden brown at the heartwood. Although this species of hardwood has moderate to high color variance, the heartwood turns a rich brown color when it is exposed to sunlight – a color-textured kaleidoscope of possibilities. Teak sapwood is a lighter cream color. Depending on its growing conditions, teak may have a greenish tint, small stripes of yellow and even some darker colors.

Teak wood is known for its natural resistance to the elements. It has an uneven texture, straight grain, and a distinctly oily feel. With these qualities, teak is a prime pick for outdoor structures or garden furniture and for indoor cabinetry applications.

History

Throughout ancient history until our modern era, every civilization in the world has used wood to create useful as well as beautiful and decorative objects.

We see examples of woodworking by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese. Many other ancient cultures around the world also practiced woodworking, employing many different styles and techniques.

Primitive weapons used for defense and hunting and simple tools used for building shelters have been used throughout the ages. Archaeologists discovered a wooden club and digging sticks at the Kalambo Falls on the Kalambo River on the border of Zambia and Tanzania.

As man developed his woodworking skills, he became better able to kill animals for food, clear land with his axe to grow crops, and build boats, buildings, and furniture. Woodworking thus became an important process that led to the advancement of civilizations.

Because of the vast amount of material to cover related to the history of woodworking, this article will focus on woodworking from ancient times to the Middle Ages, focusing on some of the more prominent civilizations. Woodworking conducted in other civilizations will be omitted – not because they are less important but again, due to the sheer volume of material. We will, however, briefly review some of the more prominent tools woodworkers used throughout history.

Ancient Tools of The Trade

Tools are like windows to the past. They allow us to view the civilizations that created them. Obviously, the more wooden objects a society produces, the more tools it needs and uses.

In some instances, societies advanced slowly or even regressed when it came to the development and use of woodworking tools. For instance, the Roman joiner had a larger tool chest than his medieval counterpart.

Axes and adzes were among the first tools created. Woodworkers used the axe to fell trees, and the adze, whose blade was turned 90 degrees, to dress timber.

The Minoan civilization of Crete used a combination axe-adze and invented the double-headed axe. The ax-adze was popular with Roman carpenters.

The handsaw was used in Egypt as far back as 1500 B.C. It had a broad blade, some as long as 20 inches, curved wooden handles, and irregular metal teeth. Since the blades were copper, a soft metal, they had to be pulled, not pushed. Because the carpenter could not bear down on the cutting stroke, sawing wood must have been a slow, tedious process.

The Romans improved the handsaw in two ways. They used iron for the blades, making them stiffer, and they set the teeth of the saw to project alternately right and left. This made the saw cut slightly wider than the blade and allowed a smoother movement.

The Wood

Throughout the history of mankind, great forests blanketed many parts of the world. They provided civilization with a valuable and plentiful resource: wood.

Wood was a material easy to work with and shape, so artisans used it in many diverse ways. They created weapons and siege devices from wood. They built houses, temples, boats, furniture, plows, and even coffins using local woods, or for special needs, imported fine, aromatic woods from distant lands. They also sculpted statues and other decorative pieces from wood. When stone structures were erected, woodworkers used wood scaffolding to aid in their construction.