Best Outdoor Wood Sealers: Reviews and Application Guide

Throughout history, wood has been a favored building material largely because it’s easily worked and in plentiful supply. Yet, the consistent problem faced by centuries of woodworkers is how to prevent the timber from degrading. As wood is organic, it will warp, shrink, swell, and rot when exposed to moisture. 

The market is full of products that claim to slow or prevent wood from degrading. Known by the generic name of ‘wood sealer’, these products prevent water ingress through several methods we’ll discuss shortly. A wood sealer can be one of several products such as proprietary chemical sealers, polyurethane, hardening oils, and some stains. Let’s look at the various types of sealer you can buy.

Different Forms Of Wood Sealers

Before selecting an exterior wood sealer, it’s important to understand the different methods used to protect wood from moisture. Despite all the claims by manufacturers, there are three main protection methods:

  1. Form a waterproof surface film
  2. Partially block the capillaries of porous material
  3. A combination of points 1 and 2

Form A Waterproof Surface Film

These products effectively wrap the wood in its own raincoat, preventing moisture from reaching the wood. It’s a sound idea, and it’s how polyurethanes and varnishes work. While these products seep into the wood a little, this method’s effectiveness depends on the surface film’s integrity. If it becomes compromised, water will get in, and mold, mildew, and rot can begin. 

With these products, it’s a good idea to inspect them for condition and reapply if you see deterioration, although some products can survive for ten years. As wood can expand and contract with temperature changes, most formulations on the market include products such as oil to allow some flexibility to the surface film while helping nourish the wood. It also helps protect against scratches.

Block Capillaries Of Porous Material

Many products on the market today use silane, siloxane, or silicone as the active waterproofing ingredient. These products all have relatively small molecular structures capable of penetrating a porous surface’s gaps and capillaries and fully or partially blocking them. This partial blocking prevents the relatively large water molecules from entering yet allows smaller water vapor molecules within the timber to evaporate. The marketers call this a ‘breathable membrane.’

Silane has the smallest molecular structure and penetrates the deepest, which marketing-speak calls nano-technology; siloxane is slightly larger, and silicone is larger again and largely bonds on the surface. This size difference between the three explains why manufacturers use a combination in their products, enabling them to claim the ability to waterproof products with vastly different porosity, such as wood, concrete, and masonry.

Silane and siloxane are prone to wear and attack by salts, acid rain, corrosive airborne particles, and ultraviolet light, reducing their lifespan to a few years in most cases. Silicone is more resistant to deterioration and lasts longer, although it doesn’t penetrate as far.

Combining Capillary Blocking And Surface Protection

Every solution to a problem has advantages and disadvantages. We’ve seen how surface films depend heavily on the film’s integrity to maintain waterproofing effectively and that capillary blockers degrade rapidly from light, salts, and corrosive particles. It seems an obvious solution to combine the two and get the advantages of each while offsetting their disadvantages.

Today, products on the market do just that, allowing the capillary blocking products to do their work before sealing the surface with a waterproof film. If the surface film becomes compromised, the capillary blockers don’t allow the water molecules to enter. While it sounds like the perfect solution, your choice of waterproofing depends largely on what you’re trying to achieve, your application, and the timber to which your chosen product is applied.

Suppose the wood is naturally rot-resistant such as oak, and you’d like to retain the natural wood surface. In that case, a capillary blocker might be the answer, allowing the wood to breathe still, but keeping out water to ensure the longevity and look of your project. If the wood has been stained and is in a high-traffic area, polyurethane might suit better given its resistance to scuffing and scratching and the protection it gives the stain. As in all things, you need to make an informed decision.

Hardening Oils, Spar Urethanes, and Stains?

There are a few products that defy perfect classification. Tung oil is a natural oil made from the Tung tree’s nut, one of several hardening oils, with linseed, walnut, poppy seed, and perilla oils some other common choices. These oils seep into the wood, crosslink with oxygen, autoxidize, and harden. 

They work similarly to the silanes and siloxanes previously described by partially blocking wood capillaries to prevent water ingress. Yet I would describe these products more as water-resisting than waterproofing. They allow you to wipe up any spillage without lasting damage to the wood, but I wouldn’t be putting wood treated with Tung oil out in the weather and expect it to last a long time.

Spar urethane is a hybrid product worth discussing. It’s usually a mixture of oil-modified polyurethane, tung oil, and UV blockers. It’s a product designed for use in harsh marine environments, with an oil-modified polyurethane to give flexibility to the surface film, preventing it from cracking through movement, swelling, and heat. The Tung oil nourishes the timber, partially blocks the timber’s capillaries, and gives the wood that classic dark tone. The UV blockers increase the product’s life by slowing deterioration from UV rays. You might think it’s the perfect answer, and it is excellent, but it’s also very expensive and darkens the wood. If you can afford it and like the finish, it’d be my choice in very harsh climates.

You’ll often see stains advertised as stain-sealers, and some stains have a natural sealing ability based on their formulation. However, the primary purpose of a stain is to change the color of the underlying wood. If you wish to colorize and seal your project, use a stain-sealer designed for the purpose, or apply polyurethane over the top.

Applying Wood Sealers for Best Results

Regardless of the product, the preparation for application is much the same. While you should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, here are the steps that usually apply:

  1. If you apply the product to new wood, sand using no finer than 220-grit sandpaper. Do not use steel wool. Vacuum the sanding dust.
  2. If there are old finishes but in good condition, remove all traces of wax, grease, and dirt. You can use denatured alcohol and water, bleach and water, or simply warm soapy water. Once dry, sand lightly in the direction of the grain to remove any sheen and to provide a keying surface. Vacuum any dust.
  3. If there are clear finishes in poor condition, remove them completely, sand, and vacuum the dust.
  4. Ensure the surface is completely dry before application.
  5. Stir the product thoroughly but gently, being careful not to shake it.
  6. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the correct applicator; some products require synthetic brushes, and others natural bristle brushes.
  7. Apply the product in thin coats in the direction of the grain, being careful not to overbrush. Observe the recommended recoat times. Most products will need 2 to 3 coats for maximum protection.
  8. Be aware of the cure time for those products containing drying oils or oil-based polyurethanes. Until that time is past, be moderate in your use of the surface. Once cured, the maximum traffic can be applied.

Wood Sealers Category Top Picks – May 2024

Category and ProductSummary
THOMPSONS WATERSEAL THOMPSONS-TH.090001-03
Best Sealer Thompson’s WaterSeal Waterproofing Wood Sealer
This product by Thompson’s has great features. It seals and waterproofs by forming a protective surface film, cleans up in water, dries in 2 to 4 hours, and offers a range of transparency for color depth.
ZAR Poly High Performance
Best Polyurethane – ZAR Poly High Performance
We’ve chosen the ZAR product because it’s a tried and true product that’s tough, flexible, easy to apply, and cheap. Remember, this product will darken your wood slightly slightly. Yet, if you’re not fussed with a rich tone to your timber and you like the benefits a water-based polyurethane brings, this product’s the bomb.
Olympic Stain Smartguard Concentrated Multi-Surface Sealant
Best Capillary BlockerOlympic Stain Smartguard Multi-Surface Sealant
We like the Olympic Stain Smartguard product as it’s cheap and easy to apply, particularly for decks. It can be applied over damp wood, doesn’t get slippery after application, and doesn’t change the color of your wood. Having to mix it with water is a minor inconvenience.
Minwax Water Based Helmsman Spar Urethane
Best Spar Urethane – Minwax Helmsman Indoor/Outdoor Spar Urethane
This oil-modified spar urethane by Minwax is an outstanding product that users love. It’s price-competitive, has great water resistance, and adds a lovely glow to wood. I’ve used this product, and it’s easy to use and dries fast. Highly recommended!

Wood Sealers Reviews – 12 Best Products on the Market

We’ve reviewed twelve different exterior wood sealers to understand their specific applications, advantages and disadvantages, and gain feedback from users. We aim to give you the knowledge you need to select the most suitable sealer for your next project.

Rust-Oleum Ultimate Spar Urethane

Rust-Oleum 250041H Ultimate Spar Urethane Water Based
Photo: Amazon

Rust-Oleum manufactures this spar urethane designed to be applied to exterior wood to give a durable, water-resistant, UV-blocking finish. They keep the ingredients a closely guarded secret, but it’s water-based, dries quickly, and crystal clear, so you won’t get the yellowing that occurs with many polyurethanes. It has additives to protect against mold, but best of all, it’s a soap and water clean-up. It’s quite thin, being water-based, so you’ll need a minimum of four coats. It gets high ratings from users who praise its quality, clarity, and ease of use, and it helps that it’s cheaper than many of its competitors. 

Pros

  • Dries rapidly
  • Water-based
  • Great water resistance
  • Designed for harsh UV environments
  • Good scratch and impact resistance
  • Rave reviews from users

Cons

  • No details on ingredients
  • Like most urethanes, if applied over white paint, you may get discoloring
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Eco Advance Wood Siloxane Waterproofer

Eco Advance Exterior Wood Siloxane Odorless Spray-On Application Waterproofer Water Repellent
Photo: Amazon

This wood waterproofer can be bought as a concentrate or in a ready-to-use pack, as shown. The safety data sheet mentions the active ingredient is silicone. You apply it with either a brush, roller, or sprayer, and it dries within one to two hours. It’s designed for exterior wood, particularly decks, fencing, wood shingles, and plywood; it’s also safe for the environment and pets, cleaned up with water and soap. You don’t get UV blockers or oils with this sealer, although it’s claimed to resist mold and mildew. It’s a simple and cheap product that protects against water, oils, and stains.

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Easy to apply
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Users give positive reviews

Cons

Some poor reviews, although this could be due to application methods used

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Rust-Oleum Clear 902 Wolman Classic Wood Preservative

Rust-Oleum WOODLIFE 902 Wolman Classic Clear Wood Preservative-Above Ground
Photo: Amazon

Users praise Rust-Oleum Clear 902 Wolman Classic Wood Preservative; it lasts well, prevents mold growth, and is easy to apply. Milky and thin when straight out of the can, it dries clear within one hour and can be handled. It will need six to twelve hours before full use and 24 hours before a primer or topcoat is applied. Be careful to use personal protective equipment when applying this product as it is a possible carcinogen and skin sensitizer and can cause eye irritation. It cleans up in warm soapy water and, when dry, can be removed with mineral spirits.

Pros

  • Allows wood to gray naturally
  • Contains a fungicidal preservative to prevent mold and rot
  • You can use it under oil-based primer before painting or staining
  • Middle-of-the-road price
  • Water-based formula
  • Touch dry in one hour – can be walked on in six to twelve hours
  • Five-star reviews by users

Cons

  • Possible toxicity 
  • It could cause an allergic reaction in sensitive people
  • Strong smell during application

General Finishes Exterior 450 Water-Based Topcoat

General Finishes Exterior 450 Water Based Topcoat
Photo: Amazon

This General Finishes product is interesting, as it’s a water-based, clear-drying topcoat for exterior use. It’s designed to be used on vertical surfaces only and shouldn’t be used over white paints as they may yellow. However, it contains UV blockers and possesses anti-fungal properties. While the manufacturer suggests applying this by spray, it can be applied using a synthetic or foam brush or roller, liberally applying 2 to 3 coats.

Pros

  • Contains mold inhibitors and UV protection
  • Soap and water cleanup
  • Touch dry in 30 minutes and 2 hour recoat time

Cons

  • Can’t be used where water may pool or on decks
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Minwax Helmsman Indoor/Outdoor Spar Urethane

Minwax Helmsman IndoorOutdoor Spar Urethane
Photo: Amazon

Minwax is a well-known brand offering a good range of high-quality products, with this spar urethane designed for exterior surfaces, although you can use it inside. It contains UV blockers to protect the timber from graying and fading, and oil is included to give the coating flexibility and prevent it from cracking during temperature changes. However, the technical data sheet specifically mentions not using the product on large exterior surfaces such as decks and sidings, where maintenance is difficult. Given that’s where most people would use such a product, it seems a little strange. However, the price is competitive, even if you select the VOC-compliant product, which costs 50% more. It can be recoated in four hours and used normally in 24 hours.

Pros

  • Resists cracking due to oil modification
  • Great water resistance
  • Long-lasting – will survive for five to seven years before reapplication

Cons

  • Adds a light amber color to light woods
  • Requires mineral spirits for cleanup
  • Shouldn’t be used on decks or sidings
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Ready Seal Exterior Stain and Sealer For Wood

Ready Seal 105 Natural (Light Oak) Exterior Stain and Sealer For Wood
Photo: Amazon

Ready Seal exterior stain and sealer comprises an oil-based semi-transparent stain and resins for water resistance. Designed purely for exterior use, it’s one of the few exterior sealers we’ve looked at that doesn’t preclude application to decks and flooring. Users comment on its easy application and reasonable price. The semi-transparent stain still allows the woodgrain to show through, with a choice of eight colors. Applied by brush, roller, or sprayer, the manufacturer suggests two coats, allowing 45 minutes between each. The technical data sheet claims 2 to 5 years of life expectancy on vertical surfaces and 1 to 3 on horizontal surfaces. The oil-based product is not great for the environment, but it has a reasonably low VOC content, meeting all Federal and State requirements.

Pros

  • Reasonably priced
  • Shows the natural character of timber
  • Is water-resistant
  • Easy to apply

Cons

Reviewers claim the colors are darker than suggested

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RAIN GUARD Micro-Seal Silane Siloxane Water Repellent Sealer

Rain Guard Pro All Purpose Deep Penetrating Water Repellent Protection for Wood
Photo: Amazon

Micro-seal is a product designed to be sprayed onto either wood, masonry, or concrete, where it penetrates the surface and forms a water-repellent emulsion that prevents moisture transfer. You can use it on its own or as a primer underneath paint. The manufacturers claim that the proprietary product is unaffected by weathering, salt, dirt, UV, and wind-driven rain. While full chemical cure of the product takes seven days, you can use the sprayed area 60 minutes after application. It does not yellow, is VOC compliant, and inhibits mold and mildew growth. It also offers some graffiti protection if two coats are used.

Pros

  • Used by professionals
  • Cleans up with soap and water
  • Low odor and no VOCs
  • Safe around people, pets, and plants
  • Highly regarded by most users
  • Not expensive

Cons

Won’t seal cracks – only porous surfaces

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Roxil Wood Protection Cream

Photo: Amazon

Roxil wood protection cream is an interesting product. When opened, it looks thick and white, but when you apply the cream with a brush, it soaks into the wood and turns clear. One user said it’s like applying anti-wrinkle cream to wood. The product uses silicone for waterproofing, and 3-iodo-2-propynyl butylcarbamate as an anti-fungal and mold inhibitor. The product does not change the wood’s appearance, neither refreshing nor altering its color. All users have raved about this product, and the manufacturer claims you’ll get ten years of weatherproofing for softwoods and weathered hardwoods. One point to note is that 3-iodo-2-propynyl butylcarbamate is widely used in paints, but it is known to cause allergies, specifically contact dermatitis. If you use this product, wear the appropriate safety equipment. It takes 24 hours to dry properly.

Pros

  • Easy to apply
  • Single coat only required
  • Reduces warping and cracking
  • Odorless

Cons

  • Contains a biocide – always read the instructions before use
  • Might cause allergies
  • Uses mineral spirit to clean up
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Thompson’s WaterSeal Waterproofing Wood Protector

THOMPSONS WATERSEAL THOMPSONS-TH.090001-03
Photo: Amazon

Thompson’s WaterSeal is a premium wood sealer. You can buy it in a transparent form or with a stain included to penetrate the wood and add color before creating a barrier against moisture. It offers a range of transparencies from clear through to solid color, and you can choose from several different colors. The product contains polymers combined with UV protectors to provide protection for outdoor wood while resisting fading. Use soapy water for cleanup, and allow the painted surface to dry for two to four hours before recoating or light foot traffic, depending on the ambient temperature.

Pros

  • Highly regarded and well-known manufacturer
  • Available in ready-mixed colors and clear
  • Water-based for easy cleanup
  • Added UV protection from the colored product

Cons

Some users report the stain color does not reflect marketing photos

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Olympic Stain Smartguard Concentrated Multi-Surface Sealant

Olympic Stain Smartguard Concentrated Multi-Surface Sealant
Photo: Amazon

When you first view this product, your eyes might water at the price for such a small pouch until you realize it’s a concentrate, requiring you to add it to two gallons of water. Once that happens, the price seems a lot more reasonable. It’s another product that is absorbed into the wood and normally applied using a garden sprayer. According to the manufacturer, when the pouch is mixed, you’ll cover approximately 500 square feet, although I’m guessing that depends on your spray technique. It can be applied to damp wood, and you can use the surface one hour after application. Like many other products, it contains siloxanes and silicones, which provide the required water protection. Be careful when using this product, as it contains isothiazolinones, which may cause allergic reactions. 

Pros

  • Competitive price
  • You can apply it over damp wood
  • Doesn’t change the underlying wood color
  • Quick-drying

Cons

  • May potentially cause an allergic reaction
  • Requires mixing with water
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ZAR Polyurethane

ZAR Poly High Performance
Photo: Amazon

Polyurethane works by creating a flexible, water-resistant coating on the surface of wood. These days, you can buy water-based and oil-based polyurethane, with a big push by the industry to get everyone using the water-based product. While water-based is good, it isn’t quite as durable as oil-based, although it’s getting there. It’s also usually more expensive, but this product by ZAR is competitively priced. The benefits are that this product is touch dry in 30 minutes, ready for recoat in 2 hours, and available for maximum use in 24 hours. The manufacturer claims that this product gives maximum UV protection and long-lasting water resistance. It dries to a rich amber color.

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Easy to apply
  • Lasts a long time
  • Deepens the color of wood

Cons

  • Not for flooring

Defy Marine Seal Wood Dock Stain & Sealer

Marine Seal Wood Dock Stain & Sealer
Photo: Amazon

This product by Defy is one of the few products we reviewed that is recommended for decks, particularly marine docks, so you’ve got to think it has good protection. It comprises a zinc nano-sealer, acrylic resins, and the option of four stain colors. The application should use a nylon or polyester brush, a sprayer, or a roller. It’s important not to overapply this product; simply apply two light coats that the wood can absorb. If the wood is hard and dense, use one coat. Dry time varies from 2 to 6 hours depending on temperature, and you should allow 20 minutes between coats.

Pros

  • Premium pricing
  • Easy application by brush, roller, or spray
  • Rapid drying
  • UV resistant

Cons

It can only be used on dry surfaces

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Applying Wood Sealer for Best Results

Regardless of the product, the preparation for application is much the same. While you should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, here are the steps that usually apply.

  1. If you apply the product to new wood, sand using sandpaper no finer than 220-grit. Do not use steel wool. Vacuum the sanding dust.
  2. If there are old finishes but in good condition, remove all traces of wax, grease, and dirt. You can use denatured alcohol and water, bleach and water, or simply warm soapy water. Once dry, sand lightly in the direction of the grain to remove any sheen and to provide a keying surface. Vacuum any dust.
  3. If there are clear finishes in poor condition, remove them completely, sand, and vacuum the dust.
  4. Ensure the surface is completely dry before application.
  5. Stir the product thoroughly but gently, being careful not to shake it.
  6. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the correct applicator; some products require synthetic brushes, and others natural bristle brushes.
  7. Apply the product in thin coats in the direction of the grain, being careful not to overbrush. Observe the recommended recoat times. Most products will need 2 to 3 coats for maximum protection.
  8. Be aware of the cure time for those products containing drying oils or oil-based polyurethanes. Until that time is past, be moderate in your use of the surface. Once cured, the maximum traffic can be applied.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, Oils are suitable for waterproofing wood. Using a paintbrush, apply an oil finish to the wood, such as linseed oil or tung oil. Allow the oil to absorb and dry overnight before inspecting the coat. Apply a second (or even third) layer, if the depth of the oil finish isn’t to your liking. Allow two or three days for it to cure.

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Yes, you can seal wood naturally by using 100% all-natural Tung oil or 100% all-natural linseed oil. They will take 2-4 days to completely dry and might need multiple applications for protection against moistures.

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Yes, you can paint sealed wood. However, you must first prepare it properly. There are a few options for preparing sealed wood for fresh paint, but we like to use an oil-based primer. On sealed wood, the oil-based primer will adhere without any problems. After that, you may use latex paint to cover it up. All things considered, it’s a really simple procedure.

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New wood needs to be sanded to encourage the opening of the pores. If the wood was previously finished and you want to rejuvenate it, you’ll need to sand it down before applying the sealant. Before applying a sealer, all old wax or oils must be removed (even oils from the hands), and the surface must be sanded until it is completely dull with fine sandpaper. This will give the new sealer a good hold and prevent it from peeling off.

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The short answer: No, sealing wood will not make it completely waterproof. The long answer: Yes, sealing wood can make it entirely waterproof, but it takes numerous applications of sealer to make it entirely waterproof. The sanding and recoating procedure requires a great deal of patience and attention to detail.

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Varnish is a great sealer for making wood coasters waterproof. When compared to other finishing solutions, it has a high solids ratio. Spar varnish can be used to protect the coasters from scratches, as well as to waterproof them. You can also consider using Polyurethane, which has both water or oil-base. Oil-based polyurethanes are more durable, but they can also give a slight tint to the look of the coasters. Polyurethane coats can protect coasters from heat, which is especially useful if you use them to hold coffee or other hot drinks. One downside of polyurethane is it takes a long time to cure.

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The life of a seal on wood depends on different factors like the type of sealant, environment, no of coats, preparation before application. When all things considered well-done and in an ideal conditions seal should last 2 to 3 years.

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Nothing lasts forever, and a wood sealer is no exception. It is generally recommended that you re-seal your deck every 1-3 years. Of course, that’s a big range, so you should think about your conditions and materials when choosing a re-sealing schedule. Obviously, areas with more rainwater and harsher weather conditions will cause sealers to deteriorate more quickly.

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The usual way to apply a wood sealer is to use a brush. You should use a soft brush and spread it onto the surface, just as you would do with paint. It is recommended to use fast, brisk strokes because this stuff usually dries pretty quickly. Before you get started, it is important that you give your deck a good washing. Any dirt or debris that might be present will prevent the sealer from adhering to that spot. Thus, there will be a weak point in your deck’s protective armor. It’s also important to protect adjacent areas from any potential overspray.

In many cases, you will need to do some basic restoration before you can apply your wood sealer. If the deck is damaged in any way, a sealer will only trap the problem inside. First, go over the surface of the deck and drive any raised nails that you might see. As wood swells and contracts, it pushes the nails upward. That creates snags and will ruin the nice flat surface that you need. Use a hammer and punch so that you don’t have to strike the surface of the wood.

It will also be necessary to remove any remnants of the previous finish. These little bits of peeling paint will keep your sealer from doing its job, so all of it has to go. This can most easily be done using a pressure washer. If that doesn’t take care of the problem, your next step should be to apply a deck cleaning solution. If this is done, be sure to wet the grass and plants around your deck thoroughly. That way, any runoff will be diluted and made weaker. If you don’t do this, it’s very easy to kill your grass.

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Polyurethane is fully inert and safe for people. Although the polyurethane finish is harmless once it has dried and cured, the finish emits potentially dangerous compounds into the air throughout the drying and curing process, a process known as off-gassing. It is not advised to sleeping in a house with uncured polyurethane.

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Yes, we can seal wood without darkening it by using a water-based polyurethane sealer. Water-based polyurethane goes on clear, dries faster, and has almost no odor. Using a tiny brush, foam pad, or cloth, apply a very thin coat of polyurethane. To prevent raising the grain, work with it and don’t use too much polyurethane. After the first application has dried for a couple of hours, you may add a second coat.

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The result of Brush or spray can be comparable if you take time with brush strokes. You don’t have to worry about brush strokes or fibers from the brush getting into the finish when you use spray polyurethane. Sprays require a good technique to avoid drips and extra prep time to protect surfaces from overspray. It’s important to apply the polyurethane in thin layers that dry fast and don’t leave visible start and stop lines. I would suggest using what you are comfortable with, both methods have pros and cons. If you are applying Polyurethane for the first time my suggestion would be to use brush because it is beginner friendly compared to spray. Polyurethane that has not been properly cured might cause breathing issues and should be handled with care.

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Wood sealer is a plastic-based product that is used to coat wooden surfaces. This protects them from moisture and creates a smooth, transparent surface. Sealers work by penetrating the pores of the wood. When the sealant hardens, it hardens the entire surface of the wood at the same time.

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Polyurethane is essentially a plastic that is liquid until it cures, is available in both water and oil-based versions, and comes in several finishes ranging from satin to glossy. Because of its low toxicity and minimal odor, water-based polyurethane is popular. It goes on clear and dries considerably faster than oil-based alternatives, plus it doesn’t add any color. Water-based polyurethane is susceptible to heat and chemicals. It’s ideal for bookcases, desktops, and picture frames that won’t be subjected to high temperatures. Oil-based polyurethane is more durable than water-based polyurethane, especially when it comes to heat resistance, therefore it’s a smart choice for a kitchen table. Although polyurethane is frequently confused with being different then wood sealer, it is actually a form of sealer.

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Rather than applying the sealer with a brush, some people choose to use a garden sprayer as a way to deliver the sealant to its target.

You don’t want to try a paint gun because a sealant will clog the tip very quickly. A garden sprayer may also get clogged from time to time, but they are a little easier to clean. If you go with this option, I would recommend that you use a brush for the railings. The garden sprayer should work fine for the deck surface, but using it on the railings will just cause too much overspray.

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In some cases, you can find products that function as both stains and sealers. However, most people choose to use them separately. Staining and sealing are two completely different jobs that are done for completely different purposes. Stains are used to change the appearance of the deck by changing the color (or at least the shade). Sealers are generally transparent, so they don’t change the color of the wood. They do provide a nice shine, but sealers are meant to be functional rather than decorative.

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Some of the best ways to waterproof wood are: Using Oil to Waterproof Wood: Oil works best as a waterproofing solution for minor projects like treating a table or countertop. Oils are easy to apply and will protect against moisture. Tung oil and Linseed oil are the basis of modern hand-rubbed oils. Its protective characteristics aren’t as long-lasting as varnishes, but it’s popular for bringing out the character of wood with a pleasantly contrasting shine over the grain. Using Sealant to Waterproof Wood: Sealant can prevent scratches and abrasions on tabletops. As well as waterproofing the wood, it can also prevent wooden surfaces from getting scratched. They are often a clear/transparent finish that coats the wood’s exterior surface. Sealants such as polyurethane, varnish, and lacquer give excellent waterproofing. They’re brushed or sprayed over sanded, clean wood, then softly re-sanded and re-coated when they’ve dried fully. They offer high moisture resistance compared to the oil finish. Using Epoxy to Waterproof Wood: Epoxy can be used to give wood a waterproof and durable coating. It’s a good choice for wood projects that will be exposed to water in most circumstances. However, in some circumstances, utilizing epoxy as a finish is not recommended; however, you can still get the benefits of epoxy by using it as a sealer before applying your finish layer. While using epoxy to seal your project will take a little longer, the extra effort will pay off in the form of an enhanced lifetime and fewer maintenance costs.

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It is a good rule of thumb to go for Heartwood while shopping for wood. Heartwood, also known as duramen, is the dead center of a tree. Its cells typically include tannins or other chemicals that give it a dark color and, in certain cases, a fragrant scent. Here are some of the wood types that excel in resisting rot: Mahogany Mahogany’s great density and hardness make it extremely resistant to water and insects. It is noted for its great strength, stability, and longevity and is one of the most resistant wood to rot. It has a delicate, visible grain that sometimes spirals. Colors can be anything from gray to brown to red to orange, or a mixture of all four. The majority of Mahogany wood used in the United States comes from three countries: Mexico, Honduras, and the Philippines. Teak Teak has been dubbed the “gold standard” in terms of decay resistance. It’s also extremely long-lasting and termite-resistant. It is highly valued for its look and durability, but it is also fairly costly. Widely grown in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It seems to be golden to medium brown in hue, with the color deepening over time. The grain is usually straight, though it can be wavy on occasion. Black Cherry This wood is native to Eastern North America and is known for its durability and resistance to rot. It is reasonably priced wood. It is pinkish brown when freshly cut and darkens to a medium reddish brown with time and exposure to light. Except for a few curled grain patterns, the grain is usually straight and easy to work with. It has a smooth, consistent texture.

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The primary reason for sealing wood is to keep moisture out. If wood is left exposed to the elements without being sealed, it will rot. Water intrusion into wood can result in more than just fungal growth and decay. If wood freezes after absorbing water, it might crack. Water isn’t the only danger to your wood. UV rays from the sun can cause colors to fade and turn gray, and also cause wood to crack and split. One of the advantages of using a sealer on your woodworking projects is that it adds an extra layer of protection. It will hold its shape considerably better in the face of changes in the environment.

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Conclusion

All the products we’ve reviewed are great at what they do, but only you, as the consumer, know your specific application and aesthetic. I hope the information we’ve given helps you decide what features you need in an exterior wood sealer and allows you to make a selection appropriate to your budget, climate, and the look you want.

Its recommended to check our questions page for further consultatio). I hope that we have given you a good start on this process and that you will come back again for more of our honest advice. You can always ask us a question directly, or comment below.

William Stewart

The proud owner and lead writer of WoodImprove.com. Started writing in 2018 and sharing his love and passion for wood treatments and crafts.

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Finish Man
Finish Man
1 year ago

Good review of the different sealers – i am a technical rep for wood finishes and just wanted to add that there is one major difference between water based and oil based wood finishes – water based finishes dry to a porous coating(moisture vapor will still move in and out of the wood, slowly from humidity) – while oil based finishes seal the water vapor out(humidity will only move through uncoated areas of the wood). This is due to the chemical process of drying water vs oil/alkyd solvents…and causes confusion about what “sealed” means, they both seal out liquid water, but only oil seals the vapor also

Think of water based finish as tyvek(porous), and oil based as tar paper(non-porous) – my own opinion, from tracking many jobs over 25+ years, is that the manufacturers keep trying to make a water based wood finish perform as good as oil can, but haven’t got there yet – and may never, due to chemical differences

example – cabinet/furniture finishes are still high VOC oil/alcohol spray laquer that last a lifetime

Kevin
Kevin
2 years ago

We are repairing a wall in a kitchen above a door where there was a water leak. We would like to treat the 2×4 framing with a wood protector – kill any existing fungus/mold and protect future dry rot – before we sheetrock. Do you have a recommendation on the best treatment for interior framing that will not have the odors of something like Copper Green?

Zane
Zane
2 years ago

Lots of good information! Still confused..putting up a Cedar outdoor pergola kit in Ga. What kind of sealer would you recommend? It gets 90-100 degrees here in the summer and down to mid 30’s during winter [infrequent]. Thanks for your insight!

Kim
Kim
2 years ago

Hi William, what would you recommend to seal/protect a laminated wood outdoor stair riser in Montana. The wood that decorates the ceiling & walls of the covered deck are Blue pine & we used Tung Oil & love the look. We did the work ourselves so we know that Tung Oil takes several coats etc. The laminates used for the stair risers were already used outside for another purpose and we purchased them second hand because they were perfect for what we wanted. We have since sanded down the weathered outside & cut them to be the stair risers but we need to seal them. We love the laminate look & don’t want to hide it. They are 5 inches wide by 18 inches deep. 2 sets of stairs so lengths vary. Should we use the Tung oil or use something else?

nam
nam
2 years ago

I have a cedar deck put in last fall, what is best clear sealer and I live in Minnesota

owen
owen
3 years ago

Hello William,

Thank you for the informative article! I am going to seal the cedar deck and wondered what is the best option to go with. The wood is pressure-treated cedar and the condition is good. There are some cracks but nothing serious. The wood has not been painted before. Our area receives a lot of rain throughout the year and it would be nice to find a sealer+stain solution that would last a few years. I am in Canada and we have Thompson, Behr, Olympic and Sico brands for stained sealers. The reason why I look for a stained sealer is because some wood is discolored (gray color) while other parts are naturally yellow.

I would appreciate your help,

Owen

Larry Jenks
Larry Jenks
3 years ago

Hi, William…

I am very happy to have found you as an informed resource for wood sealers. Many thanks for your input and suggestions.

I have been working on a problem/project for over 15 years at my home church, Calvary Baptist Church in Denver, Colorado. I was recruited for this project because I was the only architect in the congregation. We have an outdoor courtyard where we have placed our columbarium, a repository for cremains (ashes) for people from the church who have passed.

Above the columbarium, we have a pergola. The pergola consists of exposed portions of the original wood framing for what used to be a mansard roof, to which we have added some 2x10s as horizontal extensions (I would be happy to share some photos or drawings, if I can figure out a way to do that). The wood framing from the original church construction (ca. 1959) was trusses made from common wood framing materials, although I do not know the exact species. The 2×10 horizontal members we added were also common wood framing members, I believe Douglas fir.

All of the wood members were initially stained with a solid color stain 16 years ago. I do not know what that product or manufacturer was. Over time, that original coating has deteriorated, as the pergola has a southern exposure to the sometimes brutal Colorado sun. At a time when I was living in Oregon, the columbarium volunteer staff hired a young member of the church to prepare and re-coat the pergola wood. Regrettably, he did not know how to prepare the surface, or how to apply new stain. I do not know what stain he used, but it did not hold up at all. By this time, I had moved back to Colorado, and was re-recruited to help address this problem.

I met with the local architectural rep for Benjamin Moore Paints to examine our pergola and make recommendations for remediation. Since the wood was crazed and cracked, and the coating was peeling, we agreed on scraping and sanding to get back to bare wood as much as we could, and then (as I recall) priming with B-M primer for solid color stain, and re-coating with B-M Arborcoat. Decaying wood was filled with a filler recommended by our painter. That work was completed two summers ago.

Now, just this short time later, the Arborcoat has failed and we need to re-prepare and re-coat once again. I am very disappointed in the Arborcoat, as I was of the impression that it would require only minor touch-up for at least several years. Since that did not turn out to be true, we are now searching for a different product that will stand up to the weather conditions better than the Arborcoat. That is what has led us to you.

I would very much like to know what you think about our pergola, and what product(s)/procedures you would recommend. I sincerely hope that you have some time to work with us on this problem, as we are a bit uncertain about who else to ask. If you can recommend someone, I would welcome that. Many thanks in advance. If you would like photos, or to discuss this further, I can be reached at the e-mail address or phone number below.

Larry Jenks

Stacy Michalek
Stacy Michalek
3 years ago

Please help me!! I’ve been reading so many sites I’m getting confused. I’m building a feral cat house and need to seal/waterproof it. So I need an outdoor, non toxic will work on plywood and last at least 3-4 yrs. Can you help me?

Bruce Cicone
Bruce Cicone
3 years ago

I am using ash cladding in a bathroom. What products would you recommend for water proofing? The wood will be in a high moisture area but not in direct contact with water excepts for some droplets, mist and occasional splash.

Eileen Doss
Eileen Doss
3 years ago

I have a wooden lattice plant stand that will be manly in the house.What kind of water seal would you recommend?

will drobnick
will drobnick
3 years ago

hi William, i have in the past 50 years been collecting drift and other unique woods from the rivers and streams and mountains of Colorado and New Mexico. Now I am going to put these pieces together to make a waterfall/fountain. So Thanks for the wealth of your experiences with goods of the woods. I need the best sealer for submersible, soft woods that will repel molds, prevent deterioration, after dry outs. I am not worried about the color, of the evenness of the coating. But I do need something that would not change the color of the grey weathered wood. Can you advise me of the best sealant/protectant/tough finish for such a project. Thank you for your expertise.

Betty J.
Betty J.
3 years ago

About 8 years ago, I replaced some railway ties for retaining wall in my garden and around the window well. I was told that they were treated I would not have to apply anything but about 5 years ago, I noticed. that some of them are starting to dry and crack. I used a wood sealant and repeated treatment 2 years later. What would you recommend as a good water protectant and sealant? How often do I need to reapply?

Dawn Nunnally
Dawn Nunnally
3 years ago

I recently purchased a house that the deck had been painted. Maybe a few years ago, so it was in need of another coat. I repainted with an exterior high gloss paint, after caulking a few bad places, wondering what kind of sealant I can use over the paint. This was s lot of work, as its 16’x17’, and I don’t want to do it again anytime soon. What sealer can give me extra longevity? Thanks

Jaqui
Jaqui
3 years ago

Hi I have used several types of stain and oil on my decking but nothing seems ok. I have three dogs who wee on the decking so need to know what to use first an oil or a sealer . The decking has been pressure washed and is now back to basic . Now I want to coat it But where to start? Thanks

michelle Wieting
michelle Wieting
3 years ago

We have a cedar screen door which we applied 2 coats of cedar-seal two years ago. The outside is now grey and doesn’t looks bad, It faces east so it’s in the sun most of the morning. Looking to possibly stain then seal it to keep it from turning grey again. What is the best way to get the old Cedar-seal off so it can be stained, also can I use Australian timber oil to stain then seal with Cedar-seal? We live in Wisconsin so it needs to stand up to cold weather and lots of snow. Thank you.

Kim S
Kim S
3 years ago

Hi, I’m reposting as my original did not seem to go through. I’m building a custom horse barn and had the builder make pine barn end doors. The doors Dave northeast and I’m in east Colorado with sun, wind, and snow/rain
I would like a medium brown stain and the best possible finish so I do t have to sand and redo annually. Also don’t want warping! What do you suggest?

Kim S
Kim S
3 years ago

Hi, I’m building a barn and have double barn end doors faced on the exterior with pine. They are northwest facing but will get a morning and afternoon sun, as well as wind and rain/snow. I’m east of Denver, CO. I would like to stain and seal(?). Should I use a marine type sealer? Can you suggest a product and compatible stain? Thx!

John D.
John D.
3 years ago

So, the concrete on my little back patio, that was put in back in the 60s, had finally gotten to the point of no repair. Instead of busting it out and spending a crap-ton of money on a new slab, I put together a little deck made from pallet wood. It’s roughly an 8x10ft space and the wood is a 3/4in yellow pine. I’m at a loss to decide what product to choose, any recommendations you have would be a blessing.

keith a dewey
keith a dewey
3 years ago

Am still sceptIcal. What is a true CLEAR oil base wood sealer? The last two that I used left a yellow tinge and only lasted (before gray set in) one year.

Michelle
Michelle
3 years ago

Hi, I have never done any wood work before, but I inherited an wood outdoor bench and would really appreciate your advice. I have no idea what wood the bench is made of, but I suspect that is was previously stained and varnished. The bench was outside for over 10 years with no maintenance and was flaking and the wood underneath was becoming discoulored. I have stripped off the old varnish (which took many coats on the detail areas), have sanded down the wood and am now getting ready to stain and protect the bench. It will live outdoors year round in the Pacific Northwest (rain!), and I really don’t want to have to do anything to the bench for years to come as this has been a lot of work. Based on your responses to the comments above it looks like you’d recommend the Rust-oleum marine spar varnish after the stain. I this correct, or do you have an other suggestion for this situation. thanks again for your help

alberto pulido
alberto pulido
3 years ago

I used copper green brown on some 6×6 cedar fence posts. Can you reccomend an oil based sealer? Thank you.

Nikki Savage
Nikki Savage
3 years ago

Hi! I tried posting earlier, the page timed out & doesn’t look like it went through? I aplogize if it’s a duplicate.
I have no idea what I am doing & have been reading & rereading your reviews (which are great btw). I am still unsure about which product to use & the application. I just purchased a tabletop made from reclaimed wood, a mix of “spruce, pine, fir, etc.” that lists it as having a water based urethane matte finish. It said is not recommended for outdoor use. That is what I bought for, it will be outside year round under an open umbrella. I live in the NE, in terms of weather conditions. I figured I could just seal it and it would be ok? I don’t want to ruin the stain & texture by sanding the current finish off. Can I apply a sealer over this urethane and what product would you recommend & that will also provide UV & water protection? Thank you!

Nikki Savage
Nikki Savage
3 years ago

Hi, I have zero clue what I’m doing. I just purchased a reclaimed wood tabletop for an outdoor table under an umbrella, it’s usually always open. Listing says “mix of spruce, pine, fir, etc.”. It says it has a water based urethane matte finish & is not recommended for outdoor use. I figured I would just seal it and use it outdoors.
Can I apply a sealer over this urethane finish without sanding? I don’t want to ruin the look & stain. What product would be best to do so? Thanks!

Nikki Savage
Nikki Savage
Reply to  William Stewart
3 years ago

Thank you very much! I couldn’t find anywhere if it was ok to do that. I appreciate it!

Andrea
Andrea
3 years ago

We just purchased an outdoor deck dining table made from acacia wood. We want to protect it from the rain/sun. What would you recommend treating/staining it with that would be low maintenance?

Linda Biggs
Linda Biggs
3 years ago

My brother and I need to seal diy walnut board and batten siding for an enclosed front porch. The walnut was harvested off our farm and has been stacked with spacers for over ten years . One side will be planed. We live in the humid mountains of the Carolinas near Brevard, North Carolina….our average rainfall is 68″ a year.

Should I seal the ends of the boards with an end grain sealer? Because of the rainfall amount I thought about using Waterlox Marine sealer, but the Seal Once Exotic Premium Wood Sealer or Totalboat Marine Spar Varnish look promising. What would you suggest.

Thank your for your time and sharing of information.

Linda
Linda
3 years ago

Fabulous! What a great article and you really know your stuff. I have just spent a week trying to work out the best solution for my cedar external handrail. The difficulty is with some of the products, if you get it wrong you are goosed!
I have sanded off all the old product and the wood looks good but does need some colour so I will follow the instructions for the gates above. Thank you again.

Andrea Rizzo
Andrea Rizzo
3 years ago

Hello,
We just purchased an outdoor dining table with an Arcadia wood top. It’s on a stone deck and we’ll have an umbrella up, but only when we’re using the table so it will be exposed to a lot of direct sunlight.

Can you recommend the best oil or treatment to help protect the table? It seems Tung or Linseed oil might be best but I was confused about some of the caveats with those options especially since it’s a dining table and we have young children.

Chris
Chris
3 years ago

Thompson’s water seal now has a new product teak oil .I don’t hear you mention it.I have a new pressure treated deck,what is your opinion on a sealer only?

Adair Roper
Adair Roper
3 years ago

Hi I enjoyed your articles but I am also confused as to where to start. I have old 60 year old gates that hung outside for 30 years and then were stored in my shed for 30 years. I have re hung them at my farm entrance on an electritonic gate opener. They need to be stained and sealed or varnished. It is not a project I want to do annually. What do you suggest??

S Friedrich
S Friedrich
3 years ago

I have an older White Mountain wooden electric ice cream maker. On the bottom of the wooden tub the glue like sealant is pealing away. I contacted the customer service department, but she was unable to recommend a solution. I found your website, and hope you have some suggestions. Thanks

Swanson
Swanson
3 years ago

Thank you for the informative brush-up, William. Possibly related follow-up question that i’ll attempt to make short… Finished rapidly greying salvaged wood planks (unknown type) with basic floor poly and need a recommendation for a sealant that wont advance the greying of the wood if possible. Thanks much.

lisa
lisa
3 years ago

Hi: Your article was very informative; however, I still am alittle confused as to what to use. I have a cedar 10×12 gazebo. I recently discovered that I have carpenter bees!! Never heard of them but found that they are quite common. I have treated the carpenter bees but have been told that I should seal my gazebo because they don’t like the “smell of the sealer and therefore, wont come back. Which sealant do you recommend? I definitely don’t want the graying….the wood is a beautiful natural color. HELP!!

Karen Schmidt
Karen Schmidt
3 years ago

Hi. I used Thompson’s water seal on a cedar porch swing. Do you know what I can do to either get rid of the oily feel or what I could paint over it with to stop the oily feel? Thanks much.

Pat
Pat
3 years ago

Removed paint from DF siding on 1920s home. What can i apply to condition or preserve wood before oil base primer?

Paul Sangree
Paul Sangree
3 years ago

WARNING – Thompson’s water seal in aerosol spray cans has been recalled by the manufacturer because the product reacts chemically with the metal can, which could result in the can rupturing spontaneously. Since the product is highly flammable, this could result in an explosion if it is stored near a fire source. See https://recall.thompsonswaterseal.com. Note that only the aerosol spray form of the product is impacted by the recall.

Jamie Coe
Jamie Coe
3 years ago

What’s your choice of sealer for a wood chicken coop? The description says the wood used is Fir. Thanks
Jamie

Ashwin
Ashwin
4 years ago

Wonderful post. Thank you!

I’m a woodworking noob. As a very simple starter project, I’m building my own desk by buying metal table legs and buying a kitchen countertop (https://www.homedepot.ca/product/interbuild-72-inch-x-25-5-inch-x-1-5-inch-acacia-wood-kitchen-countertop-unfinished-live-edge/1001123400).

The countertop is unfinished, and I need to finish it. What’s the best sealer to use to protect acacia wood for a home office desk?

Ray Moore
4 years ago

Very good review. I have a question regarding re-coating a pressure treated deck that is two years old that was originally coated with an oil based sealer (Thompson’s I believe). Can I use a water based sealer now over the original oil based sealer or must I always use oil based sealers?

DAUN YOUNG
DAUN YOUNG
4 years ago

Hi! We just built a small deck around our hot tub and used a semi transparent sherwin williams deck stain. However we don’t feel that it water proofed the wood much. Can we put the Thompsons water proof clear over the stain we used? It was a water based stain and we put two coats.
Thanks

Randall
Randall
4 years ago

Looking at Lowes website , the Thompsons bad reviews are horrible??
I have a new treated privacy fence put up today and the fence builder said to stay away from Thompson products? I went to the Lowes site and sure enough, the low reviews are bad, I’m confused on what to use.

Iftekhar Al Mahmud
4 years ago

Hello William, I want to know which sealers are suitable for dry wood?

Pete Hardy
Pete Hardy
4 years ago

Got a summer house that’s letting in water through gaps. Is there any sealer you would recommend to help to seal the gaps and make it water proof

Justin
Justin
4 years ago

Hi William,

If you were to seal or oil a spotted gum deck what product would you chose or recommend?

Cheers Justin

Harold S Guy
Harold S Guy
4 years ago

I have an exterior bar that I just built. It has a burnt wood finish that I would like to keep its look. What kind of sealer or polyurethane would you recommend. I would like a non yellowing clear finish that doesn’t have to be applied every year

Deb Thramer
Deb Thramer
4 years ago

I have a question, I removed the varnish, stain from kitchen cabinets and like the color of the natural wood, I was told they are birch . I do not want to stain them so what do I put on them to protect them. Do not want too much shine on them. First time doing this, how far down do I sand can I go too far? Thank you

Justin
Justin
4 years ago

Hey Guy,

I have just finished 2x spotted gum decks, I’m chasing a sealer that doesn’t not change the colour of the timber. Is it possible to get a sealer/oil that makes the deck look wet all year round? and bring the massive colour variations out in the timber. what would be the best product to help achieve this results?

Cheers Justin.

Ann
Ann
4 years ago

Hi – what would you recommend for a wooden playhouse? thanks!!

Man Y Li
Man Y Li
4 years ago

Hi there,
Thanks for the article, good information.
We’re building a new cedar fence and looking for weather protection to extent the look and life of the wood. The Agri Life Cedar-Seal sounds great as we will have fruit plants growing next to the fence, so non-toxic is pretty important. However, since there will be plants, it won’t be easy to sand and reapply the seal. The con, “Fades faster than comparable products,” is worrying me a bit. Would you still recommend the Cedar-Seal or one of the other sealers?

Erin Salt
Erin Salt
4 years ago

For exterior of porch with mahogany structure and screen frames (all vertical surfaces) 300 yds from salt water bay, plenty of sun and rain I’d like these characteristics: A. 1 coat application with minimal prep and pretty easy re-application in subsequent yrs; B. Won’t darken mahogany much or at all; C. Controls mildew; D. Some greying of wood ok.

We just sanded all surfaces after another product that we weren’t happy with after 2 yrs, so now we’re ready for a new better approach.

What are your recommendations?

margrette young
margrette young
4 years ago

thanks for your article. i have an unusual problem. i have a large exterior dome (7 metres or 23 feet in diameter, and 11.5 feet high) made of marine ply or possibly simply plywood (5 ply).
the dome structure has 2 skins (= 4 surfaces). in addition, endgrains are exposed where circles are cut out of the main surfaces..
it needs to be protected against subtropical rain and sun. (I am in Australia)
and because it is so large and complex, i need the protective surface to last for at least 5 years, i cant contemplate re-doing it more often.
can you suggest what to use to protect from it rain and sun please?

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