How to Finish White Oak for Exterior Use

When we think of woods for outdoor projects, especially when we think of furniture, teak and cedar come to mind quickly.  They are beautiful woods, finish well, and last a long time.

Teak is a very desired wood for outdoor products because of its ability to withstand even the harshest of weather conditions.  It can be left outdoors all year and maintain its beauty with yearly cleaning and Teak oil (not made from teak-tree oil) or Danish oil (made from linseed oil, rosewood, or tung) application.  Teak outdoor furniture is considered an excellent investment for long life.

Teak is expensive, though.  It’s a slow-growing wood, and it might take upwards of 40 years for a tree to reach a stage where high-grade lumber can be harvested.  Time is money, as the old saying goes, and that’s a long time to wait before the tree can be used for building materials.

Cedar is also an excellent choice for outdoor furniture.  It is an especially strong and durable wood that will not warp or sag.  It’s less expensive than teak and lighter than other outdoor furniture wood choices.  Some species of cedar are also resistant to insects and rot, two important considerations for outdoor furniture.

But, let’s not overlook the value of white oak for outdoor use.  It has many of the qualities of these two popular outdoor use choices, and if treated well, will last for decades.

Is White Oak Good For Exterior Use?

White oak is beautiful and strong, a close-grained hardwood virtually impervious to water, making it an excellent choice for that outdoor project.  It is also strongly rot-resistant and is even used to build boats.

The white oak is not actually white, although its bark is a light gray color.  The name comes from the color of finished wood.

The tree is slow-growing, perhaps 12” to 24” per year, can reach heights of up to 100 feet, and can live for 200 to 300 years.  It’s native to North America, from Canada all the way south to Florida. 

Is White Oak Waterproof?

“Virtually impervious to water” is how we would describe white oak.  That’s not the same as waterproof but is very close.  Its value for outdoor use comes from that impervious nature and its strong resistance to rot. 

Finishing white oak for outdoor use raises that “virtually impervious” nature as close to waterproof as something can be, though.

Finishing White Oak

With white oak, you are already starting with a wood that strongly resists water and rot.  White oak is easy to work with and is certainly suitable for that set of outdoor chairs and table for the patio and a nice bench to match.  So, by choosing white oak, your project is already off to a good start.

Adding an extra measure of moisture seal to an already water resistant wood won’t hurt at all.  In another post, we discussed the use of boiled linseed oil as an excellent sealant and clear finish because it penetrates deeply into the woods.

  • An application of boiled linseed oil, hand-rubbed, will create a beautiful finish that will allow the grain to show through;
  • Follow that, once dried and cured, with a coat of polyurethane, varnish, or lacquer. Each one presents a good seal.  A marine varnish might be a good choice for your project (we did mention that white oak is used to make boats, too)
  • Or, you can apply a finish of a stain-sealant combo product.  This will waterproof the wood well.

These exterior finish products are all regularly used in the treatment of woods for outdoor use.  However, there is one more to consider, however blasphemous you might think it to be – exterior paint.

Painting will, of course, hide the grain of the wood, and perhaps you don’t want it hidden.  But exterior paint is a good measure of protection for wood used in outdoor projects and seals the wood against the elements and nature.

As for the best finish choice, only you will know what effect you want to create on your project.  You will have put in the time to build that table and chairs set, or that bench, or that plant stand, and you want to protect that investment by preserving its lifespan.

Any of these suggestions will take your “virtually impervious to water” wood to the waterproof level.  You can choose to show the grain and the beauty of white oak or decide to add color to your project with paint.  That part is up to you.

But, white oak is an excellent choice for that outdoor project.  It’s a beautiful tree and a lovely wood, and if finished well, your project will serve you well for a long time.  It won’t be 200-300 years like the tree, of course, but it will last a few decades.

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