Outdoor spaces like patios, decks, and porches provide the perfect opportunity to relax and entertain. Whether it’s dining al fresco on a summer evening or curling up by the fire pit on a cool night, quality outdoor furniture helps extend living space and enjoyment of the outdoors.
When selecting outdoor furniture, one of the most classic and appealing options is wood. Wood offers natural beauty, warmth, and timeless style. But with so many types of wood available, it can be daunting to choose which option is best suited for outdoor use. The type of wood, furnishings, climate, budget, and maintenance requirements should all factor into your decision when shopping for outdoor wood furniture.
Understanding Hardwoods vs. Softwoods
The two main categories of wood used in furniture are hardwoods and softwoods.
Hardwoods come from deciduous trees which lose their leaves annually. They are slower-growing and denser than softwoods. Oak, maple, mahogany, acacia, and teak are all examples of hardwoods. Their dense structure makes hardwoods very resilient. They stand up well to daily wear and tear and weather the elements beautifully. Hardwoods tend to be more expensive than softwoods.
Softwoods come from conifer trees like pine, cedar, and redwood. They grow faster than hardwoods and are less dense. Softwoods are more affordable and easier to work with than hardwoods. But they are also less durable wood. While some varieties of softwoods like cedar and redwood have a natural insect and moisture resistance, softwood furnishings generally require more maintenance and care than hardwoods.
When choosing outdoor wood furnishings, hardwoods usually make the better, longer-lasting investment while softwoods are often the more budget-friendly option. Consider which you prioritize when making your selection.
The Best Hardwoods for Outdoor Furniture
Arguably the best wood for outdoor use is teak. That’s why you’ll find teak furnishings like benches, chairs, and tables aboard luxury yachts and cruise ships. Teak has a high oil content and dense grain that makes it water, weather, rot, and pest resistant. It holds up beautifully to sun, rain, and changing humidity levels. The natural oils in teak also deter insects. Unlike other woods, teak doesn’t require sealants or treatments to preserve it. And it grays gracefully, taking on a distinguished silvery patina over time. While teak carries a higher price tag, it’s worth the investment as it can easily last 50+ years with minimal upkeep. Teak is an elegant choice for dining sets, lounge chairs, and decorative accents.
If teak is out of your budget, acacia makes an excellent alternative. Acacia is sustainably harvested and plantation grown. It shares many similarities with teak – dense grain, rich reddish-brown color, natural water resistance, and durability. Acacia is slightly more affordable than teak but still carries many of the same benefits. It resists rot, insects, warping, and weather fluctuations. Low-maintenance acacia ages beautifully into a silvery gray. Durable acacia works well for dining tables, chairs, benches, and shelving.
Also a tropical hardwood, mahogany has a straight grain and a lovely reddish hue. It holds up relatively well outdoors, though not as well as teak or acacia. Mahogany has good resistance to rot and pests thanks to its dense structure. But it requires additional treatment with wood sealers to protect it from moisture damage. Left unfinished, mahogany will crack and split. Properly treated, mahogany makes a wonderful material for benches, gazebos, and bars.
Ipe is an incredibly resilient Brazilian walnut. It’s dense, weatherproof, and long-lasting like teak but carries a slightly lower price tag. Ipe has a tighter grain and darker tone than teak. It resists moisture, UV damage, termites, fungi, and microorganisms. Ipe can last 40+ years outdoors with minimal upkeep. Its hardness does make it a little more difficult to work with. But its durability makes it ideal for decking, tables, and outdoor kitchens.
The Best Softwoods for Outdoor Furniture
While softwoods generally aren’t as hardy as hardwoods, several varieties have natural weather resistance and make suitable outdoor furniture choices in the right climate. Some top options include:
Western red cedar is a popular choice for its aromatic, reddish hue and natural insect and moisture resistance. It has natural oils that act as a preservative to protect it from rot and decay. Cedar ages to a silvery gray unless treated with stains and sealants to maintain its warm red tones. Rustic cedar works well for benches, rocking chairs, picnic tables, planter boxes, and swings. Keep in mind that cedar is relatively soft and susceptible to dings and dents. It also requires more upkeep than hardwoods.
Redwood is another beautiful softwood prized for its rich red color. It too has natural oils that help repel moisture, rot, and pests. Redwood needs added protection to withstand humidity and rain. If cared for properly, it makes attractive, resilient outdoor chairs, lounges, bars, and decorative accents. Redwood is best suited for drier climates as excess moisture causes cracking.
Common across the Gulf Coast, cypress has good weather resistance in hot, humid conditions. It holds up relatively well against insect damage, moisture, and decay. The fine, straight grain and attractive yellowish hue of cypress make it a nice choice for porches and garden landscapes. Cypress pairs well with painted accents and metals. With proper treatment, cypress works for a variety of furnishings like benches, rockers, tables, and lounges.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Wood
Along with selecting a type of wood suited for outdoor use, consider these factors when shopping for outdoor wood furniture:
How much are you comfortable spending? Hardwoods are typically more expensive than softwoods. But their exceptional durability makes them a sound long-term investment. With proper care, a quality hardwood set can last for decades. If budget is a concern, look for less expensive durable hardwoods like acacia. Or opt for softwoods which have a more approachable price point.
Consider your environmental conditions. Hardier woods like teak, ipe, cedar, and cypress fare better in wet, humid conditions. Woods like acacia, redwood, and mahogany need added protection from moisture. And certain softwoods like cedar and redwood are not ideal for very arid, hot climates which can cause cracking. Select a wood that aligns with your regional weather patterns. Apply additional sealers and protective covers as needed.
Do you prefer a weathered driftwood gray appearance or rich wood tones? Hardwoods like teak, mahogany, and acacia take on an elegant, silvery patina over time. Softwoods like cedar and redwood keep more of their warm hues but need consistent treatment to maintain their original color. Ipe and cypress develop a grayish driftwood appearance.
Consider the size, function, and location of furnishings. Large imposing pieces like dining tables and daybeds do well in sturdy teak or ipe. Delicate decor like swings and rockers are better suited to softer cedar or redwood. Sheltered decorations like gazebos and bars don’t require the most rugged woods.
How much upkeep are you willing to do? Teak, acacia, cypress, and cedar require little yearly maintenance beyond occasional cleaning. Ipe and mahogany need added sealers. And softwoods like redwood require the most protection and care to keep looking their best.
Take these factors into account when selecting outdoor wood furniture. Choose wood pieces suited for your climate that fit your budget and lifestyle. With proper care, you’ll enjoy quality wood furnishings outside for decades of memories ahead.
Protecting and Caring for Outdoor Wood Furniture
To help your outdoor wood furniture withstand the elements, keep it looking beautiful, and maximize longevity, follow these tips:
- Invest in quality furniture. Well-constructed furniture made from durable weather-resistant woods will save you trouble and last for years. Cheap sets may seem like a bargain but will quickly show wear and tear.
- Apply protective sealers. Penetrating oils for hardwoods and varnishes for softwoods protect against moisture and UV damage. Use breathable sealers that don’t block the wood’s natural defenses. Reapply as needed, usually once a year.
- Clean regularly. Remove dirt before it becomes embedded and wipe up spills when they occur. Clean with mild soap and water.
- Inspect for damage. Check for splinters, cracks, peeling finishes, and excess weathering. Sand and refinish any problem spots immediately to prevent further damage.
- Use furniture covers. Breathable, water-resistant covers protect from rain, snow, and sun when furniture is not in use.
- Store cushions when not in use. Cushions are susceptible to mold, mildew, and fading. Take them inside when not being used.
- Follow the manufacturer’s maintenance guidelines. Brands offer tips specific to their wood furniture collections.
With proper selection, care, and maintenance, wood furniture can serve you season after season. Pair timeless wood pieces with weather-resistant fabrics and materials. Then sit back and enjoy lazy days rocking on the porch or dining al fresco with family and friends. Let the warmth and welcoming presence of wood enhance your outdoor living for years to come.