Teak Oil Facts and Fiction

Teak Oil: it's not just for teak. April 24, 2014

I'm looking for a source of pure natural teak oil (oil made from teak). Does anyone have a reliable source or favourite brand? A search of the Internet (and this site) turns up very little relevant info and is mainly for a mixture of oils - usually based on linseed oil - for use on teak or of indeterminate origin.

We are currently felling around 50-60 cu m of primarily teak per month in Indonesia for local timber sales and furniture production and have a lot of waste. Can we make our own (real) teak oil from this? I'm assuming (but could be wrong) that this would be via distillation of chips.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
I've worked with lots of teak for lots of years and never heard of teak oil made from teak. Teak oil is for teak, not of teak. However, I don't know everything. I love tung oil or tung oil based varnish on teak. Teak oil, generally, is not much more than a marketing gimmick for amateurs.

From contributor M:
100% agreed with contributor R. Tung oil is (in my not-so-humble opinion) the best oil finish. If you can find 100% pure tung oil, you have yourself a very good oil finish. For what it's worth, no oil finish is all that durable, although tung is probably the most durable I've ever used. Going to require recoating. And, if this is exterior lumber, the oil is a very temporary thing, especially in the humid environment you probably have in Indonesia.

From contributor K:

Teak oil is made from teak just like motor oil is made from motors. Actually, the elephants that harvest the teak sit on the logs when they take breaks. Their weight is what forces out the oil, which is then collected by small boys to get money for soccer uniforms.

All joking aside, teak oil is oil for teak, not made of oil from teak. Manufacturers will not discuss what is in the stuff since they want us to think it is magic in a bottle.

From the original questioner:
"I don't know everything."
Me neither... obviously.

From the little I've been able to find out to date, natural teak oil (of teak) does exist! But it has largely been replaced by cheaper, more convenient alternatives. Some claim these alternative are better. Some (diehards?) claim natural teak oil is better, as it supplements the oil in the wood itself, and some claim not finishing at all is best for teak.

Lots of conflicting opinions. I've just received a number of scientific papers from the very helpful doctors at teaknet.org . I haven't finished reading these yet, but methods of extraction are discussed mainly based on solvent extraction (using a mixture of ethanol and benzene) followed by distillation. No elephants!

From contributor R:
Can you direct us to where oil from teak is used or from where it is available? I wasn't being dogmatic, just skeptical. In addition, teak for some uses should not be finished with oil or varnish. Decks are one of those uses, as a finish makes decks much more slippery than gray or raw teak. Slippery decks are not a good thing.

From the original questioner:
I'm sorry I don't know (yet) - still researching. I have heard that there is a (high-priced) market in Singapore, but haven't been able to verify. I'm hoping there is a market and that this will be a viable use for our waste teak (before we chip/pelletize).

From the original questioner:
While I appreciate that adjectives can qualify nouns in various ways (of teak and for teak as in teak oil), the more I wade through Google hits of "teak oil" and similar, the more I feel that the real snake oils are those teak oils that have not seen a teak tree.

The manufacturers of these oils seem to imply some positive association with the teak tree. We don't accept this with sunflower oil, maize oil, olive oil, etc. and while peanut oil could very well be used for lubricating peanuts, it's not what we understand by the term.

I appreciate that finishing oils have various characteristics - some may even be objectively better than native teak oil - but let's call a spade a spade.

From contributor D:
At the end of the day adding oil to wood is not exclusive to teak and when oil is applied they don't use oil derived from that particular wood. So why would anyone expect oil used on teak to be derived from teak itself?

In the end the oil is used to keep the wood from drying out and to give a little added protection from moisture, plus it makes it look great. There are many formulations of oils that will accomplish the task and as long as they do the native source is of secondary importance. Except possibly to the marketing department.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
The teak oil that is known in the Northern America wood finishing community has no actual relationship to teak wood. It's a marketing term used to boost sales for various oil-base finishes.

What you are actually seeking is information about the uses and value of the extractives contained in teak wood which is more properly known as Tectona grandis. The extractives are not used in wood finishing, but have other applications. If you do a search on google or one of the other search engines for one of these phrases:
Tectona grandis oil solvent extraction
Tectona grandis extractives
you will find that the wood contains compounds like Naphthoquinone.

Naphthoquinon derivatives have a wide range of pharmacological properties including antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, insecticidal, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic properties. Naphthoquinones, isolated from plants and microorganisms, are widely used for the treatment of cancerous tumors and parasitic diseases.

There's also a study that investigates the hydro-alcoholic extract of Tectona grandis leaf for wound healing activity. It has been reported that Tectona grandis has anti-ulcer, leishmanicidal, nitric oxide scavenging activities. Wound healing activity of this plant has not been reported, though extensively used in folklore medicine.

And in the Journal of Wood Chemistry and Technology, Volume 28, Issue 4, 2008, there's an article titled "Identification of Anti-Wood Rot Compounds in Teak (Tectona grandis L.f.) Sawdust Extract."

There are likely a number of other studies and uses on the extractives from this wood that you can investigate. You will need to determine the commercial value weighed against the cost of extraction and processing.