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Wood outdoor furniture looks handsome in most backyard settings, but if not treated, the wood will eventually deteriorate as the seasons pass and it endures various weather conditions. If you determined not to bother with the maintenance inherent in finishes, at least choose a wood that lasts longer outdoors. Examples are teak, cedar, cypress, mahogany, redwood, and ipe. However, it is better to finish your wooden outdoor furniture so it will last many years and continue to look good.
Options for Wood Outdoor Furniture FinishesPaint
In general, paint is the best way to protect wood from weather and outdoor exposure. This is because the pigments used to add color to paint reflect damaging UV radiation. The paint also creates a coat that protects the underlying wood. Today's latex paints are better choices than oil-based paints because they last longer, are easier to apply, and hold their color well. One problem with using paint on wood outdoor furniture, however is that a lot of use of the furniture can cause it to chip and peel off prematurely. Also the horizontal surfaces tend to collect standing water which can cause the paint to come off in blisters.
An exterior varnish can be a good choice for wood outdoor furniture because it allows the natural luster of the wood to show through. Make sure you choose exterior varnish rather than interior varnish, because they are made a little differently. Exterior varnish has a higher drying oil-to-resin ratio. This is to accommodate outdoor wood movement and because the resins are more resistant to UV radiation. The best clear finish for outdoor wood furniture that must endure both sunlight and heavy moisture is marine spar varnish that is made with tung-oil phenolic resin. However you should know that marine spar varnish shows up dark yellow when it is first applied, then darkens with age. If you're looking for a light-colored finish, it is not the best choice.
Stains & Water Repellents
Stains and water repellents can allow you to get just the right color finish and can also be a good choice for wood outdoor furniture. These penetrating finishes are good at resisting liquid water while at the same time letting water evaporate from the wood which makes it less likely to rot, warp, or split. The problem with stains and water repellents is that they have a relatively short period of durability. These kind of finishes typically need to be reapplied every couple of years.
As you can see, each type of finish for outdoor wood furniture has its pros and cons, but all three of these choices (paint, exterior varnishes, and stains and water repellents) will help your wooden outdoor furniture look good longer throughout the seasons. It is just a matter of finding which works best for you.
Source: Taunton's Complete Illustrated Guide to Finishing