The Best Way to Protect & Care for Outdoor Wood Furniture

Welcome to the 267th Metamorphosis Monday!

Hope you had a great weekend! This weekend I was busy adding a bit of protection to the Pottery-Barn-Inspired potting table I made recently. I’m hoping to move it up to the deck soon for spring planting and summer parties and I really don’t want to see it become weathered and damaged over the years.

Pottery Barn Abbott Inspired Potting Table & Buffet Server


I’ve never before had to worry about protecting wood outdoor furniture so I did a little Googling and found a thread where folks were saying really good stuff about McCloskey Marine Spar Varnish. That reminded me of a YouTube video I had seen a week or so before where the guy in the video had just finished building a potting bench from pallet wood and he used spar varnish to protect it, also. So with those recommendations, I decided to go with a marine grade spar varnish and purchased the one that had been touted as being great in the thread.

I couldn’t find anyone who sold this brand locally so I ended up ordering it here: Marine Spar Varnish. Their website says: “The strongest name in clear protection is McCloskey® Man O’War® Spar Marine Varnish. Use on interior and exterior wood surfaces to protect and beautify for years to come!”

McCloskey Man o 'War Marine Spar Varnish


I like the idea that it’s a clear product since I really didn’t want to cover up the natural color of the cedar wood.

Build a Potting Bench or Garden Table


This brand also states that it has  superior durability, U.V. protection, is water-resistant, helps prevent weather damage, and resists cracking and peeling. It also resists ocean salt spray but that’s wasn’t a concern for me since I’m nowhere near the ocean.

Here’s a list of all the things this particular varnish can be used on:

Exterior wood entry doors
Ideal for expensive mahogany, etc.
Wood garage doors
Wood shutters
Wood hand rails
Wood outdoor furniture
Interior window sills & frames
Lamp posts
Wood trim on boats (above water line)
Wood projects (birdhouses, mailboxes, etc…)

This was the type brush I used to apply the varnish. It was was recommended by my local hardware store.

Brush for Marine Varnish


When you apply the varnish, it feels somewhat dry after 6 hours but you have to wait 24 hours to apply a second coat. After removing the dragonfly hooks, I applied the first coat of varnish to the cedar table just a couple of hours before nightfall. I had the doors open until it got dark out. This photo was taken that night after I had applied one coat of varnish.

After 1st Coat of Varnish_wm


Here’s how the potting table looked the next morning. It felt dry but it also felt kind of oily. You can see it looked a little splotchy although it felt dry. I guess different areas of the wood just take the varnish differently.

Before 2nd Coat of Marine Varnish


I waited 24 hours as the can/instructions recommended before applying a second coat of varnish. Before applying the varnish, I lightly sanded the table because the first coat of varnish had raised the grain a little all over the table. You could feel it with your hands.

After a light sanding and a good wipe down to remove any sanding dust, it was time to apply the second coat of varnish.

Applying 2nd Coat of Varnish


Here’s how it look around 6:30 PM last night after the second coat of varnish had been applied. (See photo below) The second coat went on much faster because the wood didn’t drink it in like it did the first time around. I used probably 1/3 of the (quart) can the first time, maybe even a little more. I was worried I wouldn’t have enough to apply all the coats it would need since it took so much the first time.

I need not have worried because the potting table didn’t require near as much varnish for the second coat. The wood just didn’t drink it up quite as much as it had the first time. By the way, this stuff is super strong-smelling so I highly recommend you use it either outdoors or somewhere where you have LOTS of ventilation.

I’ll check it tomorrow evening (after 24 hours have passed) to see if it needs a third coat of varnish. I will probably go ahead and apply a third coat to the top surface and to the lower shelf, since they will see the most use and weather.

This varnish is available here: Marine Spar Varnish

After 2nd Coat of Marine Varnish


So that’s what I was working on this weekend, well that and a few other things.

How was your weekend? Work on any projects around you house?

Looking forward to all the Before and Afters linked for this Met Monday!

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  1. Susan,
    Your bench looks beautiful! I was thinking that since you will be using the bench as a server also on your wonderful deck/porch, it might be nice and utilitarian to add towel bars on either end. If you could find some to coordinate with your dragonfly hangars it would be lovely. They could aid in moving/pulling the bench into position and would also look wonderful with kitchen towels or tea towels for serving. If in use as an actual potting bench, work rags/cloths might be helpful. Just a thought. I’ve been browsing online for a potting bench, now I’m thinking of making one. Thanks for the motivation.
    Sincerely, Norma

    • Norma, I was thinking about that, too. The Pottery Barn inspiration piece had a towel bar on the end. I’m just wondering if I can find one that won’t rust. I may need to buy one and paint it with Rustoleum or something like that. I need to do a little research and figure out what would be less likely to rust. I’m probably over-thinking it, something I NEVER do. Yeah, right. lol 🙂

  2. Christina MCCall says

    Susan, how funny! You are using this same varnish someone recommended to me this past weekend. My daughter that lives in ATL came into town with her fiance for an engagement party, so Caroline (my 16 year old was my date to the party…lol). Anyway. At a wedding I attended last year, the wedding planner used “wood” meaning a 4-5′ log of wood was cut and varnished to server some desserts on. I thought that was a really neat idea. That was the end of it. Then then last night the event coordinator did something similar with the food set up so I found out from her husband that he sawed off about a 3-4″ peice of wood from a tree trunk log that fell in their yard, stained it with a a golden oak color then used this Spar varnish. I tell you, it was beautiful!!!!!! They were thinking of making chargers out of the same log and use the above stated process for a bride who wanting a wedding in a barn. I just thought “how darling”. Then at the party my wheels were just turning like crazy and I I thought that for I would not mind adding in some of the varnished logs for a “rustic Southern style bar-b-que, with these logs for serving the food on, and/or maybe use for chargers. My friends husband has that super duper safety type saw that you just mark and it just cuts it without taking off any fingers. So if I can pull off making the chargers using the process that would be so neat, then with that I wanted to have mason glasses with handles for drinking glasses and red bandanas for the napkins with flatware rolled in them and some rustic string tied around it. Of course there are so many other other elements as well that would be added. But that varnish seems to be the best there is. Your potting bench looks fabulous!!! I think we are getting really warm wether this week. So it is the beginning of cleaning up the yard and then finish the planting I did not get to last year. Have a great week and keep those wonderful ideas coming :). Let me know what your though are on making chargers from an old log. Maybe you have seen it done before? Have a wonderful week! Thanks so much!! Christina

  3. Thanks for sharing this great info! Love your potting bench!

  4. Hi Susan, I love how the varnish added some depth of color to the wood grain and protects your table too! I wonder if it would work well on a painted door? I have an old door on my potting shed on the back that was a salvage piece that had some water damage and will ultimately have to be replaced but maybe the varnish will help it last a little longer.

    • Hi Mary, on your door the varnish will work okay if the existing paint is oil based, if it is water based the varnish will actually lift and peel it. Never use an oil base product over a water based one. I learned this the hard way. 🙂

    • Thanks, Mary! That’s a good questions. I just tried Googling that and couldn’t find anything about using marine spar varnish over paint. The McCloskey info says: Use on: Ideal for expensive mahogany, etc. Exterior wood entry doors, Wood garage doors, Entry ways, Wood shutters, Wood hand rails, Wood outdoor furniture, Interior window sills & frames, Planters, Wood trim on boats (above water line), Wood projects (birdhouses, mailboxes, etc.). Man O’War Spar Varnish should not be used on: Decks, Stairs , House siding, Log cabins, Wood on boats below water level.
      So it doesn’t mention over paint. You may want to just google for their number and call them to ask. I wish I had a better answer. If you find out that you can do it, let me know…I would love to know if it will work over paint.

  5. Your new cart is fantastic! I’m so impressed you built it yourself!! Enjoy using it this spring and summer. Thanks for hosting another great party.

  6. I have always loved the look of potting benches, but my problem is I don’t have a green thumb. I wish I planted and had all these beautiful plants, but I seem to always kill them. I keep trying though!

    Shannon ~

  7. Wow, Susan! I am so impressed that you made your potting bench! It looks fabulous! I’m enjoying our beautiful weather!…hugs…Debbie

  8. Thank you for hosting, Susan. I’m loving your potting bench! Have a great week!

  9. pam ~ crumpety cottage says

    Susan, it looks great with that second coat! Like you though, I’d probably apply a third. 😉 I know cedar naturally greys over time, so I wonder if this varnish will retard that process. It looks so pretty, this warm orange-y color.

    So, you finally made your decision and varnished. 😀 I suspect you may have gotten to one or two of your other projects as well, knowing how energetic and productive you are. I hope we’ll hear about those soon.

    Have a wonderful week, my busy bee friend. 🙂

  10. This looks like great stuff Susan, anything named Man o War has to be serious stuff! I am going to remember this, our home on the coast is challenging to keep up, this is going to come in handy! Have a great week, and get that cute cart outside on your deck!

    • lol Don’t you love that name…that cracked me up, too! I need a couple of burly man…I think I may call someone I know to see if he and his son can help me move it up to the deck. Stay tuned! Let’s hope it doesn’t take a CRANE!!! 🙂

  11. Susan, thanks for hosting! I love your potting table!

  12. That should work really well! I don’t know that brand but from the information you’ve given it sounds like a good product. Hmm…. still working on how I would get that big boy upstairs!!

    • LOL I think I’ll have to call someone for help…just hope it’s not too heavy for a couple of guys to carry it up the stairs. It will fit through my screened doors, thank goodness. 🙂

  13. Wonderful, Susan – your potting bench looks fantastic – I agree – the marine grade protection will be your best solution – can’t wait to see it done! I do appreciate you hosting,

  14. Thanks for hosting, Susan. Hope your DIY ADD has settled down. I know the feeling. 🙂
    Rita C at Panoply

  15. Peggy Thal says

    Love your beautiful potting/ party cart. My favorite is the cute firefly hooks you added. Just made that special touch. –I use that Marine varnish on all my outdoor items . It is great for a water fountain, large pots, benches , etc. we first bought it for my daughters outdoor bamboo bar in Florida. Just needs to be reapplied every few years. This is easy to do.

    • Thanks, Peggy! You can get those in Lowes…I was shocked that they had them! That’s amazing that you can use it on all those things…I had no idea you could use it on pots! Mary in a comment above was asking if it could be used over paint. Have you had any experience with that? I wasn’t sure.

  16. Thanks for hosting Susan1 With the good weather here, we will start the huge outdoor cleanup. It’s a lot of work but worth it:-)

  17. Happy Monday, Susan! Wow, you have been busy, as always. Your potting table looks fantastic and you should be extremely proud of yourself. Thank you for your varnish recommendation. We have a wooden garage door and have to routinely varnish it (it gets brutal sun exposure out here in CA, so we do it about every 5 years or so). It’s due for another treatment and your product certainly comes with high grades for success, so I passed the info on to hubby. Enjoy your week! Rosie

  18. Sounds like a product I need to use. Actually, I should have used it years ago. I’m afraid my porch rockers are too far gone. Thanks for the recommendation. laurie

  19. Thanks for hosting! Love your potting bench.

  20. Your table and vignette is so pretty for Spring! Thank you so much for hosting! ~Liz

  21. Suzanne of Simply Suzannes at Home

    You’ve inspired me, Susan! Your potting table is beautiful. I can only imagine all the wonderful transformations that it will undergo :0)
    Thanks so much for hosting!
    Have a great week,

  22. Linda Page says

    The potting table looks great with 2 coats but I agree that a 3rd coat would be beneficial. You are becoming a professional. Bob Villa, move over!!!!!

    • Yep, the top looks like it needs one more today. I will be smelling varnish for weeks! 🙂 LOL I don’t think Bob Villa is in any danger of losing his day job! 😉

  23. Doesn’t that stuff bring out the gorgeousness of wood!!! Lookin good! franki

  24. Sealers are always a dilemma. Thanks so much ! I want to make one of those too! So insiring,

  25. That is one gorgeous potting bench -I’m ” green ” with envy 🙂
    And many thanks for another great party – have a wonderful week.

  26. Your Potting Table is looking good Susan! When our children were young we had a vacation cottage and I used the Marine Varnish as a sealer anywhere that might come into contact with water. (Outdoor wooden furniture etc. and even used it as a sealer on the bathroom vanity. ☺) Long story short, I think you will be happy with its durability. -Brenda-

  27. Thank you for hosting , I can’t wait to check out these links!

  28. That is a wonderful potting table. So much space and love that it is on wheels too. Thanks for hosting!

    Big Texas Hugs,
    Susan and Bentley

  29. Your potting bench looks great Susan! Thanks for the info on varnishing it and thanks for hosting MM this week.

  30. Oh the potting table looks so wonderfully shiny after the coat of marine varnish…I am sure you are really going to enjoy the bench so much this Spring!!

  31. I love your potting cart! It is so pretty. Thanks for hosting. Hope your week is off to a great start.

  32. I wonder if I could use that varnish on my redwood deck outside? I read where you can apply all different kinds of woods, but nothing for a deck. What do you think?
    I am having my nephew make me one of those carts for my birthday…YEAH CANT WAIT!!!!!!!!

  33. Love the potting bench and those dragonfly hooks are perfect. Just the right touch. My husband and I made a potting bench from fence boards a couple years ago, it is still one of my most popular posts. Since I don’t have a mantle I decorate it seasonally. It sits on our back deck and can be seen from the living room all the time. I know you will get as much enjoyment from yours.

  34. That is a beauty of a potting bench, Susan! You have done a wonderful job. I love how the color is turning out! Thanks so much for hosting and have a great week!

  35. What a gorgeous potting table you have created! I can’t believe you MADE it! Great design. Love the coasters at the bottom….
    Happy St. Patties!! 🙂
    x Crystelle
    Crystelle Boutique

  36. All ready to repel the Spring rains (you know, the ones that come in sideways). Great job!

  37. Susan, I commented on your potting bench before but every time I see the picture of it, I am not only amazed that you built that but equally amazed at how you styled it. It looks like a picture that would be in a high end ad. It’s really, really nice!

  38. Susan, I love your bench (table). I, too, am amazed that you made it!

  39. Your potting table is awesome, Susan! I’d love to accomplish something like that! Thanks for hosting! ~Zuni

  40. Hey Susan! You may have posted the link and I’ve just missed it; work has been zoo lately and I’ve been unable to visit like I normally do! That said? I am LOVING your bench! I did pin your tutorial, but somehow missed the wheels! I actually have those dragonfly hooks already, believe it or not, since I love them and buy them as I find good quality unusual things about. Which brings me full circle to the wheels! I am looking for a bar cart to rehab and need some wheels like that. Any chance you have a link or any info about where you got them? Thanks so much!

  41. Hey Susan .. !! the bench is really beautiful . The garden is my homes most loving part and it’s furniture also . This movable bench will sure be a good part of my garden . Thank you ..

  42. Wondering how your potting bench is holding up after a couple of years.

    • Cathie, I have never moved it outdoors. I wanted it up on my deck and I started to ask the guys who cleaned/painted my porch two summers ago to move it up there, but I chickened out, hated to ask them. I had planned to clean and restain that deck last summer, then get someone to move it up there for me, that’s where I tend to do most of my potting for the deck area. Anyway, I wanted to do that before it was moved up and never got it done. I think I’m going to just move it out and use it under the deck since I’m not sure if I want to move it up to the top deck or not now. It has come in handy as a work surface for the other building projects I’ve done, so I’ll miss it when I finally do move it to the outdoors for planting. Sorry I can’t give you a report on how it has weathered, but I do expect the marine varnish to keep it in good shape. They use that stuff on boats! 🙂

  43. Hi Susan,

    I loved your idea of creating the potting bench. But what wood have you used for making? I was reading this forum on Garden web about which wood is best for outdoor furniture, and popular choice seemed to be teak.

    But teak is expensive, so what do you suggest?

    Thanks in advance!


    • I used Cedar since its supposed weather well and be insect resistant, but I ended up applying several coats of a marine varnish since I didn’t want to see it weather and turn gray.

  44. Mike Lucas says

    I want to use natural wood post on the corners of a beach bar I’m building. I have 2 dead ash trees that are dried out and hard as rock. What should I do to help preserve them? What should I put on them? Any suggestions?

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