Maintaining Outdoor Wood Furniture by Type of Wood, Plus More

Maintaining Outdoor Wood Furniture by Type of Wood, Plus More

Outdoor Wood Furniture

With summer approaching, people are getting ready for more backyard activities. Whether that involves dinners on the back porch, a day in the garden, or an afternoon by the pool, the enjoyment possible from each of these activities is enhanced with good furniture.

As a woodworker, I’m inclined to select wood for my material of choice for outdoor furniture. But people are often concerned about the durability of wood in an outdoor setting. Will it rot? Does it need to be chemically treated? Is teak the only “good” wood for outdoors?

Below is a brief introduction to selecting and maintaining wood furniture to assure you will be able to enjoy your new piece for years to come.

Tropical Woods

The truth is, some species of wood are excellent for outdoor settings, while others are not. So it’s important to begin the process by selecting the right kind of wood. Most people are familiar with the rot-resistant properties of teak and mahogany – two wood species commonly used in shipbuilding. These are both very rot-resistant and are truly beautiful woods.

However many are beginning to steer away from them due to concerns about over-harvesting. In fact, this has caused prices for these species to go up and has led to some unethical marketing practices where lesser quality species are substituted and sold as their higher quality counterparts.

North American Species

But exotic woods are not the only rot-resistant species available. Several good sustainable North American species are commonly available throughout the U.S. and Canada. These include Western Red Cedar, Cypress, and White Oak.

Western Red Cedar

Western Red Cedar is commonly used for privacy fences. It is inexpensive, easy to work with, and handles the elements well. It can be left untreated, much like most wood fences. I made the above garden work table from Western Red Cedar. Over time, the wood will begin to fade to gray, much like the wood fence in the background. Or it can be refreshed with more oil to maintain the richer color seen here.

Cypress

Cypress is more commonly found in the south and the southeastern U.SA., where it grows in swampy areas. It too is easy to work with, and due to an oily nature, it is very rot-resistant. Some believe the newer plantation grown cypress is not as durable as older growth wood, but overall it still makes a good choice.

White Oak

One of my favorites is White Oak. The pores of White Oak are not porous, so does not absorb water. (Red Oak, on the other hand, is porous, and not water resistant).White Oak is not only used outdoors but is a common species for floors, cabinets, and furniture throughout the home. It is heavier than the others mentioned above and very durable.

Protect from the Sun

While rot-resistance is an important concern, equally challenging is the damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV rays can fade, discolor and even damage wood because it changes or destroys the wood’s lignin, a component of wood that hardens and strengthens the cell walls.

By simply keeping furniture out of direct sunlight, the damage caused by UV rays can be greatly reduced. If possible, place furniture on a covered porch, under a shade tree, or in other areas not in direct sunlight.

If the wood must be left in direct sunlight, consider one of the many products on the market that have UV protection built into it. We prefer to use oil finishes with UV protection, rather than varnishes, which can begin to flake off over the years. Once they begin to flake off, film finishes must be stripped off to bare wood prior to refinishing. By contrast, an oil finish can simply be refreshed by lightly sanding the surface and then re-applying more oil. Not only is this a fairly simple process, it brings out more of the rich color the wood had when it was first finished.

Winter Care

Here along the Gulf Coast, winters are almost non-existent. But in more northern climates, special attention should be given to wood furniture during the winter. Ideally the furniture should be brought in from the elements. Otherwise, snow may cover it and cause the wood to remain wet for extended periods of time. Further, repeated thaws and freezes can cause damage to the wood. If it’s not possible to bring furniture in for the winter, try to at least place it on a well-draining surface so it doesn’t stay wet where it comes in contact with the ground.

Keep it Clean

Dirt can hold moisture, which in turn can retain a variety of molds that can damage your furniture. Clean your furniture by periodically power washing it. This will deep clean the wood without the need for harsh cleaners that can damage nearby plants. Most home centers rent power washers by the hour or buy one for your home so you can keep porches, sidewalks and other areas clean. An added benefit of power washing your furniture is that it will reverse the transition to gray, and bring out more of the original wood tone.

Relax and Enjoy

Wood furniture has a warmth and beauty not found in other options such as metal or plastic. It is a natural, sustainable product. With just a little care and maintenance, it will bring years of joy and comfort to your outdoor life.

Wood Slab Inventory

Wood Slab Inventory

We just went live with over 1,000 wood slabs for sale on our website! This is one of the largest inventories of slabs for sale anywhere in the country.

Pricing for the many of these slabs ranges from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars and up. The largest one tops over $20,000 for a monster Claro Walnut slab.

This allows clients to actually browse the entire available inventory of slabs and select the perfect one for their own project, making for a truly unique custom furniture experience!

We also offer handmade, completely custom metal, glass, wood and acrylic bases, to give our clients almost limitless options for live edge furniture.
Slabs may also be purchased “unfinished” for shipment directly to the client, so they can create their own masterpiece.

Come check out our new inventory!

Solid Wood or Veneer?

Solid Wood or Veneer?

My clients often tell me they don’t want veneered furniture. Instead, they want real “solid wood”. I understand that concern, but the truth is veneered furniture can actually be quite good. Like so many things in life, the devil is in the details.

Unfortunately one of the “details” is the veneer itself – and the substrate to which it is applied. Today’s mass marketed furniture is made with paper-thin veneers as thin as 1/64”. Worse still, they are often applied over particle board. Particle board is simply sawdust and glue that is pressed into a flat substrate, and so is sometimes called “solid wood.” The extremely thin veneer and poor quality of particle board combine to make furniture that cannot stand up to the rigors of daily use.

Higher quality veneers are somewhat thicker. They range from 1/16” to 1/8”, and when applied to a more substantial substrate, can last for generations. Sadly, this is almost never found anymore on modern store-bought furniture.

While we normally use actual solid wood (with no veneer) in the pieces we make in our studio, there are times we do use veneer. Why? Several reasons:

1. Solid wood is always in a state of expanding or contracting. It expands in warmer, more humid weather, and contracts in cooler, drier conditions. This can create “wood movement” problems in cabinet doors, for example, causing them to stick in the summer. By using veneer over a quality plywood substrate, the door becomes more stable.
2. Sometimes a piece of wood has beautiful grain patterns that we want to repeat across a surface, making the right and left grain mirror images of each other, like pages of a book. By slicing the wood into thinner sheets, that pattern can be repeated in a “bookmatched” process.
3. Veneer can be bent and formed into shapes not possible with thicker wood.

We cut our own veneer for some projects which typically is just a hair less than 1/8” thick. Other times we buy veneer from boutique marketers who can provide a fantastic selection of beautiful wood that is somewhat thicker than the mass marketed variety. Either way, these are durable, beautiful veneers that we apply to high-quality substrates of solid wood, laminated solid wood, or specialty substrates.

So which is better: veneer or solid wood? Of course, there isn’t any single answer to this question. But by understanding some of the basics of each, and more to the point, by understanding how some furniture sellers use lower quality manufacturing techniques, buyers can be prepared to ask questions that will lead to informed choices.

Nakashima Table

Nakashima Table

Earlier this year I was commissioned to make a live edge table inspired by the style of George Nakashima by the New York design firm owned by Bob and Cortney Novogratz. They had a client on Long Island and they thought a Nakashima table would be just the right thing for the den.

It turns out this clients project is going to be featured in an upcoming episode of HGTV’s “Home by Novogratz” on Saturday, September 1 at 7:00 eastern / 6:00 central time. I’m not sure if the table will be part of the episode, which will focus on the kitchen remodel, but if you follow this link to the Nakashima Table on my website, you’ll see a picture of it in the cozy den of the newly remodeled home.

At the time I was commissioned to make the table, I didn’t know the home was going to be featured on the show. But I did know the client’s move-in date was getting very close, and that they hoped to have this table done by that time. To make a long story short, I ended up making the 3 day drive myself to assure it got there in time.

Though it was a long drive, I’m so very glad I did it, because I had the pleasure of touring the home just as it was nearing completion, and to meet Anabel and Allison of the Novogratz team. And what a delight that was! Although things were hectic, with the deadline for completion (and filming the episode) right there, they both took the time to show me some of the beautiful features of the home. It was simply gorgeous!

I was especially pleased to see their reaction to the Nakashima table. One of the true rewards of being a craftsperson is when a client responds so positively to one of my creations. That they were also so very pleasant to work with made this project extra special.

Is Wood a Sustainable Resource?

Is Wood a Sustainable Resource?

I’m often asked if wood is a sustainable product. People are naturally concerned about deforestation, particularly in the rainforest. So here’s a short primer on the subject. Periodically I’ll revisit this topic with additional comments.

So, is wood a sustainable product? The really short answer is, “it depends”. When it comes to commercial logging, most North American forests are pretty well managed. The landowners here realize that their land has the highest value when there is a long-term plan to manage the forest to allow ongoing harvesting of trees. If you are buying hardwoods from North American forests, you can be reasonably certain that the forest remained viable even after your particular tree was harvested.

Unfortunately, there is a very different situation in many “rainforest” countries. There, forests are often clear-cut without regard to any long-term forest management. The result is that the ecosystem is seriously disrupted. After the forest is cleared, a very different – and less sustainable – mix of plants & animals comes in to fill the void. The result is an unhealthy forest in decline.

Not that all wood coming from the rainforest is harvested that way. Some countries have signed binding treaties that require forests to be better managed. Some forests are certified by various independent third parties as to practicing good forestry management techniques (e.g. “FSC” and “SFI” wood). I’ve run across small operations that locate “blowdown” trees in the Amazon (trees toppled by storms), which are removed while leaving other trees intact. There certainly are some well-managed forests in these areas, but it’s not always easy for buyers to know good from bad.

There is a growing trend now to use wood that comes from alternative sources. There are a lot of alternative sources. Blowdown trees, “urban forest” trees, and reclaimed or repurposed wood are examples.

These alternative sources are clearly sustainable, and they often yield wood that is incredibly beautiful and very different from typical commercial lumber yards. Uncommonly beautiful wood, and no net loss of tree canopy. As a bonus, this wood is diverted from the waste stream which often means less waste is sent to landfills.

You don’t need to worry about being an expert yourself when looking for sustainable products. Simply ask the salesperson or business owner about the origin of the wood. A few simple questions can help you understand a lot about the sustainability of the materials in your purchase.

Houston Independents Forum

Houston Independents Forum

The Houston Independents Forum provides wonderful networking opportunities for local small businesses and independents.  The next event for the group will be held right here at Greenwood Bay Woodworking Studio on Wednesday, April 18 from 6:30 to 8:30pm.    Please RSVP if you plan on attending, and I look forward to seeing you here!

If you are a small business owner, independent, self-employed, or just thinking about the possibility of starting a business, this is a great group to visit.

Events are casual yet informative, so loosen that tie (if you still own one), and enjoy visiting with an interesting group of local business owners.  The event is hosted by Sustainable Houston and Ky D Willson Event Management.

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