Teak History

Teak, is a genus of tropical hardwood trees in the family Verbenaceae, native to the south and southeast of Asia, and is commonly found as a component of monsoon forest vegetation. They are large trees, growing to 30-40 m tall, deciduous in the dry season. Generally a light to mid coloured wood in its natural state, it is the finishing process that transforms a lifeless piece of wood into something that is warm and colourful.

Wood construction was used by all of the railway companies for coaching stock and goods stock right up until the 1950's. Exactly which of the railway companies was actually the first to stop using wood construction is not the subject of this article, but all of them were experimenting with other constuction methods during the 1920's and 30's, almost certainly the last was the LNER which was producing all wooden coaches into the 1940's. 

Teak was chosen for coach construction for a number of reasons, 1. longevity of the finish - teak with multiple coats of varnish was a tried and tested means of coach production and lasted very well for many years, 2. From the LNER's point of view Doncaster works was already equiped to manufacture wooden bodied coaches so no new investment was required, 3. Cost - It was cheaper to buy teak from Asia and ship it to the UK than it was to use some other construction methods.

The first all steel stock produced for the LNER were part of the 1927/28 coach building program and were diagram 28 open thirds built by the Metropolitan Carraige, Wagon and Finance Co. Saltley. The cost of these was £3,950 against £2,700 for a teak bodied version and weighed 1 1/2 tons heavier than the teak version. All of these coaches were painted with an imitation teak finish and lined out in such a way as to look like a panelled coach from most angles. The only distinguishing feature is the lack of underframe trussing. 

Companies that used Varnished Wood Coaches

Whilst the most well known Company to used varnished wood coaches was the L.N.E.R. a number of the L.N.E.R.s constituent companies also used varnished wood, as follows:


  • Great Northern Railway Varnished Teak
  • East Coast Joint Stock Varnished Teak
  • Great Northern & North Eastern Joint Stock Varnished Teak 
  • Great Central Railway from 1910 Natural Varnished Wood
  • Great Eastern Railway Varnished Natural Wood Until 1919
  • Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway 
    • Doncaster built stock - Varnished Teak
    • Derby Built stock - Crimson Lake
  • After absorbtion by the L.N.E.R. in 1934 the ex Midland and L.N.W.R. carraiges were refinished in the painted 'teak' livery
  • Hull & Barnsley Railway Varnished Natural Wood 
  • Cheshire Lines Committee During the L.N.E.R. Period - standard L.N.E.R. Livery but with 'CLC' instead of 'LNER'  


Finishing an L.N.E.R. Teak Bodied Coach

On the 14th August 1923, a meeting was held at Kings Cross that was to establish the standard procedure for the varnishing, lining and transfering of teak bodied coaches. This meeting was chaired by Gresley's personal assistant O.V.S. Bullied (later to become CME of the Southern Railway).

The agreed procedure was based upon the methods currently in use by the companies works and is listed below:


  1. One coat of gold size.
  2. One coat of preparing varnish.
  3. One coat of preparing varnish, rubbed in while wet.
  4. Stopping up, then sandpapered.
  5. One coat of preparing varnish, rubbed in while wet.
  6. One coat of preparing varnish.
  7. When surface hard, face down with pumice and water.
  8. Lining out, Primrose two coats, fine red line.
  9. Varnish transfer panels.
    1. Putty and touch up cornice, hinges etc.
    2. One coat of preparing varnish.
    3. One coat of preparing varnish.
    4. One coat of Finishing varnish.
    5. One coat of Finishing varnish.
    6. flat down with pumice dust and water.
    7. One coat of Finishing varnish.
    8. One coat of Finishing varnish.
    9. Exterior touched up.


Having read the above it becomes very clear why An LNER teak bodied coach both looked extremely good in ex works condition and why it should last so long. It is in total contrast to the sprayed paint and application of vinyls to produce the garish liveries that adorn the rolling stock of the 21st century railways. It is even more amazing when you consider the requirement added in 1925:

that in painting and varnishing not more than one coat per day must be applied which must be quite dry before another coat, and at least one day must be allowed between each coat of finishing varnish'.

It can be seen from this that the whole process of finishing a teak coach will have required about 20 days from start to finish.

Lining was applied to all vestibuled stock on both the bodysides and bodyend mouldings and upright casings with a 3/8" (9.5mm) primrose line edged on both sides by a 1/16" (1.6mm) red line [stage 8 above]. In practice these lines varied in width. The ends of these lines were teminated by a small arrow like head. This was, in later days at least, a transfer.

Non vestibuled stock was subject to the same varnishing process, but vehicles were generally only lined out in primrose on the mouldings. From October 1925 the ends of non vestibuled stock were painted black.

The Quad Art suburban sets left the works in unlined varnished teak with white roofs. The Quint Art Sets are described as being delivered fully lined in primrose and red. All of the articulated suburban sets were unlined in later days.

Lining out of all stock was officially abandoned from November 1941.

Coach Roofs were Painted two or three coats of white lead paint with the cornices remaining teak. From November 1941 roofs were painted bauxite, although some were later painted grey.

Coach solebars, headstocks, wheel centres, buffer shanks and sleeves were painted teak and varnished. Solebar nuts were, in earlier days, picked out in green. Stepboards, underframes, drawgear, bogies, brakegear and bufferheads were black. Wheel rims and axles were white.

Wartime finishes were standardised in November 1941 and required the whole of the underframe including the bogies, wheels and axles to be painted black lacquer.

L.N.E.R. Imitation Teak Finishes

Whilst varnished teak made up the great majority of the LNER fleet there were older wooden bodied stock that had previously been painted.

These coaches were painted in an imitation teak finish, sometimes refered to as mock teak. The process for finishing a previously painted carriage was agreed at the 14th August 1923 meeting and comprised of the following steps.


Teak finishes steps:

  1. Wash down
  2. Burn off paint
  3. Prime, one coat of teak ground paint
  4. Stop up
  5. Face stopping
  6. One coat teak ground paint
  7. Grain
  8. First varnish
  9. Over grain
    1. Second varnish
    2. Transfers applied, lining out
    3. First coat finishing varnish
    4. Second coat finishing varnish


The teak ground paint was specific to this process. The paint was almost buff in colour and was at least 80% zinc oxide. Graining and shading was applied using raw sienna and vandyke brown water colour.

Following the first varnish in step 8 the shading was feather grained and the combination of colours was used for over graining. This process gave depth to the finish and simulated the cross graining that is present in natural wood.

As the all steel and steel panelled stock started to make an appearance, they were painted in the simulated teak livery, The only difference between painting a previously painted carriage and a steel carriage was in steps 1 and 2 which were changed to a special primer and then a lead coloured paint prior to the first coat of teak ground paint. The effect of such work was impressive, but expensive as a first class painter had to be employed to achive the desired result. In due course a less exacting way to produce a satisfactory result was employed. This eventually resulted in the ground colour and some of the graining being sprayed.

Where the varnish finish had become so tarnished that it was considered uneconomical to clean up and revarnish, carriages were finished in a teak paint, this applied to most pre grouping stock that was not manufactured from teak after the 1930's. It was an unatractive finish made up from zinc oxide and linseed oil and continued to be applied up until 1952. The actual colour varied from works to works. On the Great Eastern section the colour was known, with much derision, as 'Stratford Brown'. 

Painting the Model

One of the most important things to do when painting any model is to look at photographs of the real thing. This is as true of a teak coach as it is of an A3 pacific or a Duchess. If you can, get hold of a good photograph taken from a known distance, ideally this photo' should be in colour (it is far easier to see the tonal variations in colour than it is in monochrome). 

One of the most noticeable things about a teak coach when looked at close up is the graining, as you start to get further away from the vehicle the graining becomes less noticeable and is just visible as changes in colour. It is the effect of colour changes that is the easiest and possibly the best to duplicate on a model. Any attempt to duplicate the graining on a small scale model is likely to look and be extremely over scale.

In 4mm scale it is unusual to be able to view a coach on a layout at a distance of less than 12 inches. Converted to to full (12":1')scale this becomes 75 feet. In 7mm the same 12 inches becomes 43 feet. Even at this distance it is unlikely that you will be unable to distinguish the grain in a varnished wood coach.

To paint a model coach into ‘teak’ first clean and prime your model, for a metal coach use PQ17 to clean the metal and then prime using an etch primer For a plastic model use PQ19 to clean prior to painting. 

Once the model has been cleaned and primed, you can apply a light base coat to the model. This base coat should be a dull or preferably matt finish. Colours that have been used with various degrees of success include:


  • P16 GWR Coach Cream,
  • P21 GWR Light Stone,
  • P22 GWR Dark Stone,
  • P24 GWR Roof White,
  • P42 LMS Buildings Cream,
  • P64 LNER Coach Cream,
  • P88 SR Buildings Light Stone,
  • P95 SR Buildings Cream,
  • P109 BR Desert Sand,
  • P380 LNWR Coach White
  • P995 Teak Base Coat.


The application of the base coat can be either by brush or sprayed. It does not have to be a perfect finish, ie. without streaks, but it must cover all of the areas that will be 'teak'.

Once the base coat is dry you can than apply the top coat. It is this coat in conjunction with the base coat that will give the 'teak' effect. To apply the top coat, you will need two things - the paint and an old very rough brush. 

We currently produce 3 different versions of 'teak':


  • P60 L.N.E.R./G.N.R. Teak,
  • P996 Weathered Teak,
  • P997 Golden Teak,


Which when used in conjunction with the base coats listed above will give different colours of 'teak'

The principle used to apply the top coat is essentially 'dry brushing'. Dry brushing is a technique where a small amount of paint is put onto the brush and is then removed by cleaning the brush on a cloth or tissue. This leaves a very dry amount of paint on the brush that can then be applied to the model in a careful and controlled manner. 

To apply the ‘teak’ top coat take a small amount of paint, but instead of cleaning the brush apply it to the model and then brush it out to give a thin covering over the base coat. Take your time at this stage and remember to brush the paint in the direction of the grain – for a standard L.N.E.R. coach the lower panels are generally horizontal and the upper panels and ends are vertical.

When the top coat is dry, line out the coach(if required) and then apply transfers. Even at this stage the coach will tend to look a bit lifeless and sorry for itself.

Once you have allowed time for both the lining and the transfers to dry properly, this could be anything up to 10 days to 2 weeks for certain transfers, apply a thin coat of varnish. This can be brushed or sprayed, personally I prefer to spray a very light coat of gloss varnish over 'teak' coaches. If you are spraying either use one of the ready thinned PAV62, PAV72 or PAV82 varnishes, or if you choose to thin one of the brushing varnishes (PV62, PV72 or PV82) ensure that you ONLY USE PQ10 Varnish Thinners. 

If when the varnish dries you have white areas in the corners of the panels you have either applied the varnish too heavily, if the varnish appears to be blotchy or have an 'orange peel' effect then you have probably used a thinner that is drying to fast, it is imperative that you only use PQ10 Varnish Thinners to thin varnish.

When the varnish is dry you should have a coach that both looks effective and shows the differences in colour.

Remember to take your time, and if it doesn't look right the first time - try again.

About Phoenix Paints

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