The Teak Table-Makers of Java

Me with the reclaimed teak craftsmen of Java

Indonesia is the place you go for teak.  Other countries have teak trees, but Indonesia is known for the quality of its teak. So, what’s the big deal about teak, you ask?

The wood is unusually hard….and so beautiful.  Cutting teak boards from some trees will cause sparks to fly off the saw blade because teak trees will absorb sand along with water. The grain of teakwood is like no other, especially the reclaimed teak from old homes and structures.

Working with teak can be taken to an art form. I managed to find this incredible old bench on Bali, but the bench was from the Island of Nias. The grain and colors seem to glow, especially from the old teak.

Antique 7 1/2 Foot Teak Bench from indonesia

 

At the end of 2000 I decided I wanted to travel more and to get paid for it, too, so I started an import company and spent the next seven years traveling through Southeast Asia. I got into some really funky places and a few dangerous ones, too. I imported high-quality furniture from Indonesia and spent years developing the sources, often one-of-a-kind sources that made one thing exceptionally well. You have to be careful with whom you deal because you could get a load crap put into your container and shipped to you, but you won’t find out for another month until it arrived. So, finding good resources that do consistently good work is both difficult and important.

Enter whom I call the Teak Table-Makers of Java. These craftsmen make incredibly beautiful teak tables, benches, and stools like no others. I ran into them scouting around the smaller towns in central Java. Their specialty is working with old, reclaimed teak, a very special wood, indeed. Reclaimed teak comes from old buildings that were built, say 75-100 years ago.

When homes or buildings were built that long ago, no one ever considered ecology, let alone ever heard of the word. There were still virgin teak forests. Today, teak patio furniture is made from teak plantations trees, small trees that are 5-10 years old that are grown on teak tree plantations. That’s why the boards on teak patio furniture are slatted, only an inch or a few inches wide, at most.

A hundred years ago, teak trees were huge, old trees, already 100-200 years old and 10-15 feet in diameter when they cut them down to build a home. The annual growth rings grew close and compressed, so this teak is heavy. Now consider, you start out with old, dense wood, say one hundred years old, cut it down to build a home, then 75-100 years later, you take apart the house for the quality of the wood it contains. It’s almost impossible to find wood like this, now, 200 years old, or older. This is why old, reclaimed teak sells for a great deal more than plantation teak.

The Teak Table-Makers have the special skills to work with reclaimed teak to bring out all of its qualities. A hundred years ago, Indonesians didn’t use metal to hang a lantern or a shelf on a wall – it was pegged into the wall.  When the board is processed today, the peg sticking out is cut off, but the stub of peg remains in the wood. This makes for some interesting character to the wood and the table. The wood in the tables I had made were in the 200-300 year old range. Simply incredible wood.

The Table-Makers put the tables together with care and special skills, sometimes with butterfly wedges to keep a crack from widening, or leaving the rough grain of the wood in places. This often enhances the character of the table or stool. On the stools I had made for me, they brought the stool leg up through the seat and pegged it tight with a wood dowel – no metal or screws anywhere in the tables, benches or stools. Unlike most furniture you buy today, what the Teak Table-Makers of Java make will never come apart, not even in a hundred years or more.

Teak Stool Seat with Inset Legs and Peg

Go to my Travel Photos to see more pictures of their work.They’re really not so much travel as a feast for wood aficionados.

As a side note, I may make it back to Indonesia this year or early next year on my travels and may put together some containers for businesses and people who have been asking me.  If you’re interested, let me know and I may be able to put together a container for you and your family and friends while I’m there.

Enjoy the pictures at my Travel Photos. By the way, some of the pictures were taken at my old retail location, so just ignore any pricing that may show up in the pics.

 

Comments

  1. Mark Carter says:

    Hi Bart, we love the tables we bough from you years ago… wee need a dining room tables, chairs, chinca cabinet…any ideas of wheere we can go to get one?

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    • Bart Nedelman says:

      Hey Mark! You found me looking for more teak tables. Yeah, weren’t they absolutely beautiful and put together like a tank? I was thinking of heading over to Indo for fun and to put together a container for for some of my old customers. I still get calls and requests and still have my sources. Email me back. Your up north? Maybe you can get a group of friends and we’ll do something special. I hope things are going well for you.

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      • Brian Frabl says:

        I think there is still a demand for those tables.

        PS- I should have contacted youbefore , but I just came back from Bali and Lombok – beautiful place !!

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  2. Teak Table-Makers of Java, Indonesia | TRAVELBART … Oh dude I love the idea web portal. This is the very first time My spouse and I noticed it still I Enjoyed it.. Most certainly definitely will be back, you actually gotten a great deal of articles in right here 😀 ok back to work right now 🙂

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