When you work with teak, you may frequently find yourself looking for teak wood alternatives. Teak has become a rare and expensive variety of wood, so woodworkers have started using viable alternatives like iroko.
Teak is a beautiful, durable, and strong type of wood. But it has become scarce, and we look for alternatives. One viable alternative to teak is iroko wood, which shares many common features with teak wood, except for the high price and short supply of teak. It is worthwhile to note the similarities and differences between the two kinds of wood.
Teak vs Iroko
Iroko comes from West Africa and we also call it African teak because it resembles teak in many ways. But the two types of wood are different in many ways. While teak grows in Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, iroko comes from Africa.
Iroko is superior to teak in many ways. One of the advantages it has over teak is the large boards you get from iroko lumber because of the huge trees. Both types of wood share properties like similar hardness, grain structure, and durability.
You will find Burma teak (Tectona grandis) growing in India, Myanmar, various parts of the Indian Subcontinent, and Southeast Asia. Woodworkers and construction workers equally covet this fine wood for its high durability and good looks.
Teak wood plays a prominent role in all types of indoor and outdoor furniture and numerous other applications. Teak wood offers several benefits like strength, hardness, durability resistance to moisture, insects, and rot.
This wood is quite hard with a maximum Janka hardness rating of 2,330 lbf. The combination of its hardness and durability makes teak an excellent choice for beach and poolside furniture.
Teak is a fairly easy wood to work with and it takes polish and stains quite well. You may need to apply a wood cleaner to clean the surface of natural oil before polishing or staining it. Once done, the beautiful grain patterns of teak wood become prominent.
Although there is a lot of hype about teak wood not being sustainable, most of the teak wood comes from plantations nowadays and we call it “plantation teak.” A surprising point to note is that today, teak neither appears in the CITES Appendices and, nor can be found on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Although you have good chances of procuring legally-sourced teak, beware of the black market which is rampant with poached wood. Always ask for documentation when buying teak, to ensure that it is legitimately sourced.
You will find iroko trees growing in tropical Africa. The trees are tall and grow up to 130 feet with tree trunks reaching diameters of up to 5 feet.
Like most African wood species, iroko has an interlocked grain. The heartwood is yellow to medium-brown, similar to the color of teak. The woodgrain is medium to coarse, with open pores.
There is a clear differentiation between the heartwood and sapwood of iroko. You can identify the wood from the ribbon-striped effect which appears on the quartersawn wood.
Iroko is an extremely workable wood. However, the presence of calcium carbonate within the wood can have a dulling effect on cutting blades. We use iroko for veneer, flooring, furniture, cabinetry, boatbuilding, turned items, and other small specialty wood items.
Although we consider iroko a viable substitute for teak, it does have some sustainability issues. It does not appear on the CITES Appendices, but the wood features on the IUCN Red List. It is due to the significant reduction in the tree population over the last three generations.
Teak vs Iroko: Durability
The natural oil of teak wood keeps it protected from moisture, rot, insects, and the adverse effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. It makes teak a suitable candidate to use outdoors for making wooden railings, decks, and outdoor furniture.
Iroko shares durability features similar to teak and is therefore also a suitable wood to use for outdoor applications. Those who are not obsessed with the need to use only teak can comfortably use iroko to replace teak for all their woodworking needs.
Teak vs Iroko: Maintenance
Teak is an easy wood to maintain and that too, only every few months up to a year. Washing is easy with a little soap and water. It is recommended to reapply the finish after stripping the old coating every few years or so. You can also restore the look of the wood by applying oil (boiled linseed oil or tung oil) every once in a while.
Like teak, iroko is also a naturally oily wood, perhaps more so. As a result, you’ll have to rub it down with solvent before you apply a finish or stain. You can wash the wood now and then with soapy water whenever it starts to look grubby. Iroko is an easy wood to maintain.
Teak vs Iroko: Workability and Uses
Teak is an easy wood to work with. But it contains a high percentage of silica, which can be detrimental to cutting blades. You will find that you need to sharpen your tool blades more frequently while working on teak wood.
Teak wood takes glues and finishes quite well. However, the oily nature of the wood surface may compel you to wipe it down with a solvent before polishing, gluing, or applying a stain.
Iroko is similarly easy to work with as it has a similar hardness rating to teak wood. However, you need to be cautious about tearout occurring at the section of interlocking wood grains. Calcium carbonate deposits can be present in iroko wood sometimes and cause your cutting tools to become blunt.
Iroko resembles teak in many ways and we consider it a viable alternative to its highly-priced relative. We use iroko for making veneer, furniture, hardwood flooring, cabinets, turned items, boatbuilding, and small, specialty wooden items.
Teak vs Iroko: Price
A lot of effort is going into teak cultivation on plantations across the world. However, teak remains one of the most scarce and expensive woods in the world. Of course, there are more expensive woods, but you won’t get them in large sizes like teak.
Iroko is an imported wood, which pushes up the price a bit. However, it is much cheaper than teak and many other hardwoods.
Teak vs Iroko: Sustainability
With the excessive overlogging and over-exploitation of teak forests, you can well imagine, teak wood became an endangered wood species. A surprising fact is that teak wood is not featured in the CITES Appendices, nor the IUCN Red List.
However, it continues to be a highly-controlled type of wood, and you need to be careful to ensure that your teak is legally sourced.
Iroko does not have such serious issues as teak, and it does not feature in the CITES Appendices, but it is listed on the IUCN Red List. It is probably due to the dwindling population of the trees as a result of unscrupulous deforestation.
Teak vs Iroko: Comparison Table
|Botanical name||Tectona grandis||Milicia excelsa, M. regia|
|Color||Golden to medium brown||Yellow to golden or medium brown|
|Durability||Highly durable||Very Durable|
|Hardness (Janka Scale)||1,070 lbf. to 2,330 lbf.||1,260 lbf.|
|Strength||Extremely strong||Extremely strong|
|Maintenance||Easy to maintain||Easy to maintain|
|Suitability for outdoors||Yes||Yes|
|Suitability for wood carving||Yes||Yes|
|Workability||Easy to work with||Moderately easy to work with|
|Smell||Leathery smell||No characteristic odor|
|Availability||Limited availability||Readily available|
|Special features if any||No special features||No special features|
If you want to use the best wood for your woodworking projects, then without a doubt, teak is what you need. But with the complicated issues associated with this wood and given how scarce it is, you may be better off with an alternative type of lumber.
Add to all the above the fact that teak can be an extremely expensive proposition, a teak substitute like iroko comes as a refreshing change. A lot about teak is a mindset that people need to change.
Keeping an open mind to other types of wood is a responsible way of using wood. If more people would be open to using teak substitutes like iroko, the situation with endangered wood species like teak might improve. Try using iroko in your next woodworking project instead of teak and you’ll still have a great-looking project!