We highly recommend that you put some kind of finish on our cedar furniture. Properly finished and maintained, Western Red Cedar ages gracefully and endures for many years. Finishing is an ongoing process that must be reapplied every few years depending on the quality of the stain and the amount of weathering the furniture receives. The basic reason for staining cedar is to extend the life of the furniture and to compliment your home.
While the cedar's natural oils maintain moisture and repel wood-boring insects - water spots & spills can quickly ruin the look of the wood. A clear finish will bring out a bit of red tinge found in the beauty of the grain. Cedar is also a dimensionally stable wood that lies flat and stays straight, it doesn't warp over time. Unprotected wood creates ripe conditions for the growth of mildew and mold. The following are a partial list of finishes that you can do at home. Please consult with a paint expert at your local paint store, or the paint department at Home Depot, Lowe’s or Ace.
STAIN: Oil based wood stains is best used as an underlying coat for a finish, to enhance the grain of the wood. This will allow you to closely match colors of similar existing pieces of furniture. The outside of the wood is slightly harden by the stain and will add years of life to the furniture. As the stains penetrate the wood, there is no peeling or blistering as commonly seen in paints. A stained finish can often give cedar a natural look, while giving you the color your desire. A stain is the easiest to apply and easy to re-apply. Most stains will last 4-5 years, but often need to be freshened up every 2-3 years for appearances. Stain is "breathable" and will not trap the moisture, therefore - no blistering, no peeling.
- Clear stain offers the least UV protection but optimum view of the natural wood grain.
- Semi-transparent stain provide rich, pigmented color that allows grain to show through with very good durability.
- Tints or Toners provide a light color that highlights wood grain and provides good durability.
SILICONE STAIN: This is an eco-friendly alternative to traditional stains. While it is water based for easy cleanup, it does penetrate the wood, while depositing a silicone material on the surface. The surface of the silicone finish tends to be shiny and it does last longer than traditional stains. Most of the products on the market have a mildew inhibitor.
OPAQUE STAIN: This gives an interesting often-overlooked option to paint. Opaque stains can be colored matched like paint, but doesn’t chip or peel as can happen with paint over time. The disadvantage is that the wood exterior isn’t as hard as it would be covered with paint. Most opaque stains incorporate pigmented urethane tung oil - which allows them to last 5-7 years.
LATEX STAIN: Latex stains are available in a wide range of colors and allow easy cleanup with water. Latex stains do not penetrate the wood surface and tend to perform like thin paints. They do however have some porosity, which allows limited moisture movement with the wood underneath, providing more stability between the stain and the substrate. The shorter service life of these non-penetrating finishes can be improved with the use of a stain resistant primer.
POLYURETHANE: A great looling finish is semi-gloss polyurethane with UV light protection. The polyurethane will place a very hard finish over the wood. Easily resists water, chemicals and grease. Won't crack, peel or stain; and covers the grain well. A UV stabilizer is incorporated to protect it from breaking down in sunlight and to protect any underlying stains from fading. The cedar will slightly darken, but will give the wood a very rustic, yet very traditional look. The warmth of the red tinge really comes out nicely. However, this finish needs patience to apply, two coats are recommended, and to refinish will require sanding.
TUNG OIL based MARINE VARNISH: A better application for cedar that will be exposed to a lot of liquid water or for direct sun applications. Marine finishes have more UV inhibitors and can better stand direct sun than most spar varnishes. This finish will be double to cost of most other finishes. In a liquid environment, expect the varnish to last 2-3 years.
VARNISH: A clear varnish can be applied. Varnish gives a hard finish, a beautiful shine, and a more natural look than polyurethane. The finish can easily be repaired, but when applying the varnish allow proper time to cure the finish.
PAINT: Oil based paint is very durable, as it adheres to the wood better. This will cover the grain and allow you to put any color onto the wood. Latex paint is easier to cleanup, but not as durable as oil based paint. On raw wood a primer is necessary for paint. Two coats of paint, with a oil based primer, can last up to 10 years before the cedar needs to be repainted.
OIL: There are a number of options, including linseed, Tung, Danish, teak & mineral oil. The oils need to be applied yearly to keep the appearance up and the wood fairly waterproof. The advantages of oil are will not cover grain; penetrates, then hardens into the wood surface; yet easy to apply. Linseed oil is not suitable for outdoor projects. Teak oil provides a slight surface sheen while Danish oil leaves a low luster. Both teak and Danish oils are better suited to new projects than linseed - and also provide a more resilient finish. Mineral oil will not provide the same level of sheen as the above oils. It is recommended that most exterior use of oil finishes be redone each year.
WOOD SEALER: Thompsons Wood Sealer is the most famous (of several great brands on the market) to be useful by blocking the pores of the wood. This inhibits the grain from becoming raised yet allowing the natural fading to a gentle silvery-gray color. The sealer needs to be applied frequently, at least once a year. Do not apply a water-repellent sealer over an existing paint or stain. A water-repellent product must penetrate into the wood to perform effectively, and will not be able to penetrate an existing coating.
WAX: Not recommended for outside use. One of the nicest finishes for interior projects is beeswax. This finish is ideal for any indoor project and has the great advantage of allowing the wood to nicely darken with age. Wax provides no moisture vapor barrier, and washes off in heavy rain. Waxes should not be used for any project that requires water resistance. Instead, varnish or polyurethane should be used.
LACQUER and SHELLAC: These products are not recommended for outdoor use. Negatives - Easily scratched and susceptible to water damage. Lacquer crazes and blisters badly in direct sun applications. Lacquer also is not sufficiently flexible to deal with expansion/contraction in outdoor applications. Although shellac provides the best possible moisture vapor barrier, it does not resist long term liquid water at all.
Interior finishes: Completely avoid any finish labeled for interior applications.
- You can make the wood look metallic (regent metallics), subdued mottled textural water-worn (the river rock look), suede, antiqued leather, indigo leather, bright canvas, natural linen, and more. Plus thru traditional faux techniques of sponging, ragging, colorwashing and aging.
American Tradition is another great SPECIAL EFFECTS website. Developed with Lowes this site is also a great alternative product finish site. How to guides for crackle techniques, sculpture and crackle paste, textures, color washing/lime washing, dragging/linen weave, sponging, tissue paper, patinas, and distressed leather. Do all of these ideas work on cedar ? - please let us know.
BLEACHING TO AGE THE WOOD: A uniform weathered effect can be achieved in several months with special bleaching agents available from most leading manufacturers-but use this method on new wood only; it's particularly effective on rough-sawn or saw-textured cedar (our furniture is sanded, so please consult with a paint dept. expert). Use a brush and apply one or two coats. A water-repellent or transparent penetrating stain can be applied in one or two seasons after the bleaching agent has achieved the desired graying. Note: A similar effect can be simulated with a gray-pigmented stain.
MORE SPECIAL EFFECTS: Great special effects can be done with a finish. Please consult a paint expert to get you on the right path in selecting the correct products. The following are a few examples. For more thorough details, please check Buy Unfinished Furniture.com for their following ideas:
CRACKLE FINISH: A crackle finish produces a weathered aged look. Crackle is made with a medium that contracts when a water-based stain is applied over it. As the Crackle contracts, it fractures the top stain coat and exposes the base coat beneath.
FAUX MARBLE: Marbleizing works best on closed grain woods such as cedar, pine, maple, birch, aspen, or alder. If you use "open-grain" woods (such as oak) the distinct, visible grain of these woods will show through the background of the marbleizing, and distort the look. In nature, there are no two pieces of marble exactly alike. If you don’t like the results simply paint over and start again.
PRIMATIVE WOOD: Create the Old World look of primitive grain on any piece of unfinished furniture. An example would be a deep red as the base color and Black Walnut as the secondary color (which would essentially darken the grain). The effect would be for the darken grain to boldly stand out and the rest of the wood stained red.
DISTRESSING: Turn new furniture into heirlooms by creating a vintage, timeworn look. Start by staining your piece. Allow the stain to dry completely. Remove the stain from selected areas, usually edges and corners, with #180 to #220 grit sandpaper. Sanding these surfaces will allow the wood to show through and simulate wear and tear. Followed by a clear finish.
PICKLING: Pickling is simply applying a light color stain to wood; then wiping off the stain to let the color of the wood show through. The most popular pickle color is a white, however you are not limited to white. Apply the stain and wipe off as much as you want while letting the wood grain show through the stain. The look you want to achieve is a soft subtle color.
WASH COATS: After applying a base coat of a color, a second color applied over the base color while it is still wet. A good example is to use a blue as your first color. As soon as you are done applying the blue stain follow immediately with a coat of white stain. This will allow the colors to blend together to create a softer shade of blue.
MOISTURE & MILDEW Warning: When selecting and applying a finish for use on surfaces exposed to adverse moisture conditions, use a finish with a fungicidal additive, which will eliminate or reduce discoloration caused by mildew growth. Nothing looks worse than a beautiful finish with black splotches.