I have had a busy summer/Autumn in 2012. After so many emails and requests from readers, I decided that it’s time to go out there and have a good look at what is going on in the Teak garden furniture market. To compile the below report I visited 8 warehouses/shops/showrooms, 12 garden centres, one private house and one garage…. in a private house that one company was being run from (I saw the furniture in their living room!), made over 30 phone calls, sent over 50 emails and viewed over 100 pieces of furniture from different retailers or e-tailers. We have also, in some extreme cases where we have had special requests from disgruntled customers, bought some smaller items of furniture on their behalf to confirm their belief of unsuitable quality furniture. These we kept out of our report due to on going legal action.
So here it is. Let’s start with what you should be looking out for and avoid.
1. Semi-machine made furniture - Best to avoid. Usually made very quickly and with very low skill level. This type of furniture is made in small huts in Java normally from un dried wood and normally using very cheap supporting materials such as:
a. Steel screws (rusts inside the furniture and disintegrates within very short period of time. Should always be stainless steel for strength and durability)
b. Cheap Glue.
c. Wet Teak. Will crack and warp in no time at all
d. Grade B or C teak. Will rot within 3 years if left untreated. Also, have characteristics of soft wood such as pine.
2. Treated Teak – By far the common way of deception by many importers in the UK. This is grade C teak which is treated in a hazardous chemical Sulphuric Acid to literally burn the teak into an even colour which enables the retailer to claim it is Grade A. Trading standards have done nothing to battle this phenomena and there retailers are now everywhere claiming their teak is grade A where, in-fact, its grade C treated with this horrid chemical. Normally, the chemical turns the teak into a very darkish colour which, to the trained eye, is immediately apparent but they count on the fact that the average person will not know the difference. See some pictures of Treated Grade C teak furniture which is claimed to be Grade A below.
3. Kiln Drying – Touchy subject for many retailers that we asked. Let’s put the record straight here and now. The UK Equilibrium Moisture Content is ~14%. This means that any furniture approaching this figure is perfect for the UK climate. Anything over and you are looking at some serious warping and cracking. Retailers might try to convince you otherwise as they did us when we anonymously called them, but don’t listen to them. MC is king for garden furniture and anything over 14% should be avoided like the plague. How can you tell? Well, you can’t unless you buy a MC meter and that will only give you a rough idea. Other way of spotting wet furniture is:
a. White mould on the furniture when it arrives. Dead giveaway of very high MC. Expect the furniture to crack and warp in a very short period of time. We recommend you return the furniture and not accept it.
b. Put your hand on the furniture. Does it feel very cold to the touch or clammy? Same advice as above.
c. Look at fittings. Any sign of rust? As above
d. Look at dowels. If there is any sign of dark/black stains near them then it means the dowels are just cups covering a cheap steel screw which is rusting from the inside. Expect the furniture joints to fall apart and become very wobbly in a very short period of time. As above, return furniture.
4. Grade C teak – This is very common these days and some retailers such as http://www.greenfingers.com should be commended for their honesty when describing some of their furniture as made from lower grade timbre. In their description, Green fingers describe one particular set as “Taken from the sapwood, which is the outer section of the tree, there tends to be colour variation within the product”.www.garden-furniture-direct.com has some of their non-premium range described as grade B teak. We could not confirm this, but again, it is very rare for retailers to be this honest about the grade of teak they use. Most just claim to be grade A where the pictures clearly show grade C or even worst, chemically treated grade C teak. Most retailers that we called, and some got a bit hot under the collar when asked about this, said either that theirs is Grade A, or that Grade A does not exist. We obviously disagree on both counts. We then said that will it be ok for us to reject the furniture if we found sapwood or chemically treated teak and the pause that caused was very uncomfortable to say the least. It was then obvious to them that we knew about teak and they made their excuses and some were even very rude in saying that they would not sell to ‘people like us anyway’ (you know who you are). And to set the record straight, there is Grade A teak furniture out there. Not much we have to admit, but some companies still sell it here in the UK. Companies that were confirmed as Grade A teak will be listed later. Now, you may say that Grade A is not that important and that has some truth. For most people, Grade B is enough and the wood itself will last long enough. However, the problem is that we never came across lower grades of teak furniture that was well made or that had no-other shortcuts taken in construction. It is very true to say that the line of separation between the grades goes much further than the actual grade of the teak. You can, with almost 100% certainty, guarantee that a grade C teak furniture manufacturer is working to a very small target price and therefore take every cost saving short cut available such as the ones talked about in point 1 above. You can also say that due to the high price of real grade A teak raw material, it is extremely unlikely that the manufacturer will marry it with cheap components. Therefore, a certain threshold of quality is created which is easily distinguishable when viewed side by side. A final note to consider is that we have not yet seen one manufacturer that offers real grade A while using hand or semi machine manufacturing process so this is another reason to stick to real Grade A teak.
So, questions you should ask in order of importance:
1. Is the furniture semi machine made or fully machine made? – Check corner pieces on chairs and gaps in the tenon and mortise joints filled with glue to confirm semi or fully machine made. This and Kiln drying are the most important aspects of long lasting furniture.
2. Is the furniture Kiln Dried to at least 14%? - Check signs of wet timber upon delivery (See point 3 above) and reject if wet. (see http://www.woodworkerssource.com/moisture.php for EMC Guide)
3. Grade of Teak used? Is it chemically or otherwise treated? - (Chemical treatments or any other treatments are used to hide lower grade Teak. (Teak DOES NOT NEED TO BE TREATED!)
4. What Guarantee do you offer? - This has to be in the T&Cs of the site or on the invoice otherwise, a verbal assurance is not acceptable. Anything under 6 years and be suspicious. Also, make sure the company has been going for some time otherwise, the guarantee can be worthless. I.e. a company that has been only going for 1 – 3 years is much more likely to go bankrupt and therefore reduce your warranty to nothing more than worthless.
Is price a good indication of quality? Well, sometimes. We have seen two retailers selling what is obviously Treated grade C teak as grade A and actually charging near Grade A prices. A complete rip off. Others sell grade C teak (taking the ambiguity approach by not mentioning grade used) for Grade C prices. We have not seen anyone selling what looks like to be Grade A teak for cheap prices. This is more of an indication of the raw material prices.
So there you have it. It’s a complete mine field out there. Most companies we spoke to gave us the impression that they were nothing but importers…. box shifters who cared about nothing but selling. These sort of retailers not only care less about customer satisfaction, but we can’t imagine for a minute that they would care about small things like say the environment. Some were very rude, or dismissive in their attitude when faced with our questioning. However, some gems have really shone through so there is some hope yet.
For legal reasons, we are unable to name and shame these companies. We just don’t have the time and budget for lengthy court appearances. Also, some of these companies had such mannerisms that would leave us… well… scared if we are completely honest to expose. However, we are more than happy to list the below companies as people who we spoke to, or anonymously visited and can confirm some amazingly well made furniture: (please note the below is just my personal opinion)
1. Faraway Furniture (www.farawayfurniture.com ) – One of our favourites. They not only knew what they were talking about, they seemed passionate about it. Their furniture was one of the best we have seen. It was on par with Barlow Tyrie and in some cases better but at a fraction of their price. Fully machine made, real grade A teak and 10 year guarantee.
Production: Fully Machine Made
MC: ~ 12%
2. Alexander Rose – One of the best known garden furniture companies and one of the largest, we viewed their teak furniture in 3 different Garden centres. Very well made, all grade A teak and excellent warranty. However, quite pricey. We have seen very similar quality and in some cases better for less than half the price.
Production: Fully Machine Made
3. Garden Furniture Direct (www.garden-furniture-direct.com) – These guys sell furniture from different manufacturers so it’s quite hard to judge as they may have furniture from other manufacturers at other times. When we visited their warehouse they had some Alexander Rose furniture and some generic semi machine made furniture. Worth checking with them as to what stock they managed to get their hands on at the time of purchasing. Some bargains can be found here.
Quality: range from 3/5 to 4/5
Production: Semi machine made on day of visit.
Barlow Tyrie (www.teak.com) – Without a doubt, one of the best known garden furniture manufucturers but also one of the most expensive. Although the attention to detail is faultless, i cant help but think that it has passed the threshold of the rule of diminishing returns. Fully machine made, 5 year guarantee and grade A teak.
Production: Fully Machine Made
In short, do not believe anything you read. I will say that at least 80% of the sites we checked have blatantly lied in their descriptions and their website text. The vast majority of the companies we talked to are just importers even though they claim in their website text to manufacture or design or even quality control their own furniture. The fact that we could only recommend the above 4 manufacturers out of the 30 odd that we vetted shows the importance of actually seeing the furniture in the flesh before buying. In this particular case, unless you are buying from one of the above companies, we would highly recommend you DO NOT BUY blindly from the internet. If you do decide to go and visit the retailer, please do not be shy to ask all the questions you need. You will soon get a feel for the company and its products and whether you should spend your hard earned cash on them.
This is it for now. If you think I missed you or the company you represent out, feel free to send me an email with full details for our consideration.