Choosing Durable Wood for a Garden Bench and Outdoor Furniture
By: Stan Horst
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.
AcaciaFor 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.
CedarThe 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.
CypressCypress 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.
RedwoodThe 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.
ShoreaShorea 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.
TeakTeak 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.
- How to Finish Wood Furniture for Use Outdoors (article)
- How to Build an Outdoor Bench (video/article)
- How to Build a Patio Planter (video/article)
- How to Build a Backyard Arbor Swing (video)
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.