A bench makes a great addition to your yard. It’s a nice place to sit down, relax, and enjoy watching the world go by. But just like any outdoor furniture, it’s important that you choose the right type of wood for your bench. This can be tricky because you have to consider a lot of things like the weather, what the wood looks like, and how expensive it is.
This article will give you some great tips on how to pick the right type of wood and offer some suggestions on the best woods for outdoor benches.
Table of Contents
- What to Consider When Buying Wood to Build an Outdoor Bench?
- 5 Best Woods for Outdoor Benches
What to Consider When Buying Wood to Build an Outdoor Bench?
Firstly, how durable is the wood? A bench has to take a lot of weight, so you need strong wood. The strength of wood is measured by compressing it until it breaks and noting the pressure, measured in pounds per square inch (psi).
Sometimes, the bending strength is measured using the same units, but by bending the wood until it breaks instead of compressing it. Finally, the hardness is measured, and this is usually affected by the tightness of the wood grain.
Durability doesn’t just refer to how strong the wood is, it also gives an indication of how long the wood will last outdoors. Is it resistant to rot and insects, for example? Often, the overall durability is measured by calculating how long a 50mm x 50mm piece of wood would last if left in the ground unprotected.
The Timber Research and Development Association uses this measure to categorize woods into classes from 1 to 5. 1 is the most durable while 5 is the least.
The strength ratings and durability class will give you an indication of how long wood is likely to last. Cedar, for example, has a durability rating of two, meaning it is considered durable. If left untreated,
Cedar will only start to rot after around five years. When choosing wood for your outdoor bench, try to find information about the strength and durability ratings.
Is it Weather Resistant?
Any wood that is used outdoors needs to be weather resistant. Although you can treat the wood to protect it, using wood that is naturally resistant to moisture and UV will ensure that your bench lasts longer.
Certain types of wood have a much tighter grain, meaning that they don’t absorb as much water and they are less prone to rotting. Teak, for example, is a popular choice for outdoor projects because of its excellent natural weather resistance.
The Total Cost of the Wood
Finally, you need to consider the cost. Managing your budget in DIY projects is always important and when installing a bench in your yard, the lumber is your biggest cost. The price of wood ranges a lot and you will pay a premium for the most durable and weather-resistant species, in many cases.
So, look at what your budget is and strike a good balance between the quality of the wood and the affordability. Bear in mind that you can get away with using a slightly cheaper option if you take the time to treat it properly to protect it from the elements.
5 Best Woods for Outdoor Benches
There are so many different species of wood, many of them suitable for exterior projects. To help you narrow it down, I’ve put together a list of the best woods for outdoor benches.
Cedar is one of the most popular choices for outdoor furniture like benches because of its natural resistance to decay, its strength, and its affordability. It has a durability rating of 2.
The natural oils in Cedar have an odor that repels insects. In fact, you’ll often find insecticide products made from Cedar oil because it’s so effective. The high levels of oil also make the wood very resistant to moisture and prevent mold growth. Its weather-resistant properties mean that Cedar is very low-maintenance compared with other types of wood.
Cedar is also a very strong wood that can withstand changes in temperature without warping. This is important because wood species that expand and contract a lot with temperature changes are likely to crack.
Even though Cedar has the strength and durability to match other wood species like Oak or Teak, it is usually much cheaper to buy. So, if you are looking for an excellent budget option that will still stand the test of time, Cedar is the way to go. When looked after properly, your bench could last up to 30 years or more before it needs to be replaced.
2. Pressure-Treated Lumber
Pressure-treated lumber is always a good choice for exterior projects because it offers exceptional durability. Usually, Pine, Spruce, and Fir are used but other types of softwood can sometimes be pressure-treated. High pressure is used to force chemicals into the pores of the wood, protecting it against moisture, insects, and fungus.
After the treatment process, pressure-treated wood is incredibly long-lasting, making it one of the best options for an outdoor bench.
Pressure-treated lumber is also very affordable because it uses fairly cheap types of wood that would not normally be that durable, and then makes them hard wearing. The only potential issue with pressure-treated wood is that it has a slight green tint, caused by the chemicals it is treated with. However, if you paint or stain the wood, this won’t be that noticeable.
Teak is one of the most durable hardwoods you will find, making it ideal for your new bench. It has a very tight grain and a high natural oil content, giving it a durability rating of between 1 and 3, depending on the source of the wood.
Just like Cedar, the oils in the wood repel insects as well as preventing moisture retention and stopping mold growth. Even if you leave it untreated, it will last a long time and it will naturally weather to a nice silver/gray color that still looks very attractive. Fresh teak has a nice golden brown color and an interesting, varied grain, so it looks much nicer than pressure-treated lumber, for example.
Overall, teak is one of the best performing wood types for outdoor furniture like benches. The reason that it isn’t top of the list is the price. It’s not as readily available as other types of wood and it is quite a bit more expensive. If you are willing to pay extra for wood that looks amazing and is incredibly hard-wearing, go for it, but there are cheaper options as well.
Acacia is another wood species with an incredibly tight grain, so it doesn’t absorb much water and it has excellent strength properties. In fact, it has a durability rating of 1, so it will definitely stand the test of time in your yard, even without treatment. Acacia is a very heavy, dense wood, which adds to its strength and also makes it ideal for furniture. There’s definitely no need to worry about it moving around in high winds.
Acacia is also very popular for aesthetic purposes. The natural grain is beautiful and it has a nice rich color to it. It also weathers very well, turning a dark gray color. However, Acacia may not be the best choice in particularly hot climates. It doesn’t do as well in heat as other wood types on this list.
In normal conditions, the sunlight shouldn’t cause too many problems, but if you live in a very hot climate and it is in direct sunlight, it may warp and crack. It’s also one of the more expensive options on the list.
Cypress also has a durability rating of 1. It has the same high oil content as other wood types listed above, making it resistant to moisture, insects, and rot. The other big benefit is that it’s a relatively soft and durable wood, so it’s easy to work with.
It also accepts finishes very well, so if you want to paint or stain your bench, you’ll get a great result when using Cypress. Other types of wood with a much tighter grain can sometimes be more difficult to stain.
The biggest problem with Cypress is that it is less dense than other types of wood, so it’s more prone to dents and scratches. If you have a bench in a high traffic area in a family garden, it could easily get damaged. This is something to bear in mind when choosing your wood type.
Can You Use Composite Lumber for an Outdoor Bench?
Yes, composite lumber is a great choice for your outdoor bench. Composite is made from a combination of recycled plastics and wood fibers.It has the appearance of wood with the durability and weather resistance of plastics. It lasts longer than natural wood and it doesn’t require anywhere near as much maintenance.
However, it will be more expensive, so you need to weigh up whether it’s worth the cost. Bear in mind that it will save you money in maintenance in the future. If you are interested in using composite lumber for your bench, check out our list of the best composite decking brands here.
What Wood is Best to Use for a Cast Iron Bench?
If you are restoring an old cast iron bench, or building a new one, it’s best to use durable hardwood for the slats. The most popular options are Teak, Ipe, or Iroko. In recent years, Acoya has grown in popularity too as it offers the same durability. Acoya is a type of treated wood, made using softwoods that are then put through a non-toxic process to harden them.
Should You Stain or Oil a Wooden Bench?
Finishing your bench with stain or oil gives it added protection against the elements and enhances the look as well. The question is, should you oil or stain? Ultimately, it’s up to you because both options work. The main thing to consider is the type of wood that you are using.
Teak, for example, comes up beautifully with teak oil. Any wood that has a nice natural grain and a good color is better with oil because you’re just accentuating the excellent features that are already there instead of covering them up. But if you want to change the color of cheaper wood, stain works brilliantly too.
If you are using pressure-treated wood, I would always go with stain. You need to cover the slightly green tint and if you oil it, you are just highlighting wood that doesn’t look that great in the first place. We have a great article on the best stains for outdoor furniture to help you choose the right product for the job.
See our best oils for outdoor furniture here if interested.
Should You Apply a Clear Coat to Your Finished Wood Bench?
This depends on the product that you are using. If you stain the wood, a lot of modern stains are 2-in-1 products with a built in sealer. In that case, there is no need for a clear coat.
However, if there is no sealer in the stain, or you are not using a stain at all, you should put a clear coat on top. This will create an extra layer of protection against moisture, so your bench lasts a lot longer outdoors.
Many clear coats have built-in UV inhibitors too, so they preserve the color of the wood. You can learn more about the best clear coats for outdoor wood here.
Choosing the right wood for your outdoor bench will increase its longevity and reduce the amount of maintenance that you need to do. Options like Acacia or Teak are excellent because they’re hard wearing and they look great, but they do come with a hefty price tag. Cedar is more affordable but still offers great durability, which is why it tops the list.
However, if longevity is your priority and you are willing to sacrifice on the aesthetics a little, pressure-treated wood with a nice stain is a good way to go.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.