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The Best Finish For Outdoor Wood Tables

Updated: September 20, 2022
Woodworkers know that indoor finishes will not stand-up to the harsh outdoor elements. In this guide learn what finishes are most durable and resist moisture, sun and the outdoor elements.
Outdoor Wood Furniture Finish
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The Best Finish For Outdoor Wood Tables

Choosing the best finish for outdoor wood tables requires understanding a few things about exterior finishes, UV protection, application techniques and the wood itself. 

While some wood, such as Teak, is naturally resistant to weathering and decay other woods are not as lucky. And some finishes, such as epoxy, are great for one-piece tops but are not easy to apply to slatted outdoor table tops.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • Penetrating vs. surface wood finishes
  • UV resistance
  • Clear versus color changing furniture finishes
  • Wood stains
  • Application techniques
  • Drying time
  • And, top brands to choose from

As with any outdoor finish, however, eventually you’ll need to maintain and re-apply. But, with the right upfront choice you’ll enjoy a higher quality finish for a longer time.

Top Finishes For Outdoor Tables:

Best oil finish for outdoor table:

Best clear coat for outdoor wood:

Exterior spray-on polyurethane:

Best to protect against stains:

Brushing thinner:

Last updated on 2023-01-26 at 20:33 // Source: Amazon Affiliates

Outdoor Wood Finish Basics

Woodworkers know that a router lift must raise and lower a bit. But there are subtle features that make the best router lift accurate, durable and of course easy to use:

  • The sheen of a wood finish determines how shiny it is (flat, semi-gloss, gloss)
  • Finishes must be UV resistant to prevent breakdown in direct sunlight
  • Most finishes are water resistant – not water proof
  • Penetrating finishes will seep into the wood fibers and protect from within
  • However, surface finishes like epoxy form a protective shell
  • Lastly, not all protectants will prevent the wood from natural graying process

Types of Outdoor Finishes for Tables

There are a few basic types of wood finishes to choose from for a table:

  • Spar varnishes go back thousands of years as a type of finish used on ships
  • Epoxy is the hardest and most durable – but is the most difficult to apply and not suitable for a slatted table
  • Wood sealers will penetrate and protect the wood but not provide a top coat that will protect against stains from food or cooking oils
  • Tung oils are a natural, penetrating finish that protect the wood from within and become part of the wood itself
  • Polyurethanes are available in an exterior grade and apply similar to a varnish

Spar Varnish Finish For Outdoor Wood Table

TotalBoat Outdoor Finish

Durable, Marine Grade

By combining a rich coloring tung oil, UV blocking ability and an easy to apply finish TotalBoat is a popular pick for tables.

Top Features

  1. UV resistant: Yes
  2. Sheen: Gloss or stain
  3. Dry time: 1-hour re-coat (3 coats a day)
  4. Self leveling
  5. Uses: Outdoor tables, furniture, boats

Overview

Aptly named after the spars of ships that this type of outdoor stain was first used on, a marine-grade spar varnish is a top pick for an outdoor table. 

Using a chemistry that resists UV breakdown, can be sanded between coats and (most importantly) stands up to the elements a quality spar varnish should be high on your list. 

However, while a quality finish, note this finish may require an annual re-application if exposed to excessive sun or water. 

Pros

  • Easy to apply
  • UV resistance
  • Drying time of 1-hour
  • Available in multiple sheens
  • Best clear coat for outdoor wood

Cons

  • Annual re-application in some uses
  • Surface finish that requires care in application

Tung Oil For A Natural Table Finish

Tung Oil Table Finish

Penetrating, Easy to Apply

Tung oil is well known for use in cutting boards. But for outdoor woods like Jatoba that only need a color enhancer and sealer it is also a simple and effective finish.

Top Features

  1. UV resistant: Yes
  2. Sheen: Matte
  3. Dry time: 1-hour re-coat
  4. Wipe on and let dry
  5. Uses: Indoor and outdoor furniture

Overview

Tung oil is a preferred choice for outdoor woods like Teak, Jatoba, Ipe or other exotic table materials that do not require a protective shell. 

As Tung oil is applied it is worked into the fibers of the wood where it dries and forms a thin shell that protects the wood. And, over the years, it can be simply re-applied to the wood to enhance areas that were damaged.

Pros

  • Easiest to apply
  • UV resistance
  • Color enhancing oil
  • Penetrating

Cons

  • Does not protect wood from food stains
  • Best for exotic woods

Epoxy For Solid Table Tops

Epoxy Outdoor Table Finish

Self leveling, protective shell

For flat surfaces the best table finish is an epoxy that will dry to an armor-like finish to protect the wood from water and stains alike.

Top Features

  1. UV resistant: Yes
  2. Sheen: Gloss
  3. Dry time: 4-8 hours
  4. Application: Pour and level
  5. Uses: Indoor and outdoor table tops

Overview

If you’ve ever sat a bar chances are the wood was protected with an epoxy. 

First, this finish is unique among clear finishes as it comes in two bottles: one as a resin and the other as a hardner. As you combine them you’ll have a short working period to pour them on a surface, level and let dry. 

While harder to apply than another other type of finish, the end result is an impenetrable finish that will stand up to any water or food spill you can throw at it.

Pros

  • Hardest finish
  • Great for softer woods (cedar)
  • Waterproof
  • Protects against oil spills

Cons

  • Hard to apply
  • Does not work on slatted table tops

Outdoor Furniture Spray-on Finish

Exterior Polyurethane Spray

Easy application, UV protectant

Self-leveling UV protectant in an easy-to-use spray can for outdoor furniture and tables.

Top Features

  1. UV resistant: Yes
  2. Sheen: Satin
  3. Dry time: 2 hours
  4. Application: Exterior wood
  5. Uses: Hard to brush tables and furniture

Overview

As many know, brushing a polyurethane or varnish on a project can lead to frustrating brush marks, drips and runs.

The solution? For smaller projects or slatted tops a spray can will let you apply a thick finish that reaches into all of the nooks and crannies. 

However, this type of outdoor table finish will not work best on a large, single top (because of a spray can tendency to “fog” or show imperfections). 

Pros

  • Simple application
  • Dries fast
  • Easy to re-coat later
  • Made for exterior (not all polyurethanes are)

Cons

  • Not suitable for large, one-piece tops
  • Expensive for large projects
  • Lacks protection of a spar varnish or epoxy

Tips For Applying Outdoor Finishes

Regardless if you are starting with fresh wood or are re-finishing an older table, there are a few things you should know before you open a can, bottle or jug of outdoor table finish. 

As you can guess, once a penetrating finish is applied your ability to sand out imperfections will be hampered. And, with most finishes, changing the thickness of the coating can lead to inconsistent weathering and leave a mark for years to come.

Wood preparation

Prior to applying a finish be sure to:

  1. Have the surface fully sanded to at least a 220-grit
  2. Blow off any dust particles
  3. Place a protective sheet below the table to prevent stains to the floor or decking
  4. Carefully inspect the table for any imperfections

Tools to Have

  1. A high quality brush is a must and follow the instructions on the can for varnishes or polyurethanes.
  2. For almost all finishes a properly rated mask is a must to prevent breathing in toxic fumes
  3. Protective gloves rated for chemical exposure

Application Tips

  1. To extend drying time, use a thinner that will make thick finishes easier to apply and extend working time
  2. For epoxy follow the directions and watch videos on how to apply
  3. Always allow for the right amount of dry time to prevent a myriad of issues finishes have when not allowed to cure
  4. Plan for at least a day to let the outdoor table dry (inside) before exposing to elements

Wood Finish Brands

As with any type of finish, there are manufacturers that are well known for providing a quality product. And when it comes to a finish for outdoor wood tables the following are popular:

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most durable finish for outdoor wood furniture?

The most durable finish for any outdoor wood is epoxy. However, it is difficult to apply on any surface that isn’t flat (such as a table) and is why many turn to a marine-grade spar varnish that provides a similar protective coating with easier workability.

What finish should I use on an outdoor wood table?

The most popular is an exterior grade spar varnish that provides excellent water resistance, UV blocking capability and brushes on easily. For enhanced working time consider a thinner that makes this finish easier to apply.

Can I use a deck stain as a finish for outdoor wood tables?

While a deck stain can be used, it was not designed to protect the wood from food spills, oils or the wear and tear a table top receives.

SaleBestseller No. 1
Rust-Oleum 207008 Marine Spar Varnish, Quart
2,941 Reviews
Rust-Oleum 207008 Marine Spar Varnish, Quart
  • Ideal for use on exterior wood surfaces above the...
  • Oil-based formula expands and contracts with...
  • Dries to the touch in 2 hours and covers up to 150...
  • Durable coating provides excellent resistance to...
  • Crystal-clear varnish leaves a beautiful gloss...
SaleBestseller No. 2
Minwax Helmsman Water Based Spar Urethane, Quart,...
7,569 Reviews
Minwax Helmsman Water Based Spar Urethane, Quart,...
  • PROTECTIVE CLEAR FINISH – Minwax Helmsman Water...
  • EFFECTIVE YEAR ROUND – This wood varnish forms a...
  • VERSATILE – Ideal for use on doors, windows,...
  • GLOSS FINISH – Give your wood projects a sleek...
  • A BRAND YOU CAN TRUST – Minwax is America’s...
Bestseller No. 3
TotalBoat Gleam Marine Spar Varnish, Gloss and...
1,389 Reviews
TotalBoat Gleam Marine Spar Varnish, Gloss and...
  • CLASSIC MARINE VARNISH contains premium tung oil,...
  • DURABLE URETHANE SPAR VARNISH with maximum UV...
  • EASY TO APPLY BY BRUSHING, ROLLING OR SPRAYING:...
  • SELF-LEVELING FINISH DRIES FAST: Recoat in 1 hr. @...
  • AVAILABLE IN GLOSS OR SATIN (low-sheen), in Pint,...
Bestseller No. 4
Man O' War Spar Varnish, Gloss, Quart
124 Reviews
Man O' War Spar Varnish, Gloss, Quart
  • Superior outdoor finish
  • Extra protection from sun & weather
  • Ideal for entry ways, garage doors & sills
  • Approx. coverage: 300-500 sq.ft. per gallon
  • VOC formula

Last update on 2023-01-21 at 03:39 / Images from Amazon

  • About the Author
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( Woodworker )

Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.

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