Is there a clear outdoor finish?

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Forum topic by Sean posted 05-12-2009 05:55 AM 6226 views 1 time favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Sean's profile


156 posts in 4122 days

05-12-2009 05:55 AM

Topic tags/keywords: oak traditional question

Recently built a Lutyens Bench out of white oak. Bleached the white oak. I’m pretty happy with it, but I haven’t finished it yet. I still need a decent sealer. I researched it as much as I can, I really like the finish with a Water-based poly, but thats not much good for outdoors. Mark Spagnuolo uses an oil-varnish blend with a maritime varnish called Epiphane that he swears by. I like that, I don’t mind having to refinish every now and then…but it will darken up the oak. Not a whole lot, but I wanted to ask before I settled on that, if anyone else has tried or knows of a good outdoor finish that is clear as I can get.

-- "Democracy is by far the worst system of government. Except all the others that have been tried." ~ Winston Churchill

10 replies so far

View a1Jim's profile


117721 posts in 4083 days

#1 posted 05-12-2009 06:08 AM

can’t wait to see the finished project.

View Sean's profile


156 posts in 4122 days

#2 posted 05-12-2009 06:23 AM

Easier said than done. wont be much of a project if I can’t put it out in the rain.

-- "Democracy is by far the worst system of government. Except all the others that have been tried." ~ Winston Churchill

View LesB's profile


2201 posts in 3949 days

#3 posted 05-12-2009 07:35 AM

I Googled “exterior water based urethane” and came up with lots of info and companies making the product. I have not had any experience with that type finish outdoors but I know even the best “marine” finishes have to be renewed every 2 to 4 years. Sun exposure seems to do the most damage to the finishes.
I would expect your biggest problem with moisture will enter at joints where the finish will crack first and let the water in….not good for oak. I don’t know if a clear paintable silicon sealer on the joints would help or hurt. Would it work to put a plastic cover over it when you are not using it to prolong the life of the finish??

-- Les B, Oregon

View Topapilot's profile


172 posts in 4347 days

#4 posted 05-12-2009 07:49 AM

clump, clump, clump (sound of troll stomping over the bridge)

Don’t listen to that woodwispererer! What does he know?

clump, clump, clump…

FWW May/June issue has an report of a yearlong test and recommends … Epifanes marine varnish! Oak was one of the test materials, and they had samples in the four corners of the US.

Now who you going to believe??

clump, clump, clump (troll goes back under the bridge…)

View Boardman's profile


157 posts in 4268 days

#5 posted 05-12-2009 02:58 PM

Here’s an interesting idea I picked up off a forum a couple years back. I’ve been meaning to try, just never got around to it. It DOES make sense when you read the explanation:

Here’s an article by Jim Kull who knows a lot about finishing that you may be interested in.

In a recent post my friend, Steve, made reference to my tests of doggie sprinkling on exterior finishes. I figure after almost a year of testing it is time to post some interesting discoveries.

As a preface, allow me to set the stage. Almost daily there is a posting about clear, exterior finishes for doors, chairs, signs and such. Responses run the gamut from diehard marine finishes to apply a coat of primer and then paint. Each of these has a bit of a problem. Marine finishes are not always the easiest to find and it grieves me to think of a lovely oak, teak, mahogany, fir, redwood or similar nice wood door painted in mauve goop.

Bob from Fl inspired me with his continuing and accurate statements about the failings of a clear coat and the advantages of a good quality exterior paint. I decided after lots of reflection that he really was right but there was always the picture of mauve in my mind. Sooooooooo, how could one take advantage of his advice and yet capitalize on the beauty of a nice wood.

I began to reflect on the characteristics of paint. Now, comes the boredom.

There were several things I knew about paint. Exterior paints contain a mildewcide and a fungicide that a varnish does not. The best quality paints will contain a UV protectorant and trans-oxide pigments in very high percentages. Almost all paint is custom mixed by the store. The retailer maintains a large supply of base products that are used to achieve the desired color. There are generally 4 base products and the specific one for your paint is determined by your color choice. These base products are either named or numbered. They are named pastel, deep, tint and neutral. If numbered it is cleverly 1, 2, 3 and 4 with the exception of Olympic who numbers 1, 2, 3 and 5. Olympic is unaware that 4 comes before 5. Pastel and/or 1 is virtually a pure white and used for the lightest of colors. The others are slightly color altered from white and more translucent than pastel. These are used for succeedingly deeper colors. All of this comes to neutral, 4 and/or 5. These are clear and used for the darkest colors. In the can they are somewhat opaque but dry more or less clear.

Now comes the testing. I bought 4 oak exterior doors. Each door was given one coat of the same MinWax Stain. On 3 of the doors, I applied 2 coats of “base” to the 6 sides of each door (3 coats on the top and bottom edges). Each of these three doors had a different type of exterior neutral, 4 or 5 base. The fourth door was finished with a consumer “spar” varnish from my local friendly paint/hardware store. The bases for the 3 painted doors were an exterior semi-gloss acrylic, an exterior semi-gloss oilbased polyurethane floor paint and a semi-gloss oilbased trim and siding paint.

The doors were set up, slightly inclined, in mostly direct sunlight under a pecan tree in the backyard. My wife just loved that one. Daily, the sprinklers managed to hit the doors. The birds in the pecan tree used the doors for target practice. And, yes, the dogs did anoint the doors on a regular basis. My blonde Cocker, Zazu, was particularly enamored with the doors. Over the course of the test the doors experienced lots of Texas sunlight, rain and snow. The temperature went from below freezing to over 100. The advantage to the inclined position of the doors was the snow, ice, water from the sprinklers and the rain tended to collect in the raised panel areas. I feel these doors were subjected to far more severe environmental conditions than would be expected from normal use.

The results were interesting. The “spar” varnish looked fabulous but after about 2 weeks it began to develop small cracks. In rapid order the door began to turn black, started to mold and the smell was enough to knock a buzzard off of a manure wagon. The waterbased acrylic is milky in the can like a waterbased poly. It dried to a more or less water clear surface but was a bit cloudy. It tended to wash out the stain a bit. Over time it became cloudier and ultimately become almost white. But, it remained solid and protected the wood. The oil based bases are also a bit opaque in the can but dried to a clear finish that is almost identical to a spar varnish – they added an amber tone to the doors. Both the oil based poly floor paint and the oil based trim and siding paint remained “clear” over the entire test period.

The testing came to an end with a bit of encouragement. My wife said something clever like, “Get those damned doors out of the backyard?”. She does not understand science. The floor poly had some minor checking and a thinned coat of the same base over the surface made that disappear. The door with the oilbased trim and siding paint was perfect other than it had lost a bit of the gloss.

So, I am with Bob – paint the door. My preference is the oilbased products. If you are predisposed to a waterbased use an acrylic rather than latex.

One thing you will find when you go out shopping for your product is a lack of knowledge on the part of the salesperson. Not many of these folk are aware that their neutral or 4 base will dry clear. If you want to have some fun, spring it on them. They will suggest you are full of Donkey Dust. Ask them to shake a can and put some on a stir stick. Dry it and voila, it is clear.

Jim Kull

View Sean's profile


156 posts in 4122 days

#6 posted 05-12-2009 11:52 PM

I’m familiar with the various spar varnishes, I’ve used them a few times before.

Topapilot – yeah, like i said i like what the woodwhisperer did, but i was just looking for a way to protect it with less ambering up. I talked to the pres. of Epiphanes Doug Theobalds, and he said yes it will darken quite a bit but the protection is 2nd to none.

Boardman – thanks a lot, thats great…I had never come across that in any of the research, so thanks!

-- "Democracy is by far the worst system of government. Except all the others that have been tried." ~ Winston Churchill

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4631 days

#7 posted 05-13-2009 01:32 AM

The wooden boat aficionados of my acquaintance all swear by oil. Specifically Penofin, but I think any good oil would work: Apply it once every month or two for 3 or four times, then once or twice a year. Oil is nice ‘cause it won’t flake, unlike the polyurethanes and varnishes, and because of that you don’t have to strip it off to re-apply.

But most of my exterior wood is massaranduba or mahogany, which is all fairly dark to begin with.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View Sean's profile


156 posts in 4122 days

#8 posted 05-13-2009 01:54 AM

Dan – LOVE Massaranduba…supply dried up around here 5 years ago, havent seen any since. Can’t even order it from the lumber yard. i would prefer some oil or oil varnish blend, so i could keep some of the feel of the wood. I shy away from poly normally because of the texture.

Bently – No, I hadn’t. thats a pretty good idea. I know someone on my other website who just built his plywood reef tank and used epoxy to seal it…looks sharp, I’ll have to think about that too.

-- "Democracy is by far the worst system of government. Except all the others that have been tried." ~ Winston Churchill

View Herbiej's profile


66 posts in 3860 days

#9 posted 05-14-2009 05:11 AM

I used a clear automotive type clear urethane similar to Imron, on my strip canoe. it has held up for four years.

-- Acts: 2:38

View CaptainSkully's profile


1611 posts in 4065 days

#10 posted 05-29-2009 03:16 AM

Sean, go directly to a West Marine near you and check out Bristol finish. It’s crystal clear, rock hard, easy to apply, and will showcase your beautiful bench. It’s extremely shiny, but they have a flattener that you can add to bring it down as much as you want. It will totally encapsulate you bench and protect it for years to come.

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

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