Best Wood Finishes for Outdoor Furniture

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When it comes to outdoor furniture, choosing the right wood finish is crucial. Not only does it enhance the natural beauty of the wood, but it also protects it from the elements. A good outdoor finish should be able to withstand moisture, UV rays, and temperature changes. But with so many options available, it can be overwhelming to decide which one to use.

Fortunately, there are a few wood finishes that stand out above the rest. These finishes not only provide excellent protection but also enhance the natural beauty of the wood. Some of the best options include oil-based finishes such as tung or Danish oil that penetrate the wood or film-forming finishes such as and acrylic latex paint or clear varnishes and polyurethanes.

Each of these finishes has its own unique advantages and disadvantages, making it important to consider the specific needs of your outdoor furniture before making a decision. Let’s take a close look at these options.

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 Finishes

Choosing the right wood finish for outdoor furniture is important to ensure it lasts longer and looks good. Here are some of the most popular types of wood finishes:

Oil-Based Finishes

Oil-based finishes are easy to apply and penetrate deep into the wood, providing a natural look. They also offer good water resistance and durability. However, they take longer to dry and can darken the wood over time. Examples of oil-based finishes include linseed oil, tung oil, and Danish oil.

Water-Based Finishes

Water-based finishes are eco-friendly and easy to clean up with soap and water. They dry quickly and do not yellow over time. However, they do not penetrate as deeply into the wood as oil-based finishes and may require more coats for a smooth finish. Examples of water-based finishes include acrylic and polyurethane.


Varnish provides a hard, protective coating that is resistant to scratches and stains. It is ideal for high-traffic areas and extreme weather conditions. However, it can be difficult to apply and may require sanding between coats. Varnish also tends to yellow over time. Examples of varnish include polyurethane and spar varnish.


Stain is used to add color to the wood while still allowing the natural grain to show through. It is available in a variety of colors and can be used alone or with a topcoat. However, it does not offer as much protection as other finishes and may require more maintenance over time. Examples of stains include oil-based and water-based stains.

Spar Urethane

Spar urethane is a clear, protective finish that is resistant to water, UV rays, and temperature changes. It is ideal for outdoor furniture that is exposed to extreme weather conditions. However, it can be difficult to apply and may require sanding between coats. Examples of spar urethane include Minwax Helmsman and Rust-Oleum Marine Coatings.

Timber Oil

Timber oil is a blend of natural oils and resins that penetrate deep into the wood, providing a natural look and excellent water resistance. It is easy to apply and dries quickly. However, it may require more frequent maintenance than other finishes. Examples of timber oil include Cabot Australian Timber Oil and Penofin.

Types Of Wood Penetrating Finishes

Wood finished with boiled linseed oil (wikimedia_)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Factors to Consider

Brushing wood oil in teak furniture
Brushing wood oil in teak furniture (Image: sweetlouise)

When choosing a wood finish for outdoor furniture, several factors need to be considered to ensure the longevity of the furniture. The following sub-sections highlight the most important factors to consider.


The durability of the finish is a crucial factor to consider when selecting a wood finish for outdoor furniture. The finish should be able to withstand exposure to rainwater, extreme hot and cold temperatures, rust, termites, and fading due to ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. The finish should also resist cracking, peeling, and chipping. A durable finish will ensure that the furniture remains in good condition for a long time.

UV Protection

UV protection is another important factor to consider when selecting a wood finish for outdoor furniture. The finish should contain UV inhibitors that will protect the wood from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays. UV rays can cause the wood to fade, crack, and weaken over time. A finish that provides adequate UV protection will help extend the life of the furniture.

Ease of Application

The ease of application is also a crucial factor to consider when selecting a wood finish for outdoor furniture. The finish should be easy to apply and should dry quickly. A finish that requires multiple coats or takes a long time to dry can be time-consuming and frustrating to apply. A finish that is easy to apply will ensure that the furniture is finished quickly and efficiently.


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 finishes 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.

Featured Image by Gary Graves