Summer is here and you need a new picnic table for your backyard. The good news is you saw one at the local home-improvement store for a very reasonable price. The bad news is it's not finished, it's raw wood. What do you do? Here are three basic options: clear sealer, staining with a clear sealer topcoat, or painting. With any of these options you will have a weatherproof service that will allow you to wash off any cute child size fingerprints as well as the last vestiges of your evening picnic.
The best place to start your project is by finishing the table before you assemble it. If your table is already put together you can still finish it in the assembled condition. However, the places where one piece of wood meets another will not get thoroughly finished, therefore they are not protected.
Clear Finish Option
If you like the look of the wood the picnic bench is made out of you may want to take the simplest of all options which is to apply three nice coats of a water-based or oil-based clear sealer. We are talking about varnish or polyurethane here. The oil based products are a little smelly, but they're incredibly durable. If you want the most bulletproof of all clear finishes, they can be found at your local Marine supply store. I personally like Epifanes oil based full gloss varnish for this type of project. Oil base can be smelly and take a long time to dry, so as an alternative you can use a high quality, water-based finish from Rust-Oleum.
- Pre-sand all the wood
- Use a very short nap roller and a good paint brush
- Thin the first coat just a little bit with some water, this helps it soak into the wood better.
- Sand in between each coat using a fine sandpaper after the second coat. This should give you a smooth finish.
- Strain the clear coat after the second coat to be sure there are no particles from earlier coats contaminating that last glorious coat of finish.
The paint option offers you a wide variety of colors. Some folks like to two-tone paint the bench and support members to give a fun and colorful finish to the picnic table. When choosing your paint it is important to note that you will get a little more wear and protection out of semi-gloss but if that's just too shiny for you the satin should work just fine for many years.
- Pre-sand the wood before you get started.
- Apply a full coat of primer to all surfaces with a good oil-based or water-based exterior primer.
- Allow that coat of primer to dry thoroughly
- Apply two finish coats of satin or semi-gloss exterior enamel.
- Follow the sanding and straining instructions in the first option.
Our last option is to stain the bench with some nice semi-transparent stain. I strongly recommend on oil based semi-transparent stain. The water-based semi-transparent stain doesn't seem to provide as nice a finish as the old oil base products. After you select your stain color and apply it, you are going to want to put at least three coats of the clear finish we discussed earlier over that stain to protect it from the weather.
Stain and clear finish steps
- Pre-sand the wood
- Apply your stain using roller, brush and then wipe off excess with a rag.
- If you are using the oil based stain do not stack up those rags as they can spontaneously combust… no kidding!
- Hang them to dry for a day or two or soak them in a bucket of water.
- Apply three coats of the clear sealer as we discussed above.
Like any surface if you live in a place where you get a lot of rain or snow you may want to cover the table to increase the longevity of your finished product. With the clear coat option you will want to keep an eye on any deterioration and recoat the weathered surfaces about every 12 to 18 months. A light sanding and a quick coat of varnish will extend the life of your new table by many years. Enjoy your summer fun!