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Why Some "Pine" May Not Be The Right Wood For Some Outdoor Furniture In Some Areas, Some of the Time

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Blog entry by Mark A. DeCou posted 08-09-2007 03:25 AM 15028 reads 0 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I have a great friend that is learning to do woodworking. He has been working hard at it the past 5 years, or so, and building some adult Adirondack Chairs was his first entry into making his own project. I suggested a curved seat, and a curved back for comfort (I had spent about 18 months perfecting my own Adirondack chair design, before I gave up), but he wanted to make them simpler.

He found a plan on the internet, and went to work. They started out as gifts, and then he decided to start selling the adult chairs, to help pay for more tools. He priced the chairs just like we all do, based on the material cost, and the time it took him to build them.

What he discovered was the same thing I discovered a few years earlier. He found out that selling adult Adirondack chairs didn’t work too good, so he converted the plan to a child’s size. I thought this was a good idea. They were a novelty, and grandparents might buy them for $25-$30 each. He decided to price them at $125 each, about half of the price of the adult chairs that didn’t sell too good. I tried to anonymously provide marketing input, but dropping him off copies of advertisements for Adirondack Chairs from everywhere in the $40 range, and some were less. His were better built, no doubt about it, but they were still hard to sell.

I helped him with the ratios to downsize all of the dimensions to kiddo dimensions, and then he went into production. He started out with hand held power tools, and then gradually, he picked up used woodworking tools. Now, he is using an imported bandsaw and a Craftsman Table saw. I have enjoyed helping him learn, and watching him learn to create in wood.

During the process of making Adirondack Chairs, he worked with Pine. I advised him to buy a more outdoor resistant wood, such as white oak, cypress, teak, cedar, cca pine, or redwood. He rejected all of those suggested woods, and chose instead to work in Pine due to it’s cost and easy availability. I knew it wouldn’t be the right decision, but sometimes, we need to learn lessons on our own. I had tried to stop him, remember?

During his early days in the Children’s Furniture manufacturing business, I told him that I would buy the first two chairs, if he would build a little side table to match. He didn’t know what to do with the table idea, as he didn’t have a plan for it. At the time, it seemed pretty easy to me, just whip one out, four legs, cross ties, and a top. I learned quickly that he wasn’t ready for the designing process quite yet, so I sketched a quick little drawing for him to use. I have been learning more about how to instruct and teach people woodworking related things, and this was a good lesson for me as well.

He searched high and low trying to find an outdoor clear finish that would protect Pine. He insisted that the finishing “product” brochures all showed how it would protect wood outdoors. I remember glancing through the brochures and saying, “I just don’t believe it…..use a different wood.” But he persisted.

Another lesson I gathered about teaching woodworking to folks, is that sometimes, they have to learn lessons on their own. I do…...my kids do…...we all do…..my friend does. In this case, I’m the one that is out the money for the chairs. I’m not upset, it happened just as I expected. And, in a sick way, it is nice to be proven right, even this time.

So, I told him to make the furniture for my kids with no finish, and then I would paint them myself. Once I got his pieces to my house, I used oil base exterior primer, and then latex exterior house paint for the top coat. The chairs looked beautiful, and have graced our yard since. The little table didn’t last but about 2 weeks, before my son tried to stand on it, and it collapsed. Oh well.

The chairs have lasted about 3 years now, and I have stored them inside during the winter moths. The rest of the time, I made sure that they were under the shade of trees to protect them UV light.

However, to my surprise and dismay, as I was mowing today, readying the place for Karson’s visit (you’d think the President was coming – yea you laugh, but he’s a two time winner of lumberjocks Awards), I moved the chairs and found that one had decayed to the point it broke and fell apart.

Despite my best efforts for counsel and then a great paint job, Pine is just not an outdoor Furniture wood. I shudder to think about an older person sitting down heavily in a chair like this, and when it collapsed, they rolled off the deck to the ground, where they dialed their lawyer with the cell phone on their belt. There is liability in building furniture folks, especially if you are selling it. Beware, and be cautious, and do your research.

I am posting these photos as just a reminder for all the jocks to remember to pick wood that fits the purpose of the project you are building. If it is outdoors, good paint won’t save it for long.

Until next time,
Mark DeCou
www.decoustudio.com

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-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com



15 comments so far

View 's profile

593 posts in 2725 days


#1 posted 08-09-2007 03:33 AM

Scary! Thank you for the reminder Mark.

View frank's profile

frank

1492 posts in 2959 days


#2 posted 08-09-2007 03:47 AM

Hi Mark;
I have found pine, especially hemlock to be very good for outside use. Many barns and such still have their original clothing of weathered pine siding on them and thats after 200 plus years of aging.

Where a lot of folks go wrong is they think they need to paint or put a finish on the wood….not so. Pine will age in the New England seasons here just fine….especially if left in it’s natural state.

I wrote earlier on a comment, about some pine chairs that I built back in 1989 or there abouts and the only thing that destroyed them was I left them out in the path of my plow truck this past winter. Needless to say….pine will not stand up to a metal plow….haha! with lots of LOL

All that the wood (pine) needs to be given is….’room to breathe’ and it will absorb wet and then dry out, of course the color will change to a grey, but then thats what’s called character. Of course I do not not live where you are, so I can only speak from my part of the world.

Note: If I may add one further observation here, I notice that you say you kept the chairs protected under the shade of trees. Pine needs to be kept out in the light of the sun so that it may further breathe and dry out. I have done many porch and house re-dos because folks ‘just hate to’ remove those trees that are giving shade. Ha!....yes they are giving shade and at the same time they are creating work for me….you just got to love it!

Thank you.
GODSPEED,
Frank

-- --frank, NH, http://rusticwoodart.tumblr.com/

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

1999 posts in 3159 days


#3 posted 08-09-2007 03:55 AM

good information Frank. Maybe my painting sped up the process. My old barn is pine also, and it is weathered and falling apart, but no termites. One old guy looked at it one time, and said that because it had so many air leaks, the pine wood dries out and the termites don’t like it. He told me that if I put on new siding, and made it air tight, to “look out.”

I think it also matters what type of “Pine,” is used, as there are several different species of trees that folks in lumberyards refer to as “pine.” I don’t know what species this was on the chairs. It was the soft blonde stuff with swirling reddish tones in the middle of the board, and came from a big-box retailing lumberyard. The stuff they sell in 3/4” thick, calling them 1”x6’s”, or 1” x 8’s”

It is strange, last Fall when I put these chairs in storage, they looked great, were sturdy, and showed no signs of age. Then, this Spring, I dusted them off, and put them back in the shade outdoors. So, all of this rotting seems to have occurred in just the months since April. We have gotten a lot of rain this year, way more than normal, so that may be the reason for this year’s troubles.

Another thing I noticed this season is that my step ladder that I leave outside the shop to climb up and remove the cover from my spray booth vent had rotted leg bottoms. I haven’t ever seen wood rot as fast as it did with this ladder. Rotted about 4 inches of the legs just this summer. Strange, huh.

Anyway, I’ll change my blog title to something less dramatic and pragmatic. Thanks for the input.

Mark

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com

View frank's profile

frank

1492 posts in 2959 days


#4 posted 08-09-2007 04:05 AM

Hi Mark;
—- no need to change any-thing, sometimes we need dramatic to shake us up….LOL

Glad to see you around and good to be able to touch base with you….seems like we both live in other time zones!

I might add that all wood sometimes needs to be adjusted around during those rainy seasons….why even Noah knew that, since he built an ark that would float….

Thank you and….
GODSPEED,
Frank

-- --frank, NH, http://rusticwoodart.tumblr.com/

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1804 posts in 2839 days


#5 posted 08-09-2007 04:09 AM

I couldn’t agree more with Frank. I’m surprised by how well my gates have withstood even in the shady and damp spot where they are for 9 years. The garden gets frequent waterings and the top of the wood gets moss and lichen growing on it but they are still solid. it certainly helps that they aren’t in ground contact. I love how they’ve aged. I fully expect to get another 5 years out of them. Maybe 10 if I oil the top surfaces.

-- Bob, Carver Massachusetts, Sawdust Maker http://www.capecodbaychallenge.org

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

1999 posts in 3159 days


#6 posted 08-09-2007 04:09 AM

didn’t Noah use “Gopher” wood? I’ll have to read that again. I think I also remember something about “pitch” being used for sealing it up. Can you imagine building a boat for over 100 years when you had never seen it rain before? What faith.

thanks for your input, I changed the title, it is funnier anyway now, which is what I was trying to be, in my “dry” style.

gotta say goodnight to little ones,
Mark

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

1999 posts in 3159 days


#7 posted 08-09-2007 04:12 AM

cool gates Bob. I hadn’t seen them before. How is the book deal going?

So, you are saying that your gates and arbor are built with lumberyard “Pine”?

I’m painting my house for the first time since it was painted new in 1962. It has “pine” everything for trim, and all it has needed is scraping, and a small amount of caulking in a few places. For quite a few years, the paint has been peeling up, still no rot. Strange, huh? I’ll go look at the chairs again tomorrow and investigate more. gotta go.

thanks,
mark

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 3067 days


#8 posted 08-09-2007 05:03 AM

I’ll bite too. I think pine just doesn’t have the strength in 3/4” form for most furniture. Our farm is built with old pine, but trying to use it structurally is a disaster waiting to happen unless it is a large beam. We get dry rot, wet rot, and extreme cracking on unpainted pine. Be careful!

View TomFran's profile

TomFran

2942 posts in 2747 days


#9 posted 08-09-2007 02:20 PM

Mark,
Isn’t it painful to be right sometimes?

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View TomFran's profile

TomFran

2942 posts in 2747 days


#10 posted 08-09-2007 02:25 PM

“During the process of making Adirondack Chairs, he worked with Pine. I advised him to buy a more outdoor resistant wood, such as white oak, cypress, teak, cedar, cca pine, or redwood. He rejected all of those suggested woods, and chose instead to work in Pine due to it’s cost and easy availability. I knew it wouldn’t be the right decision, but sometimes, we need to learn lessons on our own. I had tried to stop him, remember?” – Mark

Here’s a quote from the Good Book that is similar:

“But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity…”

Proverbs 1:25-26

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

1999 posts in 3159 days


#11 posted 08-09-2007 05:06 PM

thanks Tom, I wouldn’t say I was laughing at the calamity, but I understand the meaning behind the text. I am hard-headed, and when I come up against another hard head, I have to make a decision: “either fight, or run.” I’ve learned that if the situation isn’t critical, sometimes it is ok to run.

There is another Proverb that I like: Prov 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (NIV)

I will usually try to appeal my side of the argument with experience and the experience of others, such as information from books. But, sometimes that doesn’t work. In this case, it may be that the paint trapped the moisture. I’ll concede this one to save a battle. But, I still won’t recommend Pine for Adirondack Chairs.

Thanks for the support Dennis.

I’ve got at least 3 lumberjocks coming to my house tomorrow (new developments this morning), we’ll all look at the chair and decide what the answer is. More on the picnic in my blog.

back to the picnic prep work, this place is a mess around here, (not the inside of the house, just my areas of maintenance), such as the shop and yard.

Mark

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3808 posts in 2775 days


#12 posted 08-09-2007 11:11 PM

I think what I am seeing is rotting where ever the water has a chance to pool or sweat into the joints.
That’s really quite different from the situation of a vertical pine structure as some of you guys have pointed out.

There is so much to learn about using this gift from nature that only experiences like this one give us chance to reflect on how we use the materials.
I can’t tell for certain Mark if the materials were sealed before painting or not but it sure looks like perhaps it was not.
That might have helped but if you live in a rainy climate pine is not going to be your friend.
My first choice would have been Cedar and perhaps second, if the budget allows, Cypress.
Another trick is to build a fence and use iron nails thru galvanized fence brackets.
It sets up a battery and the wood almost vanishes .

Next time

Bob

-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View Steffen's profile

Steffen

326 posts in 2788 days


#13 posted 08-12-2007 09:42 PM

Not to knock all the Californians I live with and around but they don’t seem to understand pine too well here either. I too, until reading this thread, would have thought pine to be a bad wood to build outdoor furniture with. But then I think, I see park benches made from it all the time. When I am working on homes here I am constantly preaching to the homeowner “let your house breath!” I don’t know how many patio covers I have worked on that have all kinds of rot in them because people want to caulk the crud out of the part they can see (bottom) and never climb on top for any maintenance. Needless to say the water gets in from the top and can’t get out the bottom. I guess I shouldn’t preach too much…it’s just more work for me and my kind. However, I hate to see good timber go to waste so quickly.

-- Steffen - Kirkland, WA

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1804 posts in 2839 days


#14 posted 08-13-2007 04:42 AM

Mark,

The arbor structure is pressure treated but the gates are simple inexpensive pine. It has worked for this application (lucky me, I only did it because it was cheaper) but I wouldn’t use it anywhere in ground contact. I think Dennis has it pretty well stated.

I think as long as the pine can dry out it works well.

-- Bob, Carver Massachusetts, Sawdust Maker http://www.capecodbaychallenge.org

View Nate_T's profile

Nate_T

4 posts in 1006 days


#15 posted 04-21-2013 02:15 PM

Ok guys, as I’m reading this I’m contemplating making a very rustic table and benches to be used in a covered patio outdoors. I was thinking the same thing as above, “if I just finish it correctly…”, but now I’m a little spooked. If it’s covered and out of direct weather am I still in the same boat, or is outdoor pine furniture a fools errand?

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