Preserving Outdoor Wood Furniture

Written by on June 18, 2013 in Home Maintenance, Outdoor Furniture with 0 Comments
preserving outdoor wood furniture

Teak restored by Topcoat in summer of 2012

Preserving Outdoor Wood Furniture

As wood snobs beyond repair, we do find ourselves called upon several times per year to preserve outdoor furniture.

This is another of those specialty services that separates a great paint company from a not so great one, because maintaining large quantities of dirty outdoor furniture is detailed, at times painstaking, work.

Outdoor furniture in Vermont usually comes in one of just a few wood species:

  • cedar
  • teak
  • mahogany

Of these three, teak is by far the most desirable for durability and rot resistance. But that does not mean that teak does not need to be maintained in order to look and perform its best.

preserving outdoor wood furniture

Festool RO 90 Rotex sanders are ideal for preparing wood furniture for oil.

It only takes a season or two of outdoor weather exposure to make exterior wood look tired. Even wood species that are well equipped by Mother Nature to endure the elements, such as the ones listed above, will quickly show signs of weathering and wear. Furniture that is left outside all winter ages twice as hard.

Well made outdoor furniture may never actually rot or fall apart, but if not maintained it will:

  • turn a sickly gray that is not “quaint”
  • get munched on by odd insects
  • become really attractive nest locations for yellowjackets, hornets, wasps, etc
  • start to grow barnacle looking vegetation
  • get really slimy and nasty when wet

And so you can see why it is one of our missions as wood snobs to preserve exotic woods around the exteriors of homes.

Surface Prep Methods for Preserving Outdoor Wood Furniture

preserving outdoor wood furniture

Furniture can be washed.

1. Chemical: The low pressure wash method was historically the only choice for cleaning outdoor wood furniture. If you go this route, be sure to use a low pressure set up, and a non caustic wood cleaner. Setups and chemical choices will vary depending on wood species and condition of surfaces.

2. Mechanical: Dustless sanding technologies have come a LONG way in the past few years, in terms of prices and user friendliness. We use a system of Festool power sanders and HEPA dust extractors to contain dust in sanding projects like this. This is critical because the surface contaminants on exterior furniture can be pretty nasty when put into dust form, and also wood dust is self can be carcinogenic. Systems like Festool capture the dust before it can become airborne.

Either method can be sufficient, but sometimes the first (washing) will result in the need for sanding afterwords. It is for that reason that we sometimes forego washing.

Rules for Finishing Outdoor Wood Furniture

  • Do not use film forming coatings
  • Do use penetrating oils
  • Follow manufacturer instructions for oil application
  • Avoid stains, let the natural wood beauty show
  • Do it annually
preserving outdoor wood furniture

Todd applies penetrating oil to sanded teak furniture.

Be sure to use high quality products for finishing projects like this. It will make the maintenance that much easier down the road. Preserving outdoor wood furniture is a project that you can do yourself, right in your own yard. Or, you can hire professionals to do it for you.

WWTD…What Would Topcoat Do?

As noted above, we use both surface prep methods. Sometimes we do furniture onsite (on the client’s property), and other times we transport the furniture to our shop as a convenience to the customer. A shop setting is the most efficient way to process medium to large quantities of furniture.

The process of prepping the furniture for finishing can be a bit loud, regardless of method used, as pressure washers and sanding systems both generate a considerable amount of noise, and the process can take hours or even days.

preserving outdoor wood furniture

A load of outdoor furniture in the Topcoat shop for offseason refinishing


Scott Burt

About the Author

About the Author: Scott Burt is a contractor and freelance writer whose column "From the Field" has appeared in American Painting Contractor magazine ( since 2008. His writing and projects also appear in other print and digital venues. .


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