Teak color is discussed a great deal. Specifically Teak color change is what drives people crazy. Wood is an organic material so it moves and changes. Anyone who has worked with wood has noticed the different look of freshly planed lumber from aged and oxidized lumber. In most cases a mellowing of the color and general darkening as the species tans in sunlight. This process can be very quick or can take many months or years to complete. The problem mostly is that freshly milled, dark Teak color is often very different, even streaky, from the mellow golden yellow brown so sought after for Teak decking.
Teak and a few other species close to it like Iroko and Afromosia are a little different from other species. In most cases the wood is lighter when freshly planed and it will darken with sun exposure. The Teak color change is opposite and much more drastic. Teak is usually purchased for it’s consistent golden brown color to be used as boat decking or exterior trim work. These applications demand color consistency or you end up with a shoddy looking finished product. Moreover, Teak specifically has an almost iconic look, so there is an expectation to be met.
Teak Color Change
Even though the Teak in question is kiln dried and seasoned properly, when it is milled, fresh surfaces are exposed to oxygen and light. The freshly milled, dark Teak color can be highly variable exhibiting blotches and streaks of black, brown, green, yellow, and blue. If you really want to see color change in action, check out this video we did on the process and the science behind it. The short version is that sun tanning will change the board from a dark Teak color to light and golden within hours. This dramatic change can cause a lot of dismay and confusion for a customer when you finish installation of their deck or floor and they want to know where that sought after golden brown color is.
“Why does that Teak look like Zebrawood?” they ask.
Okay maybe they don’t ask that, unless your customer is a real woodaphile, but you get the point. This can be very tough in today’s instant gratification society to explain to a customer that they may need to wait few months before these streaks fade and the signature Teak appearance shows up. Perhaps a little information may help the situation along.
Teak Wood Decking Color Range
The biggest issue is that freshly milled Teak is really dark. Its also filled with a bunch of odd colors like gray and green and orange and even cream. In general it can be a streaky mess. Some think this streaking may be the result of improperly and unevenly dried material but tests show that Teak put through several different kiln schedules all behaves the same way and moreover the time for the discoloration to fade is the same regardless of temperature and time in the kiln. In actuality the discoloration is faded purely by exposure to light alone. Oxidization will occur and may cause an overall darkening of the wood but the streaks will remain without light exposure. The time to fade can take up to 3 months, but a noticeable difference is present within a few hours or days. The cause is chemical in nature as Teak and species similar contain high amounts of light sensitive pigment or extractive oils.
These samples below were milled close to 6 months ago. They are vertical grain or quartersawn samples which accounts for the evenly spaced and highly pronounced vertical lines. The color has darkened a bit from oxidization but you can still see a lot of the dark streaks with hints of yellow and green mixed in. Because these pieces have been kept in a dark closet most of that 6 months the color fading process hasn’t progressed much at all.
This flat sawn Teak board also lived in our sample closet for more than a year. The color has evened out a lot more but the dark lines are still prevalent because it has been in darkness almost continuously. I have pulled all three of these samples out into a lighted room just as an experiment to see how long it takes for the colors to fade into one. I’ll post on that in a few months so we can share the before and after photos.
Finally, here is a skip planed, flat sawn Teak board that has been sitting off to the side in the Teak shed for a few weeks. You can still see some of the discoloration but it is decidedly less especially considering it is only a few weeks old. Notice how the dark lines haven’t so much faded but the background golden color seems to have come forward and overtaken them. The lines will remain to some extent and this breaks up the color giving Teak that beautiful appearance.
Now imagine if you freshly planed or sanded a Teak decking board and installed it on a sun drenched boat deck. That streaky color would stand out dramatically but with all that direct sun exposure, within a very short period of time you would have a golden brown beauty begging to be complimented.
So what’s the moral of this story? Give your wood a sun tan, especially if it is Teak. Your customers will be much happier in the long run.