Finishing a Teak Table

Tips on treating Teak with appropriate respect. December 11, 2007

I need advice on how to finish solid teak exterior doors and a dining room table top. I have never had any experience with solid teak wood. These are very expensive, hand carved and shipped from India. Can you stain and seal and not use teak oil? The doors will be under a 6 foot entry way and not directly exposed to the weather.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor P:
Is there a reason you don't want to use teak oil? Like cherry, I think staining teak should be a crime. I suppose there might be a reason for staining it, but then I would have used a different wood to start with. Personally, I'd probably opt for nothing, not even oil.

From the original questioner:
Thank you for your advice. My customer just wants to know all options and I have never worked with solid teak, so I have no answers for him.

From contributor J:
Teak is a very light sensitive wood. Over time and exposure to sunlight, the color will even out. Also slowly just get darker, even under the finish. If you purchase teak from the lumberyard, the color is often determined by how long it's been sitting around after passing through the surface planer. It could be a rich brown, and then if that same board is run through the planer, the brown is gone and replaced by greens, yellows, and light browns. Now build your project, set it in the sun, and in a few hours of bright sunlight, the browns will begin to return.

You can stain it like any other wood. But for exterior use, I would use something that you could refinish. On the overly expensive boats I used to work on, they would use catalyzed Allgrip clear finish (exterior jet paint). After a year of salt, sun, and water, the finish (brightwork) looked horrible! They could use anything (no budget). I always thought something you could scuff sand and recoat to a new look as desired was the way to go. I've also seen interior Kemvar used on an exterior door that was under a roof and never got direct light or wet, that looked great for years. Most exterior clear finishes just mean you have future work, usually sooner than anyone wants.

From contributor A:
When dealing with exterior film finishes (varnish), they are all a maintenance issue. You should get two years before they look real tired and need some TLC and another coat or two. This process will last indefinitely.

That is why most people with teak exterior furniture typically let them weather to a nice uniform gray. It will not rot and doesn't typically check or split. Some people do oil, which also has to be reapplied every year. A product like Penofin (watery sealer) is also a good choice. They have a bunch of flavors that would allow you to successfully color the wood.

From contributor B:
Lots of boat brightwork is teak or mahogany. Usually teak is just left with a light dressing of oil, which means it will turn grey very quickly (it's the sun, not really the salt water, that does this). Teak can be varnished and it has a very pleasant color without using stain (so long as the varnish has some amber tint on its own). Marine varnishes like the line from Interlux (e.g. Schooner Gold) are formulated with conditioners and sacrificial UV absorbers that will slow down the process of sunlight turning the teak to fuzz. Traditional brush-on tung oil based polyurethane or alkyd varnishes, plus these UV protecting ingredients, would be a good option so your client can say it has a special marine yacht finish on it, and in the back of his or her mind they may think they can touch it up themselves with a brush when they need to. And they'll need to every two years at least. Another option is Target EM9300 polycarbonate (water based) which is supposed to be UV stable and gives a nice enough finish off the gun without rubbing it out (this is exterior woodwork, not furniture). I used it to topcoat a black gloss finish on a south-facing exterior door and there have been no problems so far.

From contributor H:
Most of my work is with teak, interior and exterior. I have tried it all. If you want long lasting results, sand to 220, then blow it very well, then clean with tack cloth, then wax and grease remover, then use Watco teak oil. Apply it nice and wet, then wipe it dry. Repeat 2 or 3 times. Make sure you don't leave lint. Wait 3 days, do the same cleaning process again. Then I spray Valspar ac4400 polyurethane first 3 coat, 2 mil the next 10 to 12, nice and even. Don't use any accelerator. I use slow drying thinner. I have yacht tables and doors that I painted 7 years ago and are outside and they look beautiful.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor F:
I was glad to see that last comment regarding extended application of teak oil and later polyurethane. I have used both on teak previously. My current teak project is refinishing our home window frames, all made of solid teak. The contractor who built our home in 1996 painted the outside to match painted hardwood window jambs, and put polyurethane on the inside. I like the oil idea, and today had already taken out one window and took off the finish/paint from both sides. I used 320 grit sandpaper, and boy is that teak beautiful. I do not want to lose it so will go ahead as said. No more painting of this beautiful wood.