We have had an outdoor swing made of ipe wood. We have used a stain on this wood. What kind of finishing should we use on this outdoor swing? – Debra Arnold
Tim Inman: Indoor fine furniture finishing is my world. I am limited in my outdoor advice. But I will say again, there is no clear finish that will withstand outdoor conditions for very long. Some last longer than others, but all will become victim to Old Sol and his ultraviolet sunshine rays eventually. I would first be sure the stain you want to use is lightfast. You don’t want your nice colors to fad and be gone after a few weeks outside. Then, I would select a finish made for exterior marine use. There are some very nice spar marine varnish products available now. Unlike in days gone by, most of today’s exterior products are polyurethane based. They will usually give good service. Don’t be fooled into thinking this or any finish will be a once-in-a-lifetime coating, though. It won’t. Think covers, shelters, shade.
Chris Marshall: For me, the best outdoor finish is the one that’s easiest to re-finish — because regardless of what you use, refinishing is inevitable. The choice you make now will impact how much work you’ll have on your hands later. Here’s a case in point: A couple of years ago, I built the mahogany porch swing shown above. I used an oil-based exterior deck stain with UV inhibitors to finish it. That was it. No shiny topcoat of any kind. Why? Well, because mahogany is an excellent outdoor-compatible wood — just like your swing’s ipe. Neither of these woods require special protection from sunlight, rotting or insects, as many other less durable woods do. Now, I’ll admit that the stain color on my swing is beginning to fade, but the wood is otherwise as good as new. This summer, I should probably refinish it to refresh the bright color again. But, that will be as easy as scrubbing the wood clean and reapplying the stain. No stripping, scraping or sanding will be required. So, that’s my recommendation for you: if you’ve used a good quality exterior stain on your ipe swing, you’re already done. No other topcoat is really necessary.