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Protecting Wooden Garden Furniture: Varnish or Paint?

In the past, wooden garden furniture came in two colours - one was silvery grey as the wood weathered, and the other was brown if the wood had been creosoted.

We no longer use creosote because it's environmentally harmful, and we no longer restrict our garden design to shades of brown and grey.

A whole raft of great new products means that we can apply the same creativity to our garden furniture that we do to our houses.

With wooden furniture, there's always a choice between using varnish to allow the natural colours of the wood to show through but protecting it from the rigours of our weather or painting it to completely cover the grain.

It used to be the case that wood stain only came in shades of brown, but this too is now available in a wide range of colours to provide a finish that is somewhere between paint and varnish.

Preparing the Furniture

Whichever route you decide to follow, it's important to prepare the furniture before you apply any finish. You can clean wood with soapy water or apply one of the many hardwood cleaners available.

If there's still a lot of surface build-up, a light sanding may be needed, followed by a good brushing to get rid of the dust before you apply the finish.

You can use a pressure washer on wood, but you need to be careful not to raise the grain, which can happen with certain kinds of word, such as eucalyptus, or with very high-pressure hoses.

So unless the furniture is really filthy, using the trusty bucket, brush and sponge is probably the best method.

Person applying varnish to garden furniture with a brush

Varnish for a Clean Simple Look

Once the furniture is clean, you may change your mind about the finish to apply and decide that varnish is the best choice because the wood now looks a lot better.

One product that is good to know about is yacht varnish - Designed to protect decking and wooden fittings on ocean-going yachts, this varnish will withstand everything our climate and the sea can throw at it.

Yacht varnish is hard-wearing and water-resistant; it also dries quickly. It covers well - one litre will cover up to 16 square metres. However, bear in mind that some woods are more absorbent than others, and some new furniture is going to soak up more varnish than older furniture which has hardened.

It's always a good idea to apply the varnish in the same direction as the grain of the wood.

Person in overalls painting garden furniture with blue paint

Paint for a Creative Splash

Manufacturers such as Ronseal are now extending their ranges and producing specially formulated garden paint.

The Ronseal version is available in a range of 28 colours, from the traditional greys and greens to vibrant tones like Moroccan red and pink jasmine for people who want a pop of colour in their garden.

Like varnish, it dries quickly - it’s rainproof in an hour, so you don’t have to wait for a completely dry day to do the job. It will protect the wood from water and prevent cracking and peeling. And as well as wooden garden furniture, you can use it on metal, brick, terracotta or stone.

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