Often referred to as African Teak, although Iroko wood is not related to the teak tree in the slightest, it can be found in boat building and marine work of all types and this is due to the great properties Iroko has to offer.
Unlike teak, iroko wood is not a naturally oily wood but does have a similar colour and graining, it is a dense hardwood that is extremely durable and rot-resistant, making it great for outdoor and wet conditions, you will often see it being used for benches and gates because of this quality.
Iroko wood can be extremely durable and long-lasting but you must treat it with care to maintain this, which means finding the best finish for your iroko and that will depend on various factors, what the wood is being used for, ie decking or handrails etc, whether it is inside or outside, along with the type of finish that you are looking for.
Varnish, Stain or Oil?
There are so many different products on the market today that it can leave us bemused and at a loss for which one to use, but which is really the best finish for iroko wood. Well, it all comes down to the different factors explained above along with personal preference and the aesthetics that you are trying to achieve with your finish.
Teak Oil or Tung Oil
There are two main wood oils that are very popular and although they are both wood oils they are quite different in their ease and of use and the end results.
Teak oil is one of the most popular of the wood finishes, it is a blend of different oils such as linseed oil, soy oil and tung oil and has absolutely nothing to do with being oil from the teak tree. Each product will vary as to the components that are used because there is no hard and fast rule as to which oils are blended and each manufacturer will have their own blend and explain the type of woods that their teak oil is best used for.
Teak oil will penetrate hardwoods such as iroko wood and most will contain UV filters to stop the wood getting sunbleached and turning it grey after time while retaining its natural colour. It is easy to apply and with the choice of so many different teak oils, you have a wide variety of options for both colour and finish as they can also have a stain or varnish in their components if that is your choice.
Tung oil is another very popular oil used by boaters, in fact, it has been used for thousands of years by the Chinese for boat building, it is a lot more work than teak oil but when properly applied will waterproof the wood while remaining flexible after curing allowing the wood to expand and contract without causing any problems.
With tung oil, you can achieve a rich and natural finish that is long-lasting, food safe and resistant to staining, it’s worth pointing out here that not all tung oil with have UV filters so you must check this out before buying if it is an important factor for you. You will need to apply a lot more coats, and it will generally require mixing with a thinner. Pure tung oil is also hard to store in the right conditions which can cause problems with the finish.
Stains and Varnish
Again depending on the use and the finish that you would like to achieve, you could opt for a stain to get the ideal colour, oil-based stains tend to be longer-lasting, but, bear in mind that although the stain will penetrate the wood, it will require a coat of clear varnish or polyurethane for protection if it needs to be hard-wearing and resistant to marking.
The alternative to staining is opting for a varnish, either clear varnish or one that contains a stain, these do not penetrate the wood but is a surface coating, the consequence of this being that you will lose some of the natural character and beautiful wood graining that iroko wood has to offer along with the fact that they can chip and flake.