I’ve been contemplating what to add to my patio this summer, apart from my wife’s flowers. When I looked at new patio furniture, the cost added up quickly. So, I started looking through my woodworking books.
Fortunately, my books have a lot of options. I decided that a pair of benches would be an excellent place to start. Next came the complicated part. I had to find the best wood for outdoor furniture so my benches would stand the test of time.
Why Use Wood for furniture in the First Place?
One of the initial things to consider with wood is the look. Whether we’re talking about a classic red cedar or a light fir, wood is timeless. Humans have been using wood for centuries to build everything from bridges to baby cradles. We all use it around the world.
Wood is also remarkably diverse building material. It starts with the sheer variety of colors and textures available. We can also add finishes to our projects, which do double duty. Not only do they help our projects stand up to time, but they’ll also turn them any shade of the rainbow.
Wood is not the first product most people think of as eco-friendly. However, it really is. Throughout their lifetime, trees absorb a lot of carbon dioxide. When we turn them into furniture, we’re continuing that storage. As a bonus, wood requires relatively little energy versus other building products to process.
With proper management, wood is also a renewable resource. Proper forest management means replanting, which in turn leads to more trees down the line. In fact, the U.S. has actually been gaining more forest land over the past two decades.
Locally harvested wood is a beautiful way to add value to your projects. Local woods are often suitable for the outdoors with minimal treatment. They also tend to look good and come cheaper than woods trucked across the country.
When we consider using non-local woods, we must pay for transport. We also need to consider the carbon cost of that transport, which adds up. Local wood has neither of those downfalls.
Wood is a very tough material overall. In most cases, it stands up to years of wear and tear with only minimal maintenance. In many cases, our projects may even find their way into our children’s homes, they’re that durable.
Things to Consider When Choosing Wood for Outdoor Projects
Resistance to Rot and Insects
If I’m going to be keeping something outside, like my new benches, you can bet I’m going to investigate woods that stand up to rot. Different tree species have varying levels of natural susceptibility to rot, and ratings on how effective rot treatment is. Regardless of which species I choose for my lumbar though, I need to plan to keep it from absorbing water year after year.
Insects are another concern for every woodworker. Treated woods may kill insects, but not before they can do damage. In my case, I want a denser wood that’s harder for the insects to bite through. I also want something that doesn’t disintegrate when it gets wet since that makes it easy for termites to process. I want my projects to be beautiful ten years from now, not missing a leg.
Whether you’re like me and live in a wet environment or you’re blessed with a dry one, you need to figure out what kind of lumber you can actually use. Places that receive a lot of rain (or snow) fall means that the wood has a higher number of opportunities to absorb water. They require a more durable product to start with.
If you’re like me, you’ve considered a lot of different pieces of furniture in your outdoor spaces. However, it’s essential to be realistic. Too much or too little can impede functionality for the area. Deciding what and where speeds up the process immensely.
Before constructing each piece, consider where it’s going to sit during yard season. Different species, for example, do better on the concrete patio pad than they would out in the grass. Others might hold up better if they’re kept under a cabana than exposed to sunlight nonstop. This consideration can extend the life of your outdoor furniture.
While we may wish yard season was all year long, in reality, it isn’t. Often, the life of our outdoor furniture can be extended if we store it out of the harsh winter elements. For each piece you build, consider where you have space to store it. This can be a garage, covered patio, or even a shed. Some people also bring their outdoor furniture indoors during the colder months.
Types of Materials for Outdoor Projects
Entirely untreated lumber, exempting a few species, is challenging to keep outdoors. The exposure simply deteriorates the integrity of the wood and leaves it susceptible to both insects and rot. However, some folks believe treatment processes for wood are unhealthy and would rather spend time maintaining untreated furniture.
I prefer a natural look to my lumber, but I don’t want to lose the natural appearance of my wood. This leads me to treated lumber. Pressure treating lumber for outdoor use involves placing the lengths in a vacuum chamber to enhance the permeation of rot and insect resistance compounds. This kind of lumber lasts outside, but it does take more than my grandfather’s hand tools to handle it easily.
Wood-plastic composite (WPCs) is a great material. Manufacturers take pulp and sawdust that would otherwise be thrown out and combine them with various plastic composites. The finished solution is then molded into the desired shape, including curves.
Because of the composition, WPCs typically require smaller fasteners and can carry heavier loads. Their composition also makes them highly rot and insect resistant. However, since they don’t feel like what I learned with my grandfather, they’re not my favorite.
Fasteners may be a little piece of hardware, but they can really affect the longevity of your outdoor furniture. All equipment that’s going to be exposed to the elements needs to either be stainless steel or have an exceptional rust proof coating. Additionally, you’ll have to research materials that don’t react to treated lumber. If your hardware rusts or reacts, your furniture starts to fall apart.
The Best Woods for Outdoor Furniture
Cypress is a conventional wet climate wood on account of the fact it releases a natural water repellent. However, it doesn’t do well when in contact with the ground. Still, this does not stop it from being an excellent building material for patio furniture.
Cedar is a lightweight, rot-resistant wood. It’s a durable wood that tends not to crack on account of its moisture retention. Cedar is also minimal maintenance and ages to a lovely silver shade if left to its own devices.
White oak is a fantastic possibility in wet climates. Historically, this low pore wood even made up ships. It takes penetrating oils well, and in turn, keeps going for years. White oak is quite different structurally from red oak, so make sure to confirm species when buying.
Ipe is a newer dense possibility being imported from South America. It’s so dense that it barely floats, showing its water resistance. Called Brazilian ironwood, it’s comparable to teak in durability but it’s cheaper. It can last decades untreated, and longer if it is.
Mahogany is a historically valuable wood. The wood comes in a vast range of colors and stands up well to the challenges of being outdoors. However, its maintenance requires regular attention to keep its proper color.
Teak is regarded as one of the most valuable woods in the world. It’s grown in southeast Asia and must be shipped out. It’s essential to make sure you’re buying cultivated wood since all other forms are logged illegally. Teak is the preferred wood for outdoor furniture in beach furniture on account of its ability to withstand extreme.
Acacia is an excellent, sustainable wood. In many parts of the world, it grows so well it’s considered an invasive species. It’s a dense wood often used in boat building. If sealed correctly, it will hold up for years. It does best when it’s not in direct contact with the ground.
Redwood is making a reemergence in outdoor furniture after it was over-logged. Since it takes a while to grow, quality redwood is expensive. However, its natural color is unbeatable, and it has exceptional climate durability.
Shorea wood has a similar density to teak and is also grown in southeast Asia. Shorea is more readily available than teak, which makes it less expensive. It needs regular oiling but has a long life outdoors. It also weathers well with age.
Eucalyptus is an excellent choice for those who need an economical option. It has the natural oils for insect, rot, and moisture repelling like teak, but it’s more plentiful. It will still look good for decades, but it won’t break the bank.
Black locust is a fast-growing hardwood native to North America. It’s naturally very resilient against the elements, and in the 1800s was the wood of choice for outdoor work. However, black locust is hard to work since the grain can be strange.
How to Protect Your Outdoor Wood Furniture
Regardless of how well you put together your outdoor furniture, if you don’t finish it well, it’s not going to last. My first step in completing my patio benches was to sand it all smooth.
I wouldn’t want to my finish to flake off on account of unevenness. You want to be extra diligent with sanding. Otherwise, any imperfections on the wood will get exacerbated after you apply a finish.
Then, it’s time to apply the finish. I like my wood natural, so I use exterior spar varnish. Primer and paint are also options if you want to turn your project a distinct color. The bottom line is, the project needs protection, including UV blockers, or it will fade by the end of the summer.
Now, many folks think if they do a beautiful paint job, the furniture will be all right. That’s simply not the case. Whether using spar varnish or paint, it’s vital we cover every single speck of the furniture. If we don’t, moisture leaks in and our chances of rot increase.
The wind, rain, and snow take a toll on our outdoor furniture and its seal. After a year, the chances the seal becomes compromised are high. After two years, it’s almost certain even with the best sealers money can buy. Therefore, when we build outdoor furniture, we’re committing to doing some routine maintenance to sand and reseal each year.
We’ve talked about storing furniture over winter, but the late summer showers bring moisture too. I see it as having two choices, either accept the wear or shelter the furniture. Sheltering the furniture can be as simple as pulling it under your porch. It can also mean creating covers for the furniture when it’s not in use, particularly in wet climates.
Bottom line, the better protected your furniture is from the elements, the longer it will last, and the more you can enjoy your outdoor space.
Wood furniture is a stunning addition to any outdoor space. A little knowledge and the best wood for outdoor furniture is all you need to make your own stunning additions, just like my sitting benches. A little work, a little wood, and out into the great outdoors we go.
Did you make your own outdoor furniture? Leave us a comment below!