Salvaging wooden outdoor furniture one piece at a time

There’s just something about a passel of sailboats bobbing up and down in a sun-drenched harbor. It was one of my favorite sights from our Florida days. We would come over the crest of the Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart and there they sat off to our right. It’s relaxing and simple and old-world all wrapped into one beautiful picture.

Living on the Florida coast for 18 years, we learned first-hand the harsh effects of salt water on all sorts of things, including wood. Somehow, much of the outdoor furniture we have accumulated over the years has been wooden. Wood doesn’t really care for rain, snow, sun and drastic temperature changes.

Though it looks okay, this guy needs another coat of varnish
Though it looks okay, this guy needs another coat of varnish

We have an interesting collection of salvaged outdoor wooden furniture, from a table and chair set gifted by friends when they moved across the country to a deacons bench that my dad split and made into two benches for us. They’re not the usual outdoor furniture, but I love their simplicity, uniqueness and that they do seem a little old-world to me. The problem is figuring out how to protect these treasures form the elements. So, I figured why not go with something similar to what they must use on all those gorgeous sailboats.

There's only so much damage you can camouflage with a cute pillow
There’s only so much damage you can camouflage with a cute pillow

I’m sure there are a number of possibilities, but I went with a Minwax Spar Urethane that I picked up for about $13 a quart. With 7 chairs, 2 benches and 2 side tables, it takes two cans to do a couple coats on everything. The beauty of the spar urethane over regular polyurethane is that is has special oils that allow the wood to expand and contract with temperature changes and it provides a protective barrier against sun damage in addition to moisture.

This guy is in desperate need of attention
This guy is in desperate need of attention

Some things to remember when using varnish of any sort:

  • Always apply it in a well-ventilated area.
  • Be sure to apply varnish to all exposed surfaces of the piece. Only coating the top or more exposed surfaces and not the underside will lead to a difference in how the piece expands and contracts in temperature changes and can cause your wood to warp.
  • Use a natural bristle brush for the best application.
  • Sand off any rough spots or old finishes before applying the varnish.
  • It’s best to stir the contents instead of shaking them like paint, to avoid creating bubbles that have to be sanded out later.
  • Wet-sanding, simply soaking the  sandpaper in water, with a 220-grit sandpaper is a great way to reduce the amount of dust created during the sanding step.
  • You can apply additional coats after only 4 hours, depending on temperature and humidity, and the furniture piece can be used within 24 hours.
  • The water-based products can be cleaned off your brush with warm water and provide a more clear finish when working with lighter colored woods.
  • The basic spar urethane can be cleaned off your brush and hands (and legs, if you happen to paint like I do) with mineral spirits.

Hopefully, these tips will help rescue that piece you thought was not salvageable. It’s amazing what a fresh coat of varnish can do to add a little character to your space.

Now it's protected for and ready for a fall pillow to replace the spring one (tutorial here).
Now it’s protected and ready for a fall pillow to replace the spring one (tutorial here).

The other big thing I learned this year – I should check for wear and re-varnish in the spring instead of waiting until the fall. Then we wouldn’t have rough edges and unnecessary wear and tear on the wood. A rough wooden chair is not the most comfortable thing to sit on when you’re wearing a pair of shorts!

If you decide to go for it, I’d love to see pictures in the comment section. For now, I need to go add “check varnish” to my calendar sometime in April of next year.

And, I think I’ll stick with the marine varnish on the outdoor furniture and pass on buying a sailboat for now.

About Beth Moore

A Christ-follower, wife, mom to 4, lifestyle blogger, seamstress and seeker of daily glimpses of God's grace and redemption.

5 thoughts on “Salvaging wooden outdoor furniture one piece at a time

    1. I love that look Sharon! My favorite is called Citr-strip ( because it doesn’t smell as bad as others, it’s thick, it works fast & you can pick it up at Wal-Mart. You will need thick gloves to apply it. I let it set for a few hours, up to 24, and then use a paint scraper to remove the gunk. A little denatured alcohol ( or mineral spirits) afterwards to clean up anything that sticks behind. The denatured alcohol on steel wool or a toothbrush also works great for table legs with grooves and crevices that are a little harder to deal with.

      Have fun and I’d love to see a picture of your crew working on that 🙂

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