5 Best Stains for Adirondack Chairs in 2024

Adirondack chairs are an iconic piece of garden furniture. If you haven’t heard of one before, you’ve probably seen one. They are wide-backed chairs with slats and a seat that slants backwards so it’s higher at the front than the back.

Like any outdoor wooden furniture, Adirondack chairs need to be protected against the elements. This guide will help you choose the perfect product and take you through the process of staining your chairs. 

Does the Wood Type Matter?

Yes, you should always consider the type of wood when choosing a stain. Individual wood species differ in the type of grain, with some having an open grain that absorbs stain more easily. Oak and Cedar, for example, are among the best types of wood for staining as they have very large pores. Other types of wood like pine, cherry, birch and maple are far harder to stain well. 

As a general rule, oil-based stains work best on wood with a tighter grain. On wood types with a very open grain, the oil is absorbed too deep into the wood and you need lots of coats to get a nice finish. Water-based stains tend to be better, in this case. They’re also a good choice for wood that already has a natural resistance to moisture, mildew, and insect damage. 

That said, the range of stains, both oil and water-based, is so big these days that you can find options of both types that will work. Water-based is a good choice because it’s easier to apply and clean up, and the drying times are much lower. However, some people prefer the aesthetic of oil, especially if they are trying to bring out the natural look of the wood.

Adirondack chairs are often made from Teak, Cedar, or Pine. Water-based stains will give you excellent results on all of these wood species. 

5 Best Stains for Adirondack Chairs

1. General Finishes Exterior 450 Water Based Wood Stain General Finishes Exterior 450 Water Based Wood Stain, 1 Quart, Red Mahogany

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General Finishes Exterior Water Based Wood Stain is a great sustainable water-based stain that can be used on all kinds of outdoor projects, including your adirondack chairs. It contains mildewcides and UV inhibitors to help maintain the color for longer and stop the wood from fading.

The coverage is excellent and the stain goes on nicely with a brush or a sprayer. It’s available in a range of different wood shades, so you can easily find something to suit your tastes. Just bear in mind that some shades are very dark compared with other stains, so always do a test spot first.

General Finishes is a popular brand amongst experienced woodworkers because their products are simple and very effective, and this stain is no exception. 

2. Defy Extreme Wood Stain Defy Extreme Wood Stain 1-Gallon (Cedar Tone)

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Defy Extreme Wood Stain is one of the best performing wood stains money can buy. The water-based formula contains revolutionary zinc nano-particles, which reflect UV rays and give superior protection against fading and sun damage. They also prevent mold and mildew growth at the same time, so you can expect better longevity with this stain compared with most other water-based products. The resins in the wood have an excellent hardening effect too, so it increases the strength of the deck.

It applies very nicely and the stain soaks very deep into the wood, giving you a durable non-filming coating that won’t be easily damaged by normal foot traffic. The Cedar Tone is particularly nice on furniture and does a great job of highlighting the grain, which is something that is often lacking in water-based stains. Even a few years after application, you will not notice much change in the color at all.

With this kind of performance, you may expect it to be filled with lots of harsh chemicals but it’s actually a very eco-friendly product. Really, there are very few negatives to using this stain but, as you’d expect, you will have to pay a premium for it. If you don’t mind reapplying more regularly, you could go for a cheaper option but often, it’s worth investing in quality.

3. Krylon Exterior Semi-Transparent Wood Stain Krylon K03601000 Exterior Semi-Transparent Wood Stain, Cedar, 12 Ounce

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If you want an easy option, Krylon Exterior Semi-Transparent Wood Stain is great because it comes in a handy spray can. It’s ideal for adirondack chairs because it can be quite time-consuming getting into all of the gaps between the slats with a brush. The spray gives you an even coverage and handles those tricky areas with ease. However, it can be a bit difficult to get used to, so try it out on a scrap piece of wood to make sure that you have the technique down before moving onto your chairs.

One of the biggest issues with this stain is that it doesn’t dry properly on knots in wood. So, if you have a lot of knots in your chair, it may be worth looking for something else. In terms of durability and longevity, this isn’t the best stain on the market. It’s not bad, but you will have to reapply fairly regularly. That said, the application is quick and easy. Ultimately, it’s a trade-off between durability and ease of application, so consider which is most important to you.

4. Cabot Wood Toned Deck & Siding Low VOC Exterior Stain 1 gal Cabot 19202 Cedar Wood Toned Deck and Siding Stain

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Cabot Wood Toned Deck and Siding Exterior Stain is an effective oil-based stain with a nice natural wood tone to it. Unlike many other oil-based products, it is a low VOC stain without too many harsh solvents in it. If you’re concerned about environmental impact but still want to use an oil-based product, this is the one to go for.

The finish is nice but it is a bit more labor intensive to apply than other stains. You need to back brush the stain to make sure it soaks deep into the wood, and this can be difficult in the areas between the slats. But if you take your time, you can still get excellent results with this stain.

It is worth putting the extra work in because the unique combination of natural oil and resins gives a clear finish that colors the wood while also letting the natural grain shine through. Often, wood stains give you one or the other; they either darken the wood so you can’t see the grains or they accent the natural wood without coloring. Give this stain a try if you want a nice middle ground between the two, just be prepared for a bit of hard work when applying it.

5. Furniture Clinic Wood Stain Furniture Clinic Wood Stain (17oz, Slate) - Fast, Effective Wood Stain for All Indoor and Outdoor Wood

Furniture Clinic Wood Stain is a concentrated stain that gives you full coverage with a single coat. It’s also incredibly fast-drying, so you’ll get an even matte finish in just 10 minutes. The simple water-based formula is non-toxic and environmentally friendly, and it’s suitable for interior and exterior use. 

Application is very easy as you can just wipe the stain on with a cloth. This is great for getting into those hard to reach areas. The colors are nice and there is a good range available, but if you want something darker, you may need to apply a second coat.

How To Stain an Adirondack Chair?

1. Clean and Sand the Chair

Prepping your chair properly before you stain it ensures you get a long-lasting finish. If it is brand new, it’s still worth sanding it to open up the pores in the wood. Some wood also has mill glaze – a coating of melted cellulose and sugars from the wood – which stops the stain from soaking in, and this needs to be sanded off. Old chairs also need to be sanded to strip back old stain and any dirt and grime that has formed on the top. Use 80 grit sandpaper to take the top layer off the wood and create a surface that is ready to accept stain. 

Once you have sanded, clean the wood to remove excess dust and get rid of grime. Old furniture may have mildew that needs to be cleaned before you stain. If you do not deal with mildew properly, it will quickly grow back after staining and ruin your furniture. You can use soap and water or wipe it down with mineral spirits. If the wood is in particularly bad shape, buy a specific wood cleaning product to bring it back to life before staining.

2. Apply First Coat of Stain

You’re ready to apply your first coat of stain as soon as your chair is dry. For Adirondack chairs, it’s a good idea to put them up on blocks so you can reach all of the legs more easily. Use a paintbrush to apply your stain, working in the same direction as the grain. Start with the main slats on the seat and the back of the chair, and then move onto the legs. Always make sure you are getting into every gap and all of the areas between the slats. If areas are left uncovered, the chair isn’t getting the protection it needs.

Work the stain into the wood so it soaks in properly. Remember, this isn’t paint, which sits on the surface of the wood, it needs to soak right in to bond and protect the chair.

3. Let it dry

The stain needs to dry fully before you are ready to start your second coat. Refer to the directions on the packaging and follow them properly. When checking if the chair is dry, remember to look in the small gaps and cracks where it is likely to dry slower. 

4. Apply Second Coat of Stain (if necessary)

Once you are confident that the stain is dry, you can apply a second coat, if necessary. Some stain products only require one coat for full coverage, so always remember to check this.

Should You Apply a Wood Sealer?

Yes, in many cases, a wood sealer is necessary. Although stain gives some protection to the furniture, it is prone to wear, especially if it gets rained on a lot. For exterior furniture, applying a clear coat sealer is an excellent way to give it added protection and make the finish last much longer. Ultimately, this means you spend less time re-applying stain in the future, saving you time and money. You can find more information about the best clear coats for outdoor wood in our excellent guide.

However, there are products that are a stain and sealer combined in one. If you use these, there is no need to apply a separate sealer on top.

Final Thoughts

Staining Adirondack chairs is not a particularly difficult job but it does require some care. The most important thing is that you take the time to get into all of the small gaps between the slats and inside the folding mechanism so the chair is fully protected. As long as you do this, and you pick a high-quality stain like the ones on this list, your chair will hold up against the weather.

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