What Wood to Use?

Planter's Chair, traditionally made from dark heavy timber

While contemplating a project I often find myself asking what kind of wood I should use?

In the past I would lean towards Teak because of its reputation, ease of working, durability, termite resistance and so on. Every cabinet maker and wood shop would urge me to use Teak and only Teak. After a few years of woodworking, however, I am no longer so sure.

After all, deciding what wood to use for a project is a subjective decision and there are many alternatives to Teak that are worth exploring.

Last year, the addition of an off white built-in shelf and cupboard in my otherwise Teak filled study added a brightness that was earlier missing. I realised that my heavy, dark Teak furniture tended to make my study look somewhat gloomy.

Made me wonder why most Indian choose dark, heavy timber for their furniture. I guess it is the lingering effect of Victorian style furniture that the Sahib’s preferred.

I think I need to break out of that pattern and get something lighter and more interesting.

Now that I have decided to build a series of cabinets along one wall of my study, I thought I will make it with white Ash and perhaps some White Oak. After a Shellac finish, these cabinets will stand out light, warm and brighten my study.

Pine plank

White Ash

White Oak

Perhaps it is best to choose a wood that would go with the mood one wishes to establish.

Beware of Teak

As for Teak, there are many kinds and from experience I have learnt that the best are not sold through timber shops, they get sold directly to users and factories. We get the rejects or the second and third grade timber.

Moreover, broadly there are three types of Teak being sold in Indian markets: African Teak (Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana mainly), Burma Teak and India Teak (of which the two best are CP Teak and Malabar Teak).

African Teak in my opinion is poor because it is harvested early and is fast growth wood. Burma Teak is frightfully expensive and you need to know which pieces to select.

CP and Malabar Teaks are excellent for cabinetry but come in different grades, the best as I said are snapped up by rich users and interior decorators catering to the affluent. You would be very lucky to get A Grade Indian Teak. So unless you really know your wood forget Teak.

Other Options

Meranti, Malaysian Saal and similar hardwoods from Indonesia are a good alternatives and so are the so-called soft woods from North America and New Zealand (which I have discussed in other blog posts in the “Wood” section).

Ash is relatively cheap - between Rs 1200 and 1400 a cft

There is also a wealth of local species we tend to ignore. In the north, Sheesham and the cheap Babool (Rs 600-700 per cubic feet) are alternatives while in Calcutta I had found Toon or Bengal Mahogany to be widely available.

Some type of Orange-ish Wood I picked up for just 900 per cft

This is some kind of rosewood I found for about 1,100 a cft

I am sure there are dozens of pretty good types of timber in the South and the West. One needs to look around a bit and experiment.

Indicative Prices of common timbers
Wood
Source
Price in Rupees per cubic feet (cft)
CP Teak
India
4,000 plus
Burma Teak
Myanmar
5,000 plus
African Teak
Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast etc.
1,400 to 2,800
Sheesham
India
2,000
Babool
India
600-700
Bengal Mahogany
India
700
Pine
New Zealand and North America
600-800
White Ash
North America
1200-1400
White Oak
North America
1800
Meranti
South East Asia
900-1400
These prices are approximately what is charged by large timber merchants in New Delhi. Prices vary quite a bit even within a city and will vary in other cities.



Indranil Banerjie
19 March 2016

Comments

  1. Nice Article Indranil, frankly in India people (including me) are aware of only Teak wood.Most furniture makers too promote teak only..I would really like one blog on different wood for different application ....good work..

    ReplyDelete
  2. Manoj, that's a good idea for a blog post. Will try to compile a list. Cheers.

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  3. Hi Indranil, I've been following your blog for a little while and finding it great for what I do so firstly just wanted to say thanks for that! I'm fairly new to Delhi (from Australia) and slowly trying to set up a little space for timberworking here (unfortunately I left a great workshop behind in Australia). There have been a few particular things I have had trouble tracking down that I love to work with and I thought it would be great to get in touch as you seem a vast source of knowledge on small scale woodworking in Delhi! Would be great to chat to talk about the best places to get particular timber varieties etc as well as specific joinery things like round dowel and other non screw joining pieces. Thanks, Patrick

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Patrick, would be happy to connect. Mail me at indian.woodworker@gmail.com

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  4. Thanks for providing these detailed information.These are really helpful for newcomers like me. Just a piece of info, thought would be helpful. Last weekend I was hopping around 10 lumber yards in southern kolkata suburbs for a whole day, and was talking to the owners. They showed and recommended me to use Carpur(Camphor) wood. They charge something like 1400-1600 cft. Also observed most of them are keeping woods from malaysia like karpur, saal etc, for an alternative to pricey one like teak.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kingshuk, Kapur is pretty popular in these parts as well, again more for making door/wondow frames. But it is a very sturdy wood. The price sounds fine too. Pick it up.

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  5. Great article Indranil, you are right about teak being promoted too much, there's so much to explore in terms of local timber, one of the interesting timber I came across is kikar mostly from Rajasthan I think it's also called acasia tree.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Abid. I too have heard about Keekar but never actually seen the wood. Do you have any pix?

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  6. Hello all,
    Good Morning. Its nice to see so many people interested in DIY creation.
    I was wondering if any of you can guide me of any demand for "Made in Japan" DYI tools. I am located in JP and can provide.
    Appreciate your interest and work.

    Thanks and Regards
    Anish

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Provide more details such as your email and what kind of tools you plan to provide. Thanks.

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  7. Kristeel Shinwa has been making excellent measuring equipment for a very long time. I do not know about wood workers but every engineering workshop knows about this brand. Earlier they used Mitutoyo make of Japan, now generally they are using Kristeel-Shinwa which are at par,(atleast for rules, protractors etc). The downside is that Kristeel Shinwa has not increased their prices for many years and now they are decreasing the thickness of their scales, protracters etc,(still accurate) which is unwarranted.

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  8. Thanks for your invaluable comments - would have been better if you posted it under the relevant blog post.

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  9. It would be great if you can direct to a source where to find the finest CP or Burma teak.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You will have to try some reliable timber merchants in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Your local supplier also might have excellent Teak but you will have to identify it as such.

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  10. Hello sir,
    Please suggest me should I go for Meranti or Kapur for door frames.

    ReplyDelete

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