Whatever it is that you want to build out of wood for your next project, your first choice will be the type of wood to use. This aspect becomes even more critical when we move outdoors. You will find that many types of wood may do well indoors, but may not fare that well outside. So, what are the best types of wood for making outdoor furniture?
Although more challenging to work on, hardwood, if appropriately seasoned, is a durable material to use, as it has better natural resistance to the elements and is less likely to warp, split and swell.
But that being said, there are some softer varieties of wood that we can use as well. Hence, we felt it appropriate to highlight some of the different types of wood suitable for making outdoor furniture
Best Types Of Wood For Making Outdoor Furniture
Three of the most popular lumber choices for outdoor furniture include cypress, western red cedar, and redwood. Geographical location has a lot to do with influencing your choice of wood. For instance, if you live in the western United States, you would probably use redwood, due to its abundance in that area.
Then, many other factors dictate the choice of wood for outdoor furniture. To know more about the factors that we need to consider and the best ways to preserve and maintain outdoor wooden furniture, we have covered it in another interesting post.
Due to its high durability and good looks, teak wood enjoys wide popularity for outdoor furniture. Unfortunately, due to high demand, it isn’t readily available. Teak is sufficiently water-resistant, and its natural oil repels insects, rot, and decay. This wood takes polish quickly, which gives it a pleasant appearance when finished.
Teak comes from southeast Asia and enjoys being one of the world’s most valuable woods. You need to be careful that your purchase is from suppliers that use legal sources because a lot of smuggling goes on.
Teak’s weather-resistant properties make it a popular choice for use outdoors. You will commonly find it used for beachside furniture as it shows resistance to decay and doesn’t swell or shrink when exposed to harsh weather. Teak wood exhibits excellent strength. Teak wood owes its durability to the presence of natural oils and tight grain. People used to believe mistakenly that only old-grown teak was any good. Today, however, most teak comes from plantations where the growth is far from old, but carefully monitored.
Salient Features Of Teak
- Appearance: Golden to dark brown
- Durability: Highly durable
- Hardness: 2,330 (Janka hardness)
- Density: 0.65-0.98 (Kg/M3)
- Workability: Moderately easy to work
- Cost: Among the most expensive types of wood
Cedar is a durable, rot-resistant, and lightweight wood. It will not crack in the presence of moisture and does not need much maintenance if left on its own. It is the resins that are secreted by these woods that help in keeping away insects and rot. Being light lumber, it is an excellent choice for outdoor furniture that needs to be moved frequently.
Since it stains well, you can match it well with most existing furniture. You would do well to sand it and apply a finish to avoid the grain becoming coarse. However, cedar ages well and over time tend to take on a pleasing silvery-grey hue.
Being a softwood, cedar dents and scratches easily. However, it will not warp due to excessive moisture.
Salient Features Of Cedar
- Appearance: Reddish-brown to pale, almost white
- Durability: Durable on its own but lasts longer if a finish is applied.
- Hardness: 580-1,006 (Janka hardness)
- Density: 380 Kg/M3
- Workability: Softwood, easy to work on
- Cost: Expensive and fast becoming extremely expensive
Native to Indonesia, Mahogany has always been a costly wood. It comes in various colors and is durable enough for outside use. However, you need to maintain it for it to retain its color. It is the most popular among hardwood tropical trees. The unique feature of mahogany is that it darkens with time.
Because mahogany grows faster than many other kinds of wood (7 to 15 years), it is more readily available. Mahogany serves well in the carpentry world in making furniture and various handicraft items. It serves as a viable substitute for teak wood.
Other varieties of mahogany include:
- African Khaya mahogany
- Brazilian Tiger mahogany
- Sapele mahogany
- Lauan Mahogany
- Incensio Cariuva mahogany
- Santos’ Cabreuva mahogany
Salient Features Of Mahogany
- Appearance: Reddish-brown to blood red
- Durability: Very durable, if aged
- Hardness: 800-3,840 (Janka hardness)
- Density: 497-849 Kg/M3
- Workability: Easy to cut but needs a proper finish
- Cost: Moderately cheap to expensive depending on the cut and grade
Here’s a robust Australian hardwood that grows fast and costs comparatively less than other hardwoods. But eucalyptus needs regular maintenance to ensure waterproofing and resistance to pests as well as rot. Care needs to be taken in the way eucalyptus timber is cut to avoid warping and cracking.
Hence, when you use eucalyptus, you need to make sure that the wood is treated. If you use a sealant to preserve the wood, eucalyptus can even last as long as teak at a fraction of the price.
Regarding workability, eucalyptus is easy to work with. The reddish-brown to pale cream wood color creates a pleasing effect. The wood takes on polish and paint quite easily as well.
The original use of eucalyptus was for energy (making charcoal), boards, and paper. In recent years, however, people have discovered its value as a versatile hardwood. Hence, it is being cultivated extensively in South America for timber.
Eucalyptus, when sanded and polished, resembles expensive woods like cedar or mahogany. Due to this reason, it is common for it to be sold under false claims of being the more expensive varieties of wood.
While being used for outdoor structures, eucalyptus is ideal for fencing, shading structures, paneling, and support beams.
Salient Features Of Eucalyptus
- Appearance: Reddish-brown to pale cream
- Durability: Moderately durable
- Hardness: 4,000-5,000 (Janka hardness)
- Density: 600 Kg/M3
- Workability: Easy to work with
- Cost: Cheaper than most standard hardwoods
This variety of hardwood also lasts for decades if treated properly. Popularly known as “whiskey barrel” wood,” it was for making boats and other outdoor items. It has a natural resistance to water and rot. White oak needs to be painted or oiled to enhance its durability. It ages well, developing a grey patina.
White oak is well-suited for use in wet climates. It is a low-pore wood; hence it found a purpose in making ships in the earlier days. White oak takes up oils well, which imparts a high degree of durability to it. White oak has some significant differences from red oak, so you need to take care of the details when you buy it.
One of the main differences between the two varieties of oak is that white oak has less porosity than red oak. This prevents moisture from wicking up in the end grain. It also has excellent strength and is easily stainable. This wood splits easily. Hence, you need to drill a pilot hole to prevent the wood from splitting while driving in screws.
Salient Features Of White Oak
- Appearance: Light to medium brown with a straight and coarse grain
- Durability: High durability. Hides scratches well.
- Hardness: 1,360 (Janka hardness)
- Density: 770 Kg/M3
- Workability: Good for working on with machines.
- Cost: Relatively inexpensive, but gets costlier depending on the cut.
This variety of wood from Southeast Asia is also known as Philippine mahogany or sal and is harder and denser than teak. Shorea covers about 200 species of trees under its genus. This wood can be further subdivided into five timber groups:
- Dark red merantis
- Light red merantis
- Yellow merantis
- White merantis
This hardwood has the unique property of becoming more robust and more flexible if exposed to heat. The natural oil content of shorea makes it resistant against insects, rotting, and damage due to weather. It is also a cheap wood, but not very well-known so you may not be able to find it easily.
Because shorea has similar properties to teak, it is easier to find, hence, it is cheaper than teak. You need to oil this wood regularly for added durability. If you maintain this wood by regular oiling and painting, it becomes well-suited for outdoor use.
Salient Features Of Shorea
- Appearance: Reddish to purplish brown
- Durability: Naturally durable
- Hardness: 1,780
- Density: 550-650 Kg/M3
- Workability: Easy to work with but need to take special care of interlocking grains.
- Cost: One of the cheaper varieties of wood.
Brazilian Walnut (Ipe)
Next on our list is Ipe (pronounced, “e-pay”), we also call this variety of wood South American ironwood or Brazilian walnut. It has considerable resistance to fading. The natural oil produced by ipe wood helps to combat insects, fungi, and rot. It is a very durable form of wood that can last up to 40 years. However, you may find it not so easy to work on while gluing parts together, and you have to prepare the material considerably.
Due to its high density, you may find that ipe wood barely floats. But this property of the wood contributes to a high degree of water resistance. Regarding durability, you could say that it is as durable than teak, only cheaper. This feature makes it a viable substitute for teak wood. If even left untreated, furniture made from ipe wood can last decades.
Salient Features Of Ipe
- Appearance: Yellow to reddish-brown
- Durability: Untreated, lasts up to 25 years and if treated, lasts from 50 to 75 years
- Hardness: 3,510 (Janka hardness)
- Density: 945 Kg/M3
- Workability: Tough wood to work on
- Cost: One of the cheaper varieties of wood
We call cypress a “wet climate” wood because it exudes a natural water repellent. This property makes it suitable for outdoor use. However, you should not let it be in direct contact with the soil. Nevertheless, cypress enjoys enormous popularity as patio furniture.
This wood is easy to work with, on the condition that you take care not to over-sand it. Cypress is a costly type of wood because mature trees are scarce. You will get a golden to reddish-brown finish with this wood. It has a knot-free and straight grain and is highly resistant to rot and pests due to its natural preservative oil, cypressane. However, it needs a periodic coat of oil to enhance its durability. If left without any treating, cypress will take on a silver-grey patina but is less likely to swell or shrink.
Being a softer variety of wood, you will be able to cut it easily. But, be warned, it dents quickly. You can soon put a screw into cypress, but a pilot hole would be advisable. To make the lighter shade of cypress pop, you would need to use a stain that is oil-based and mildew-resistant. If you want to prevent the wood from fading, you need to apply a sealant every year or so.
Salient Features Of Cypress
- Appearance: Golden to reddish-brown, knot-free
- Durability: High durability
- Hardness: 1,360 (Janka hardness)
- Density: 510 Kg/M3
- Workability: Easy to cut, but need to take care, not to over-sand
- Cost: Expensive
Acacia is such a tree that it grows almost like a weed. Hence, you can always get an abundant supply of this variety of wood, thereby making it a cheap one as well. Being a dense wood, we generally use it for boat building thanks to its durability. For the same reason, it is an excellent choice for outdoor furniture.
If you use an appropriate sealant, acacia wood will last for years, but like cypress, it is better to avoid having it contact the ground directly. Being a harder wood, acacia is resistant to gouges, dents, and scratches. You can work this wood efficiently, and use it for outside furniture. However, if untreated, you would do well to use it for patios and decks.
Salient Features Of Acacia
- Appearance: Light brown to reddish-brown
- Durability: Needs to be sealed properly
- Hardness: 1,100-4,270 ((Janka hardness)
- Density: 540 Kg/M3
- Workability: Quite easy to work, but can cause tools to become blunt
- Cost: Cheap
Redwood had dropped out of popularity due to over-logging. However, now that the issue seems to be resolved somewhat, it has re-emerged. But it remains an expensive wood. However, people consider it worth the while due to the natural color and exceptional climate durability of this wood.
It is this durability that makes it suitable for outdoor furniture. Due to tot the fact that it scratches and dents easily, you need to use a sealant after applying a finish to the surface. If not sealed, the wood can exude a red pigment that gives its name. This can wreak havoc upon the clothes of people who sit on redwood furniture.
Salient Features Of Redwood
- Appearance: Reddish-brown
- Durability: Durable if finished properly
- Hardness: 402 (Janka hardness)
- Density: 450-850 Kg/M3
- Workability: Can be easily cut, sawed and drilled
- Cost: Moderately expensive to highly-expensive
Native to North America, this naturally-resilient wood stands up to the elements well. It is a preferred choice for outdoor furniture. Even though it is a rather hardwood, it shows scratches quickly, so you need to apply an appropriate finish.
Black locust is best worked with machines and is a bit awkward for cutting with hand tools. Like acacia, it tends to make tools blunt. Because the grain is so tight, you may find it a bit difficult to apply a finish. Despite the difficulties of this wood, you can rely on it for a robust solution for your outdoor furniture projects.
Salient Features Of Black Locust
- Appearance: Pale green to dark brown
- Durability: Highly durable even without finishing
- Hardness: 1,700 (Janka hardness)
- Density: 402 Kg/M3
- Workability: Hard for working by hand
- Cost: Cheap to a bit expensive
We hope that this article has covered all the best types of wood for outdoor furniture sufficiently. By now, you will have a better idea of what is available when you need wood for your outdoor furniture projects. You will also see that there is so much more than meets the eye when it comes to the choice of wood for outdoor furniture.
But, if you are aware of the various types of wood, you can make a suitable choice. And, if you need some information on the best ways to preserve and maintain outdoor wooden furniture, do check out our post on that subject as well.
Featured Image by Hans