Where Does Teak Come From?
Follow the rigorous and complicated life of a teak batten (from a tree trunk to a boat deck) to understand the process of building high-quality, legal teak decking.
When boat owners are ready to add or replace teak decking, there are two basic options for choosing the builder and this will affect teak sourcing:
1) Hire a local boatyard
The boatyard can source raw teak through local or national hardwood suppliers; and then have carpenters mill the lumber and hand lay a deck, plank by plank. It isn’t easy to source enough quality teak locally or from national hardwood importers. So the quality and quantity of wood are uncertain.
2) Hire a custom deck builder like Teakdecking Systems (TDS) to pre-manufacture a deck
TDS keeps an on-hand inventory of high-quality legal teak valued in the millions of dollars. A custom deck builder such as TDS has a reputation in the hardwood industry for requiring the highest quality legal teak available. So the quality and quantity of wood are more robust than with a local boatyard.
TDS can only acquire a small quantity of high-quality teak supply from U.S. hardwood importers each year. So it is necessary to source directly from Southeast Asia to obtain most of the high-quality wood needed for assembling modular teak decks.
After decades of procuring teak from the mills in Southeast Asia, TDS has honed in on a handful of vendors and teak traders that can supply the necessary quality and quantity desired of legal teak. Each mill has its strength, so it takes multiple mills to fill the wood orders. Because of years of building relationships with these businesses, the TDS wood buyers have formed strong industry partnerships. So the TDS suppliers know precisely the quality needed.
Long Lead Time – 9 Months
Once TDS orders the teak, the shipment may take up to nine months to arrive at Teakdecking Systems in Florida. Unlike construction lumber at a hardware store such as Home Depot, the teak lumber in southeast Asia is not pre-milled and stacked, waiting for shipment. Instead, the teak deck planks, or battens, are milled from logs or more massive dimensional stock once the mill receives the TDS order.
Since the lead time for the teak approaches nine months, the TDS buyers have to carefully forecast the volume required for its typical mix of customers. Additionally, TDS must be aware of potential super and giga-yacht projects worldwide that will require hundreds of thousands of dollars of custom-milled teak.
Quality Checkpoints Before Arriving at TDS
In Myanmar, selecting raw timber is the first quality checkpoint. Expert vendors chosen as partners by TDS state that teak quality starts with choosing the right log and knowing what to do with it.
With milling, flaws (such as knots) will appear. Knowing TDS specifications, the mill workers cull out the flawed battens for a second quality checkpoint.
When the batten order is ready for shipment, the mill notifies TDS. One TDS wood procurement team member will usually fly to Asia and inspect the battens. This in-person inspection is the third quality checkpoint, saving time and money if the shipment arrives in the U.S. and doesn’t meet specifications or the overall purchase quantity.
For smaller or less critical orders, the TDS staff may either do a video inspection or approve the shipment based on the mill’s relationship with TDS. A mill knows that a load of poor-quality wood will jeopardize the years of built-up trust. Fortunately for TDS in this era of pandemic and restricted travel, high-definition cameras and video conferencing enable the TDS staff to continue to work closely with Asian counterparts to obtain high-quality Burmese teak.
After inspection and approval, the teak is loaded into a container and moved to a local port for shipment to Miami, FL. For many years, all teak shipments for TDS have entered the U.S. through the Port of Miami. For this reason, the import process is eased because of officials’ familiarity with the repetitive loads.
After processing in Miami, the container is loaded onto a trailer and driven north to Sarasota, a 4-hour trip. Upon arrival at TDS, the Receiving crew has a two-hour window to unload the container before additional charges start accruing. A shifted load or poorly loaded container will slow the process.
Incoming Quality Inspections at Teakdecking Systems
Out of the container, teak battens do not go directly onto a teak deck. Instead, the battens are individually inspected (fourth quality checkpoint).
Then the teak is “air stacked.” Rows of sticks are positioned between the battens to allow air passage. The battens will often remain in the stacks, air drying, for over a year. The wood dries out naturally, rather than forcefully drying it in a kiln. The goal is about 12% moisture content before further processing the teak for use on the decking production floor.
After this process, with four major quality checkpoints, the battens are ready for processing at TDS.
Teak Batten Sizes
TDS supplies modular teak decks with battens in four standard widths and two standard thicknesses, which fit most projects’ requirements. TDS will provide custom-sized battens at additional cost and longer lead time.
Teak that has dried in the sun loses its luster and turns silver. So, TDS orders teak battens a few millimeters wider and thicker than the final dimensions required on a deck.
“Every member of the TDS production and installation teams is a quality inspector.”
Teak Batten Inventory & Inspection
Racks of sized battens, ready for assembly into decking panels, are stored at TDS. The mill shop crew is responsible for keeping these racks full. As the battens are selected for panel assembly, and the inventory racks diminish, the mill shop crew will select replacements from the dried “silver” batten stacks. These battens are moved into the mill shop and individually inserted into a four-sided molder to (1) remove the grayed surface wood and (2) mill to their final dimensions. As the battens exit the moulder, a mill worker on the receiving end checks their measurements with a micrometer. Then the battens move to a sorting area.
Teak Batten Sorting & Inspection
Since wood grows naturally, it is not homogeneous throughout its thickness. Flaws such as pin knots or mineral deposits frequently appear once the outer layer of wood is removed. In this fifth quality checkpoint, the inspectors look for those flaws and examine the batten’s general grain structure. They also look at the grain orientation and the tightness of the growth rings. Then they determine if the grain is running parallel to the plank edges.
If the inspector finds a flaw, that section of the batten is cut out, making two shorter battens. Shorter battens are used to build smaller cockpit decks and swim platforms.
When the inspector finds a batten unsuitable for a teak deck, it is repurposed for a less demanding environment, such as an interior floor or deck grating, or it is discarded entirely.
Panel Assembly & Inspection
The inspected and sorted battens are stored by size in racks, are ready to become part of a deck panel. The panel assembly team selects battens from the proper rack, based on the width, thickness, and length required for the new panel assembly. Additionally, battens are selected based on the grain and color match (must be consistent on a deck), making this a sixth quality checkpoint.
After pulling a batten, the assembler inspects both sides of it and picks the better side to
be face up in the deck panel. If the assembler finds a flawed batten at this stage, he or she will set it aside for reprocessing.
Following assembly, the seams between the battens in an assembled panel are caulked (and overfilled). Then these panels are stored until the caulking cures.
Trim Floor & Inspection
When carpenters on the trim floor are ready to cut the teak panels to shape, they must first run them through a large panel sander. This step removes the excess caulking and levels the top and bottom surfaces of the panel. In doing so, the sander removes a thin layer of the teak surface while revealing the finished caulk seams.
Once these panels are on the trim floor, the carpenters inspect them with a “fine-toothed comb,” looking for any flaws in the teak or caulk seams. In a seventh quality checkpoint, they will inspect the panel for any quality defects.
At this point, it seems there is no way that a flawed batten could survive this far into the assembly process. Amazingly, sometimes they do because of the inconsistency within the naturally grown wood structure revealed as layers are sanded away.
If a minor flaw is found in a batten at this late stage, the batten is removed and replaced.
Deck Installation & Inspection
During installation on the boat, more sanding will take place. So there is always a chance that a flaw will appear here, too. For this reason, TDS ships one or more extra teak battens with a deck, depending on its size. Although rarely used, the extra batten(s) are insurance if the installers (1) find a flaw or (2) damage a batten during the installation.
When the carpenters complete the deck, the project manager who has coordinated the deck project with the customer will perform the eighth and final visual inspection.
One retired TDS project manager stated the following about the teak quality:
“I performed final visual inspections for 20+ years and cannot remember ever finding a flawed piece of teak at that stage of the process. I believe it is a matter of personal pride among the carpenters that there are no flaws at final inspection.”
Premier quality decking is ensured from the tree to the raw cut wood to the final decking installation. This diligence is how Teakdecking Systems earned its reputation as the “premier manufacturer of teak decking.” Some of the world’s most beautiful and largest yachts have these decks installed.
To learn about teak decking cost, read this article: How Much Does Teak Decking Cost? Part 1/3 – Teak
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