At Lazy Susan, we're a big advocate of hardwood garden furniture for its ability to stand up to the weather in the UK. However, that doesn't mean we are opposed to softwoods, they can be just as good an investment as their hardwood counterparts. Hardwood garden furniture definitely seems to be very much on trend at the moment and that is the route most retailers and manufacturers seem to taking, so the question many people are left asking is why should they choose wooden garden furniture made of softwoods?
We looked at hardwood in great detail last month, so I thought I'd balance it out and look at why you might want to purchase softwoods such as pine, spruce and fir for example. They have many positives and are particularly good at standing up to a rainy English gardens, so I'd thought why not start by looking at two of the more popular types of softwood garden furniture that are available in the UK:
Everybody has owned a piece of pine furniture at some point in their life and although Pine is technically softwood, this term can be misleading; some ‘softwoods’ are harder than some ‘hardwoods’. Pine garden furniture can be incredibly comfortable as it relatively easy to work, so it can be shaped into comfortable curves that fit the human body. In the UK pine furniture is what we call 'Tanalised', which basically means the wood is pressure-treated to resist wet and rot.
Many companies are now using Acacia to produce their wooden garden furniture. It began some 10 years ago with pressure from IKEA to produce furniture that was more environmentally friendly. They opted to use Acacia as it is a plantation timber and therefore has not resulted in any deforestation. The Acacia that is generally used in the UK furniture industry comes from a hybrid version of the timber species which is basically a tree derived from the original Acacia tree found in Malaysia and a species called Magnum. Acacia has a compact structure and therefore does not crack. It suffers no lengthwise cracking unlike Oak and other timbers. Due to its structure pests such as termites will not attack it. It requires no chemical treatment and has a smooth finish and reacts well to painting.
Although every care is taken by manufacturers to select softwoods such as pine, spruce and fir to make garden furniture, unlike say plastic, softwoods when left to the British climate will show signs of wear and tear. Cracks and warping are common, but if you make sure the timber your buying has been pressure treated, this will help in significantly prolonging its life. Tanalised softwood (particularly pine) need less maintenance than you may think too. Just give it a wash down with soapy water. Another big advantage of softwood Garden Furniture over hardwood is price. It is much lower and because softwood grows relatively quickly, manufacturers can offer really well made comfortable, properly finished wooden furniture at a price you can reasonably afford. Pine, spruce and fir trees are sustainable, they grow quickly and are a well-established crop in Europe and the UK.
There is no getting away from the fact that all outdoor wooden garden furniture needs to be maintained if you wish to retain the original colour and lustre of the wood. This requires treatment on a regular basis. Additionally, at lazy Susan we always recommend that the furniture is covered when left unused for extended periods of time and especially during the colder months of the year. Left untreated, the timber will change naturally to a silver greyish tone, which many people love, but the exact colour is difficult to predict and dependent on the environment. During long dry spells, small cracks can appear in the untreated wood, especially on the end grain. These cracks are perfectly normal characteristics and will not affect the strength or durability of the furniture. The same cracks should disappear once the relative level of humidity increases.
Prior to shipment the furniture is usually treated with a protective oil to ensure that it arrives to you in good condition. After three weeks of use you should re–oil the furniture. Prior to oiling the product must be thoroughly cleaned and dried. Any stains on the timber can be removed using fine sandpaper. It is also usual for small amounts of sap resin to seep out onto the surface of the wood in certain warm weather. This is a natural characteristic of the timber. If the resin has crystallised in the sun, then it can be removed using a stiff brush. If it is sticky to the touch, then use a suitable tool to remove any resin pools and use white spirit to wipe clean the surface. If you would like to preserve the original colour of your wooden furniture, oil should be sparingly applied every two months or so if the furniture is left uncovered. Regular treatments will slow down the weathering process and will help to minimise surface cracking.