Choosing Durable Wood for a Garden Bench and Outdoor Furniture

By: Stan Horst

Cypress bench, chair, and table on lawn

A garden bench adds the perfect finishing touch to a landscaped yard. At the end of a meandering path or under a favorite tree, a comfortable bench provides a place to sit and contemplate nature, to unwind from the pressures of daily life.

While garden benches and other outdoor furniture can be made from a range of materials, it’s hard to beat natural wood for warmth and beauty. When using wood for outside furniture; it’s important to choose a durable, weather-resistant wood.

So which wood should you choose for your garden bench? Here’s a look at some of the most durable and attractive natural woods available.

Acacia

Acacia garden bench

Acacia garden bench

For those concerned about sustainability and eco-friendly living, acacia makes a good choice. Acacia trees grow in such abundance in many regions of the world, that they’re often considered an invasive species.

Acacia is a dense, durable hardwood that can withstand the elements. It is often used in boat building.

Sealing acacia serves to enhance and preserve the wood’s rich, golden brown color. If left unsealed, acacia should be reserved for deck or patio furniture, since constant contact with the damp ground of a garden may cause the wood to discolor.

Cedar

Cedar garden bench

Cedar garden bench

The resins in both western cedar and northern white cedar render these woods resistant to both insects and rot. Cedar is a lightweight wood, making it the perfect choice if you plan to move or rearrange your outdoor furniture often.

Cedar is also a good choice if you would like your bench to match your house or other furnishings, since it paints and stains well. In fact, yearly cleaning and sealing of cedar are recommended, as the soft grain becomes rough over time if left untreated.

Left in a natural state, cedar weathers to an elegant silvery gray over time. Bear in mind that cedar is rather soft, so it will dent and scratch more easily than harder woods like shorea or teak. Paradoxically, since cedar retains moisture, rather than drying out, it’s more resistant to cracking than many other woods.

Cypress

Cypress garden bench

Cypress garden bench

Cypress wood contains a natural preservative that is both rot and insect resistant. Cypress is capable of withstanding the elements without a finish of any kind, though a periodic coat of oil will keep the wood looking fresh longer.

Like cedar, cypress weathers to a silver gray over time when left unfinished. Cypress is also a very stable wood, with little shrinking or swelling throughout the changing seasons.

While cypress is a good choice for outdoor furniture, it may be a little difficult to find due to the scarcity of mature trees.

Redwood

Redwood garden bench

Redwood garden bench

The timber from the stately sequoia is not a good choice for the ecologically minded, since redwood trees grow slowly and are in limited supply. The wood’s many fine attributes, however, ensure that redwood will always be used for outdoor furniture as long as harvestable stands of these majestic trees remain.

Redwood is durable and weathers well, and is also naturally resistant to decay and insects. Among redwood’s most valued attributes are stability and a tendency not to shrink nor warp.

Like cedar, redwood is relatively soft, putting it at risk for dents and scratches. The deep brown beauty of redwood can be protected and enhanced by a coat of clear sealer. If left unsealed, redwood can exact revenge on its owners by staining clothing with the natural tannins that give the tree its name.

Shorea

Shorea garden bench

Shorea garden bench

Shorea is a genus name for almost 200 species of trees. Some of the more common names include Meranti, Lauan, Balau, and Philippine mahogany.

Although it grows in Asian rainforests, Shorea is on its way to becoming a sustainable wood, due to the fact that harvesting is highly regulated. Shorea shares many positive attributes with teak while generally being less expensive.

Shorea is a durable, dense, tight-grained hardwood that holds up well under the rough treatment of daily use and inclement weather. Shorea lumber is also resistant to both insects and rot.

Left to its own devices, the patina of shorea fades from gold to gray over time. The wood’s youthful glow can be sustained by treating it annually with oil from its more expensive cousin, teak.

Teak

Teak garden bench

Teak garden bench

Teak has all of the attributes one could wish for in a wood used for outdoor furnishings. It resists decay, repels water, doesn’t shrink or swell, ages well, and is incredibly strong.

Teak’s secret lies in its tight grain and natural oils. Teak oil is all that is necessary to maintain the wood’s beautiful golden luster.

Once plagued by sustainability issues, due to the misinformation that old growth teak was the most desirable, most teak furniture in the western world now comes from carefully managed plantations. The superiority of teak wood for creating outdoor furniture is reflected in its high price tag.

Choosing a Durable Exterior Wood

When buying lumber for outside projects or furniture that will be used outdoors, it’s important to keep in mind that the darker colored heartwood, found nearer the center of a tree, is much more rot resistant than the lighter sapwood. Whenever possible, specify “all heart” materials for your garden bench or lumber used for outdoor projects.

Choosing the type of wood that’s right for your outdoor furnishings is initially a question of priorities. Once you’ve determined the balance between longevity, sustainability, and budget; then it’s time to let aesthetics take over. Because in addition to being durable, a garden bench should also be beautiful.

Further Information

About the Author

Stan Horst is a former furniture maker who understands what goes into making quality wooden benches. Stan loves the outdoors and enjoys camping, hiking, and fishing with his wife, his two teenagers, and his rat terrier, Toby Jax. Stan is privileged to share his love of the Virginia mountains with others through his Virginia cabin rentals.

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10 Comments on “Choosing Durable Wood for a Garden Bench and Outdoor Furniture”

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  • Laura Says:
    September 22nd, 2016 at 10:59 am

    Hello,
    For a school project I am renovating a old broken bench. I am unsure of which wood i should use. The wood on the bench is extremely ruined and i want to replace it. I live in Norway so the weather can be very wet and the bench is located in the woods close by my house. Therefore i need a type of wood that can be able to cope with the Norwegian weather, is easy to work with (as i am a beginner at woodwork) and i also want to spray paint a quote on it. I was wondering if you had any suggestions for me of which wood i could use? The wood should also be able to get a hold of.
    Thank you for your reply,
    Laura,
    Grade 10

    If you have any other comments about renovating benches, feel free to write them down as they would help me with my research!



  • Alwyn Vaughan Jones Says:
    September 6th, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    I have just finished building a table for the patio outside, and the wood that iv’ed used is American coastal redwood (California redwood).
    It has been sanded down first using 80 grit and finally 120 grit. For the finish product i was recommended to use osmo uv oil extra 420 clear finish, the first takes 24 hours to dry and then second coat is applied according to osmo, but the problem i get is that it doesn’t dry at all it just stays tacky. i have tried the same oil on different types of wood etc pine, oak and pitch pie and it bone dry the next day. Can you please help a frustrated person? Thank you.



  • Patrick Joseph King Says:
    July 6th, 2016 at 10:53 am

    I want to cover a manhole to suit the slabs. I could paint it to suit for outside in the yard.



  • Mark Newton Says:
    April 22nd, 2016 at 7:13 pm

    What’s the best wood species for outdoor painted furniture? For price; availability, rot and insect resistance, I’d use White Oak (Quercus Alba) if I’m showing the wood but if I’m painting over it, I need something cheaper that with a paint covering can also last.

    Any ideas?



  • Juna Says:
    April 3rd, 2016 at 11:27 pm

    How did you miss Oak? Oak should have been third or fourth on the list as it is an excellent wood for making outdoor furniture.



  • Errol Says:
    July 27th, 2015 at 7:32 am

    What is the best wood for building a covered patio entry gate that is stainable and durable? It needs to look more like entry door quality, as opposed to a normal fence gate. It will be exposed to Florida weather, and mounted between 2 block walls. It will be replacing a wrought iron gate to give home owners privacy from driveway while relaxing on patio.



  • shivam kataria Says:
    February 23rd, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    I am searching for a good wood to build a dog house. For inside but something that could also withstand outside elements as it might be used outside as well. Any ideas? It shouldn’t be a too soft wood as it’s for a dog…some kind of medium between all of these essences.



  • Smith Herison Says:
    September 10th, 2014 at 12:26 am

    Teak will be the best for garden benches and outdoor furniture. Because of its tight grain and natural oils, it does not need a finish on it to make it a beautiful bench. Teak is also naturally resistant to decay and insects because of its natural oils.



  • Diana Williams Says:
    May 28th, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    I have an unfinished pine bench I will use on a porch. I used a wood stain (Min Wax weathered grey). Do I need any kind of finish product over that (to keep it waterproofed)? I don’t know if the stain is enough to protect it (from SOME rain which blows) and can’t find the answer to this anywhere I’ve looked, so far. Anything you can forward in a way of info. on this will be greatly appreciated. Thanks
    Diana Williams



  • Heinz R.Eckhardt Says:
    July 1st, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    I live directly on the ocean and had to take down All my outdoor fans and ceiling lights,because of heavy corrosion.
    Are there any ceiling lights on the market made out of plastic only,including mounting plate ?

    Thank you for your reply.

    Regards
    HRE


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