Teak Oil vs Varnish on Outside Furniture – Pros Cons and Tips

There are many options for wood finishes, but teak oil and varnish are among the most popular ones. However, both of them have their own advantages and disadvantages. So, in this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about teak oil and varnish and help you decide which one is better for you.

Teak oil is a mixture of linseed oil and solvents that vary by brand. It protects your outside furniture from damage caused by UV rays and rain. However, it darkens the wood, which is not desirable if applied to light-colored furniture. Varnish consists of resin and results in a glossy finish without changing the color of your furniture.

Many people pick their wood finish just by the type of wood of their furniture. However, there is actually a lot to choosing the right finish, and it not all depends on the color of your furniture. In this article, we will discuss everything you must know about the pros and cons of teak oil and varnish, and give you tips to help you avoid the mistake of choosing the wrong option.

Teak Oil vs Varnish: Pros and Cons

Like most wood oils, teak oil penetrates deeply into the wood, nourishing and protecting the furniture from within. As a result, it is effective even when the outside layer is damaged. On the other hand, varnish creates a protective layer on top of the furniture. In case it is damaged, it halts to be protective and the elements can damage your furniture.

This is also the reason why teak oil can change the appearance of your furniture. It seeps deeply and darkens the color of the wood, which is sometimes desirable when used on dark hardwoods like mahogany or walnut. However, using teak oil on lighter woods like ash or birch can result in unwanted darkening, which is not aesthetically pleasing. 

On the other hand, varnish does not change the color of the wood, but rather creates a glossy finish. Some people prefer it to the darkening caused by teak oil. Some brands even offer semi-gloss or satin varnishes, which do not change the appearance of the furniture at all. If you love the way your outdoor bench looks, we recommend you finish it with such a varnish.

Finally, you have to know that you will have to maintain both teak oil and varnish finishes. It is not a one-time procedure, and you will have to take care of it. Most teak oils wear down 6 to 12 months after application, depending on the environmental factors. When you notice your furniture greying and losing the rich color of teak oil, you have to sand the surface and apply the oil again.

On the other hand, varnish requires less maintenance and does not require additional work until it is damaged. However, if you have little children who play near the furniture, it is likely that the varnish layer will get damaged quickly and you will have to apply it again.

Pros and cons of teak oil:

UV ProtectionDarkens the Wood
WaterproofingRequires Maintenance
Satin FinishNot Recommended With Lighter Woods

Pros and cons of varnish:

Less MaintenanceNot as Protective
Glossy FinishCan be Damaged Easily
Can Be Used on Lighter WoodsSome Contain Toxic Ingredients

We recommend using teak oil if you have furniture made of darker wood because teak oil will make it even darker. We also advise using teak oil instead of varnish if you have small children or pets, because teak oil finish seeps deep into the furniture and continues to be effective even if the surface is damaged.

On the other hand, we recommend you use varnish if you own furniture made of light-colored woods, like maple or birch. Teak oil will simply ruin its appearance, while varnish will result in an aesthetic gloss. Additionally, varnish requires less maintenance, because it creates a protective layer on the surface of the furniture, which remains effective until it is damaged.

Steps for applying Teak Oil and Varnish

Now, let us talk about the application of teak oil and varnish. While some steps and details differ, the process of applying these wood finishes is similar. Remember, always follow the specific instructions provided by the product you are using. Here are the fundamental basics of applying teak oil or varnish to your outdoor furniture:

1. Clean the surface of your furniture

Getting rid of dirt and dust is essential because unwanted particles can damage the structural properties of wood finishes. We recommend using a soft towel soaked in water to avoid damaging your furniture.

2. Sand the wood surface

It depends on the wood of your furniture, but we recommend starting with coarser 100-grit sandpaper and then moving your way to finer 150-grit sandpaper. If you do not own such sandpapers, do not worry as you can use different grit sizes, as long as you start with coarser and end with finer sizes.3.

3. Apply teak oil or varnish

Apply the oil or varnish on a small area of the underside of your furniture. Let it dry and see if you like the end color of the finish. This step might seem unnecessary, but you definitely want to avoid ending up with a color that you do not like.

If the test was successful, apply teak oil or varnish on your furniture with a brush. There are specific brushes you can get for this purpose, which are wide and have natural, usually hog’s hair bristles, or synthetic (nylon or polyester) bristles. Do not shy of spending an extra couple of bucks for a good brush, because the cheap ones will make your work harder. However, if you are in a pinch, you can even use a rag instead.

Spread your teak oil or varnish evenly throughout the furniture. The better you prepared the surface with sandpaper, the easier it will be.

4. Remove the excess product

Take off the extra teak oil or varnish off the surface. If it is your first time finishing wood, you are likely to leave extra oil or varnish in certain areas of the furniture. Simply take a rag and wipe off the extra, so you are guaranteed to have a long-lasting and effective finish.

5. Let it Dry

The final steps vary by the exact product you are using, but all of them require you to let it dry. Some finishes recommend applying several layers, others do not. That is why it is super important to follow instructions that come with your finish.

Best Teak Oils and Varnishes

There are many options of wood finishes available on the market. To save you time, we will recommend some of the best teak oils and varnishes that are currently available on Amazon.

For teak oil, we recommend Star brite Premium Golden Teak Oil. It is made of ultra-refined oil, polymers, and UV absorbers. It seeps deeply into the wood, resulting in long-lasting protection against the elements. Finally, it gives a warm golden color finish, that looks great on dark woods like mahogany or walnut.

You can get it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00004YO4S/ref=twister_B093WLXMDL?_encoding=UTF8&th=1 

For varnish, we recommend TotalBoat Gleam Marine Spar Varnish. While it is primarily recommended for boats, it is also endorsed for outdoor furniture. This varnish is made of premium tung oil and phenolic resins, guaranteeing longevity. It also contains UV inhibitors, which will protect your furniture from sun exposure. Finally, you can choose from “clear gloss” and “satin low-sheen” options, depending on what look you want to achieve.

You can get it here: https://www.amazon.com/TotalBoat-Gleam-Marine-Varnish-Low-Sheen/dp/B00J33B0C2/ 


Q: Is it necessary to use teak oil or varnish for outside furniture?

A: It is not necessary to apply wood finish onto your outside furniture. However, if you live in a hot and humid climate, it is recommended to use either teak oil or varnish to prolong the lifespan of your furniture. Applying a wood finish will protect it from sun rays and rain that can damage the wood.

Q: Can teak oil and varnish go bad?

A: Yes, wood finishes like teak oil and varnish can go bad if they are stored in poor conditions. It is recommended to keep your teak oil or varnish in its original container and store it in a cool, dark, and dry place. However, even properly stored wood finish can go bad if it goes past its expiration date. Always search for the expiration date on the product’s label and avoid using it if it is expired.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, teak oil and varnish are both great options if you want to fortify your outside furniture and ensure its longevity. These finishes are especially useful if you are living in a hot and humid climate because most outdoor furniture is susceptible to the elements like sun and rain. Hopefully, after reading our article you are equipped with the knowledge of which of the two suits your outside furniture best!

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

Recent Posts