The Best Woods for Outdoor Furniture

Choosing the right outdoor furniture is just as important as choosing the right sofa, as this pandemic has proven. Turns out, you’re the lucky one when your only contact with the outdoors is your yard. Most flat inhabitants had their balconies and windows to turn to. Thus, whether or not your yard will be a great escape or a big downer is up to you and your dedication to optimisation. 

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First and foremost, turn to your furniture. Wood is an irreplaceable material, especially if you want to achieve a natural look. However, dilemmas still exist. Should I get a white oak or a teak sun lounger? Can mahogany tables withstand the seasons? Is there a difference between white and red cedar?  Clearing the air will clear the way for you to design your urban paradise.

What Type of Wood Is Best for Outdoor Furniture? 

Teak Furniture  

Teak (Tectona grandis) is one of the world’s premier hardwood timbers. It occurs naturally only in India, Myanmar, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Thailand, however, it was introduced and naturalized in Java, Indonesia about 400 to 600 years ago.  

Tectona grandis i.e. teak is a light-demanding, large tree with a rounded crown with broad elliptical leaves that doesn’t tolerate shade nor temperatures lower than 13º. Its cylindrical bole is taller than 25 m. Natural teak forests mainly grow on hilly and terrains containing traps, basalt, granite, schist, gneiss, limestone and sandstone as underlying rocks. 

There are several reasons why is teak wood good and the scarce volume of its production compared to other types of wood is just one reason why it’s pricier. Its strength and aesthetic qualities dominate the niche of “luxury” applications like boat building, decking, indoor dining, exterior construction, small wood projects and yes, outdoor furniture. You’ll feel its tropical roots in the yellow colour, fine grain and durability of your next teak sunlounger, outdoor dining table or patio furniture.  

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Teak wood, being moderately hard and heavy, seasons rapidly, dries well and has overall good machining properties. It’s often straight or sometimes wavy but never less aesthetically appealing. Favourable quality parameters of teak wood are a large proportion of heartwood. Heartwood is the inner part of a tree’s bole, the one containing most of the oils, gums, resins, tannins, and other chemical compounds that give the wood its natural strength. 

According to the Handbook of Hardwoods (1988), African mahogany is moderately durable, oak is durable while teak and iroko are both very durable. But what makes teak durable in the first place? The teak oil in its composition serves as both a mechanical defence and an immune system, which is why is teak so durable.  When extracted, teak oil can be used on other wooden surfaces. teak oil and decking oil can be applied from time to time to the surface of outdoor furniture and decks which protects the timber surface from weathering.  

Teak oil protects, preserves and embellishes wood. The oil surrounds the wood fibres deep below the surface to lock out moisture, maintaining the woods natural integrity. It also prevents drying out, checking and cracking. Nonetheless, original teak wood surpasses teak oil-coated furniture when it comes to quality, appearance and durability. 

Cypress Furniture  

Most species of Cupressus grow in the Southern regions of North America, while a few others, about four species, grow in South Asia. C. lusitanica, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana and Cupressocyparis leylandii are the most common.  Despite difficulties with drying, these species are easy to process. There are many shared interspecies characteristics like attractive grain, medium to low density, low shrinkage, and excellent stability and high natural durability. Cypress is a conventional wet climate wood. In fact, it releases a natural water repellent. 

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Cypress wood is intended for use in exterior joinery, weatherboards and boat-building. Although studies have concluded that exotic species, including Cupressus, are weak in strength compared to Tectona grandis, cypress shows very easy workability and a high lignin content, a natural compound that works as its personal bodyguard. Its light colour, anatomical characteristics and easy processing, makes it comparable to some common and commercial hardwood and softwood species, like Pinus. 

Furthermore, cypress wood was found to be “highly resistant” to the brown-rot fungus, G. trabeum and white-rot fungus, T. versicolor.  

Cedar Furniture 

Thriving in damp climates, cedar can withstand many conditions. It doesn’t shrink, swell, warp or decay, even in extreme weather conditions. Thus, it’s perfect for outdoor furniture. Cedar is durable. Cedar thrives in damp climates, enabling it to withstand many conditions. Cedar doesn’t shrink, swell, warp, or decay even when there are severe changes in weather, which makes it such an ideal choice for exterior siding.  

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Due to its ability to absorb noise, cedar is also used in the exterior and interior of homes and buildings. Also, cedar is a natural insect repellent. In fact, cedarwood oil in cedar can control pests like termites, ants, moths, mosquitoes and cockroaches. Last but not least, cedar is a natural beauty.  Both white and red cedar has natural colour combinations, which is why a clear topcoat is used to magnify its natural colour. If you want to increase its durability, use a finishing agent to keep its colour and stability 

White Oak Furniture 

There is a great economic interest in using white oak for furniture, stair guard construction, striking tool handles, baseball bats, bowling pins, interior panelling and even pallets. Besides its great aesthetic qualities, this is due to its mechanical properties, modulus of elasticity and modulus of rupture i.e. loads it can handle before straining or rupture. Interestingly, it hasn’t changed in the last 100 years. Thus, white oak is hard, strong in bending and compression.  

Mahogany Furniture  

Bigleaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla Roxb.), belonging to the family Meliaceae is one of the most commercially important timber tree species in tropical forests. It grows naturally along an arc extending from southern Mexico to the southern Amazon basin of Bolivia, Brazil and Peru. The surface quality of mahogany can be significantly enhanced by exposing it to heat at temperature levels of 130 C and 200 C for 2 and 8 h. Also, its surface can be made much smoother if it’s subjected to a temperature of 130 C for 8 h. 

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Overly mature Mahogany trees (over 80 years old) have superior timber properties, particularly a dark reddish colouration and superior figure compared to younger trees. Subsequently, the prices go up.  Even so, harvesting mahogany at early ages (30 – 35 years) may not be detrimental to the timber quality particularly for furniture. Also, higher ages that result in good colour and figures result in high prices as well.

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