While it may be tempting to pick up old chairs and tables at yard sales to use in the garden, we’ve all seen what can happen if you don’t properly treat them to withstand the elements.

    Unless you want a pile of rotten splinters on your porch, you’ll need to seal and properly refinish indoor furniture for outdoor use.

    Furniture intended for indoor use will never have as long an outdoor life as its pressure-treated or rot-resistant wood counterparts, but a little cleaning and refinishing can go 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 prolonging the life of wood furniture in the garden.

    Outdoor Wood Furniture Challenges

    Wooden furniture faces sizable obstacles to surviving outdoors, such as the following:

    • Most wood naturally biodegrades, so untreated wood (or rot-resistant species like teak, redwood, or cedar) will decompose surprisingly fast. Even treated or rot-resistant wood has a finite life span.
    • Outdoor furniture typically uses robust construction with thick pieces and joints that limit wood exposure, while indoor furniture tends to have delicate joints, thin components, and veneers. Using indoor wood outside means it can easily warp, disintegrate, or incur moisture damage from inclement weather. 
    • Standard furniture employs interior glues and finishes that are suitable for climate-controlled buildings. However, in the outdoors, fluctuating temperatures and humidity can loosen joints and degrade finishes. Durable outdoor furniture requires waterproof glue and exterior finishes.

    How to Treat and Seal Outdoor Wood Furniture

    While using interior wood furniture outside is possible, it won’t endure indefinitely. I suggest taking the following steps to treat and seal it to extend its outdoor life:

    Like long sleeves that shield your skin from sunburn, multiple coats of exterior finish guard against UV rays and moisture. Because paint obstructs UV better than clear finishes, you should apply a quality oil-based or latex exterior primer first, then top with exterior paint. For visible wood grain, use exterior spar varnish with UV inhibitors instead. Spar varnish produces a thicker film than oil or stain for better protection. Avoid deck products that lack enough safeguard for unfinished wood outside.

    Before painting, sand down to raw wood (or strip chemicals) so the primer bonds well.

    Don’t leave any unprotected spots. Seal every joint, nook, cranny, and base for optimal protection from the elements.

    Even premium finishes deteriorate outdoors over time, so plan to refinish your furniture every year or two. 

    Rain and sun accelerate wear. Use glides to raise furniture above standing water if keeping it outside. Or, put your furniture under a roof to avoid exposure to the elements.

    So, Is It Possible to Use Wood Furniture Outdoors?

    With appropriate protective finishes and care, indoor wood furniture can endure outside for multiple seasons, though not as long as pieces that are specifically made for outdoor use. The keys to a piece of furniture’s healthy outdoor life are choosing quality construction with durable wood and then sealing thoroughly against moisture.

    Still, upkeep, like cleaning and rejuvenating the finish on your furniture as it starts to show wear, will be ongoing. With a little extra TLC, yard sale or hand-me-down finds can live again outdoors, lending vintage appeal to your patio or garden. However, enduring exposure to sun, rain, and other elements requires a continued effort on your part to keep them in good shape.

    FAQs About Using Wood Furniture Outdoors

    What type of paint or finish works best for outdoor wood furniture?

    For optimum protection, apply oil-based or latex exterior paint over primer. Multiple coats of spar varnish will also suffice if you’re completely sealing the wood from moisture.

    How often should you recoat outdoor wood furniture?

    Plan to refresh exterior paint or varnish every one or two years. You may have to recoat more often if finishes display wear, peeling, cracks, or dullness.

    Should outdoor wood furniture be covered when you’re not using it?

    Yes. Use furniture covers or store pieces under shelter during extreme weather to guard wood and finishes from additional damage.

    What qualities should I seek when selecting wood furniture for the outdoors?

    Choose furniture with substantial construction and thick wood components, sturdy joinery, and minimal ornate accents that water can penetrate. More weather-resistant woods like teak, cedar, cypress, and redwood will also hold up better outside.

    Can an indoor wood dining set be suitable on a patio or deck?

    With proper sealing and refinishing, an indoor dining set will work adequately outside for a season or two. However, lighter indoor construction can’t endure outdoors long-term like other outdoor furniture options. While you can use indoor furniture outdoors, expect to replace them sooner.

    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Mitchell Layton

    Mitchell Layton

    Mitchell Layton is a former professional mover who currently lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mitchell spent years packing and moving for REAL Rock N Roll Movers, a commercial and residential moving company based in Los Angeles that’s primarily staffed with up-and-coming musicians. That gave him plenty of experience navigating box trucks up and down the winding streets of LA. In addition to moving hundreds of happy customers into new homes and apartments all across Southern California, Mitchell has also performed corporate moves on company lots for Nickelodeon, Warner Bros, Universal Studios, Paramount, and more. After pouring blood, sweat, and tears into his profession, Mitchell has all the helpful tips you need for your next move.

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    Lori Zaino

    Lori Zaino is a freelance writer and editor based in Madrid, Spain. With nearly two decades of editorial experience, she’s written and edited for publications like Forbes, CNN, Insider, NBC, Newsweek, The Points Guy, The Infatuation, and many others. Having just completed her first home renovation, she’s more interested in home improvements than ever, dedicated to bringing you fresh and accurate content to help you update your living spaces.

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