Is Red Oak Good for Outdoor Use? — Furniture, Workbench, Fence

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Do you like red oak’s appearance but are still determining if it can handle outdoor conditions? Without the proper knowledge, you might choose a wood that quickly deteriorates, fades, or distorts.

To explain if Red Oak is good for outdoor use, I created a detailed guide so you can confidently select the suitable wood species for your project.

About Red Oak: Why It’s an In-Demand Choice For Furniture?

Red Oak is a highly sought-after wood for furniture making due to its outstanding features. Like most durable wood, it can withstand daily wear and tear, making it a popular choice for furniture.

Additionally, Red Oak has a unique and attractive grain pattern that adds character to furniture, which sets it apart from other hardwoods. It is a versatile wood that can be stained or finished to match any furniture style.

Red Oak Hardwood is also readily available and affordable. Lastly, it is sustainable that can be harvested from responsibly managed forests and replanted for future use.

quarter sawn Red Oak

All of these features make Red Oak a popular choice for furniture makers and many homeowners alike.

Is Red Oak Ideal For Exterior Use or Any Garden Setups?

 Lovely for a lot of things but hold your horses if you’re thinking about using it for your garden furniture or any exterior setups. Trust me on this one, it just doesn’t have the natural resistance to decay or moisture that you’d want for outdoor use.

When exposed to the elements, Red Oak is prone to rot, discoloration, and warping. It also lacks tyloses, which protect the wood from bugs and organisms.

White oak is a better option for outdoor furniture as it has tyloses that prevent water absorption and protect it from decay and insects. So, if you plan to make outdoor furniture, Red Oak is a very poor choice.

Why White Oak is More Resistant to Rot Than Red Oak? Is it Stronger?

White Oak or European Oak is more rot-resistant than Red Oak because it contains tyloses, which are cell growths that form on the wood fibers and block the open pore structure.

These tyloses act as a barrier to prevent moisture from penetrating the White Oak wood, making it more resistant to decays and rots.

cutting white oak wood

In addition to its rot-resistant properties, White Oak is a strong and durable wood that is commonly used in woodworking, furniture-making, flooring, and boat-building due to its high density and strength.

However, it’s important to note that the strength and rot resistance of red and White Oak are two separate properties, and while White Oak is strong, it’s not necessarily stronger than Red Oak.

See Also: Is Cottonwood Ideal for Woodworking

Pros and Cons Of Using Red Oak For Exterior Furniture



Safety Precautions To Consider

How To Finish Red Oak for Outdoor Use

varnish wood


Step #1: Clean the Red Oak Wood

Before applying wood stains, it is crucial to clean the wood to eliminate debris and dust that could lead to problems during the application process.

These residues can lead to blotchiness of the surface. You can prepare the Red Oak surface to accept the stain evenly by wiping it down using a reliable rag for staining.

hand planning red oak wood

Step #2: Sand & Remove the Sawdust

To achieve a smooth surface suitable for staining, utilize 220-grit sandpaper to sand the Red Oak. Apply consistent pressure while sanding, and make sure to follow the direction of the end grain. 

This technique helps to avoid unsightly blotches and scratches, ensuring a more even and professional finish when you apply the stain.

Next, clean the wood with a rag to remove sawdust that can mix with the stain. I’d suggest avoiding higher-grade sandpapers to avoid ruining its natural look because Red Oak is a softwood that can easily get damaged.

Step #3: Apply the Wood Conditioner and Dry it

Apply wood conditioner before staining Red Oak for a better finish. It prevents mistakes like streaks, bubbles, and blotches during staining.

Apply it evenly with a paintbrush in the wood grain direction after cleaning the wood thoroughly.

After applying the conditioner, wait for half an hour, then remove the excess stain with a damp cloth to prepare for staining.

Step #4: Apply Your Prefered Wood Stain

applying stain on red oak wood

To stain Red Oak, make sure it’s completely dry after putting the wood conditioner. Dip the tip of a paintbrush in the stain and apply it evenly with gentle strokes in the wood grain direction.

Use even pressure and wipe off the excess stain after 2-3 minutes to achieve a thin layer that dries faster and causes fewer mistakes.

Step #5: Dry the Wood Completely

To stain Red Oak successfully, allow each previous coat to dry fully before adding another one. Don’t apply any stain on damp wood to avoid blotches, which can be hard to remove.

Proper drying is vital when finishing Red Oak for outdoor use, so use the correct method.

How to Seal Red Oak

Olympic Maximum Wood Sealer For Decks

Initially, use sandpaper with moderate grit to smooth the surface of the wood. Afterward, clean off any remaining sawdust and apply the sealer uniformly. I suggest waiting for 24 hours for the sealer to dry.

Next, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to add a layer of paint or varnish to safeguard the sealer. Leave it to dry before using the furniture.

How Long Can Red Oak Last Outside?

With proper finishing, regular maintenance, and protection from harsh weather conditions, Red Oak can last outside for 3 to 5 years.

If Red Oak outdoor furniture is not finished properly or is exposed to severe weather, it will not last for years and may begin to deteriorate because of fungi, high moisture content, and destructive insects like wood bees and carpenter ants.

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testing red oak wood

Best Wood and Oak Alternatives for Outdoor Use

How To Maintain Your Wooden Outdoor Furniture

  1. Clean your outdoor furniture with soapy water at the beginning of spring, and use light sanding for dirty timber.
  2. Protect your outdoor wood furniture with timber stain or paint.
  3. Alternatively, use an all-weather varnish to protect your outdoor furniture. Reapply every 2 to 3 years with two coats for complete sealing and protection.
  4. Regularly cleaning your outdoor furniture to avoid a buildup of grime and dirt.
  5. To prevent absorbing water from the soil directly, it is recommended to use a moisture barrier between the ground and the outdoor furniture.


So, is red oak good for outdoor use? Unfortunately not. While Red Oak is a popular and durable hardwood, I’d say that it’s not an ideal choice for outdoor furniture due to its susceptibility to water damage and rot, unlike teak

However, with proper sealing and maintenance, it can still be used for outdoor applications.

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.
Robert Johnson

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