Wood has been used for furniture as long as humans have been around—and for good reason. Its malleability, beauty and versatility are just as appealing today as they were hundreds of years ago. With eye-catching grains, earthy tones and modular patterns, wood furniture creates the perfect aesthetic for any patio. It enhances the natural landscape while creating an atmosphere that perfectly blurs the line between indoor and outdoor space. And while wood may not be the most durable material group out there, there are certain species that can give the likes of steel a run for its money. When it comes to picking the best wood for outdoor furniture and protecting the pieces you already own, it really comes down to choosing the most durable species and protectants available. There is no shortage of wood varieties and sealants on the market, making choosing the best pieces and protectants a challenge. What’s the best wood for outdoor furniture? How do you protect outdoor wood furniture for maximum longevity? We’ve got you covered.
What Is the Best Wood for Outdoor Furniture?
There are two types of wood that typify the wood furniture market: hardwoods and softwoods. Both are graded and offer structural and aesthetic advantages and disadvantages. As their names suggest, the main difference between the two is that hardwoods are typically stronger and denser than their softwood counterparts.
Within both subgroups are weather-resistant species that are great for outdoor use. Cypress, redwood and cedar are three softwoods that have natural moisture-wicking properties and make fine choices for outdoor furniture. But in our opinion, the best wood for outdoor furniture comes from top-of-the-line hardwoods such as:
• Teak. A tropical hardwood, teak is one of the most beautiful and durable woods used in outdoor furniture. Teak’s natural oils are responsible for its amazing weather-resistant properties. Teak outdoor furniture will repel water, deter insects and won’t warp with changes in humidity.
• Ipe. Another tropical hardwood, ipe is the densest wood in the world—so dense, it barely floats. Ipe’s natural oils and incredible density allow it to resist warping, cracking, decomposition and denting.
• Mahogany. Distinguished by its unique grain pattern, mahogany is less durable than ipe and teak but can be a great choice for outdoor furniture if it is maintained with a sealant.
With time, furniture made from any of these wood varieties will weather out to a beautiful silver-gray color. However, you can restore the original color of any furniture made from teak, ipe and mahogany, but it’s significantly easier to restore teak’s golden color than it is to restore both ipe and mahogany. We think this pushes teak slightly ahead of its alternatives, making it the best wood for outdoor furniture.
How to Protect Outdoor Wood Furniture
Sunlight and moisture can go to work on wood—and not in a good way. Wood can also become a breeding ground for insects, fungi and other organisms. Additionally, when moisture starts to penetrate wood’s exterior, it will start to expand and eventually split. The good news is that if your wood furniture is made from any of the great hardwoods or softwoods listed above, it’s got some natural barriers in place. Nonetheless, it’s important to protect your wood furniture with some kind of protectant such as a high-quality, fitted furniture cover.
Covered or not, even the best wood for outdoor furniture could still benefit from a protectant. Overall, choosing the ideal method for how to protect outdoor wood furniture comes down to personal preference.
Oil vs Water-Based Protectants
Most wood protectants are offered in either water or oil-based versions. In general, penetrating oil finishes are the easiest to apply and the most forgiving of errors. As the name implies, these oils are absorbed into the wood, creating a barrier against moisture and sunlight. These oils will not leave a “film” layer on the wood, making them less prone to chipping and flaking. This characteristic makes them a great protectant for outdoor furniture. You’ll probably need 2-3 coats for a dark, rich color.
Increasingly, people are choosing water-based protectants since they provide longer-lasting color retention. However, there are a few things to consider when choosing. Water-based protectants are more breathable, encouraging wood to use its natural protective properties, which can make them a great choice for wood with natural weather-resistant abilities. Unlike oil alternatives, they don’t trap moisture in the wood. These protectants are environmentally friendly and free of toxic chemicals. They are easy to apply and clean up and are a great protector against mold, mildew and other elements.
Usually, oil-based protectants seal the wood, trapping moisture while creating a deeper coating. Almost all oil-based protectants are made from harmful chemicals, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making most of them flammable. Therefore, their application must be done in a well-ventilated area. This also complicates the cleanup process as the rags you use have the potential to self-combust so they must be carefully disposed of.
In general, oil-based protectants do provide a higher level of water repellency. However, they do tend to fade and chalk faster than water-based alternatives. One pro of oil-based sealants is that they normally don’t have to be reapplied on a regular basis.
Wood is a great natural choice to provide an outdoor environment that’s both cozy and classic. Use this simple guide to select the best wood for outdoor furniture and you’ll be sure to end up with patio décor you’ll enjoy for years.
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