Lumber, like politics, is probably local in most cases. The best wood for outdoor furniture, or any woodworking project for that matter, depends on your situation and circumstances. We all go about sourcing lumber our own way, but I thought it would be helpful to tell you more about my research here in northern New England. I am, as you know, planning to build a couple Adirondack chairs to put outside this spring.
Factors in deciding on the best wood for outdoor furniture
1. How bad is the weather going to be? Wood is an amazing material. We sailed the high seas for many years with nothing but wood between the ocean water and us. There are a number of wood types that will likely work well for your outdoor furniture project, but it is important to think a little in advance about the weather conditions you’ll be facing. This will also influence the finishing process you use. Bob Flexner, our finishing expert, points out that it’s not only rain and water that causes damage, but also UV rays from the sun. (Bob also makes a point about rot in the image at left.)
2. What is your woodworking style and tool kit? Assuming you can afford it, teak is of course a fantastic option for outdoor projects. But can you work teak in your shop? Similarly, white oak is quite rot-resistant but some find it difficult to work with hand tools. The goal here is to generate a list of 3-5 species (before checking availability and prices) that might be options for you and allow you to complete the project efficiently.
3. What’s your budget? Don’t forget to calculate delivery or shipping costs. This is where some of the local options may really move to the forefront. It’s fun to get familiar with the types of trees that grow right in your neck of the woods. Have a conversation with your local sawyers. Sawmills, being old-school, often can’t be found through Google search, so be sure to check the phonebook and your state’s forest management website for listings.
The best wood for my Adirondack chairs
Here’s how the process played out for me. The weather here is reliably horrendous, so I would love to go with teak or cypress, but I can’t afford those options. I also had my doubts about their workability for my shop. I looked into pine and pressure-treated pine. Reclaimed longleaf pine (from a local vendor) was interesting and workable, but way too expensive for me. Pressure-treated pine remained an option, and I also started looking at cedar. I had somehow discounted cedar as dry, splintery and uninteresting. It may be all of that, but I spoke with a nearby sawyer who is starting to sell me on it. You can find northern white cedar in this area fairly cheap, and it is quite rot-resistant – some say even more resistant than red cedar.
What do you use for outdoor furniture where you are? Tell us a little about the finishing process you use, too.
p.s. – A goal is a series of steps, and that’s how I’m pursuing my outdoor furniture project idea. Read more about all of our editors’ 2014 woodworking goals by clicking here!