Teak Decking

Why is Teak Decking so Expensive?

Teak decking, known for its classic beauty and premier functionality, reigns as the decking choice. Many boat owners insist on it. Others are not sure, especially when they learn the cost. Why is teak decking so expensive? The reasons are complex.

Teak is Unique for Decking

Teak has natural oils within it that make it more resistant to rot and decay. This oil also protects the wood fibers from harsh marine conditions. Teak is naturally non-skid too. No other timbers are as resilient as teak.

Teakdecking Systems examined and tested various wood species as alternatives to teak, but teak reigns. Experimentation with heat and chemically modified wood is active. Meanwhile, teak remains the best natural decking solution. But why is teak so expensive? Read on…

Teak is Renewable

In the 1800s, British Admiralty recognized teak’s value. So they sent a German botanist to Burma (now Myanmar) with an assignment: Devise a plan to make teak a renewable resource for its ships.

The result: The teak forests were divided into sectors and a management plan was devised. The number of trees harvested in each sector was restricted. Well-cared-for timber elephants were (and still are) used to extract the logs to minimize damage to the forest.

Teak was protected by the British Admiralty and the Burmese government to ensure it was a renewable resource.

Not all Teak is the Same

Realizing the value and name awareness of ‘teak’, entrepreneurs in South and Central America (as well as Myanmar now…) are growing teak on plantations. While this seems like good news and a sure way to drive down the cost of marine teak, it’s not. Plantation grown teak is unsuitable for exterior surfaces on yachts and boats.

Myanmar Elephant Mahout
Mahouts (lifelong elephant handlers) & their elephants

Plantation grown teak trees are typically planted in an open field at the same time. The trees grow up together, and they are harvested together. The advantage of the plantation system is that the trees grow fast and are easy to harvest. This fast growth causes the annular growth rings are far apart. This means there is a lot of softwood between the growth rings. This softwood is what quickly wears away, dramatically reducing the useful service life of the wood.

Until recently, a military junta controlled an overthrown Myanmar government. During that reign, a lack of order and control (and the generals’ needs for cash…) led to teak being harvested illegally and smuggled out of the country.

Conversely, in the historic managed teak forest model, a limited number of mature trees are selected for harvest each year. The canopy of these forests slows the growth of the trees. This tightens the growth rings and minimizes the softwood. This is the only teak quality that is suitable for marine applications – one more reason why it is so expensive.

Myanmar – The Only Source for Marine Decking

Myanmar

To date, Myanmar is the source for marine quality teak because the forests of Myanmar have the perfect soil and environment for growing teak. Further, the costs and time to create a managed forest elsewhere are substantial. Since Myanmar (Burma) is the singular, limited source, their political strife affects teak availability.

Import restrictions were enacted by the US and other governments. They required that even legal teak from Myanmar had to be shipped to an intermediate country. Then the teak had to be re-milled into a ‘new product’ before being imported to the US or EU nations. That was the situation until a few years ago when events in northern Europe dramatically changed the teak market.  

Governments of a couple of the Northern European nations recognized that illegally harvested teak made its way into their countries. This teak was installed on the yachts built there. Realizing this was destroying a world resource, they threatened to ban all import of teak into their countries, unless Myanmar took control of the situation.

Recognizing the threat to a major cash export, the Myanmar government agreed and almost immediately they severely limited the harvesting and export of teak. This allowed them time to create a teak management plan while protecting the forests.

Severe supply limitations resulted in an immediate 20% cost increase for Burmese teak. Not long after, the government added a 10% export tax. So, in the space of a very short time, the cost of the raw teak lumber increased 30%, without any other cost variables factored. Yacht quality teak returned to being a renewable resource, fortunately, but more expensive.

Teakdecking Systems’ Strict Quality Criteria

Now, the market is stable again. Myanmar exports only a fraction of the teak that was once exported. Teak must have documents reflecting a ‘chain of custody’ back to its point of harvest to be considered legally sourced today.

As the game and rules change, Teakdecking Systems remains steady and protects customers by only selling legally-sourced and documented teak.

Teak grain
Vertical grain on teak planks

Tight specifications for a quality teak deck further limit the supply and make teak expensive. For superyacht quality, Teakdecking Systems requires that the grain in the teak planks should run within 45°± of vertical when looking at the end of the plank. This grain orientation (called vertical grain or quarter sawn) is stronger, lasts longer in the weather, and is less likely to splinter than the alternative horizontal grain (called face or flat grain). Visually, the vertical grain wood surface shows closely spaced parallel grain lines, as seen in veneered furniture. The flat or face grain teak is best used for interior floors because it has more interesting grain patterns and is protected from the environment by a finish.

Expense and Value of Burmese Yacht Teak

Burmese yacht teak is a high-quality boat building material that adds luxury and style to a vessel when artistically laid out and correctly installed. Its cost is due to its unique qualities among woods, single remote source, limited quantities, and government control to protect the resource. This is why a quality teak deck is expensive. Further, teak must be properly maintained to conserve it. Only skilled marine carpenters should work on it or there is increased potential for damage.

Teak is Superior for Marine Decking

Endeavour-Kos-Holland-Sailboat Teak Deck
J Class Sailing Yacht “Endeavour” – Teak decks by Teakdecking Systems

Having reviewed what makes teak ‘special’ among woods, and why it has a premium price, here are the key reasons it is an optimum deck surface on yachts and boats (and why it is so expensive):

  • Anti-slip – Teak provides a natural excellent anti-slip surface, even in extreme weather and sea conditions.
  • Insulation – As a medium density hardwood, teak adds both thermal and sound insulation.
  • Temperature – Teak is cooler under foot than most of the synthetic or other alternative deck coverings.
  • Durability – A ½” thick teak deck well cared for will last 15-20 years, depending on the environment. A painted non-skid deck lasts 5-8 years, and a composite deck lasts 5-20 years depending on its quality. (High quality, long-lasting composite decks are not much less expensive than teak.)
  • Comfort – From hours at the helm of boats with, and without, a teak deck underfoot, sailors’ legs ache less after standing on a layer of teak.
  • Tradition – A large segment of the yachting and boating community either have a traditional vessel, or a boat with traditional elements. Teak decks are an integral part of the wooden boat period.
  • Structure – Modern teak decks are typically relatively thin to save weight and expense, but they still add a degree of stiffness to the fore & aft loads on the structural deck. They also add to the local panel stiffness of the structural deck.
  • Warmth and Style – Teak creates a more inviting a deck area as compared to boats without teak. Modern woodworking tools and CNC capability have allowed skilled woodworkers, like those at Teakdecking Systems, to turn formerly unremarkable decks into engaging geometric patterns and durable works of art.
  • Repairability – Minor damage is often handled with a bit of sanding. Major repairs that require removal and replacement of planks are not that difficult for a marine carpenter.

Teak Decking Systems

Teakdecking Systems has the correct legal Burmese teak (species: Tectona Grandis). Teak boards have the correct grain orientation. The skilled craftsmen and women of the company have a bulletproof method of assembling and installing teak decks. Not all boatyards have the skills to properly install a modular teak deck system. So Teakdecking Systems has traveling technicians who can guide local marine carpenters through the process of installing a modular teak deck system. Or they can join a team to perform the installation.

For local supplier information, quotations, or any other information contact Teakdecking Systems.

Burma, mahout, Myanmar, teak, teak decking, teak decking expensive, timber elephants


Karen Ross

Marketing manager

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