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How To: Stain Outdoor Furniture

stain outdoor furniture

Two years ago I built this Adirondack chair for my backyard and it has gotten a lot of use, but it’s also gotten a lot of abuse sitting in the Florida sun and navigating a couple hurricanes and countless rain storms.

When I built it I finished it with Cabot’s Australian Timber Oil. Since it was a brand new Western Red Cedar chair I wanted to show off the wood grain and avoid painting. I was really pleased with the results, but just like any exterior wood project it will need regular maintenance, and two years is more than enough between refinishings in my southern climate.

Cabot reached out about sponsoring another post and I agreed, but this time I decided to change it up and rather than Timber Oil I’m going with a Cabot semi-transparent stain. Cabot’s trend of the year is gathering spaces and they are featuring Newburyport Blue. I thought that color might go perfect for my chair revamp and since this will definitely be a space to gather in I was committed. Thanks to Cabot for inspiring and sponsoring this post.

Prepping for Stain

As with any refinishing the process starts with lots of sanding to get the old finish off and clean off any grey, weathered wood. For stain and varnish projects like this I prefer using a SurfPrep sander and their HEPA vacuum because its design helps me get into nooks and crannies better than a random orbit sander and it also avoids swirl and sanding marks that can ruin any stain job.

surfprep sanding

I started with 80-grit paper and then moved up to 120-grit and finally finished with 180-grit sandpaper which may have been a little overkill, but I wanted it super smooth since I plan to sit my tuchus in that chair a lot this summer.

Don’t sand to any higher grit than about 180 or you risk making the surface so smooth it won’t pick up the stain enough. Once it was sanded I cleaned it off thoroughly with a tack cloth and was ready for staining.

The Staining Process

For a small project like this I prefer a 2-3” natural bristle Purdy paint brush designed for oil paints and finishes. For larger projects like a deck you can use foam applicators or large stain brushes for better results.

cabot semi-transparent stain

Tip #1 Protect the Area

Staining can be messy so make sure you have drop cloths or tarps underneath your work and you’re wearing gloves and clothes you won’t cry over if they get stain on them. Chances are…they will get stain on them.

Tip #2 Keep a Wet Edge

Don’t bounce around and stain different areas. Have a plan to move methodically from one side to another working from the top down keeping a wet edge until you have finished the whole project in one setting.

applying stain outdoor furniture

Tip #3 Reapply While Wet

Each wood takes stain a little differently so if you don’t like the color you get on the first coat you can apply a second coat to get a deeper, richer color than one coat provides. If you do decide on a second coat it should be applied while the first coat is still wet. Don’t apply multiple coats after each has dried or you will build up a film which is not how exterior stains are designed to work.

Tip #4 Wait 24-48 hrs

As tempting as it may be to throw a party the next morning with your new furniture give it a couple days to cure properly before putting it into service. Taking pictures for social media is, of course, permitted at anytime.

a stained adirondack chair

This Cabot stain is an oil-based finish which gives you premium performance but it does require a little more care and clean up. Be sure to have some mineral spirits or turpentine handy to clean up spills, and do not ball up any rags as they can spontaneously combust. Make sure to spread rags out flat to dry or put them in a metal can filled with water to dispose of them.

So what do you think of the color? Do you have a place in your yard for Newburyport Blue? If not, check out the 100+ other colors that Cabot makes to find one that works for you.

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3 thoughts on “How To: Stain Outdoor Furniture

  1. At first I thought the first picture was your chair as it was created and stained with the Australian Timber Oil. But the second picture showing the sanding process didn’t look as dark as the picture. Then after reading the whole story I figured out the two pictures were the same ‘after’, with the new blue stain. I think I like the blue better than just the oil. I usually like a more natural look, but for summer furniture, the blue is perfect.

  2. Good advice that could also apply to finishing or refinishing decks. One thing I like is to use a large piece of cardboard to put the bucket, pan, rags, etc. on. Like you said, that stuff is messy. I can drag the cardboard around and it soaks up spills. When you’re done, you can let it dry and recycle it.

  3. I’m wondering what to use on a Victorian outdoor rocker. Do you think the Australian Oil would be best? I also have a 1950s bamboo outdoor chair I’m wondering what to use on. I’ve put it off for years because I don’t know what will be appropriate.

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