Finishing an outdoor harvest table

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Forum topic by BenBen posted 02-12-2011 10:26 AM 3358 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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8 posts in 2682 days

02-12-2011 10:26 AM

Topic tags/keywords: patio table finish outdoor

 I’m a woodworking enthusiast but have not built or finished any outdoor furniture (other than stuff like cedar steps that will remain unfinished).

The harvest table is a simple and rustic design but will be a large piece (12’x40”) with a couple of freestanding benches. Its size and design will really show off the character of the wood. I’m trying to source the wood now and will likely use white oak (but ideally reclaimed redwood if it’s available). I’m in Ottawa, Canada with four seasons ranging from extreme cold winters to hot sunny summers and plenty of rain in between. The table will remain (covered) but outdoors in the winter.

From what I’ve found/read to date, there’s no clear consensus that any hard finish will hold up well for over a year or two when exposed to these elements. So that brings me to my two questions:

1) Is there a clear varnish (no clouding/greying/etc) that will hold up to Ottawa weather for 4-6 years at a time?
2) If I stick to an oil finish (applied annually), how well protected will the wood be from the weather and wear/tear of food/drink stains? 

Thank you very much for taking the time to share your knowledge and experience.

5 replies so far

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2872 days

#1 posted 02-12-2011 09:52 PM

Your question is good but there need to be some realistic expectations.

Film finishes will not hold up, period, and once they start to fail—flake and peel—you’re in for agonizing work.
They’re not suited to this kind of outdoor application.

The virtue of an oil finish here is its flexibility through temp and humidity swings, and hooray for that. But you simply will not get the protection from spilled pickle juice and smudged devilled eggs that you would expect from a film finish.

That said, oil finishes are pretty easy to repair.

So you’re looking at an exterior oil of some kind—Watco makes a dandy, and there are others—that you’ll have to refresh from time to time, perhaps with some sanding, perhaps not. But that’s a pretty simple, splattery process that incurs a day of mess and you’re done.

Stepping beyond your question, I’m asking other LJs if they’ve had experience with white oak outdoors. I’m a little skeptical that it’s a good choice for this, but I’m open to new information. It’s an open grain wood, which translates to, “hello, moisture, come on in!” (Moisture being both the weather kind and the pickle kind.)

-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View swirt's profile


2766 posts in 2993 days

#2 posted 02-13-2011 06:50 AM

Look at the Sikkens products Cetol. It is a film forming oil that holds up well yet is breathable and flexible. When is starts to wear off, you put a new coat on over the old. There is no perfectly clear option. It comes in a variety of colors. It excels at UV and water protection. I have a cedar picnic table that is going on 10 years old. It sits in my gazebo year round in NY so it is exposed yet protected by the roof over it. It still looks great and still only has its original 3 coats on it. My Adirondak chairs also have Sikkens Cetol on them but they are more exposed to snow and sun and rain and they look good, but do require a new coat every 3-yrs.

-- Galootish log blog,

View BenBen's profile


8 posts in 2682 days

#3 posted 02-15-2011 05:42 AM

Thanks Lee, I hadn’t thought of grain as an issue from a moisture / accidental stain perspective. Something I’ll keep in mind as I choose my materials. Ipe sounds like a good option too but somewhat harder to work with.

Swift, thanks for the cetol suggestion. Looks like ‘cetol 1’ is what i should try out. I’ll be trying it out on some
test pieces of white oak and redwood someday soon. Perhaps I’ll try it out on some Ipe while I’m at it.

View Scott10's profile


28 posts in 3063 days

#4 posted 02-16-2011 03:57 AM

White oak is a great choice for outdoor furniture. Has a structure called tiloses (sp?) in it that closes the pores and prevents rot. Holds up very well. Will gray with age if unfinished but holds up much better than standard pressure treated decking.

-- Scott

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 2872 days

#5 posted 02-16-2011 06:09 PM

Thanks for this correction, Scott. 99% of my oak experience has been red, a much more porous critter. You’re a great example of why LJ is so valuable on so many levels.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

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