This is the truth:
There’s nothing more compelling than natural beauty, but it requires protection.
Wood is the world’s most loved building material because it can remain beautiful for decades. However, without the right protection, most wood types will get damaged if exposed to high humidity or moisture. It could make the wood swell, deform or even rot.
It’s always up to us to protect our wood and enhance its natural beauty. Also, there is a lot more we have to know besides which products to use. You should keep in mind that not all waterproofing products are compatible with every wood type.
Some products are best suited for exterior items like decks and outdoor furniture. Others are only meant for interior furniture or light-grained wood. Learning more about how you can assess wood types and how to treat them will allow you to build beautiful things.
Below, you’ll learn the most important things about protecting and enhancing wood. I’ll explain how you have to treat common wooden items such as furniture, decks, and floors. So if you’re ready to up your woodworking game, then let’s get down to it.
- 1 Everything You Need to Know about Finishing Wood
- 2 Choosing the Right Finish
- 3 Apply the First Coat
- 4 How to Make Indoor Furniture Suitable for Outdoor Use
- 5 The Easiest Way to Waterproof Furniture
- 6 How to Make Your Deck Waterproof
- 7 How to Make Your Floor Waterproof
- 8 Conclusion
Everything You Need to Know about Finishing Wood
Finishing wood takes quite some time, but it boils down to a few simple steps. The outcome depends on numerous factors, like the ambient temperature, the wood’s airflow, the thickness of application and more.
I thought that it would be best to keep things as simple and straightforward as possible. That is why I explain everything in numerous sections so that all this information doesn’t confuse you.
First thing’s first. You need to check if the wood has been waterproofed already. Splash some water on it and see how it reacts. If it was treated with waterproofing, it will likely make the water bead up. In that case, you don’t have to waterproof it at all. But if you see that it starts sucking in the water, you should start working on preventing that from happening.
In case you’re working on a DIY project, you’ll have a lot of fresh wood in your hand. It’s important that you check it for moisture content because this could cause concerns later on. What follows is a simple method to check for moisture.
To do this, obtain a moisture meter. It is one of the most accurate and simple ways to test your wood. If you are working with valuable wood I would opt to get a meter that does not have prongs.
If you know your wood is not fully seasoned (or dried) I would recommend this article to learn how to learn all about drying wood.
If your wood seems blank and it absorbs water, then you should prepare its surface before applying paints or sealants. Any of the surface imperfections will be visible when you apply a material. It will highlight every crack in the wood, and that won’t look pretty.
Take a thick piece of sandpaper or a metal file and wipe off any imperfections. Scrape with either tool until the wood looks completely even on the side that you want to paint. Finish the surface with fine grit (220) sandpaper. This will ensure that the surface will absorb the oil or sealant properly.
I usually speed up the sanding process by using a palm sander. These machines are lightweight rotary sanders that are great for refinishing. You just have to turn them on, apply a bit of pressure and they’ll do their magic.
Always sand in the direction of the grain no matter what tool you’re using. Grains are the patterns you find in the wood if you look closely enough. You’ll make scratches in the wood if you go against the grain. So, keep the sanding block flat and apply pressure firmly as you move it back and forth, following the pattern.
Once you’re done sanding, rub all of the remaining scraps away with a dry cloth. Do it a couple of times to ensure that nothing will show up when you apply the finish. This part is especially satisfying because sanding requires a lot of hard work.
Choosing the Right Finish
I could easily fill a book with all the ways you can finish wood. It is both an art and a science at the same time, and there’s a lot to cover. But there are a few kinds of materials we should take special note of. Depending on what wood you’re working with, you should either use stains, varnishes, sealers or oils and lacquers.
These either have to be brushed on, sprayed on or wiped on. Here, you’ll find the most widespread wood finishes that people use in old houses and on pieces of furniture. Some are easier to apply than others. But don’t worry. You’ll soon find the one that’s right for you!
Until the 19th century, people used wax and oil as wood finishes. Today, we have numerous types of oil finishes to choose from. There’s Antique Oil, Tung Oil, and Teal Oil. Each of these are a combination of various oils, solvents and resins, which help them dry a lot faster and boost their protective qualities.
Boiled Linseed Oil worked really well for me in the past. It’s a slow-drying finish that penetrates deep into the wood, making it highly effective. However, you can also use Walnut Oil, Tung Oil or Linseed Oil.
Linseed is available in most DIY shops, where it’s usually sold in boiled or raw form. You should only use this finish for outdoor patio equipment and other woodworks. The metal drying agents inside it are poisonous, so you should keep it away from anything that touches food. However, raw linseed oil doesn’t contain toxic ingredients, so you can use it on kitchen counters as well.
You’ll have to apply all of these oils multiple times and over several days. That will require a bit of patience. Moreover, oil finishes don’t really make wood waterproof, but they give it other kinds of protection.
These materials harden and strengthen the wood from the inside. This will make the wood more resistant to water spills and moisture in general.
Oil finishes are great to use if you want to keep the wood’s richness while making it a lot stronger. The wood becomes even more beautiful if you rub it out with fine sandpaper.
I usually apply an oil finish with a simple piece of cloth and add one layer. I wait for it to dry and continue applying the oil to the wood until it can’t absorb any more.
Making Your Oil More Durable – You can preserve your oil supply and make it a lot more durable by mixing ½ part apple cider vinegar and one part turpentine oil into it. Mix these ingredients together until they are all blended and see some magic happen.
Lacquer is typically used on commercial furniture and cabinets. It’s a fast-drying finish, which is why it’s sprayed on with high-volume low-pressure (HVLP) sprayers. Otherwise, your wood would be filled with brush marks everywhere. That is why it’s not easy for amateurs to work with this material. However, it’s worth the trouble because they provide a wonderful and rich finish.
Lacquer is perfect for furniture, but it has a tendency to become yellow over time. This why people generally avoid using it on light-colored woods.
If you have an HVLP sprayer or you’re looking to purchase one, spray your wood multiple times. How fast each layer dries will depend on various conditions.
Varnishes are the most commonly used finishes today. They are the perfect choice for high-traffic areas like decks and floors. Varnishes are great because they can handle just about anything that the environment throws at them.
I use “spar varnish” for wood that is constantly exposed to the elements. These varnishes are much softer, which allows them to remain more flexible and handle sudden temperature swings. Regular polyurethane will get torn off in extreme outdoor situations. On the other hand, spar urethane will last for more than a decade.
You should use Polyurethane (varnish) on floors, doors, and woodwork. This material is very durable, but it makes the wood feel like it has a layer of plastic as its cover. Therefore, you shouldn’t use it on furniture that should feel smooth.
Applying varnish is very easy. Just make sure that you never shake the can because it will leave bubbles in your finish. Open the container, dip your brush and apply three coats while leaving 12-24 hours of drying time between each.
It’s important to note that varnish usually has bubbles inside it. It also drips and broadcasts your brush strokes, but that can be fixed by breaking the “DO NOT THIN” rule you read on its box. Just mix your varnish with mineral spirits and stir it once more. Voila! You’ve created a wiping varnish that will be easier to work with.
Shellac’s history reaches back to antiquity. It’s most commonly used in the woodwork of old houses, and its application is similar to the use of polyurethane. However, while polyurethane is a combination of petrochemicals, shellac is made from lac bug and naturally occurring resin.
It doesn’t offer as hard a finish as polyurethane, lacquer and oil finishes do, but it’s quite resilient. It can even be touched up any time without leaving a mark. Whatever wood you use shellac on, it will blend in seamlessly. I often used shellac for trim and woodwork, but I wouldn’t recommend it for anything else. This finish isn’t really good for floors.
Apply shellac with a pad, brush, wiping cloth or sprayer. You’ll have to add multiple layers, but the process won’t take long because the finish dries within 30-60 minutes. How matte your finish becomes depends on the amount of bug flakes inside the container.
A Mixture of Oil and Varnish
You can create your own simple but highly effective finish by mixing oil and varnish. I love this combination because it combines the best of both worlds. It penetrates deep into the wood to make it more durable and adds the protective coating of varnish. Anything that is this remarkably easy to apply will always have my recommendation. This is my go-to mix for antique furniture and woodwork.
This mix is best applied with a wiping cloth, and it is quite fast to work with. You only have to wait 20 minutes for the finish to soak into the wood. Apply it at least three times to ensure maximum effectiveness. If you notice any excess on the surface, just wipe it off and let it dry.
A few years ago, water-based finishes, such as oil-modified polycrylics and polycrylics were introduced. I couldn’t stop myself from giving them a try. Despite my enthusiasm, I realized that they still weren’t good enough. Although the cleanup on these finishes is fast and easy, they don’t provide the beauty and protection that I’m looking for.
With the specifics put aside, these finishes will definitely dominate the market in the future.
Some of the finishes you’ll be working with might be poisonous or just plain messy. You should wear a thick rubber glove at all times to protect your skin. Furthermore, if you’re using a finish that contains petrochemical solvents, or any other toxins, make sure you wear a mask as well. I know a few woodworkers who badly damaged their health, simply because they didn’t use a mask.
When you’re all covered, take the tool you’ll be using to apply the finish, whether it’s a rag, a brush or a spray and start working. If you’re applying oil, fold the rag two or three times. That will remove rough edges and stop potential snags as you spread the oil.
Apply the First Coat
Whichever material you’re using, apply it by moving from the middle of the surface to its edges. Make sure that you don’t touch anything before it can completely absorb the finish. Do your best to get an even coat. If you’re using oil, don’t rub it too hard to release the oil from the rag. Just apply more oil instead.
Let It Dry
Once you’ve covered the entire surface, wait the amount of time specified for the type of finish you’re using. Make sure that it’s free from excess material and leave the wood to cure. If you’re waterproofing with oil only, your idle time will be longer than with other materials.
Apply Two More Coats
Apply another layer and wait for it to dry before you apply the final layer. Once everything is finished, wait for about a week before you actually start using the wood. It will be finished and cured if you can slide your finger across without it feeling wet.
How to Make Indoor Furniture Suitable for Outdoor Use
I just got one of my favorite tables for free because its original owner didn’t want it anymore. It needed a bit of work, but it became my favorite place to sip coffee and eat breakfast.
Everyone has furniture like this. Very few people can resist the temptation to buy cheap on yard sales. But these pieces of furniture can morph into something very rugged and uncomfortable if they aren’t treated to withstand the elements.
However, if the furniture is intended for indoor use, it won’t last as long as their rot-resistant or pressure-treated wood counterparts. Nonetheless, a little bit of protection will help a lot.
Whether you’re looking to put a new bench on your porch or want to turn a chair into a flower planter, here’s how you get the most out of furniture in your garden.
The Qualities Wood Furniture
Wood furniture will show its greatest weaknesses when you expose it to the weather. These are:
Degrading Material – Wood is biodegradable by nature. Just about anything built from species that aren’t rot-resistant will deteriorate quite rapidly. Even if you properly treat the wood, it can’t last forever.
Vulnerable Construction – Outdoor furniture is built to be more durable than indoor furniture. It has thick pieces and joints that aren’t exposed to the elements. On the contrary, indoor furniture is more delicate and cannot withstand warping, moisture, and disintegration if exposed to the elements.
Vulnerable Glue and Finish – Interior furniture has glues and finishes that are meant for temperature-controlled buildings. If you put them outdoors and expose them to different moisture levels and temperatures, the glue might start to let the joints loose and make the furniture degrade. That is why it’s important to use glues and finishes that are waterproof.
Treating and Sealing Your Furniture
If you’re looking to bring a piece of furniture outdoors, you definitely can. But know that it will still degrade consistently. However, by following the steps I will give below, you can make it more durable.
Choose a Finish for Outdoor Use
Your finish has to be specifically designed to protect wood from UV rays and moisture. However, paint is much better at blocking UV rays than a simple clear finish.
To ensure maximum durability, apply a quality exterior finish and top it off with an oil-based or latex paint. If you want a more natural look, apply a few layers of exterior spar varnish which includes added UV blockers.
Sand the Surface
Always make sure the wood is clean before you start applying the finish. Sand the surface until you reach bare wood.
Seal Every Inch
Don’t leave any part of the surface unfinished. Make sure that you fill all the cracks and seal every cranny. Cover even the bottoms of the legs and the joints. I always think of it as encapsulation. The goal is to completely isolate the wood from the strains of the outside world.
Re-coat it on a Regular Basis
No finish can fully withstand the elements. So make sure you leave a bit of extra finish to cover your furniture again within the next two years.
Protect it if Possible
Sun and rain will take a huge toll on your furniture, so protect it if possible. I have all my outdoor furniture under the roof of my porch. I also use furniture glides to raise them off the ground. No furniture should stand in puddles of water.
The Easiest Way to Waterproof Furniture
We have been experimenting with industrial spools lately. I just loved how small coffee shops turn them into spool tables and figured that I’d follow their example. My spool table looks pretty awesome, so I wanted to make sure they remain that way.
I wanted to make things as simple as possible and tried to find the right product for me. To my surprise, all I needed was a bit of brush and index finger action.
Thompson’s Water Seal has produced a fantastic wood protector. It’s a liquid that you can buy on Amazon, and it’s highly effective. I just gave my new spool table a good coat according to the instructions. I left a proper drying time (a couple of minutes) between the two coats and my table turned out beautifully.
It repels water really well, protecting the table from messy dinners and the elements.
How to Make Your Deck Waterproof
A beautiful wooden deck is one of the most beautiful assets a home can have. I know I love mine, so I made sure to protect it from harm. My efforts gave it a much longer lifespan, and I’ve been enjoying it for the last four years straight.
Something to note, you should let a new deck dry and weather for 3-12 months. The new wood needs to settle into place, weather and dry out.
Now you can apply everything you’ve learned about waterproofing wood. So, I’ll just leave some notes about the most important steps. Moreover, I presume that being more specific about how to make your deck waterproof will definitely help. Following that train of thought, here’s what you have to do:
The process of prepping deck wood can be different depending on your situation. For a new deck, I would recommend sanding down any rough spots with a palm sander. After this, take a pressure washer and do a once over to get rid of any debris.
For a deck that has already been stained there will be much more work. First, use a pressure washer to pressure wash and mildew or growth. Do not over do the pressure washer, you can cause harm to your deck if you use too strong of a pressure setting. Start low and work your way up until you see the debris being stripped. After this, take a palm sander with some 60-80 grid sand paper and go to town! I like to hit everything because I want a great looking deck when I am done. Once again, take a pressure washer and do a quick once over to get rid of debris and you are good to go.
Find the Right Stain or Paint
I think it’s important to understand a few basic things about the stains and paints you’ll use on your deck. I’ve outlined everything you have to consider in the above sections.
Finishing Your Deck with Stain
Find a stain for exterior use. You’ll be better off using one that’s main materials are penetrating oils. It will make your finish last a lot longer and take the deck’s look to the next level.
Deck stains are available in different colors. They look more like paint and cover the natural grains of wood, which might make it seem a bit less natural.
Regardless, you can also choose a semi-transparent one. It will leave the wood’s natural color exposed. Semi-transparent stains are my top choice when it comes to finishing decks.
Finishing Your Deck with Paint
Finishing your deck with paint is an especially good option if its previous finish was paint too. But, repainting will take a bit more work. You’ll have to scrape up the old paint and rub the deck with sandpaper before you apply the new layers. It takes me quite a while to clean it up, so I sometimes ask someone else do it.
When choosing a paint for your deck, you’ll have to follow the same simple rule. Make sure that the paint you’re buying is intended for an exterior surface. Alkyd-based and latex paints work best for decks.
What Not to Use
You should never use polyurethane or varnish for finishing decks. They break down very fast when they are exposed to moisture and heat. If you’re living in an area where rains are frequent, a polyurethane finish will quickly deteriorate. A friend of mine made this mistake, and we ended up redoing the whole thing within two months.
How To Know Which Paint or Stain is Right
As with any other product, the more you pay, the better the quality. Nevertheless, a bit of information will still take you a long way.
The first and most important thing to consider is your health. Some stains and paints are very toxic, and I usually avoid them. If children will use your deck, you should definitely keep it free of toxins.
Choose products that contain natural oils, minerals and tree resins as their main materials. They shouldn’t have any formaldehyde-based mildewcides or petrochemical solvents.
Toxin-free stains and paints cost a lot more. So, above all else, you should consider what’s most important to you.
Apply the Stain or Paint
I love it when all the prep work finally leads up to this moment. Apply two coats of your paint or sealant, and that should cover it. Use a brush and move it in the direction of the wood grain.
How to Make Your Floor Waterproof
Wood flooring can make your home feel truly cozy. Wood has always been popular because of its earthly color and warm look. Nothing’s more welcoming in a house than its wood elements.
Then again, they do require a fair amount of care. Additionally, taking care of damage and dust just isn’t enough. Caring for the wood and waterproofing it is the magic ingredient.
I don’t dare to think about the number of times my kids tripped and spilled something on the floor. Even I’m guilty of that. Moisture will leave a dark spot on the floor once it sinks in. But I didn’t let that happen, as I applied the necessary protection.
I used different oil-based products and waxes. These are my personal preferences. You can also use resins or polyurethanes to make waterproofing your floor much easier.
Prepare the Wood and Apply Subsequent Layers
You know the drill, assess the wood, buy your sealer and start sanding the wood’s surface. Use medium-grit sandpaper and be thorough in your work. It might take frustratingly long, but it’s essential.
After finishing it, you can apply your stein or sealant in multiple layers. You won’t need to add more than two in most cases.
There it is! An extensive guide to protecting and waterproofing wood in your home. I hope that you found this article useful and that it will help you make your home even more beautiful!
I am using ash wood cladding in a barroom where the wood will be exposed to moisture and some incidental water spray. What would you recommend I do to waterproof the surface?
Hey Bruce, apologies for not seeing this sooner! I do not have much experience in the bar industry but I can imagine you’ll have decent traffic here.
That said, I would recommend a raw linseed & varnish mix. Raw linseed oil is acceptable to use around food and will penetrate deep into the wood. The varnish will make an almost wax type layer on the surface so you’ll have double protection. You could also go without the varnish (or use very little) if you’d like a smoother surface. Hope this helps!