Maple is one of the most popular woods used for furniture today. Its attractive grain patterns and smooth finish make it a go-to choice for everything from kitchen cabinets to bed frames. But how does this indoor favorite hold up when used outside?
Outdoor furniture is subjected to rain, snow, intense sunlight, and other elements that can weather wood over time. So is maple a wise option for outdoor use? Or are other woods better suited for patio sets, garden benches, and deck chairs?
This article will explore the appeal of maple wood, its vulnerabilities outdoors, better alternatives, and steps you can take to protect maple in outdoor furniture projects.
The Appeal of Maple Wood
Several qualities make maple so widely used indoors that also attract woodworkers for outdoor projects.
Maple is known for its strength and density. The wood grains are tightly packed together, creating a hardy material. This makes maple furniture sturdy and durable. Outdoor furniture needs to be able to withstand weight and shifting that comes with regular use. The strength of maple makes it able to handle the demands of an outdoor environment.
Maple has a smooth, uniform texture and light color that many find visually appealing. The wood can take stain well, allowing for customizable colors ranging from light natural hues to dark walnut. The tight grain patterns create attractive lines across the wood. Maple is an ideal choice for those wanting outdoor furniture with refined, eye-catching looks. Its ability to be stained in various tones allows the furniture to complement diverse decors.
Versatility in Staining
While many lighter woods can be difficult to stain darker colors, maple is surprisingly versatile. Its fine, dense grain accepts different stains readily. With the abundance of stains and finishes available today in ranges from transparent natural colors to solid paint-like hues, maple can be easily customized to achieve distinct looks. Even black stains can be applied successfully to maple. This diverse stain versatility enhances maple’s attractiveness for indoor and outdoor furniture.
The Downside of Using Maple for Outdoor Furniture
While maple has qualities that make it desirable for outdoor projects, the wood also has some vulnerabilities that must be considered.
Lack of Natural Resistance
One downside of maple is its lack of natural defenses against outdoor elements. Woods like cedar and teak contain oils that make them naturally resistant to moisture, rot, and insects. Maple contains no such oils. This means it can easily absorb water when exposed to rain and snow. Over time, this moisture seeped into the wood cells can lead to warping, cracking, and decay. Without protective treatment, maple left outdoors will quickly weather and degrade.
Maple also has an open wood grain that allows finishes to penetrate deep into the wood. Unfortunately, this penetrating stain also allows moisture, mildew and potential rot to take hold inside the maple. This increases the need for diligent maintenance and reapplication of protective finishes.
Without natural oils to fend off pests, maple is also prone to insect infestation outdoors. Termites, carpenter ants, and powderpost beetles can cause major damage if left unchecked. Even with routine maintenance, maple lacks innate defenses against wood’s biggest threats.
The tight grain of maple that gives it a smooth finished look also causes headaches when applying stains and sealers to outdoor furniture. The wood’s density makes it more difficult for protectants to penetrate. achieved with multiple coats.
The maple is left more vulnerable to moisture and sunlight damage without full penetration. The surface needs more frequent applications of finish to maintain protection. This applies to both stain colors and clear protective top coats. Maple’s tight grain leads to more work keeping the outdoor wood sealed and looking its best.
The lack of natural oils also means maple needs more frequent maintenance overall. Unprotected maple left outside can start showing wear and damage after just one season of exposure to rain, sun, and other elements. To retain its beauty and function, maple outdoor furniture requires diligent upkeep.
Maple is more prone to damage from environmental factors than woods with built-in defenses. Intense sunlight can cause surface cracks and peeling topcoat finishes as the wood expands and contracts through temperature changes. Driving rain beating down on the wood can lead to erosion of finishes and moisture seeping in unless frequently reapplied.
Fluctuations in moisture from rain to sun cause greater expansion and contraction, loosening joints and hardware over time. As a strong hardwood, maple stands up well under normal conditions. But constant exposure to sun, rain, snow, and humidity accelerates wear and tear. Without proper maintenance, maple left outdoors will quickly deteriorate.
Alternatives to Maple for Outdoor Use
If the vulnerabilities of maple have you looking at other wood options, several alternatives are naturally better suited for outdoor furniture.
This tropical hardwood is the go-to premium choice for outdoor furniture. Teak contains oils that give it natural weather-resistance and allow it to withstand sun, rain, and humidity without finishing. The oils ward off insects as well. Though expensive, unfinished teak can last for decades outdoors with minimal maintenance beyond an annual cleaning.
For a more affordable option, cedar is an excellent outdoor wood. The natural oils in cedar offer good resistance to moisture, rot, and bugs. Its distinctive red hue grays naturally to an attractive silver patina over time. Cedar’s softness compared to maple does make it more prone to dents and scratches from use. But overall it holds up better than maple when left unfinished.
Redwood shares similarities to cedar but with a more attractive pinkish-orange color. Redwood also contains oils that help protect against weathering and insects. Once commonly used for outdoor furniture, overharvesting makes redwood less available today. But it remains a good, environmentally friendly option for deck chairs, benches, planter boxes, and other outdoor projects.
Added Protection in Natural Oils
These wood species all contain natural oils called extractives. These oils offer protection from moisture, fungal rot, and pests – maple’s biggest vulnerabilities. The extractives allow these woods to better withstand outdoor exposure without finishes.
With routine maintenance – light sanding and resealing every 2-3 years – these naturally resilient woods can endure outdoors for decades, far longer than unprotected maple. Their natural defenses buy time between upkeep sessions. Maple requires much more frequent maintenance by comparison.
So while maple furniture may look great on a patio or deck initially, its lack of natural oils means it won’t hold up as well long-term without diligent care. Woods like teak and cedar have innate advantages for outdoor use.
Protective Measures for Maple Outdoor Furniture
While maple lacks natural defenses, you can take steps to protect it and prolong its life outdoors. Let’s look at some ways to fortify maple for the elements.
Applying protective finishes formulated for outdoor use is key to maple’s survival outside. Regular applications of these finishes are needed to maintain protection, but the right products can extend maple’s resilience.
Outdoor-Rated Polyurethane, Lacquer or Varnish
Polyurethane is commonly used for indoor maple furniture for its durable protection and water-resistance. Outdoor-rated polyurethane is even more robust with UV inhibitors to resist sun damage. Multiple coats provide a protective barrier against moisture and surface wear.
Marine grade polyurethane, spar varnish, and outdoor lacquer also provide strong waterproofing. Reapply these finishes every 1-2 years as needed, especially on horizontal surfaces like tabletops and chair arms that see more weathering. Consistent resealing is key to preventing deterioration.
For the ultimate moisture barrier, epoxy resins are the most heavy-duty option. Epoxy forms a plastic-like shield across the wood’s surface. It provides superior UV resistance and seals the maple completely from water intrusion. Epoxy is especially useful for tabletops. The smooth sealed surface also makes cleaning easier.
Epoxy does have a glossy look that alters maple’s natural appearance, where more traditional finishes like polyurethane maintain a more natural satin sheen. And epoxy will need reapplication every 2-4 years as it wears. But for maximum protection, marine grade epoxy is hard to beat.
Some outdoor wood finishes contain bleaching oils like tung oil or linseed oil. These penetrate deeply to displace moisture while lightening color to a grayish driftwood appearance. This color change helps mask the aging of weathered maple.
Bleaching oils reduce dark staining from mildew and provide some protection from UV rays. Multiple coats will be needed for full protection. And since bleaching oils don’t leave a surface film, reapplication 2-4 times yearly is recommended. But they offer a more natural oil-based alternative to traditional varnish or lacquer.
For stained maple furniture, be sure to use sun-protectant stain formulated for outdoor use. These contain pigments with UV inhibitors that better resist fading caused by the sun’s rays. Reapply stain every 2-3 years or whenever fading becomes noticeable.
A topcoat like spar urethane varnish should still be applied over outdoor stain for added protection. The varnish shields the stain from wearing away and provides crucial waterproofing. Follow the finish manufacturer’s recommendations for reapplication timelines.
Consistent refinishing is the key to maple’s longevity outside. While more maintenance intensive than naturally resilient teak or cedar, using the right combination of stain and protective topcoats can allow your maple patio set or deck furniture to remain beautiful for years of enjoyment.
In addition to commercial outdoor finishes, some homeowners opt for natural oils to protect maple outdoors.
Raw Linseed Oil
Linseed oil is derived from the seeds of the flax plant. It penetrates deep into maple to displace moisture while leaving a flexible, breathable finish. Linseed oil contains drying agents that cure a hardened state in the wood pores. This helps protect against water and weathering.
Reapplication every 2-4 months is recommended, as linseed oil provides no surface protection from UV rays. But it’s an eco-friendly option for those wanting to avoid varnishes with harsh chemical fumes.
Tung oil offers deeper penetration than linseed while forming more of a surface barrier for added protection. It creates a flexible, water-resistant finish without the plastic-like qualities of polyurethane or epoxy.
Tung oil also resists mildew growth. Multiple applications are needed for full protection, with reapplication every 1-2 years. Tung oil is a durable yet natural-looking option for finishing maple outdoors.
Rubbing beeswax into maple can help seal the pores and provide short-term moisture resistance. It leaves a pleasant luster and wood scent. But beeswax offers very minimal protection from UV rays. Frequent reapplication is needed, making it best for small outdoor projects.
For larger maple furniture, liquid beeswax wood polish can be applied and buffed to a protective sheen. This must be renewed every 4-6 weeks when used outdoors. Beeswax is not a practical long-term barrier for outdoor maple furniture but can help maintain its good looks between heavier finish applications.
Vinegar and Baking Soda
For a non-toxic cleaning option, a mix of white vinegar and baking soda can brighten and help protect outdoor maple furniture. The solution helps remove grime and light stains from weathering.
Baking soda is a natural abrasive that removes dirt buildup from small cracks and crevices in the wood. The acetic acid in vinegar kills mold and mildew growth while neutralizing the maple surface. This helps remove darkened areas caused by moisture.
Regular cleaning with a vinegar and baking soda solution can help maintain maple’s appearance between heavier protective coatings. But it provides no stand-alone protection from major weathering and water damage.
What are the best finishes to use for protecting maple outdoor furniture?
Polyurethane varnish, spar varnish, and epoxy resin provide the strongest waterproofing barrier. Outdoor lacquer also offers robust protection. Opt for finishes specifically formulated for outdoor use.
How often should I apply a finish to my maple outdoor furniture?
Every 1-2 years for traditional varnish and lacquer, every 2-4 years for epoxy. More frequent touch-ups on tabletops and seating surfaces with more wear may be needed. Inspect finishes yearly and reapply when you notice wear, cracking or cloudiness.
Are there any natural remedies for protecting maple outdoor furniture from weather damage?
Linseed and tung oils help repel water while letting the wood breathe naturally. Beeswax provides temporary protection that needs frequent renewal. A vinegar and baking soda cleaning solution can help maintain appearance between refinishing.
Could the lack of natural defenses in maple be compensated with treatments?
Yes, using the right combination of penetrating oils and protective topcoats can help maple survive years outdoors. But it lacks the innate qualities of woods like cedar and teak, requiring much more frequent maintenance.
Is the extra cost of rot-resistant woods justified?
Often yes – their natural oils save on upkeep costs long-term. But maple can work if you don’t mind the continuous care needed to keep it looking good and protected from the elements.
How important is aesthetics in choosing wood for outdoor projects?
It’s one of the main reasons people choose maple – for its attractive, fine-grained look. But maintenance should be the primary factor, since no finish stays beautiful forever outside. Prioritize woods that hold up best with your desired level of upkeep.
Maple, a visually appealing wood, is ideal for outdoor furniture due to its smooth texture, light color, and ability to withstand various stains. However, it requires high maintenance due to its lack of natural oils, which can lead to moisture absorption and potential rot over time. However, maple can weather faster than woods with built-in defenses like cedar and teak. To maintain its beauty and function, regular upkeep is necessary. Natural weather-resistance woods are generally the better option for outdoor furniture and landscaping projects due to their innate qualities, which make them less prone to water damage, decay, and pests. Choosing a naturally resilient wood for outdoor furniture offers the best return on investment and ease of maintenance.