Best Finish for Outdoor Cedar Furniture

Nothing is more relaxing than basking in the evening sun and enjoying that beautiful flower garden outside, relaxing on your cedar Adirondack chair. Garden benches, lounges, picnic tables, Decks, fences, and exterior doors are some of the outdoor setups you can easily craft using cedar. To complete the aesthetically unique nature of cedar, it is necessary to choose the right type of finish. The best finish for outdoor cedar furniture should improve or maintain cedar’s aesthetic appeal and ensure its durability.

Types of Finishes for Outdoor Cedar Furniture

1. Exterior Oil Finishes

An exterior oil is one of the easiest and simplest ways to treat your outdoor cedar. However, there is a catch. Exterior oils provide a maximum of one year of protection against the harsh outdoor elements. This means you need to reapply the oil annually to maintain the integrity of the cedar wood. Unlike varnish finishes that create a protective film on the wood surface, exterior oils penetrate the wood fibers and dry. They typically contain trans-oxide for UV protection and mildewcides to prevent mold and mildew.

Best oil for exterior cedar

General Finishes Outdoor Oil
$100.00 ($0.78 / Fl Oz)

Elevate your outdoor wood projects with General Finishes Outdoor Oil—a top-rated solution renowned for its remarkable benefits. Whether you're working on Adirondack chairs, outdoor benches, or decks, this specially formulated oil offers unmatched performance and protection.

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Reasons to Choose General Finishes Outdoor Oil for Cedar Projects:

  1. Effective Protection: Engineered with a deep-penetrating formula, this oil repels water, prevents mildew growth, and shields against harmful UV rays, ensuring your wood surfaces maintain their integrity and beauty even in challenging outdoor conditions.
  2. Versatile Options: General Finishes Outdoor Oil offers a wide range of sheens and tints, allowing you to customize and enhance the appearance of your outdoor wood projects according to your preferences.

Reasons to Consider Alternatives:

  1. Limited Protection: Unlike varnish finishes, oils do not form a protective film, making them more susceptible to scratches and dents. As a result, they may provide less protection compared to other options discussed in this article.
  2. Vulnerability to Wear: While easy to apply and reapply, oils’ lack of a protective film leaves them more prone to wear and potential damage over time.

The greatest advantage of using exterior oils is the ease of application.

Here’s how to apply exterior oils to cedar:

  1. Gather a garden sprayer and a rag. You can find a decent hand-pump garden sprayer for less than $20.
  2. Begin by generously applying the oil to the surface. Allow the oil to sit and soak into the wood fibers as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. After the recommended soaking time, wipe off any excess oil.
  4. That’s it! You’re done.

Depending on your local conditions, you will need to reapply the oil once every year. The added UV protection should keep the natural look of the cedar grain intact for many years, as long as you consistently reapply the oil.

2. Exterior Varnish and urathanes

GLEAM Spar varnish

Experience the pinnacle of outdoor varnish with Gleam Spar Varnish. This top-of-the-line varnish is meticulously crafted to provide unparalleled protection and durability, ensuring your wood projects stand the test of time.

Fast-Drying Marvel: With its fast-drying formula, Gleam Spar Varnish allows for efficient application of multiple coats, saving you time and effort.

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Why Choose Exterior Varnish and Urethanes:

  • Superior Durability: Exterior varnish outshines oils with its exceptional durability, making it a superior choice for cedar projects. It beautifully complements cedar wood, especially when a clear finish that retains the natural grain is desired. Furthermore, varnish can be combined with stains, offering the best of both worlds.
  • Flexible Film for Long-Lasting Results: Exterior varnish cures into a flexible film, which accommodates the wood’s seasonal movement caused by humidity changes in outdoor environments. This prevents cracking and ensures the longevity of the varnish coat.
  • Unlock the Potential of Varnishing Over Stained Wood: By varnishing over stained wood, you combine the advantages of both stain and varnish. The stain enhances the wood’s appearance, while the varnish adds a robust and protective layer, ensuring your cedar projects maintain their beauty and integrity for years to come.
best finish for outdoor wood bench

Reasons to avoid

While varnish offers exceptional durability, it is important to note that it requires some skill to apply correctly. In comparison, oils emerge as the clear winner over stains when ease of application is the primary concern. However, advancements in varnish technology have brought forth new modified brands that are significantly easier to apply, thanks to self-leveling mechanisms.

Application Tips for Exterior Varnish:

  • To achieve maximum protection and a deep lustrous finish, apply multiple thin coats of varnish. Manufacturers often recommend up to six coats. For a flawless finish, sand between each coat.

Maintenance Tips:

Exterior varnish typically maintains its appearance for 2 to 3 years before becoming chalky. When this occurs, sand the surface with 120-grit sandpaper and reapply the varnish. Don’t delay this maintenance step, as cracks can develop over time, requiring a full strip and fresh application. Stay proactive to preserve the beauty and protection of your cedar projects.

Elevate your cedar projects with GLEAM Spar Varnish, the ultimate solution for enduring durability and a flawless finish. Don’t settle for anything less when it comes to the long-term protection and beauty of your outdoor wood projects.

Pick the Right brush for urethanes

3. Epoxy + Exterior varnish

Nicpro Crystal Clear Epoxy Resin Kit
$109.99 ($0.43 / Fl Oz)

Discover the perfect epoxy resin for a multitude of projects, ranging from stunning tabletops to intricate chainsaw carvings for the great outdoors. Nicpro Crystal Clear Epoxy Resin Kit is your ultimate solution for exceptional quality.

With its user-friendly design, this epoxy resin is incredibly easy to use, making it accessible for both beginners and experienced craftsmen alike.

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

For unbeatable protection against the harshest outdoor elements, the combination of epoxy and exterior varnish reigns supreme. Prepare to shield your cedar projects with a finish that surpasses all challenges—rain or shine.

The Perfect Pairing: Epoxy and Exterior Varnish

When it comes to durability, nothing beats the combination of epoxy and exterior varnish. These two components enjoy a symbiotic relationship, working together to provide unparalleled protection for your cedar wood.

best finish for cedar picnic table
  • Impenetrable Moisture Barrier: Epoxy forms a moisture barrier that prevents seasonal wood movement, offering stability and long-lasting performance. This barrier enhances the longevity of the exterior varnish, ensuring your cedar projects remain intact for years to come.
  • UV Protection: The exterior varnish adds an additional layer of defense, shielding the epoxy from the harmful effects of UV rays. With its UV protection properties, your cedar projects will maintain their resilience and beauty, even under the scorching sun.

Application Guide for Optimal Results

  1. Choose an epoxy with a long enough “open time,” ideally around 30 minutes, for ease of application.
  2. Apply two coats of epoxy using a foam roller cut in half. The foam roller acts as a squeegee, ensuring thin and even coats.
  3. Recoat without sanding while the previous coat is still soft but not sticky. If the epoxy feels uneven or bumpy, allow it to harden, then sand it smooth before applying the next coat.
  4. Before applying the varnish topcoat, use a sanding block with 100-120 grit sandpaper to level the current epoxy coat. This process provides “tooth” for the varnish to adhere to.
  5. Rinse the epoxy-coated surface with water and wipe it off with a clean cloth or paper towels. The rinse water should not bead on the surface. If beading occurs, it indicates contaminants from the epoxy curing process. Remove these contaminants by wiping down with mineral spirits and paper towels. Applying varnish with contaminants present can lead to bonding issues.
  6. Apply 4-6 coats of exterior varnish, sanding between each coat for optimal adhesion. This meticulous process ensures a flawless and long-lasting finish for your outdoor cedar projects.

Embrace the epitome of durability with the epoxy + exterior varnish combo. Shield your cedar projects from the elements and enjoy their beauty for years to come.

Choosing a Finish for Outdoor Cedar Furniture

Choosing the right finish for your outdoor cedar furniture is crucial for its long-term protection and visual appeal. Consider the following factors when making your decision:

Weather Resistance:

Outdoor furniture is exposed to harsh weather conditions such as direct sunlight and rain. UV rays can damage the wood cells, while rain can wash away protective materials and promote mold and mildew growth. Look for a finish that offers excellent protection against UV rays and rain to ensure the longevity of your cedar furniture.


When selecting a finish for your outdoor cedar furniture, prioritize durability and minimal maintenance requirements. Opt for a finish that provides year-round protection and only needs to be reapplied once a year at most. This ensures that your cedar furniture remains well-protected without the need for frequent refinishing.

Ease of Application:

Consider the ease of applying the finish to your outdoor cedar furniture. While choosing a suitable finish is important, it is equally essential to ensure that you can apply it effectively. Take into account your skill level and choose a finish that matches your capabilities.


Finishes create a protective layer over the wooden furniture, but they can get dirty and damaged over time. Different finishes require different maintenance approaches. Water-based finishes are easy to clean with just water and soap, while oil-based finishes can be cleaned with ammonia and water.


Lastly, it’s important not to overlook the aesthetics when choosing a finish for your outdoor cedar furniture. The appearance of the finish can greatly impact the overall design and ambiance of your outdoor space. Consider the look you want to achieve and select a finish that complements your design vision.

Consider these factors when choosing the finish for your outdoor cedar furniture to ensure optimal protection, easy maintenance, and a visually appealing result.

More considerations for Best Finishes for Outdoor Cedar Furniture

ZAR Exterior Water-Based Polyurethane

Our pick
ZAR 32612 Exterior Water Based Polyurethane

ZAR is a 125-150 sq. ft. per quart water-based clear finish with ideal qualities for outdoor cedar furniture. Its unique formulation gives it superior protective qualities for outdoor furniture. It not only provides optimum protection but serves aesthetic appeal. ZARs light amber finish is ideal for outdoor cedar as it is able o bring out the natural color of the timber.  

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.


  • Safe to use because it is water-based. Has very low VOC emissions.
  • Unique appearance. This finish dries to a rich amber color that will enhance the natural cedar color.
  • Provides ultimate protection against UV radiation.
  • It enhances cedar’s natural protection against mold and mildew by blocking moisture away.
  • Maximum durability of all finishes.


  • Relatively costly.
  • Not the fastest drying times.
  • It will require maintenance.
  • Interferes with the natural, earthy look of cedar.

General Finishes Exterior 450

General Finishes Exterior 450 Water Based Topcoat

General Finishes Exterior 450 Water-Based Topcoat is the ultimate solution for durable and water-based polyurethane finishes. Specifically designed for outdoor projects, this exceptional clear coat provides unparalleled protection against moisture damage, including warping, swelling, and rot. With its mold-resistant properties, it defends against the growth of mold and mildew caused by moisture. The incorporation of UV absorbers ensures that your outdoor wood retains its vibrant color and resists fading from sun exposure. Choose General Finishes Exterior 450 Water-Based Topcoat for reliable and long-lasting protection, making your outdoor projects stand the test of time.

Top Qualities

  • Durable
  • Low odor
  • Fast drying
  • UV absorbers
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.


  • Excellent protection against ultraviolet radiation
  • Protects against mold and mildew
  • Its water-based formulation makes it easy to use due to low VOCs.
  • Durable.
  • Multipurpose


  • Results in yellowing.
  • A bit expensive.
  • It will require maintenance to maintain quality.


Best Budget
STORM SYSTEM Storm Protector Penetrating Sealer
$32.99 ($0.26 / Fl Oz)

STORM SYSTEM Storm Protector Penetrating Sealer & Stain Protector is a unique formulation that not only acts as a protective finish but also adds a distinctive appearance to your outdoor cedar furniture. Its unique formulation allows your outdoor cedar furniture to handle stormy weather and UV radiation. The special semi-transparent appearance after drying is ideal for your outdoor furniture. It is the best product at a reasonable price. 

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.


  • Excellent protection against ultraviolet radiation and moisture.
  • Suitable for multiple surfaces such as furniture, fences, decks, and more.
  • Very durable.
  • Easy to apply with a brush.
  • Value for money.


  • The oil-based formulation is not the safest to work with due to VOC emissions.
  • It may change color with time
  • Requires adequate maintenance.
  • It takes longer to dry.

Maintenance and Upkeep of Finished Outdoor Cedar Furniture

Cleaning and Protecting the Finish

All types of wood finishes mentioned will require cleaning to protect and ensure maximum durability. The finish layer on your outdoor cedar is likely to get damaged from dirty particles, greases, pen marks, etc. Use soap and water to clean a contaminated surface. Moreover, greases will easily come off just by washing them off the same way. Use denatured alcohol to remove pen marks.

Moreover, furniture exposed to ultraviolet radiation will likely become dull with time. To bring back the shine of your outdoor cedar, apply aerosol furniture polish. You can also use paste wax though the process is time-consuming. Regular cleaning is necessary to ensure the finish lasts long and preserves the look.

Touching Up

Re-applying the finish is recommended, especially when the cedar furniture has existed for a long. Often the steps involved are almost similar to applying for the first time. The only difference is that you must remove the original finish before a touch-up. The old finish is removed by using suitably coarse sandpaper. Marks and gouges are dealt with appropriately before applying the finish.


Although cedar has some natural protective qualities, it is recommended to up the protection to ensure durability. To achieve maximum safety and beauty for your outdoor cedar furniture, our expert recommends the mentioned three products with which you can never go wrong. These products ensure maximum protection for your cedar furniture, are easy to use and maintain and are safe for the environment.

Moreover, these enhance the look of your cedar furniture to achieve that desired look. Without excessively affecting the natural look of cedar, the selected product requires little maintenance over time. Your outdoor cedar furniture will last the longest if finished with the right product. This list is carefully prepared to guide you when making what may be a difficult choice.

1 thought on “Best Finish for Outdoor Cedar Furniture”

  1. Thank you for the effort and diligence in the research and consideration, while developing this article..
    I’m book marking it.. sincerely Walt

Comments are closed.