6 Best Wood Finishes For Outdoor Furniture

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When it comes to wooden furniture, we look for something that appears smart but also offers durability. But, with outdoor furniture, we need to take care of certain other aspects as well.

Although the choice of wood plays a critical role in outdoor furniture, there are several other factors that you need to consider as well. Some of the considerations to be taken for outdoor furniture are exposure to rainwater, extreme hot and cold, rust, termites, and fading due to ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun.

Many of the above issues can be resolved with an appropriate finish on your furniture. Hence, in this article, we bring you a few of the best wood finishes for outdoor furniture to make it both attractive and durable.

Best Wood Finishes For Outdoor Furniture

Furniture patio set (Image: shai aharony)

It is always satisfying to have an outdoor space where you can spend your leisure time when the weather is good. And, if you have a lovely garden, deck, or patio to sit out in, you need to place some furniture there. The wood of outdoor furniture needs to be treated and finished appropriately.

You also need to maintain it regularly. You can find more information on this subject in another interesting post of ours on the best ways to preserve and sustain outdoor wooden furniture. We get two types of wood finishes that get used for outdoor furniture – penetrating finishes and film-forming finishes. So, let’s take a closer look at some of the best wood finishes for outdoor furniture under these two categories:

Types Of Wood Penetrating Finishes

Penetrating finishes all soak into the wood surface and seal it from moisture. Given below are a few of the popular types of penetrating finishes:

Water Repellents And Water Repellent Preservatives

Rust-Oleum Corporation Zinsser 00903 Clear Wood Preservative, 1-Gallon
Woodlife Classic Clear Wood Preservative. See on Amazon.

This category of finish is not waterproof. It imparts a natural look to the wood to the extent that you may not even realize that the wood has a finish. It reduces the tendency of wood to warp and crack by restricting water absorption. You can further enhance the durability of the wood by adding a mildewcide to protect it from the fungus.

Some water repellent preservatives (WRPs) contain added pigment. This finish has a non-drying oil, which makes the surface oily for some time. WRPs sometimes come with waterborne technology, where you need to add a bit of water before using them. The end grain of the wood tends to soak up more finish than the flat grain end. We use WRPs for the finishing of wooden decks.

Finishing Oils

Liberon Finishing Oil 500 ml -003819-
Liberon Finishing Oil. See on Amazon.

Using oils for finishing wood occupies quite a prominent place in woodworking. Oils like teak oil, boiled linseed oil, and tung oil form a majority of the oils that woodworkers use.

Each oil has subtle differences that make them a preferred choice. These finishes bring out the natural texture of wood. Both finishes are easy to apply, but you have to apply fresh coats to the wood, typically every three to six months, depending on the weather conditions.

Semi-Transparent Stains

#1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain for Decks, Fences, Siding - 1 Gallon (Dark Walnut)
#1 Deck Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain. See on Amazon.

Similar to water repellent preservatives, semi-transparent stains have inorganic pigments added to them. These pigments block UV rays of the sun, enhancing the durability of the wood.

You can get the best results from semi-transparent stains by applying them to coarse-sawn or weathered wood. Typically, posts, deck rails, wooden siding, and wooden fencing take on this type of stain the best. However, you should avoid applying it to walking surfaces of decks as it quickly shows wear paths from people’s footsteps.

If the wood is dirty or mildewed, clean the surface first before applying the stain. You can use it directly on weathered wood, unlike paint. The best time to apply semi-transparent stains to wood is on a cloudy day. It helps the wood to soak in the stain before drying.

Types Of Film Forming Finishes

Polyurethanes, solid color stains, paints, and varnishes all come under the category of film-forming finishes. Here are a few of the major ones:

Exterior Paint

RUST-OLEUM 03101 Exterior Mildew Performance Paint, White
Rust-Oleum Perma-White Exterior Paint. See on Amazon.

The longest-lasting protection is exterior paint. It seals off the wood from the sun’s UV rays. You can best use exterior paint on wood sidings, doors, windows, and trim. Applying caulk to the joints is always a good idea for enhanced water protection. Otherwise, water may enter underneath the layer of paint and cause blistering and peeling.

It is the pigments in paint that offer protection from UV rays of the sun. Paint may also have biocides added to prevent decay due to fungi and bacteria. The best exterior wood paint you can use is acrylic latex.

Being more durable than oil-based paint, it has a higher resistance to UV radiation. Acrylic latex has a better porosity level than oil-based paint, which helps the wood breathe and release water. It has more flexibility than oil-based paint as well.

You can get the best results from exterior paint if you sand down the wood thoroughly and apply a water repellent preservative. Apply primer on top of the WRP, but wait for a day or two between successive coats to get excellent adhesion.

Solid-Colored Stains

Varathane 297424 Premium Fast Dry Wood Stain, 32 oz, Antique White
Varathane Fast Dry Wood Stain. See on Amazon.

A solid-colored stain is something between a semi-transparent stain and paint. The main feature is that it has more pigment and binder added to it. But it does not qualify as paint because it has a relatively thinner consistency. You can apply solid-colored stains to various types of outdoor furniture as well as to deck rails, shingles, wood siding, posts, and fences.

Clear Varnishes And Polyurethanes

Epifanes Clear Varnish (1000 ml)
Epifanes Clear Varnish. See on Amazon.

This category of film-forming finishes helps to accentuate the depth and aesthetics of the wood. You get the natural color and grain. Also, the wood gets protected from wear and tear and also shielded from the elements.

However, you need to realize that you will need a considerable level of skill to apply clear varnishes and polyurethanes. It also entails a fair degree of maintenance, with the need to recoat the wood regularly.


Having an outdoor space with wooden furniture is excellent. However, outdoor furniture needs to meet specific standards of durability for it to be with you for a long time. Even if your furniture is made of the best types of wood for outdoor furniture, you need to ensure that the finish on your furniture is conducive to outdoor use. There are different types of finish that you can use on your outdoor furniture. After reading this post, we are sure that you will be more aware of these various finishes.

You need to be mindful of the types of finishes that you can use, because, even if you bought readymade furniture, you would need to touch up the finish from time to time. By periodically maintaining your outdoor furniture and ensuring that you have the best wood finishes for outdoor furniture, it will last for years and years.


Featured Image by Gary Graves