Many woodworkers opt for Spruce wood for its longevity and cost efficiency for various projects. But is Spruce wood good for outdoor use, or are you setting yourself up for disappointment?
Using the wrong wood can lead to rot, warping, and other damage. In this article, we’ll determine whether Spruce is the right choice for your outdoor needs.
About the Spruce Tree and Wood
The Spruce tree, which falls under the Pinacaea family, is an evergreen coniferous tree classified under the Picea genus. They are found in the northern hemisphere, especially in the colder regions of North America and Europe.
Fully grown Spruce trees can reach heights of 60-200ft and have a conical form with branches arranged in whorls.
The Spruce trees’ needles, which are their leaves, grow individually and are attached to small, persistent peg-shaped structures on their branches. This unique feature can aid in identifying Spruce trees from other types of evergreens.
Spruce wood, with its stable nature and decent strength-to-weight ratio, has become a popular choice for construction framing and carpentry projects. However, when it comes to outdoor furniture, consider its medium resistance to rot and moderate durability.
Spruce wood smells like resin and is yellowish-white when fresh but darkens with exposure to light. The annual rings are visible, and the wood has striations and resin channels.
In addition to its practical uses, Spruce wood has a long history of use in traditional folk medicine. The needles and resin of Spruce trees are thought to have various medicinal properties, including antiseptic, expectorant, and analgesic effects.
Several Spruce tree types are usually native to the northern temperate, each with unique characteristics and properties. Here are some of the most notable types and their distinguishing features.
Black Spruce is a large tree that grows up to 30-50ft and often hosts the parasitic Eastern dwarf mistletoe because it typically grows in damp environments.
Bird’s Nest Spruce
Bird’s Nest Spruce grows slowly in the first decade and only reaches one to two feet tall. It is dense and compact with a distinct nest-like shape.
The Brewer Spruce, also known as the weeping Spruce due to its drooping branchlets, is a desirable specimen tree and garden furniture due to its lovely design, reaching 30-50ft.
Oriental Spruce, Caucasian Spruce
Oriental Spruce is a slow-growing coniferous tree with needles of ½ inch long, adaptable to various soil types but requiring wind protection.
Dwarf Alberta Spruce
The Dwarf Alberta Spruce, a cultivar of White Spruce, is well-known for its conical shape, soft bright-green needles, and dwarf shrub form, and it grows up to 10-13ft tall.
Colorado Blue Spruce
Colorado Blue Spruce has distinctive blue needles and can grow up to 30-60ft tall, while it can survive drought conditions but requires frequent watering in hot areas.
Engelmann Spruce is a 70-100ft conical tree used for lumber and musical instruments but not recommended for landscaping in warmer climates.
Norway Spruce, a 40-60ft coniferous tree, is widely grown for Christmas trees, garden furniture, and construction lumber, with excellent resonance for stringed instrument making.
Sitka Spruce is a stable wood that grows in the wild up to 300ft, with an average height of 50-100ft, and requires ample space in a landscape due to its size.
Red Spruce, a long-lived coniferous tree, is suitable for wood pulp and Christmas trees but not recommended for urban landscapes due to its susceptibility to acid rain.
Picea Glauca can be found in Northern North America and grows up to 40-60ft, with needles with a whitish-waxy coating, and an excellent choice for Christmas trees or landscaping.
Picea omorika, also called Serbian Spruce, is a tree that grows up to 50-6ft, native to the Balkans and tolerant of shade and drought but prefers moderate moisture.
Is Spruce Ideal for Outdoor Use?
Spruce for outdoor use is not ideal due to the inherent properties that make it susceptible to moisture, insect attacks, and decay.
It has poor rot and water resistance and tends to decay quickly as its wood fibers absorb moisture. Furthermore, Spruce is prone to insect infestations that can lead to mildew and mold growth.
Using Spruce for outdoor projects with proper treatment, wood finishing, and maintenance is possible. But, it requires significant effort and frequent refinishing to protect it from the elements because of its poor weather resistance.
Other wood types, such as red cedar, redwood, teak, and pressure-treated pine wood, are more suitable for outdoor use. These woods have a higher resistance to moisture, insects, and rot.
Advantages of Spruce Wood
Spruce wood is light, typically white to pale yellow, and eventually transitions into shades of yellowish-brown or reddish-white that are darker, with a straight and even grain pattern. It also has a resinous nature which makes it aesthetically pleasing.
Spruce is generally a more affordable softwood than many other wood species, making it an attractive option for budget-conscious consumers.
Moreover, Spruce contains quartersawn pieces that are visibly distinct and devoid of knots, providing the highest possible return on investment.
Spruce is known for its ease of workability. It is relatively soft, making it easy to cut and plane to the preferred shape with hand and power tools. This workability also extends to gluing, nailing, and screwing, making spruce a versatile choice for woodworking projects.
Slight Rot Resistance
While Spruce has poor rot resistance, its heartwood is medium rot-resistant, so the wood will still require proper finishing, chemical treatment, and maintenance for outdoor furniture.
Disadvantages of Spruce
Prone to Insect Attacks
Spruce is susceptible to infestations from insects such as termites, wood borers, and other wood-destroying pests. These infestations can compromise the structural integrity of the outdoor furniture and lead to mold and mildew growth.
Spruce wood has poor moisture resistance, which means it absorbs water easily and can rot quickly in damp environments. This makes it less suitable for outdoor applications where it may be exposed to rain, humidity, or other sources of moisture, such as garden furniture.
Spruce wood is not rot-resistant and has lower overall durability than other wood species, particularly those with natural weather and decay resistance.
Being not rot-resistant and with lower durability means Spruce for outdoor use may only last for a short time and will require more frequent maintenance and refinishing to protect it from the elements.
Finishing Spruce for Outdoor Use in 6 Steps
Step #1: Clean and Prep the Wood and Surface
Problems like bubbles, uneven coloring, peeling, and cracking may occur if the surface isn’t clean. So, make sure to clean the Spruce wood thoroughly before finishing.
To avoid breathing issues and quick drying, relocate the wood to an area with good ventilation after applying chemical treatments. Use clean rags soaked in soapy water to remove grease, debris, dirt, and dust from the surface.
Once thoroughly cleaned, allow the wood to dry fully before proceeding.
Step #2: Sand and Clear the Sawdust
Once the Spruce wood is clean and dry, sand the whole Spruce surface using 220-grit sandpaper, following the wood grain direction. This will create a smooth surface that absorbs the finish evenly and remove surface randomness.
Sand the wood’s complete surface area, ensuring no area is missed. Avoid sanding against the grain, as doing so may lead to scratches or cracks.
It is advisable to refrain from using excessively coarse sandpapers as they can harm the wood. During sanding, apply uniform pressure to prevent creating uneven or patchy surfaces.
Following sanding, use a dust collection pipe or rag to remove sawdust because it can be challenging to eliminate once it combines with the wood stain.
Step #3: Spread the Wood Conditioner
Although Spruce typically absorbs stains very well, we recommend applying wood conditioner to achieve a perfect finish, especially when preparing Spruce for outdoor application.
Once the wood has been cleaned, use a lint-free soft cloth to apply pre-stain wood conditioner across the entire surface area, following the grain direction for better absorption and avoiding slow drying problems.
Spruce tends to absorb a stain like a sponge, and wood conditioner helps control absorption rates by slowing down the process, allowing the surface to absorb an even amount of stain. This helps prevent streaks and blotches, making it especially useful for beginners.
To ensure longevity, apply wood conditioner before staining, as this will help to seal the open porous grains and protect the surface from moisture. Use a wood conditioner and stain from the same manufacturer to avoid compatibility issues.
Step #4: Wait for the Wood to Dry
If you’re done applying wood conditioner, allow it to dry for at least 45 minutes. Afterward, check the wood surface to ensure it is completely dry before proceeding. When the wood is dry and can be touched without leaving any residue, it is ready for staining.
Step #5: Apply a Coat of the Wood Stain
When the wood surface is dry, use a paintbrush to apply the wood stain evenly across the entire surface, following the wood grain direction for proper absorption and to prevent blotchy surfaces and bubbles.
To achieve uniform coverage, maintain even pressure on applying the stain. Apply a thin layer for optimal protection and quicker drying time, as thick coatings can lead to a sticky surface and take longer to dry.
After 2-3 minutes, use a rag to remove excess stain to leave a thin coating. Apply 2-3 coats for optimal protection against moisture and environmental factors, but allow each coat to dry thoroughly before adding another.
Additionally, choose a stain color that complements your outdoor furniture.
Step #6: Dry the Wood Completely
Allow each stain coat to dry for approximately 6 hours before applying another, you must ensure complete drying to avoid a sticky surface. After the final coat, allow it to dry and cure for at least one day for optimal adherence.
Inadequate drying can cause uneven coloration, potentially requiring the finishing process to start over. When the stain is completely dry, the wood’s improved appearance and color will be visible.
Proper drying is essential for creating a protective coating against environmental factors such as UV light, insect attacks, water damage, etc.
Treat Spruce Wood for Exterior Use: 6 Effective Ways
Spruce wood is a popular choice for exterior use due to its durability and strength. However, it must still be treated to protect it from moisture, decay, and insects, especially when using it as garden furniture.
Before delving into these ways, you must prepare the Spruce wood by cleaning, sanding, and conditioning. This process improves the ability of the surface to stick and ensures that the outcome is even and flawless.
Here are six effective methods to treat and make Spruce good for outdoor use:
Method #1: Using Wood Oil
When wood is weathered, it loses its essential oils and becomes vulnerable to damage. To prevent this, oiling Spruce wood is a helpful technique. It not only nourishes and seals the surface of the wood but also replaces the lost oils.
Oiling protects outdoor furniture against sun damage, warping, splitting, and drying by improving water repellence and weather resistance.
Tips for Applying Oil:
Method #2: Using Wood Preserver
Wood preservers act like stains, oils, and dyes to protect and waterproof the outdoor furniture while preserving its natural color and strength. These preservers also provide resistance against UV rays, mold, woodworm attacks, and algae growth.
Using a suitable exterior brush, you can easily apply the preserver to penetrate and seal the Spruce wood. This makes them ideal for outdoor furniture and structures like sheds, raised beds, fences, and garden furniture.
Tips for Applying Wood Preserver:
Method #3: Using Wood Stain
Wood stains are an effective way to protect outdoor furniture while adding rich color. The formula used in wood stains ensures durability and even coverage, enhancing the wood grain and creating a hard-wearing, scuff-resistant finish.
Different wood stains are available for different projects, with wax-enriched formulas suitable for decking and outdoor furniture due to their non-slip and water-repellent properties.
Unlike wood dye, which is absorbed into the wood to change its color, wood stain saturates the surface to make it resistant to cracking, blistering, and peeling.
Tips for Applying Wood Stain:
Method #4: Using Wood Dye
Dyes are excellent for enhancing Spruce wood’s natural beauty and color while maintaining its uniform texture and grain. They offer a wide range of options for wood finishing and expand your creative possibilities.
Unlike stains, dyes penetrate the wood to form a protective layer while remaining more translucent than stains.
Tips for Applying Wood Dye:
Method #5: Using Wood Varnish
Varnish is well-suited for outdoor furniture, doors, wooden windows, garden furniture, and gates, providing excellent water and weather resistance.
It is especially beneficial for Spruce furniture that has already been stained or treated, as it helps prevent peeling, blistering, and cracking while allowing for natural wood movement.
The varnish is available in various finishes, including transparent, satin, glossy, and matte, so you can customize the look of your Spruce projects by accentuating the wood grain and creating a rich, deep color.
Tips for Applying Wood Varnish:
Method Six: Using Wood Paint
Exterior wood paint is a great way to add color and protect new Spruce wood from weather damage. It works well on old, worn-out structures like bird boxes, trellises, planters, sheds, garden furniture, and fence panels.
With a wide range of colors available, finding a shade that suits your style and preferences is easy. The paint provides excellent protection against peeling and fading and enhances the natural color of the wood with pigmented shades.
Tips for Applying Wood Paint:
- Start by priming the surface and allowing it to dry completely before sanding. Apply gentle pressure using 220-grit sandpaper to avoid damaging the finish.
- Utilize a brush if you’re working with irregularly shaped objects like outdoor furniture, trim, or crown molding. A high-density foam roller will work best for flat, large surfaces like garden furniture.
- After applying the first coat, sand the surface to remove any bumps or inconsistencies caused by the roller or brush.
- Apply the final coat of paint and let it dry completely. It’s essential to allow the workpiece to cure overnight or longer before using it again.
Outdoor Uses of Spruce
Spruce wood is generally not a good choice for outdoor furniture or any exterior uses due to its limited resistance to rot and poor weather resistance. Additionally, it is vulnerable to insect and fungal attacks and is not water-resistant.
Despite these limitations, making Spruce good for outdoor use is still possible by taking certain precautions, such as sealing the wood, proper finishing, and keeping it elevated above the ground.
Here are some recommended outdoor uses for Spruce wood that can be done with proper preparation and maintenance
Building & Construction
Spruce wood is an excellent choice for building projects like construction framing due to its stiffness and straightness. It’s widely available and more affordable than other types of wood, both softwood and hardwood.
Another advantage of Spruce wood is its flexibility, which allows it to be crafted into various structures and shapes. Additionally, it’s commercially available in different forms like round logs, glued structural elements, and veneers.
Boats & Aircraft
Spruce wood has a high strength-to-weight ratio, making it a good choice for building aircraft and boats. It also has a smooth finish and is moderately resistant to decay.
Boxes or Crates
Spruce is the best wood for making crates or quality boxes because it’s lightweight, which makes it easy to handle and transport. It also can hold heavy goods well.
What’s The Best Wood Type For Exterior Furniture?
Teak is widely considered the best wood type for outdoor furniture due to its natural resistance to moisture, rot, insect attacks, and weathering.
Teak’s high oil content also makes it resistant to warping, cracking, and splitting, which are common problems with other types of wood used for outdoor furniture.
It is also ideal for garden furniture as it is a dense hardwood containing natural oils that help repel water and prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi that can cause decay.
In addition, teak has a beautiful natural color and grain pattern that can be maintained over time with regular maintenance.
While teak may be more expensive than other types of wood, its durability and longevity make it a worthwhile investment for outdoor furniture that will withstand the elements.
Spruce vs Pine For Outdoor Use
Regarding outdoor use, Pine is a better choice than Spruce wood because it’s easier to work with. Although both are softwoods, Pine is more durable for outdoor use.
Pine wood is known to be more receptive to staining and easier to finish than Spruce. This is especially true for Spruce fences.
Even though Spruce wood may be less expensive than Pine, both types of wood need to be treated prior to outdoor use since they have low weather and rot resistance and can easily get damaged by water.
Hence, applying a sealer or finisher before using them outdoors is crucial. Regarding fencing, appearance, and physical attributes, some variations exist between the two types of wood.
Spruce boards are an excellent choice for constructing fences due to their straight and long pieces and a lower tendency to twist or warp than Pine.
While both kinds of wood are softwood and have similar hardness and density, carpenters prefer Pine due to its more straightforward processing. However, neither wood is suitable for high wear and tear applications such as house flooring or deck.
Spruce wood has a consistent light color and a straight grain, with rings and knots that are difficult to distinguish. It has a silky and smooth texture and tends to have a creamy white shade but is not rot-resistant.
Conversely, Pine also has a light color but features more visible knots and growth rings. It is reddish-brown to amber and sometimes displays bold grain patterns or brown streaks. However, Pine is more prone to dents and is considered a lower-quality material.
Spruce has a superior weight-to-strength ratio, making it suitable for boat building and producing high-quality violin tops and guitars due to its excellent acoustic attributes.
Pine is medium weight and often soft but offers good durability, although they do not tolerate prolonged moisture exposure. Pine is a preferred choice for various construction applications and interior paneling.
Spruce sapwood and heartwood are moderately resistant to decay, and Pine heartwood is comparatively rot-resistant.
Spruce vs Cedar For Outdoor Use
Cedar is superior to Spruce in outdoor applications due to its resistance to decay, moisture, and rot, making it ideal for wood carvings, exterior siding, flooring, benches, fences, and outdoor furniture.
While Spruce is moderately resistant to decay and rot, it is still vulnerable to insect infestation, moisture, and UV rays. Cedarwood releases a neurotoxic chemical that deters insects and bugs by causing them nerve damage, thus safeguarding the wood from attack or infestation.
Cedar’s strong aromatic scent also serves to repel insects. Also, proper finishing and treating Cedarwood before outdoor use is recommended to avoid weathering to a grey hue.
Is Spruce Rot Resistant? How Long Will It Last Outdoors?
Spruce lumber is not naturally rot-resistant, making it susceptible to damage from moisture, UV light, and insect infestations when used outdoors. The lifespan of outdoor Spruce depends on factors such as climate, exposure to moisture, and the application of protective treatments.
Spruce  lumber can last over a decade outdoors with proper finishing, sealing, and regular maintenance. However, untreated Spruce may only last 2-3 months due to its vulnerability to environmental elements.
Is Spruce hard or soft wood? How strong and hard is it?
Spruce is classified as a softwood. Although considered a softwood, Spruce is relatively strong and moderately hard. It is commonly used in construction and furniture due to its strength and workability. However, it is not as hard or strong as hardwood species like oak or walnut.
Is Spruce a good wood for firewood?
Spruce is an acceptable choice for firewood but is not the best option. It is relatively easy to split and has a low moisture content, which allows it to ignite quickly. But Spruce wood’s British thermal unit rating is relatively low, meaning it burns with less intensity than other woods.
Why use Spruce for frames?
Spruce is a popular choice for construction framing because it is a stable wood that provides stability and resists twisting and warping when damp. Its flexibility suits different construction requirements, and Spruce’s longevity is ensured since framing doesn’t involve direct ground contact.
Spruce is good for outdoor use due to its affordability, availability, and lightweight nature. However, it is essential to consider its limitations, such as lower durability and lack of resistance to rotting and insect attacks compared to other woods.
So, when selecting wood for outdoor projects, consider your project’s requirements and weigh Spruce’s advantages and disadvantages to determine if it is the best choice for your needs.
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