Need exterior wood finish suggestion

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Forum topic by JackStraw42 posted 08-31-2020 04:07 AM 719 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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15 posts in 1891 days

08-31-2020 04:07 AM

Hi guys. My mom wanted a “potting table” for her birthday. I’ve built the thing out of a bunch of old cedar that’s been in my garage for many years. I know cedar is supposed to be good for outdoor applications, but beyond that… I have no idea what i’m supposed to do to protect it. Can you guys give me your opinion on how I should finish this thing to protect it from the elements? I really have no experience in this area. Thanks!

10 replies so far

View SMP's profile


4711 posts in 1117 days

#1 posted 08-31-2020 04:21 AM

Well, if she likes the old weathered grey cedar look, just leave it. Much easier all around. If she wants it to stay a color, my go-to is Behr semi transparent exterior stain. Its a good value for what it is, but you need to reapply it every year or two to maintain it depending on weather

View CaptainKlutz's profile


4856 posts in 2706 days

#2 posted 08-31-2020 06:38 AM

+1 SMP
Leave it alone for rustic grey.
Use oil based deck stain for a couple years of protection and some color.

That cedar is really light colored and will look dirty quick when used. I vote give it coat of deck stain.


-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, Doom, despair, agony on me… - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View JackStraw42's profile


15 posts in 1891 days

#3 posted 08-31-2020 01:53 PM

Great, thanks guys!

View Sark's profile


426 posts in 1572 days

#4 posted 08-31-2020 02:35 PM

Whatever you get, make sure that’s its a wipe-on, wipe-off type of stain. In other words, a penetrating sealer that contains some pigment. Any film-forming top coat, such as varnish, spar-varnish, shellac, lacquer, etc will flake off. For staining my deck, I used a product called “Seal Once” on my deck and have been quite impressed.

Note the words “below the surface”
“Our proprietary nanotechnology provides superior, long-lasting protection from water damage by penetrating deep below the surface of wood, concrete & bricks.” That’s what what you want. The particular brand is not important. The product I used is available only in gallons, but you can easily find quarts of similar stuff. “Penetrating oil” is another commonly used description, even if it contains little or no oil. “Nano technology” is marketing hype, means nothing.

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15 posts in 1891 days

#5 posted 08-31-2020 04:38 PM

Ok, i’ll look for Seal Once, or for something else penetrating if they don’t have that. Thanks!

View Kelly's profile


3752 posts in 4155 days

#6 posted 08-31-2020 04:56 PM

Untended, that old gray look is going to include cracking, splitting and joint separation from shrinkage of the wood.

Cedar, redwood, teak and so on may do better than other woods, but they are still wood and are going to react to rain, watering of plants, and drying.

I’ve been experimenting with the finish they used to put on rifles back in the day. It’s a mix of pine tar pitch, turpentine and a bit of boiled linseed oil.

I like that there is no stripping between applications. I like that, with enough turpentine, I get a bit of penetrating action too. The linseed oil helps harden the mix enough it doesn’t come of on you or your cloths, after sitting a few days.

If you wanted to really beef the program up, you could apply non-hardening oil (e.g., used or cheap motor oil or mineral oil) highly thinned so it penetrates the wood. After happy with the results, switch to the more exotic mix.

No matter what you do, avoid any full on surface coat finish, because it’s going to fail and be a pain to strip for fresh applications.

Keep in mind, regarding the oil, it is cumulative, and it’s replacing lost moisture. As such, the first few applications may appear to have done nothing, a few weeks after application. That’s because the oil is wicking and spreading to other dry spots.

When I apply non-hardening oils, I, always, keep adding, as long as the wood will take it. Some spots will suck up more oil than others, and I try to pay extra attention to them.

If possible, I let the oil wick for a day, week or whatever is reasonable, then come back with more applications.

I never wipe off excess until I am finished with that run.

Just the oil approach, alone, will make your fence or other outdoor project, be it a bench, potting station or fence, stand out from neglected ones, both in appearance and diminished cracking, splitting and separating.

From much experience working on fences, I can say a couple years of aggressive oil applications will make a night and day difference in their condition and appearance. By thinning about 15%, I can use my pump up garden sprayer, rather than my airless, and get a 100 foot fence done (one side) in about an hour. BUT, DO WEAR A P95 (oil resistance) mask. The mist will be there, even with the pump up.

On other projects, once happy with the oil, you can go to the semi-sealing applications. If you didn’t go with the pine tar pitch, you could add just a LITTLE poly, to help seal the oil in, but not so much it left a surface coat.

Of course, oil isn’t as practical on some projects. Because it doesn’t harden, it can ooz out in the heat, so could stain cloths.

My main thing is, if the wood is full of oil at least well penetrated, there isn’t much room for water. For example, the old swing a friend gave me, now, has 2×4’s (front to back) replacing the long dead fabric. It gets hit by sprinklers every morning. What a test. The pine tar mix has to be applies yearly, for now, but the beast looks great.

View Hermit's profile


248 posts in 2536 days

#7 posted 08-31-2020 05:13 PM

I would put 2-3 coats of tung oil on it to bring out the color of the wood. Wait a week then apply about 4-5 coats of spar urethane. It’ll last for many years to come.

-- I'm like the farmer's duck. If it don't rain, I'll walk.

View therealSteveN's profile


8628 posts in 1785 days

#8 posted 08-31-2020 06:10 PM

My go to is Walnut oil, but essentially any oil to feed/nourish the wood, and keep it from being so dry. This keeps it grey without the cracks, and separation Kelly talked about. I find dripping to be from too much oil. I pad it on with a cloth, and have found doing that the wood takes what it needs. Doing the topcoat will keep it redder for a while, but it really wants to go grey, so you are fighting a losing battle for the most part.

If your potting station is out in the yard, dripping probably will be less of a problem, so you could use a pump sprayer, but I find using an almost dry rag, and just wetting it enough to get a thin layer on the wood is less use of a somewhat pricey oil.

Thats a nice looking bench.

-- Think safe, be safe

View SMP's profile


4711 posts in 1117 days

#9 posted 08-31-2020 06:22 PM

+1 SMP
Leave it alone for rustic grey.
Use oil based deck stain for a couple years of protection and some color.

That cedar is really light colored and will look dirty quick when used. I vote give it coat of deck stain.


- CaptainKlutz

Another thing you can do to “help” it grey quicker is mix up some vinegar and steel wool and let it sit for 2-3 days. After it sits brush it on the cedar and let it dry in the sun. If you want a darker grey , brew some regular tea, brush on some tea first, let that dry, then do the vinegar/steel wool. Then whatever clear oil will lock in the grey tone and not get so dirty from potting and fingerprints etc.

View pottz's profile


20032 posts in 2196 days

#10 posted 08-31-2020 06:27 PM

for outdoor stuff ive used penofin rose wood oil,it comes in different tints and is a deep penetrating oil.i give my outdoor furniture a fresh each spring.

-- working with my hands is a joy,it gives me a sense of fulfillment,somthing so many seek and so few find.-SAM MALOOF.

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