Guide written by:
Lucas, Antique wood-worker, Gloucester
Over time, the exotic woods that make up your garden furniture will fade through exposure to UV rays. But don’t worry – cleaners, brighteners and oils are all effective ways to restore the natural colour of your outdoor items. Simply clean your furniture and brush on a treatment to make your wood look new again!
- Prepping the wood
- Applying the product
- Wood brightener
- Wood oil
- Penetrating wood oil
Special treatments for exotic wood
A popular choice in garden design, exotic woods like teak and eucalyptus are particularly durable in that they are naturally resistant to moisture, weathering and insects. Often used to make up decking and garden furniture, these materials provide an attractive finish for all sorts of outdoor spaces. However, it still important to treat exotic wood furnishings before putting them outdoors and then on a regular basis or at the first signs of damage. Wood treatments are designed to help to preserve the appearance of the furniture – particularly in terms of colour – and offer protection from UV light.
The main concern for teak or eucalyptus garden dining sets is keeping them protected from the sun’s rays so that they don’t become discoloured over the years. There are several possible solutions but one of the most common and effective options is to apply a wood oil to freshly cleaned furniture.
Should I use a brightener before treating my garden furniture?
Using a wood cleaner or brightener
Wood cleaners and brighteners are designed to restore the original colour of wood. All wood that is kept outdoors will eventually grey due to exposure to UV rays. An unavoidable process, the rate of damage depends on the amount of exposure and the species of the wood. Some like the effect this gives but if you want your garden looking fresh, a brightener is the way to go. Once this has been applied, you must then follow it up with a protective product.
Available as a practical drip-free gel or in liquid form, cleaners and brighteners offer a range of different concentrated formulas. Make sure you buy the right product by ensuring it is appropriate for the exotic wood you are treating; the ideal product will be specially designed for either teak or eucalyptus. Brighteners are also available as water- or solvent-based formulas; the former is more environmentally friendly while the latter tends to be more efficient.
Wood cleaners and brighteners
Applying a wood cleaner in five steps
1. Choose your equipment
You will ideally need a brush and a small paint roller, though this depends on the surface you are treating. Some cleaners or brighteners can be applied using a crop sprayer, but this is not strictly necessary. Finally, a brush with hard bristles will be required for some products or for wood that is particularly grey in tone. It's also important to use appropriate protective equipment, such as a face mask, when working indoors, as well as safety goggles and protective gloves.
2. Prepare the exotic wood
Brighteners should be applied to unfinished wood – in other words, wood that is unvarnished and has not been treated with any other product. If this is not the case, you will need to sand down the whole surface twice: first using a 120-grit (or even 80-grit) sandpaper, then with 180-grit paper. This step is also useful for ensuring the brightener penetrates the surface properly.
3. Apply the wood cleaner or brightener
Depending on the condition of your furniture, you may need one or two layers of product. Quick tip: try out the product on a hidden part of your garden dining set first to check if the product reacts well with the material and works effectively. Most cleaners have to be kept in contact with the wood over a certain period of time in order to act (generally five to twenty minutes). The product will then have to be removed, along with any residue, before it dries. No matter which product or surface type you are working with, be sure to follow the application instructions carefully. To finish, give your garden dining set a quick rinse.
4. Create an even result
Some parts of your garden furniture may be more affected by greying than others. As such, an extra layer of brightener may be required in these areas to give the wood back its original tone and create the most even result possible. Brush the product onto any stubborn spots until you achieve the desired result.
5. A final sand down
Some cleaners or brighteners may damage the fibres of teak or eucalyptus. If this happens, you can sand down the surface one final time using a fine sandpaper with a grit of 180 or above. This will also help to improve the finish of your furniture over the final steps.
Exotic wood oils for a perfect finish
For efficient protection, teak or eucalyptus garden sets should be given a deep finishing treatment on a regular basis. This is where wood oils come into play. Unlike varnishes or stains, which remain relatively close to the surface of wood, these non-film-forming products penetrate deep inside the wood to protect it against the sun's harmful rays while still allowing it to breathe.
Remember that these finishes should be applied to your garden dining set regularly – especially over the first few years. Feel free to treat your furniture as much as once a year to ensure a long lifespan. Several types of finishing products are available. Most commonly used are colourless products for a natural finish or those with a teak finish to give teak furniture an even tone.
Varnishes or stain
Penetrating wood oils
There is not a great deal of difference between ordinary wood oils and so-called penetrating oils. The former works by soaking into the pores of the wood while the latter penetrates the wood fibres. That being said, it really all comes down to the product names which may vary depending on the manufacturer. In fact, both names can be used refer to the same product: manufacturers sometimes simply prefer to use the term ‘penetrating oil’! The bottom line is that all exotic wood oils serve the same purpose, so don’t worry too much about terminology when making your choice. The most important thing is to use a product designed specifically for your variety of exotic wood and to use a top-quality product where possible. If you want great results, you will have to invest a bit of cash!
The two products are, nonetheless, made slightly differently:
- Wood oils are usually made using only natural products and are therefore more environmentally friendly;
- Penetrating oils are water- or solvent-based resin blends containing various products designed to make exotic woods more resistant to UV light.
Applying wood oil in four steps
1. Choose the right tools
Exotic wood oil should ideally be applied using a flat brush. A roller with a short pile can also prove useful if your garden dining set has a large surface area (a table, for example). You will also need several rags for wiping off excess product. Do not forget to wear protective equipment like gloves, glasses and a mask!
2. Sand down the surface
To make your treatment more efficient, you can help to open the pores of your wooden furniture by sanding it down with 80- or 120-grit sandpaper. However, be careful not to over-sand the surface to the point of achieving a polished effect as this will actually prevent the oil from properly penetrating the surface. Finally, carefully dust off the surface of your garden dining set with a cloth or a brush.
3. Apply the wood oil
The first requirement for any effective treatment is to make sure your wood is perfectly dry. Feel free to store your teak or eucalyptus garden dining set indoors for a few days so that it can dry out fully. Wood oil should be applied in several layers until the wood cannot absorb any more product. Bear in mind that you will get a better finish if you apply two thin layers rather than one overly generous layer!
Treat your garden dining set by applying the product evenly, taking care to avoid dripping. Once the first layer has applied, you will need to wait a few minutes for the finish to soak in (per the manufacturer’s instructions). Apply a second or even third layer of wood oil, until the wood can no longer absorb the product. Once you reach this point, quickly wipe away any excess product before it dries; you will need to be very thorough with this step as any surplus product will quickly ruin your finish!
4. Regular maintenance
The lifespan of all wood oils is limited, meaning your wood will require regular top-ups. Over the first few years following treatment, you should apply one to two layers to the point of saturation with every passing year. After a while, the treatment intervals can be spaced out. However, you should remain at the ready to take out your brush at the first sign of discolouring!
To keep your garden furniture looking its best, follow the links below for advice from our editors and more helpful guides:
Guide written by:
Lucas, Antique wood-worker, Gloucester, 28 guides
After some time busting my hump at construction, specifically at renovation, painting, carpentry, laying kitchen and bathroom tile, I decided to get my degree as a Carpenter. And I did well because nothing is more pleasant than working on a timber frame or designing a wooden house. Everything about woodworking fascinates me, and building my own home in this material is one of my goals. I’m also a follower of construction tools: I love to learn about innovations, the way they’re used, the tips and tricks, or the performances of each new tool on the market, whether it’s for woodworking or not. I would be happy to advise you and help you with your choices. Happy Tinkering.