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Outdoor wood protection tips from start to finish


Whether it’s rain or shine, wind or sleet, the weather is out to get your outdoor wood surfaces. Protecting your outdoor wooden furniture and surfaces isn’t only a must for preserving healthy looking wood, it also helps maintain the inner structural integrity of the wood. In other words, it prevents things like rot and mold. In as little as 48 hours mold spores can form and spread within the wood, if the moisture rate of the wood is constantly over 20 percent.

Luckily there are many ways to prevent this from happening. Applying the correct finishes to your wooden surfaces can protect them from all of the South African weather’s harsh elements. Let’s take a look at a few options below.


Painted wood can add a lovely accent to outdoor furniture and surfaces, but it is important to choose the correct paint product, specifically formulated for use on exterior surfaces and wood. Latex is one paint that is tried and tested and offers both a sealant against water and protection from the outdoor UV rays.


Although it is tempting to treat your outdoor wooden surfaces with varnish to make the natural grain stand out, it’s best to keep in mind that this will need to be re-applied on a more regular basis than with any other application. That’s because Varnish is a product that has a static consistency, meaning it does not contract and expand with, or even seep into the wood for a protective barrier, but merely lays on top. If you go this route, make sure you use exterior varnish. When any cracks or peeling does occur on the wood, you can simply sand down the surface and re-apply the varnish.


Once again this application will require a more regular re-applying of fresh coats over time. Penetrating oils such as Tung and Linseed offer an affordable and easy method for yearly maintenance. This type of sealer penetrates deep into the wood and protects it from the inside out.


Sealers have a runny consistency, which permeates deeper into the wood forming a stronger bond from within the wood fibres that protects the wood for a longer period of time. Two types of sealers are on the market – oil based and water based. What’s the difference?

  • Oil based – If you prefer the stronger option:

These types of sealers can be cleaned with a solvent such as mineral turpentine or thinners. The chemical odor is much more potent in these types of sealers so it’s best to apply them in a well-ventilated area or outside. Depending on the weather, drying or curing can take a few days to occur, but only two or three coats are required in most cases. Wood may dry to a slightly amber tint when using the product.

  • Water based – If you prefer the more natural option:

These sealers can be cleaned with soap and water and have fewer volatile organic compounds, making them a greener product for the environment. Drying occurs much quicker and a project can often be completed in one day. However, more coats are generally required than oil-based sealants for a proper seal. And if you use a non-tint base you will need to apply even more coats to ensure proper protection. The good thing about this type of sealer is that there is significantly less colouration of the wood afterwards.

Now that you’ve chosen the perfect sealing product, you still need a few more supplies to complete the job. Below is a comprehensive list of tools you will need for your outdoor woodfinishing job:

  • Gloves (to protect against splinters and staining your skin)
  • Safety goggles (to protect your eyes from potential dust or toxic splatters)
  • Dust mask / respirator (to protect against the inhalation of dust or chemical fumes)
  • Sandpaper (both rough and fine grit)
  • Sanding block
  • Steel wool
  • Scrub brush
  • Scrub pad
  • Scraper
  • Mutton cloth
  • Sponges
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paint trays
  • Flat paddle stirrers
  • Mineral turpentine (if your application is oil based)
  • Paint remover (if you are using paint or sealing a semi-painted area)


  • Fill in any nail holes or knots with wood filler and leave to dry before you start
  • Start with the rougher grit of sandpaper to clear the initial surface and then work your way to the finer grit to smooth out the surface nicely
  • Always sand wood along the grain
  • Clean wood once it has been sanded using a dry cloth, so that there is no sawdust left behind that can cling to the sealer
  • Don’t dip the brush deeper than a third of the way into the sealer and use long and even strokes when applying - this prevents runs and spills from occurring
  • Warm dry conditions are best for applying sealer
  • Rinse your brushes thoroughly afterwards in mineral turpentine (with oil-based sealers) or soapy water (with water-based sealers), then dry off with newspaper, before finally washing in warm water and dishwashing liquid. Rinse thoroughly, then hang brushes to dry
  • If there is sealer left in the tin, ensure the lid is closed properly and store the tin upside down to prolong the life of the remaining sealer


WATCH: DIY - How to prepare and seal wood finishes and surfaces for year-round protection against the elements