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Home > Q&A Main Page > Miscellaneous Q&A Index > New Outdoor Table

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[Miscellaneous Q&A Index]

Subject: New outdoor table

Date: Sunday, June 27, 2021

We are making an outdoor table out of cedar for our daughter. She would like the wood to be stained and we are thinking an oil stain to be the best.

Do you have an opinion on what product to use as the finish? She lives in Milwaukee, WI and the table will be exposed to sun and rain for about 6 moths and covered with a Duck cloth cover for the winter months.

If I’m lucky, perhaps adding an oil annually for maintenance but I am hoping not to need to re-stain the table every other year.

Your thoughts are greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Deb L.


Sadly, straight oil finishes provide very little protection to the wood. They do help keep out moisture in a damp environment. But do nothing against UV damage. Moisture is by far the more damaging of the two. Although in the right conditions, high moisture and hot sun, the two can tag team to make things worse. The biggest problem with oil finishes are that they don’t last.

A step up from oil finishes are outdoor stains. These come as transparent, semitransparant, and solid. With solid stains providing the most protection. Maybe 5-6 years for the better ones.

With any piece of wood outdoors, protecting the end grain, fasteners, and joints from moisture intrusion is the key to long term life of the wood. If the wood is to be left natural, or as natural as possible, you will be trading the look, for longevity.

The most durable coating would be an epoxy primer like S-1 Sealer, and a durable polyurethane top coat. Either a polyurethane varnish, or a solid paint. Neither of which leaves the wood looking natural. Even these can be difficult to maintain in the long term, as stress or movement from humidity changes can open up the coating at joints. It is possible to maintain a durable coating over time, but it requires periodic inspection and touch up. With out this, moisture will eventually get under the coating and cause it to peel.

In summary, a solid paint, or clear varnish, applied properly and maintained, will give the most durability, at the expense of the natural look of the wood. From there, in descending order of durability, you have solid stains; semi-transparent stains; transparent stains, oil finishes, and leaving the wood untreated.


[Miscellaneous Q&A Index]

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