How to Finish Wood Furniture for Use Outdoors

Bench on porch

My porch bench needed help to survive the elements

I have a lovely wooden bench on the porch that I got for free last spring, and it soon became my favorite coffee-sipping seat. It’s sturdy and comfy, and right beside the bird feeders – even the cat loves it. However, after weathering this summer’s rainstorms, the finish started to peel and the wood started to warp, and it soon became evident that my bench wasn’t built for the outdoors.

Weathered bench

Bench deteriorating fast outdoors

It’s tempting to pick up old chairs and tables at yard sales for use in the garden, but we’ve all seen what happens to them after a few seasons if they aren’t properly treated to withstand the elements. Based on how quickly my bench was deteriorating, it soon became evident that unless I wanted a pile of rotten splinters on my porch, I needed to seal and refinish the bench and fast!

Furniture intended for the indoors is never going to have as long an outdoor life as its pressure-treated or rot resistant wood counterparts, but a little protection from the elements goes a long way. Whether you’re turning a ladder-back chair into a flower planter or want to put your favorite wooden rocker on the porch, here are some tips on how to get the most life out of wood furniture in the garden.

Bench being painted

Outdoor furniture needs an exterior, built-up finish to seal out the elements

Outdoor Wood Furniture Challenges

Wooden furniture has to overcome some pretty big obstacles to survive outdoors, including:

  • Materials: Most wood is by nature biodegradable, so anything not built of treated lumber (or rot resistant species such as teak, redwood, or cedar) will rot and break down with surprising speed. Even treated or rot resistant wood won’t last forever.
  • Glue and Finish: Most standard furniture is made with interior glues and finishes that are meant for climate-controlled buildings. When placed outdoors and exposed to fluctuating temperatures and moisture levels, the glue in joints can come loose and the finish degrade. To stand up to the elements outdoors, furniture needs to be made using waterproof glue and exterior finishes.
  • Construction: Outdoor furniture is usually built using sturdy construction, with thick pieces and joints that decrease the amount of wood that’s exposed to the elements. Indoor furniture is often delicate, with fine joints and thin pieces, along with veneers. This is an open invitation for moisture, warping, and disintegration when left outdoors.
Refinished red painted bench on porch

I chose paint for my bench, since it provides the most protection

How to Treat and Seal Outdoor Wood Furniture

So, can you use interior wood furniture outside? Well, technically you can, but don’t expect it to last a lifetime! Follow these tips to help your piece survive longer in the great outdoors:

    Painting the bottom of bench

    Leave nothing unfinished!

  • Choose the Right Finish: Just as a long-sleeved shirt provides protection from sunburn, multiple coats of an exterior finish help protect furniture from UV rays as well as moisture. Since paint blocks UV rays better than a clear finish, your best bet is to apply a quality exterior primer, topped by a exterior latex or oil-based paint. For a natural-wood look, apply multiple coats of exterior spar varnish that contains added UV blockers. Spar varnish produces a built-up finish that provides more protection than oil. Avoid deck stains or penetrating finishes that don’t offer enough protection for untreated wood outdoors.
  • Sand First: Before painting, sand the surface down to bare wood (or use a chemical wood stripper), so your primer will adhere well to the wood.
  • Red painted bench

    Refinish regularly

  • Seal Completely: Don’t leave any of the wood unfinished – seal every nook and cranny and fill all cracks. That goes for the joints, underneath, even the bottoms of the legs. Don’t think cover, think encapsulate.
  • Recoat Regularly: Even the best finishes wear and break down over time when exposed to the elements, so plan on recoating your furniture every year or two.
  • Protect from the Elements: If possible, protect your furniture from sun and rain. It’ll last much longer on your porch than out in the yard. Use furniture glides to raise the piece slightly off the ground so it doesn’t sit in puddles of rainwater.

Further Information


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58 Comments on “How to Finish Wood Furniture for Use Outdoors”

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  • Official Comment:

    Thomas Boni Says:
    April 14th, 2019 at 5:30 pm

    Hi, Dana,
    Please include a photo with your question so we can understand the setup.
    We accept photos at
    Thanks so much!

  • Dana Whitney Says:
    April 14th, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    I have 7′ vintage shutters and 7′ decorative “door like” panels with cut outside and iron in those. The shutters have black paint and maybe a white wash treatment over it making it kind of antique looking. The door panels are natural wood with a white wash on the exterior side and black paint on the inside. I have these to put on my front porch. Although there is an overhang, it is likely they will get wet in heavy or blowing rain. I’d like to waterproof or seal them, but don’t want a glossy finish, in Hope’s to protect them through the summer months. Is it possible to do this considering the finishes on each? I don’t want to sand them and don’t want to change the color. Also, I have some
    darker natural bamboo roller shades that are part of this ensemble that I’m not positive are outdoor shades, they do have UV protection and I am fairly sure they are, but can I waterproof these also? If it is possible to do these 3 different things, what do I use for each? Clearly I need advice and help. I’d appreciate any information about this to clarify what I need to do. I’ve gotten conflicting opinions so far and don’t know what is the correct way to do this. Thanks to any suggestions and help!

  • Helen Perry Says:
    April 3rd, 2019 at 9:41 pm

    Hi, we have an Oregon Outdoor Dinner Table. It is now in need of a clean up. What are the best products to use?

  • Official Comment:

    Thomas Boni Says:
    March 16th, 2019 at 6:58 pm

    Hi, Victoria!
    Building a sturdy picnic table can seem like a challenging task, but if you follow a detailed set of instructions, it can be accomplished fairly easily.
    Here’s more on that:
    Good luck!

  • victoria Says:
    March 16th, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    Hi .Want to take a custom built huge wood table and use it outside.Want to paint I a bright yellow as well. What are my steps so that it can withstand heat rain and damp Canadian summers and fall? Thanks.

  • Andy Evertt Says:
    September 19th, 2018 at 1:56 am

    Thanks for sharing wonderful tips. It’s really helpful for outside furniture….

  • sydney pianos Says:
    July 20th, 2018 at 8:44 pm

    Thanks for post this awesome!. I’m a long time reader but ive never commented till now.

    Thanks again for the awesome post.

  • Official Comment:

    Thomas Boni Says:
    July 8th, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    Hi, Pauline,

    Danny says, “I would suggest you apply three light coats of spar varnish. That should provide a long-lasting finish. Best of luck to you.”

  • Pauline Hamel Says:
    June 16th, 2018 at 11:18 am

    My friend has a table that she keeps outside but under cover fromthe porch roof. Sanded it down well and I did an acrylic type painting on it for her. I need advice for the proper finish. I would like a epoxy/resin typ e finish but can’t seem to find one that will be lasting . Suggestions would be so helpful. I’m desperate!! Thank you for any help you can provide. Pauline

  • s3tkoncepts Says:
    May 7th, 2018 at 5:10 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful post. This is very informative, And helped a lot in making my decision to select what type of furniture i should buy.

  • Lisa Says:
    January 31st, 2018 at 10:01 am

    I found your comments very helpful looking forward to learning more thank you

  • Marla Hart Says:
    July 26th, 2017 at 6:15 am

    I have an old dining hutch that I want to repurpose in to an outdoor TV cabinet for our covered porch. The hutch has been previously painted and i would like to change the color too. What do I need to do to this cabinet to weatherproof and paint?
    Thank you

  • tammy Says:
    August 4th, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    Want to waterproof a dresser top that i am converting into a bathroom vanity. What procedure and products would give me the best results?

  • Jacob Says:
    May 29th, 2016 at 4:23 am

    I have just brought a house and the garage is metal (scratched & damaged) I was thinking of putting cladding to cover it up I was going to get interior as we are on a budget if I primed it and then painted it with a nice colour, was thinking a ronseal outdoor sealant will this be surficient enough if I recoated it yearly ?

  • Holly Nelson Says:
    May 12th, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Can I put an oak Hoosier in a three season room?

  • Myra Says:
    May 2nd, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    All the above questions are great. I have an old desk that I would like for my Patio with cover, in Florida. Constant ocean breeze, rain protected but Florida heat. And salt water breeze are constant. What to use?
    Thx. Myra

  • Sheree Says:
    March 14th, 2016 at 9:16 am

    I have an old wood dining room table that I would like to use as a garden table what is the best way and what product is best to se for this?

  • Sam Says:
    February 28th, 2016 at 9:09 am


    I have a dark walnut varnished table and wicker chairs that I would like to use as garden furniture how can I safely restore this for outside use .

  • Don E Says:
    February 7th, 2016 at 4:25 am

    I have a hand hewn log that came from a barn that was constructed in the in the late 1860’s(maybe oak). I want to make a patio bench with it. I like the petinaed look but don’t want to see it disintegrate in the ellaments. can I seal it without looseing that aged look?

  • Shan Says:
    January 12th, 2016 at 10:12 pm

    I have a pine table, 4 chairs and a Pine TV unit lndoor furniture I would like to use under a patio cover. It a good patio cover and cuts off extreme sunlight. Only problem there is no weather protection from the sides but no rainwater problems.
    Please advise if there is anything I should do to protect it.

  • Grace Turner Says:
    January 7th, 2016 at 9:24 am

    I thought I wanted to buy a clear finish until I read your article. I’ll be sure and get some exterior primer instead! I wanted to add a wooden bench I just bought to my yard, but I’ve seen some pretty rough looking benches in my neighbors yards. Looks like all I need to do is put a little extra work into making sure it lasts. I’m going to get the tools I need tomorrow!

  • Susan Apperley Says:
    January 3rd, 2016 at 9:23 am

    I have a french dining room table in vanilla oak. It is too big for inside but perfect for an outside Deck next to lake water.

    Can I varnish or paint it and put rubber lugs on the leg bases to turn it into an outside table? There is an extension piece that fits inside so many parts to this table and clips to secure the extension piece in place.

    Perhaps I should only prepare the table and remove the extension piece?

    Please can I have some much needed advice ASAP as the alternative is to sell the solid oak table for far less than its worth.

  • Barbara Green Says:
    October 1st, 2015 at 9:50 am

    My Grandchildren gave me a new birdhouse they painted for me! I’ve got to know how to protect it the best way I can. What should I put on it?

  • Jim Nemecky Says:
    September 27th, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    Having read your list of questions people presented and having refinished and restored Oak, Maple and Mahogany on many ships while sailing, I still say strip the surface with strypeeze wearing goggle and using heavy gloves, scrape all
    the stripper off into a can. It can be reused. Then wash the surface off with turpentine, brush carefully with a steel brush or a plastic scrub brush with the grain of wood, then after it dries coat with Spar varnish high gloss for a shiny effect or semi gloss for an antique effect. Wait till surface is completely dry then lightly sand with 200 to 250 grit sand paper, use a tac rag to clean then with a badger brush, apply each coat evenly. Repeat the procedure between coats. Four coats will seal all openings to offer a glass surface. Have fun and enjoy bringing life back to your piece of wood.

  • chris Says:
    August 31st, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Hello there. I have an exterior sign that was made for me. It is a wooden sign with highly reflective lettering. I was wondering what product I should use to protect it from the elements.
    Thanks in advance.

  • Jim&Kay Says:
    August 20th, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Hi, I learned so much from reading this comment trail! Thank you! Here is my situation: We live in south Texas. We have a screened porch. I want to put a day bed out there. It will not receive direct sun. I have purchased a solid rubberwood indoor day bed for the purpose. Understanding that indoor furniture will never last as long as outdoor furniture, I would like to protect it from the elements as best I can. I’m not a wood-worker (at least not yet – though this blog makes me wish I were!) so will you please give me step by step and product names? Thank you so much! Kay

  • Ronald Says:
    August 17th, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    I am refurbishing a cedar rocking chair which will be outside. I want the natural wood grain to show with out yellowing and protected from the environment.

  • John Taylor Says:
    May 25th, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    Hi Borden,
    I do sculpture in found wood and am considering doing some pieces for permanent outdoor display. Do you have some tips for wood type (my current stock consists of cedar, and outdoor-aged elm, ash and assorted others.), finish, etc. My work features highly polished fully exposed grain so a clear finish is essential. Can you help me? Please respond by email. Thanks

  • ann Says:
    May 15th, 2015 at 6:35 am

    Hi, I have noticed a lot of pianos being giving away free so i started thinking that i could turn one into a outside bar. My question is I would i use marine varnish or a waterproof paint to be able to keep it outside in Massachusetts all year?

  • Candace Says:
    May 12th, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    I am anxious to try preparing a beautiful old caned chair that is not strong enough to sit on. Making a planter and hope that the suggested method will help it hold up outdoors as long as I maintain it. There are several products that fit the description. I HAVE chosen a chair that I need to give away or it will end up in the trash…so if it doesn’t work it’s okay….but the great explanation/instruction along with the products suggested and some elbow grease may render me a beautiful planter to see from my kitchen’s bay window onto my deck.

  • Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    March 25th, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    The comment section under each of our posts is for visitors to leave a comment, it is not intended as a question and answer forum. If you have a home improvement question you would like answered, you can call our radio show hotline at (800) 946-4420 or submit it online at If your question is answered on the show, you will receive an email directing you to the show online so you can listen to the answer. Thank you for your interest!

  • Tom Harrison Says:
    March 25th, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    Where are the answers to the above questions? I would like to see them. Many are applicable to things I would like to know how to do now and in the future, perhaps.

  • deborah lykouretzos Says:
    March 15th, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    Hello I am making a table and seats for use outdoors. I want to put on a sealer that is durable and thick also thinking about doing broken glass in the top of table. Ive seen at restaurants they use something to do that. Can you suggest a sealer (like the restaurants use) and stain combo? The wood is maple.

  • Susan Steinberg Says:
    October 19th, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    I would like to move my Futon outdoors and would like to treat the cushion/mattress to be weather/mole/mildew proof. What product do you recommend.

    Please advise.
    Thank you.

  • Judi Says:
    October 3rd, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    I have a teak veneered sideboard which is of very good quality. I am moving into a new house and there isn’t enough wall space for it. Can it be made waterproof and painted to use on the undercover patio?
    Thank you.

  • Rita Pancholi Says:
    September 29th, 2014 at 2:59 am

    Hi, I have a solid wood walnut dining table which is varnished in some sort of gloss. I would like to use it as an outside table as no longer have the room indoors for it. It is vitually brand new. What would i need to do to it to make it outdoor friendly?

  • Ricard Hammaker Says:
    September 23rd, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    sanded walnut slab wood 2″ x 18″ x4′ out side bench & two others about the same may, be coffee tables? BEST Way to finish? R.H.

  • Susan Ewing Says:
    August 11th, 2014 at 8:08 am

    I bought 4 maple wood rockers for the front porch which is covered. They were on on sale and already beginning to peel when I bought them. I intend to sand them and add several layers of satin polycrylic. They already have a finish. Do I need to sand down to the wood to begin this process or can I simply rough up the top layer and add my polycrylic? Would a layer of paint bring additional protection?

  • judy Says:
    July 30th, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    do you have the name of the business, this paint sounds like what i am looking for, i would call company and question who painted them and how long ago

  • Larysa DiDio Says:
    July 27th, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Hi! Do you know what type of paint I would use to make my wooden adirondack chairs feel like a thick acrylic? We sat on some in Ocean City and I’ve been searching for the type of paint used, to no avail! Please help!

  • William Says:
    June 30th, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Hi all. I am looking to restore a bench that I got from my grandparents. It was had always been an outdoor bench however time has had it’s wicked way with it. The wood has begun splitting in places and its needing a lot of work done to it. Its also a horrible green colour. I am looking for advice and a beginners step by step guide as to how to bring the life back to this bench. I am unsure of some of the terminology you are using and also do not have a knowledge of the products you are talking about above. I am unsure as to the type of wood as well. I have taken this on as my own project and would like to surprise my mum by restoring her dads bench. All replies are welcome….remember beginner beginner beginner 🙂

  • judy Says:
    June 17th, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    i found an antigue small wood table, more like a tea cart i want to refinish for outside for condiments and such when outdoor dining, i need to re-glue and re-screw the table but was wondered if while it is apart is this a better time to do the majority of the weatherproofing

  • Liz Rimpfel Says:
    June 2nd, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    I have wooden benches that have been painted with deck paint. I have sanded them as well as I can but there is still paint on them. I really want to varnish them to use as seating at the pool. Can I put varnish over deck paint?

  • AMY Says:
    May 12th, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    I purchased a reclaimed wood table and bench to use outside under covered patio. The table is painted and finished with a light gloss. I was informed by the furniture store that it is ok to use outdoors. But I’m nervous and want to make sure that I do not need to seal it or anything else to ensure it can withstand Florida’s humidity. Please advise.

  • Reza Says:
    April 19th, 2014 at 3:38 am

    My poor $600 solid wood round dining table ended up in my porch for it not at all goes with my new house geometry! Anyhow, I coated it in a 5 layer high gloss polyurethane (home depot) 14 months ago and still looks like day 1. Wipe the dust & drizzles and you’re good to go…

  • John Etheridge Says:
    April 14th, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    I am building a memory bench it will to place it in the yard. The wood is pine. The problem is what to do about the legs. Will pine legs hold up to insects and rot?
    thank you.

  • Borden Green Says:
    January 27th, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    The matte finish removes the high shine. However, by using the high gloss for the under coats, you achieve better UV protection.

  • Leslie W Says:
    January 27th, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    To Borden or others.

    I was thinkin gof using Epifanes High Gloss Marine finish to seal my repurposed exterior dining table. The table is built from center cut redwood of my old deck. The wood was planed down to remove 40 years of stains and paints.

    You noted that the last coat you used a Matte finish. Did this take the gloss away. Because I’m reclaiming lumber I want to reclaimed look and not the epoxy high gloss look.

    I just want to seal the table good so that it will last a long time and I’m not sure what product to use to not get a glossy finish so your Matte finish on the last coat is intriuguing.

  • Sandy Says:
    December 25th, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    What should I use as a sealant on an unfinished fir adirondack chair?

  • El Gibbens Says:
    October 30th, 2013 at 9:52 am

    We just moved to a newly built home with a large covered porch. I have a 7 ft. wood (real wood) buffet table, that will not fit anywhere inside the house. My husband wants to put it on the patio up all the way up against the house for outdoor parties. My question is to seal with UV protectant varnish, do I have to strip it down first, or just paint the varnish over the existing finish? (not a color-painted piece)

  • Borden Green Says:
    July 9th, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    I will. There are claims that this finish will last up to 5 years without re varnishing. I will keep tabs.

  • Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    July 9th, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Borden,
    Thanks for the feedback! Let us know how the table holds up.

  • Borden Green Says:
    July 9th, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Well, I am almost through refinishing the 60 inch round wooden table that I referred to in a previous comment. I have gotten quite a bit of experience with this project applying sealer and varnish. I stripped the table to the bare wood, then sealed it with Restor-it Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer. After waiting 24 hours for the sealer to cure, I applied the first coat of Epifanes High Gloss Marine Varnish. As the sealer finishes its curing process, it is supposed to pull the varnish into the wood with it. I chose the varnish because it has good UV protection. I applied 6 coats of this varnish to the top and 5 coats to the base. I roughed-up the varnish a little bit between coats with Scotch Brite abrasive pads. I applied 3 coats underneath the table top and underneath the legs on the base. I did not rough-up the varnish between coats underneath the table. I then sanded the top and base with 000 steel wool. I did this because the high gloss varnish developed tiny bubbles as it cured — very frustrating. After wiping the dust off, I wiped the surfaces with Turpenoid and followed with a tack cloth. I then switched to Epifanes Wood Matte Varnish. After the first coat of this varnish, I decided the base looked good enough to call it finished. I then sanded the top with a block sander using very fine sandpaper (finishing with 400 grit) and cleaned the dust as described before. I applied one more coat of the Epifanes Wood Matt Varnish. I am hoping this finish lasts a good while in our Texas weather. The table will not be under a protective covering.

  • Peggy Witthaus Says:
    July 8th, 2013 at 8:54 am

    I have a veneered cherry table – are there additional steps or specific products for use in this situation?

  • Borden Green Says:
    June 5th, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    Your article is helpful. My husband and I found a beautiful 60 inch round, primitive wooden pedestal table that we want to use outside in a sunny spot. There appears to be no stain, but just a clear finish of some type.

  • Leta Rocha Says:
    March 29th, 2013 at 6:21 am

    In the first picture, that outdoor furniture and patio decor bring indoor elegance to outdoor display.

  • Billy Jackson Says:
    November 15th, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Thank you! This is helpful and has helped educate my decision

  • H. Patrick Wilson Says:
    August 9th, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Is there a product for finishing wood tables that is strong enough to withstand the hot, salty, ocean air while still approved for food consumption? I can’t seem to find a single product for this use; but I can’t believe that one doesn’t exist. Please help!

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How to Finish Wood Furniture for Use Outdoors