My Best Finishes for Outdoor Cedar Furniture

By MWB-Team •  Updated: 12/31/23 • 

Cedar wood is renowned for its strength and resilience against outdoor elements. Even though cedar can withstand the rigors of outdoor exposure, applying a finish becomes essential to preserve its vibrant tones and enhance its durability. With numerous finishing options available for cedar furniture, selecting the right one can be a daunting task. If you’re considering finishing your outdoor cedar furniture, you’ve come to the right place.

My Best Finishes for Outdoor Cedar Furniture

Best Finish for Outdoor Cedar Furniture: Seal-Once Marine Premium Wood Sealer

The Seal-Once Marine Wood Sealer stands out as a favorite among cedar furniture owners. Its water-based formula, low in VOCs, effectively resists wood graying caused by harsh UV rays. The sealer boasts superior water-resistant properties, providing protection against rain and moisture. Despite its thin consistency, requiring multiple coats for enhanced durability, it dries quickly and can be applied with a sprayer. Once dry, it leaves a semi-transparent clear finish that subtly enhances the wood’s natural beauty, making it an excellent choice for outdoor cedar furniture.

Seal-Once Marine Premium Wood Sealer
$69.98 ($0.55 / Fl Oz)

The Seal-Once Marine sealer is a great option to protect your outdoor wood furniture against moisture, rain, UV rays, and other elements. It is semi-transparent and allows the beauty of the grain and texture of the wood to show through.

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Best Clear Cedar Finish for Outdoors: Rust-Oleum Water-Based Spar Urethane

The Rust-Oleum Spar Urethane is my top pick for a clear cedar finish that accentuates the wood’s innate beauty. With a water-based composition, it starts with a milky appearance but dries into a crystal clear film that remains free from yellowing over time, a common issue with oil-based finishes. While it’s easy to apply and dries quickly, its thinner consistency necessitates multiple coats. Being a spar urethane, it offers superior resistance to outdoor elements compared to regular outdoor polyurethane. Overall, it’s an excellent finish for enhancing and protecting outdoor cedar furniture.

Rust-Oleum Water-Based Spar Urethane

The Rust-Oleum Spar Urethane is a good finish if you're looking for a protective and crystal clear finish. It enhances the grain and texture of wood while adding a layer of protection against moisture, rain, and UV rays.

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Best Exterior Oil for Outdoor Cedar Furniture: General Finishes Outdoor Oil

The General Finishes outdoor oil, a traditional choice for woodworkers, stands out as an excellent option for finishing outdoor cedar furniture. Easy to apply, fast-drying, and simple to wipe off excess, this oil finish enhances the wood’s appearance while offering natural protection. UV stabilizers in the oil provide added defense against harsh UV rays, making it a reliable choice for outdoor use. While some cedar species may be naturally oily, making adhesion challenging, this outdoor oil finish works well for restoring and protecting older cedar furniture.

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

The GF outdoor oil is a great product for your outdoor wood projects and furniture to protect and revitalize the wood. The oil goes on easily and also dries up fast. It makes wood richer for a very beautiful finish. 

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Best Stain & Sealer Option: Ready Seal Exterior Stain and Sealer

Combining the benefits of a stain and a sealer, the Ready Seal Exterior stain offers an oil-based finish with exceptional resistance to elements such as water and harsh UV rays. With a semi-transparent opacity and available in multiple colors, this stain goes on smoothly, blending perfectly even when over-applied. Its easy absorption minimizes concerns about streaking or overapplication. Overall, if you’re aiming to enhance the appearance of your cedar furniture while providing protection, this forgiving and easy-to-apply finish, particularly in Natural Cedar color, is a solid choice.

Ready Seal Pail Natural Cedar Exterior Stain
$189.95 ($0.30 / Fl Oz)

This is an oil-based stain and sealer that is semi-transparent, enhancing your wood's natural beauty. It is easy to apply, and this can be achieved using a brush, roller, or sprayer. The semi-transparent color looks good and protects a outdoor wood from damage against UV rays.

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Choosing a Finish for Outdoor Cedar Furniture

Exterior Oil Finishes Explained

If you’ve spent time building your cedar Adirondack chairs and looking to preserve their natural beauty, an outdoor oil finish might be just what you need. Exterior oil finishes are straightforward to apply and maintain over time. Just apply the oil using a brush, let them soak into the wood, and wipe off the excess.

Outdoor Cedar Table Top Soaking in Some Oil

Outdoor Cedar Table Top Soaking in Some Oil

Unlike other finishes, like paint or varnish, oils penetrate and protect the wood from the inside out. This means no finish will crack or start peeling over time. Most of the oils, like the GF Exterior oil, also come fortified with stabilizers and additives that help them better resist harsh UV rays, mold, and mildew.

However, to keep your cedar outdoor oiled furniture in good condition, the oil should be reapplied often compared to other finishes like paint or stain sealants. However, this is not a problem because applying an oil finish is very easy.

Outdoor Cedar Picnic Table Finished With Exterior Oil

Outdoor Cedar Picnic Table Finished With Exterior Oil

Exterior oil finishes also help to seal the wood, which helps repel water. This minimizes the risk of your cedar furniture swelling because of absorbing water. It also minimizes cracks and checks that might occur as the wood is subjected to expansion and contraction.

Wood Sealers Explained

Wood sealers are usually transparent and are applied to protect the wood from damage and also to enhance the natural beauty of the grain and texture of the wood. There are different reasons why you should pick a wood sealer for your outdoor cedar furniture.

Sealing the wood prevents it from absorbing moisture and being stained by different liquids it may come into contact with. It is also a protective coat that protects your outdoor furniture or projects against wear and tear.

Cedar Outdoor Straight Back GlidersFinished with a Clear Sealer

Cedar Outdoor Straight Back Gliders
Finished with a Clear Sealer

There are different types of wood sealers in the market. However, they all do one job of creating a protective coat on wood to protect it from absorbing moisture, which helps lower the chances of rotting or weathering. With technological advancements, most wood sealers also include stabilizers and additives that help protect the wood from UV, mold and mildew, insects, and much more.

While most wood sealers are transparent, different opacities are available such as semi-transparent and solid-colored wood sealers. Semi-transparent wood sealers usually slightly impart some color to the wood, while solid-colored wood sealers have a lot of color pigment and conceal the wood, just like paint does.

What is Spar Urethane?

Spar urethane is a type of wood finish designed to withstand most outdoor elements. It is a type of spar varnish that has urethane plastic resins added. It is the go-to finish for most woodworkers who need to apply a clear coat to any exterior wood projects like furniture.

Spar Varnish vs. Spar Urethane vs. Polyurethane

Spar varnish is a finish that was originally designed for the spars or wooden poles that support sails on boats and other marine vessels. The finish protected the spars against high moisture, wind, and the sun’s harsh rays. Spar varnish and spar urethane are the same, with the difference being the urethane resins added to spar urethane to make it tougher.

Cedar Furniture Finished With Spar Urethane Brought Out the Color and Grain Pattern

Cedar Furniture Finished With Spar Urethane Brought Out the Color and Grain Pattern

Polyurethane and spar urethane provide a good seal and protect wood against different elements. However, their difference is the amount of oil they contain. Spar urethane has more oil than oil-based polyurethane, which makes it more flexible and able to withstand outdoor elements better as the wood changes. Check out our in-depth guide on the difference between polyurethane and spar urethane.

Painting vs. Staining Cedar Wood Furniture

Can cedar furniture be painted? Yes, painting your outdoor cedar furniture is one of the finishing options you can opt for. You can also stain over your cedar furniture to allow the grain and texture of the cedar to show through.

Painted Cedar Rocking Chairs

Painted Cedar Rocking Chairs

Paint is highly pigmented and will conceal the wood grain and texture. While paint works fine, over time, it will start to flake off (as in the picture above), and you’ll eventually need to scrape it off and refinish your outdoor furniture again. Staining, however, is breathable, so it allows wood movement and does not trap moisture, eliminating peeling or blistering.

We recommend that you use good-quality acrylic formulation paints for outdoor cedar furniture. This will protect your furniture from moisture and weathering but also hide the grains and wood’s color and texture.

For staining cedar furniture outdoors, semi-transparent stains are a good way to keep the natural beauty of cedar showing through while also imparting less color that will offer protection.


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