Choosing Wood for Outdoor Projects: Five Fast Facts

Choosing Wood for Outdoor Projects: Five Fast Facts

Now that it’s high summer, you might have an outdoor project or two on your “short list” of things to make before the temps start to chill down again. But, whether it’s a picnic table, planter, a suntanning lounger or an arbor to hardscape the garden, it pays to give some careful thought to what wood you build it from. That can make the difference between it lasting one year or ten. Here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Let’s cut right to the chase! While redwood or teak certainly qualify, five more common lumber species that also stand up well to sunlight, moisture and wood-boring insects are Western red cedar, Spanish cedar, cypress, white oak and mahogany. Red cedar tends to be knotty, but it’s affordable and widely available. Cypress is easy to find in the South and works beautifully. So do mahogany and Spanish cedar, but you’ll dig deeper in your wallet for them. Good old white oak is also yard-tough.

2. Oaks aren’t created equal. So, what about red oak — is it an outdoor champ? Not really. Here’s the skinny: white oak contains tyloses, which plug up its vessels to prevent it from wicking in water and rotting. Red oak has little to no tyloses and it sucks up water like a straw. So, a red oak kitchen table? Yes. Picnic table or planter? No.

Tall Adirondack chairs outside on a deck

3. If it’s gotta be pine, think paint. Other common woodworking lumber species just won’t stand up to wetness and ground contact like the outdoor-suitable woods mentioned above. However, one way to help “indoor” woods stand up to outdoor living is to prime and paint them, then stay on top of that paint job as soon as it starts to crack, chalk or peel. Or, shelter your pine lounger under a covered porch where it’s nice and dry.

4. Treated lumber: if it’s good enough for my deck, why not my porch swing? Well, the chemicals that are infused into treated lumber help it stand up to just about anything Mother Nature can dish out. But those preservatives aren’t intended for regular skin contact and definitely not for food-serving surfaces. Treated wood also causes painful, burning splinters. Enough said.

5. Don’t skimp on the screws. Black-oxide wood screws are going to rust outside. Even zinc coating won’t give your hinges and bolts that much insurance against corrosion. So, for outdoor projects, think like boat and deck builders do: choose stainless or brass hardware and stainless, brass or coated screws and other fasteners. Quality outdoor lumber deserves quality metal, too.

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