What is the Best Clear Cedar Finish for Outdoors? (2024)

If you buy something through our posts, we may get a small commission. Read more here.

While cedar has beautiful grain and vibrant color that makes it ideal for outdoor furniture, using the wrong type of finish can alter its color and appearance or even expose it to harsh external elements.

You surely want to protect and preserve its natural beauty, so I have tested the popular wood finish brands in the market to find the best clear cedar finish for outdoors. 

Premium Option
Cabot Stains 140.0003400.005 Australian Timber Oil
Editor’s Choice
Minwax 63210444 Helmsman Spar Urethane
Budget Option
SaverSystems #1 Deck ‎300517 Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain
Cabot Stains 140.0003400.005 Australian Timber Oil
Minwax 63210444 Helmsman Spar Urethane
#1 Deck ‎300517 Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain
• Can easily penetrate to cedar wood
• Extends the lifespan of cedar wood
• Lasts longer
• Offers maximum protection
• Enhance the natural beauty of the wood
• Suitable for various types of surfaces
• Easy to apply
• Lasts longer
• Serves as sealant and primer in one
• Durable
• Ready to use
• Low maintenance
Premium Option
Cabot Stains 140.0003400.005 Australian Timber Oil
Cabot Stains 140.0003400.005 Australian Timber Oil
• Can easily penetrate to cedar wood
• Extends the lifespan of cedar wood
• Lasts longer
• Offers maximum protection
Editor’s Choice
Minwax 63210444 Helmsman Spar Urethane
Minwax 63210444 Helmsman Spar Urethane
• Enhance the natural beauty of the wood
• Suitable for various types of surfaces
• Easy to apply
• Lasts longer
Budget Option
SaverSystems #1 Deck ‎300517 Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain
#1 Deck ‎300517 Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain
• Serves as sealant and primer in one
• Durable
• Ready to use
• Low maintenance

Reviews of the Top Clear Cedar Finishes for Outdoors

1. Minwax 63210444 Helmsman Spar Urethane

If you’ve got cedar projects that are gonna see some serious outdoor action, the Minwax 63210444 Helmsman clear cedar finish is your go-to. I’ve used it on different outdoor woodworking projects from outdoor cedar furniture to fences and decks, and it’s got the chops to stand up to Mother Nature.

It has superior UV blockers preventing the color of cedar wood from fading even if it’s directly exposed to the sun. I like how it gives the cedar wood a protective barrier from moisture and rain, preserving the wood’s integrity during rainy seasons.

It contains special oils, so the finish contracts and expands under temperature variations. It maintains the natural beauty of cedar wood, giving it a sleek finish while highlighting its grains and patterns.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

2. Cabot Stains 140.0003400.005 Australian Timber Oil

If you’re looking for a cedar finish for your outdoor furniture that can certainly extend its lifespan, Cabot Stains 140.0003400.005 Australian Timber Oil is what you need. Compared to other cedar finishes in the market, this contains special penetrating oils that can thoroughly protect cedar wood from harsh elements. 

Although it costs higher than other brands, its premium quality speaks for its price. You can even save money when you use it, as it can protect cedar wood for many years, so you don’t have to worry about reapplying stains sooner. 

Most importantly, it maintains the natural color of cedar wood, making it stand out even more. 

What I Like

What I Don't Like

3. SaverSystems #1 Deck ‎300517 Premium Semi-Transparent Wood Stain

If you’re on a budget but require premium protection for your cedar wood against UV rays, rain, moisture, mildew, and other harsh elements, look no further because SaverSystems #1 Deck 300517 Premium Wood Stain is what you need. 

What I personally dig is that it comes in five different finishes. You get options, my friend, whether you’re after that just-chopped-down-the-tree natural look or something a little more vibrant.

It’s also safe to use since it has low volatile organic compounds (VOC), so I highly recommend using it, especially if you have kids or pets.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

4. Ready Seal - 112 - Natural Cedar Exterior Stain and Sealer

If you’re a DIYer or beginner, Ready Seal 112 Natural Cedar Exterior Stain and Sealer is a great option as it’s easier to apply. It thoroughly penetrates the wood even without meticulous surface preparation like sanding or priming. 

It ensures a smooth and uniform finish on the wood surface, leaving no streaks, laps, or runs. This guarantees that you can achieve an even appearance without any inconsistencies. 

Furthermore, it functions as both a sealer and a primer in a single coat, enabling you to complete your project more quickly.

Now, heads up, it’ll look darker at first, but give it a couple of weeks. That original hue will make its comeback, and it’ll only enhance what makes your cedar special in the first place.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

5. General Finishes Exterior 450 Water-Based Topcoat Satin

General Finishes Exterior 450 Topcoat Stain absolutely extends the lifespan of your cedar furniture, even if they’re exposed to harsh elements. Its superb formula contains UV absorbers, making your cedar wood more durable while preserving its structural integrity. 

And talk about durable; this finish has a knack for fending off mold and those pesky insects. It’s easy to maintain, making it ideal for outdoor use. Besides, it prevents cedar wood color from fading even if it’s under direct sunlight. It’s easy to achieve a shiner finish if you use it on your cedar wood for outdoor use

What I Like

What I Don't Like

6. DEFY ‎300162-F Extreme Crystal-Clear Exterior Wood Stain

If you’re looking for an environmental-friendly stain for your outdoor cedar wood, I recommend this Defy 300162 Extreme Crystal-Clear Exterior Wood Stain. It has low VOC content and is completely harmless to the environment. It does not emit harmful fumes, so it’s safe to be used even indoors. 

What I also like about this product is its affordability and superb quality. It prevents cedar wood color from fading due to its formula containing zinc particles that reflects UV rays. 

Its semi-transparent finish last longer than other brands of the same price. Therefore, you can ensure that your cedar will not turn gray or become dull sooner. 

What I Like

What I Don't Like

7. Howard CS0014 Citrus Shield Premium Neutral Paste Wax

I’ve got a soft spot for Howard CS0014 Neutral Paste Wax. It’s a premium polish—an excellent clear finish option for your cedar wood. It highlights the natural beauty of your new cedar furniture, but I highly recommend this wax for antique furniture as it can restore the natural beauty of the wood. 

You can also use it on marble, metal, concrete, and other painted surfaces. Just wipe it on the surface, and it can surely bring back its beautiful color and shine. Plus, it’s got this citrus scent that’s easy on the nose. So go ahead, use it indoors; your nostrils will thank you.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

Can You Clear Coat Cedar?

Yes, you can clear-coat cedar wood to protect and preserve its natural beauty. In fact, clear coating is a popular way to keep the cedar from weathering. 

A clear coat like polyurethane helps to seal the wood to prevent moisture absorption, so it won’t succumb to rot and decay sooner. So, check the best clear coat for wood here!

However, applying a coat on cedar requires meticulous surface preparation. It’s also necessary to choose the best clear cedar finish for outdoors. 

staining deck rails with #1 Deck Stain

This will ensure that the clear coat will adhere properly and gives premium protection to your outdoor furniture and other structures.

Overall, applying a clear coat on your cedar is an excellent way to preserve the wood’s integrity and enhance its natural grains and beautiful color. 

Benefits of Applying a Clear Finish On Cedar Furniture for Outdoors

Enhances the Look of Natural Cedar

Cedar has an outstanding beauty on its own. It has high oil content that allows it to look brilliant even if it’s exposed to harsh elements like UV rays, snow, mildew, and mold, among others. 

However, it will eventually lose its natural oil content, and the surface will become dull if you don’t help preserve it properly. 

applying Cabot Stains

Applying a clear finish on your cedar will enhance its natural beauty while also helping the wood to withstand the elements. 

Extends Your Wood’s Lifespan

Your outdoor cedar furniture is prone to pests, insects, mildew, and mildew damage. Since cedar does take stain well, a high-quality clear stain with penetrating oils and mildewcide help the cedar fight against infestation and environmental variations.

If applied and maintained properly, a clear finish can add several years to your cedar wood’s lifespan. 

Clear Cedar Finish for Outdoors: Buyer’s Guide

When choosing a clear cedar finish for the outdoors, it is important to consider the environmental conditions in your area, your desired finish, either glossy or natural look, and the maintenance required. 

wood painted with Minwax Helmsman Indoor-Outdoor Spar Urethane

Below are some of the factors you must consider in buying a clear finish for your outdoor cedar exterior applications.

Formula Type

It is important to choose the cedar finish specifically formulated for outdoors for your exterior applications. There are many types of clear finish suitable for your outdoor cedar wood. 

I highly recommend choosing a formula that’s explicitly designed for outdoor use. These types of formulas offer greater protection against damages caused by moisture, water, UV rays, snow, high humidity, insects, and other harsh elements. 

However, you must choose a clear finish depending on your preference and specific requirements for your project. Below are the common types of clear cedar finish ideal for outdoor use. 

Oil-based Clear Cedar Finishes

This type of clear finish can penetrate deep into the pores, providing long-lasting protection from sun and water damage. It gives a matte finish or natural look that highlights the cedar’s grains and patterns. 

staining floor deck with Ready Seal Exterior Stain and Sealer for Wood

Popular picks in this category include Danish oil, tung oil, and linseed oil. To choose the best oil finish, I suggest familiarizing yourself with the advantages and disadvantages of Linseed, tung, and Danish oil. 

Water-based Clear Cedar Finishes

This type of cedar finish gives your cedar wood premium protection from moisture, water, and UV [1] damage. It’s odorless and dries faster. The most popular water-based cedar finishes are polyurethane and acrylic.

Hybrid Clear Cedar Finishes

This formula combines the benefits of water-based and oil-based clear cedar finishes. It can penetrate deep into the wood grains like oil-based. It is as durable as water-based and dries faster. 

The blend of urethane and tung oil is the preferred hybrid clear finish for cedar wood among professional woodworkers. 

Durability

Cedar is known for its remarkable durability and longevity. But applying a high-quality finish on your cedar furniture and structures can make them last even longer and preserve their structural integrity. 

Choose a high-quality clear finish that is suitable for cedar. Ensure that it offers protection against mildew, UV radiation, and moisture. It’s also important to choose a wood finish that can stay longer. 

Weather

When choosing the clear finish for your cedar wood, you must consider its exposure to weather variations. Choose a clear finish that can retain the color of your cedar wood and prevents fading even under direct exposure to the sun, rain, and snow.

How to Finish Your Cedar Wood for Outdoor Use

Cedar wood is easy to work with. But to guarantee a great finish, you must prepare the wood surface properly and ensure to only use the best clear cedar finishes for outdoors. Follow the steps below to achieve a smoother and flawless finish

Supplies You’ll Need

Step #1: Sanding Cedar Wood

tools for painting

If you’re using new cedar wood, it is necessary to sand them before applying the stain. Sanding will remove the oil on the surface or mill glazing caused by the milling procedure. 

It will also ensure that the stain will penetrate the wood easily and adhere properly to the wood surface. 

For flat-grained or smooth-planed cedar, use sandpaper with 50 to 60 grit to increase stain adherence while maintaining the smooth surface. Scuff the wood surface gently, then remove the sanding debris and dust. 

Use a clean, lint-free rag or cloth to wipe the wood surface. Do not use a pressure washer since it can damage the cedar wood. 

Step #2: Removing the Old Coating

If your cedar wood has an old stain or paint, you must remove the previous coating to ensure that the new stain will adhere properly. 

paint stripping

You may use fine-grit sandpaper to scuff the old coating. I also usually apply stain remover over the old paint and stains to clean them off the surface. 

Step #3: Applying the Finish

Once you have thoroughly cleaned your cedar wood surface, you can now apply your preferred finish. You may use a clean rag, sponge, paint roller, or pad to apply the finish depending on what is convenient for the type of surface you’re working on. 

Ensure to apply the finish evenly on the entire surface. I recommend working in small sections so you can easily achieve a uniform finish.  

Typically, you can apply two coats of clear finish on your cedar wood. But it depends on the type of clear finish you’re using. You may refer to the instructions on the product label to determine the suggested number of coatings. 

You must also sand the cedar wood using fine-grit sandpaper prior to applying the subsequent coats to achieve a  smoother finish.

Step #4: Drying the Finish

Allow the clear finish to dry completely. The drying time also depends on the type of finish you used. You must follow the recommended drying time on the product label. 

Once the finish has dried, remove the excess finish on the surface using a sponge. Let the wood cure properly to achieve a smoother finish and last longer. 

FAQ

What is the best way to protect cedar wood outdoors?

The best way to protect cedar wood outdoors is to apply high-quality sealer on it. Sealants can provide optimum protection to your cedar wood against molds, moisture, dust, and water. 

They also contain chemicals to protect your cedar wood from UV damage and prevent the color from fading sooner. 

Is it okay to leave cedar wood unfinished?

Yes, it is possible to leave your cedar wood unfinished, as it contains natural oils that protect and preserve the wood. However, it is important to apply a clear finish to your cedar wood to make it more durable and enhance its appearance.

Should You Seal Cedar for Exterior Use? How Do You Seal It?

Yes, you should seal your cedar wood for exterior use to make it more durable and preserve its natural oil content. 

To apply sealant, you must prepare the wood surface by sanding and cleaning it properly. Apply the coat evenly and allow it dry and cure completely.

Why is cedar ideal for outdoor uses?

Cedar is ideal for outdoor uses due to its high content of natural oils that help resist decay and rot. It has high stability and does not warp or sag easily. It’s durable and lasts longer than other types of wood, even when exposed to harsh elements. 

See Also: High-Quality Sealers for Cedar Wood

My Top Pick For a Clear Cedar Finish for Outdoors:
Minwax 63210444 Helmsman Spar Urethane

After testing the popular wood finishes in the market, the Minwax 63210444 Helmsman absolutely outperformed the rest. It’s undoubtedly the best clear cedar finish for outdoor use, as it can protect the wood while also maintaining its natural beauty for years to come. 

It provides the optimal level of protection against the harshest of elements—offering excellent value for your money.  

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles
Join our community on facebook and get 3 woodworking plans for free!