Does outdoor wood furniture need to be sealed?

If you’ve recently purchased new outdoor wood furniture, then the big question is do you need to seal it? In this article, we’re discussing the reasons why you need to do it, how to do it, and how to choose the right type of wood sealant…

We’ve just looked at how long will wood garden furniture last and in that article, we highlighted the need to seal it for protection from the elements.

At Lazy Susan, our outdoor furniture collection is constructed from weather-resistant cast aluminium. We coat all our furniture with a durable powder-coated finish that does not require reapplication if the furniture is looked after.

We don’t sell wooden garden furniture, but we do appreciate its natural beauty. However, to keep it looking good, protected from the elements and prevent it from weathering, you do need to regularly apply a finish such as a sealant, and that is what we want to look at in a little more detail here today.

Why does wooden garden furniture need to be sealed?

Why does wooden garden furniture need to be sealed?

This of course is just our opinion. Some people like the weathered look where the wood turns to a silvery grey.

However, the weather here is known for its variability, including frequent rain, sun, and the occasional frost and snow, all of which can cause damage to unprotected wood.

Sealing will significantly help to mitigate the impact of prolonged exposure and it will extend the life and appearance of your wooden patio furniture:

  1. Moisture
    Sealing outdoor wooden furniture prevents water from penetrating the surface, reducing the risk of rot taking hold and mould or mildew forming. This is especially important in the UK, where we can see a high level of rainfall all year round. Wood is naturally porous so sealing it creates a protective barrier that prevents water ingress. Moisture can cause wood to expand and contract, leading to warping and splitting, so a good quality sealant will give the wood greater protection and stability.

  2. UV
    A good quality sealant should also include UV blockers that will protect the wood from the sun's rays and prevent it from fading and cracking. UV exposure can cause wood to fade and lose its natural colour over time. The sun can also dry out the wood, leading to it cracking and splintering. Regular sealing will help to keep the wood nourished and flexible.

  3. Temperature
    In the UK we can experience a range of temperatures throughout the year and often in one day. Sealing your wooden outdoor furniture will help it best withstand these temperature fluctuations, and prevent it from warping and splitting. We looked at this in detail concerning our collection in our What is the best patio furniture material for a hot climate? article.

  4. Durability
    Durable outdoor furniture will last longer. By properly sealing your wood furniture it will give it a durable finish that will ensure it lasts much longer than untreated wood. Garden furniture is a big-ticket item, so it makes sense to protect that investment.

  5. Pests
    Some sealants will also help to protect your wood furniture from pests like woodworms, termites, wood boring wasps, carpenter ants or fungal decay such as dry rot (Serpula lacrymans), all of which can cause significant damage.

  6. Looks
    We also think it is important to maintain the appearance. Outdoor furniture that looks clean and new is more likely to get us outside and enjoying our patios than some old weather-looking set. Sealing it not only protects but can enhance the natural beauty and bring out the grain and colour. Depending on the type of sealant used, you can also achieve different finishes from natural and add a matte, glossy or coloured stain if you fancy a change.

  7. Life
    Properly sealed wood will last much longer than untreated. It will help maintain the furniture’s structural integrity and appearance over a longer period and this is something we discussed in our recent How long will wood garden furniture last? post.

  8. Maintenance
    Sealed wood is also much easier to clean, as the sealant prevents dirt and stains from penetrating deeply into the woodgrain. It will simplify the cleaning process and reduce the frequency of bigger maintenance tasks. By protecting the wood from environmental damage, you will reduce the need for frequent repairs and refurbishing.

  9. Cost
    Investing in sealant and the effort to seal your furniture will also save you money in the long run. It will avoid the need to replace any prematurely damaged furniture. In our experience, it is best to seal your furniture every couple of years and the sealants themselves are relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of replacing a set or extensively sanding down repairing heavily weather-damaged furniture.

How do I seal wooden garden furniture sets for outdoor use?

How do I seal wooden garden furniture sets for outdoor use?

Sealing your wood furniture sounds like a big job but preparation is the key. Here at Lazy Susan, we have a simple go-to method that involves several simple steps that will ensure your furniture is well protected from the elements.

Before you get started you will need the following:

  1. Wood cleaner or sugar soap

  2. 120 & 220-grit Sandpaper

  3. Tack cloth or old damp cloth

  4. Exterior wood sealant (we will look at how to choose the right type in the next section)

  5. Paintbrush, roller or sprayer

  6. Dust sheet

  7. Gloves and safety goggles

The basic steps you need to follow to seal outdoor wood furniture in good condition are as follows:

  1. Clean
    Remove any dirt, dust, or previous finishes using a wood cleaner or a mixture of mild soap and water. Rinse thoroughly and let the furniture dry completely before proceeding.

  2. Sand
    Start with 120-grit sandpaper to remove any rough spots or old finish. Sand in the direction of the wood grain to avoid scratches. Finish with 220-grit sandpaper for a smoother surface.

  3. Wipe
    Wipe down the furniture with a tack cloth or a damp cloth to remove all dust and debris from sanding.

  4. Prepare
    For us, this is a critical step. So take your time to get set up. Lay down a dust sheet or old newspaper to protect your working surface. Work in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling fumes from the sealant.

  5. Apply
    Stir the sealant thoroughly. Do not shake, as this can create bubbles. Using a high-quality paintbrush or a sprayer, apply the sealant evenly. Follow the wood grain for a smoother application. Apply a thin coat to avoid drips and runs. Let the first coat dry according to the manufacturer's instructions.

  6. Between
    If the sealant requires multiple coats, lightly sand the surface with 220-grit sandpaper between coats to ensure better adhesion. Wipe off any dust with a tack cloth.

  7. Additional
    Apply subsequent coats as recommended by the sealant manufacturer, usually 2-3 coats for optimal protection. Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next.

  8. Cure
    Once the final coat is applied, let the furniture cure completely as per the sealant's instructions. This could take several days.

  9. Maintain
    To maintain protection, clean and inspect your furniture regularly. Reapply the sealant every 1-2 years or as needed, depending on the exposure to the elements.

How to choose the right type of sealant for your wooden outdoor furniture

How to choose the right type of sealant for your wooden outdoor furniture

This can be the tricky part. There are a lot of different types, finishes, brands, etc to choose from!

Choosing the right type for your wooden furniture involves considering several factors, including the type of wood, the environment where the furniture will be placed, and the desired finish you want to achieve.

You will often find that many of the retailers/manufacturers in the UK will recommend a specific type, so start there first. If not an option, then do a little research.

The main types of sealant we would recommend you look at are as follows:

  1. Clear
    Protects wooden furniture without altering the wood’s natural colour and finish.

  2. Stain
    Wood stains with sealant will add a colour and protect the wood.

  3. Varnish
    Exterior varnishes will give the wood a durable matte, satin or glossy finish.

  4. Oil
    Oil-based sealants will provide a durable, water-resistant finish that penetrates deep into the wood. Different types include Linseed Oil and Teak Oil.

  5. Polyurethane 
    It offers a clear, durable finish that resists water and abrasion. Also available in matte, satin, and gloss sheens.

  6. Acrylic
    Easy to apply and clean up, it will deliver good protection but may not be as durable as polyurethane.

  7. Epoxy
    Provides a thick, durable coating that is highly water-resistant. Often used as a base coat under varnish for maximum protection.

  8. Chalk
    Outdoor chalk paints are paint designed to create durable, weather-resistant chalkboard-like matte finish in a host of colours

To decide which of the above is best for your wooden furniture or right for you to work with, start by considering the type of wood it is made from.

For example, hardwoods like Teak, Mahogany, and Oak) tend to benefit from oil-based sealants like teak oil or varnish as they best highlight their natural woodgrain and provide strong protection.

Softwoods like Pine and Cedar on the other hand will often require more frequent sealing, so we tend to find that they benefit more from a water-based sealant such as acrylic or polyurethane as they are easier to apply.

If your wooden furniture will be exposed to a lot of moisture, such as you would find at the coast, then we would advise you to opt for a sealant with high water resistance like marine varnish or epoxy resin. They will give a tough finish but will alter the appearance so test first.

On the other hand, if you prefer a more natural look, then you can apply an oil-based sealant such as Tung or Linseed oil that will penetrate the wood and enhance its natural appearance without creating a surface layer. The flip side is they will require a more regular reapplication.

When shopping around, think about the following in terms of what is important, and as we’ve just mentioned, test on an inconspicuous area such as the underside of a chair before you commit:

  1. Type
    Look for a sealant that is best suited to the timber your wooden furniture is made from.

  2. Environment
    Choose a sealant that will offer the best protection for the environment in which you will put it.

  3. Exposure
    If it is positioned in a spot that receives a lot of direct sunlight, then opt for a UV-resistant sealant.

  4. Temperature
    If your garden sees sudden temperature fluctuations look for a flexible sealant that will help prevent your wooden furniture from cracking.

  5. Finish
    Do you want a natural wood look that enhances the colour and grain, a clear matte finish or a tough high gloss?

  6. Application
    Choose a sealant that you are confident working with. For example, water-based sealants such as acrylics are generally easier to apply and clean up than oil-based ones like varnish.

  7. Frequency
    Check how often it will need to reapply. For example, as we mentioned above, oils will generally require more frequent reapplication than polyurethanes and varnishes.

  8. Environment
    Water-based sealants typically have lower volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than oil-based sealants, making them safer for indoor application and better for the environment.

Our final thoughts…
Our final thoughts…

By considering all of the above factors and steps, you can choose and apply the best sealant for the type of wood outdoor furniture set you have and the finish you like.

When it comes to applying, if you plan to do it outside, we find it best done on a dry, calm day with temperatures around the 16°C to 21°C mark. However, try and avoid sealing in direct sunlight as this can affect the finish.

Always use the right brushes, etc for the job and go for a good quality to avoid the frustration of bristle loss and achieve a smoother finish.

Pay close attention to all the joints and end grains, as these areas are more susceptible to water penetration, and where drips are most likely to occur.

Sealing wooden garden furniture sets is a worthwhile investment that provides significant benefits in terms of protection, durability, and looks. It will help protect your furniture from the worst of the UK climate and keep it in good condition for many years.

Outdoor Furniture from Lazy Susan

If you want outdoor furniture that will not require sealing and resealing, please take a look at our cast aluminium range.

If you have any photos of your Lazy Susan Outdoor Furniture, we’d love to see a few snaps for our Do Some Good charity campaign. You can tag us @LazySusanFurniture on Instagram or Facebook or Upload Here.

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