Building Outdoor Furniture

Building Outdoor Furniture

Written by Frank McGill.

By the nature of where it spends it's life, outdoor furniture has to be designed first and foremost, to withstand its toughest enemy-the elements.  While makers of  indoor furniture need to consider the swelling and contractionof wood due to seasonal changes in relative humidity, outdoor furniture builders must also allow for the fact that their pieces will occasionally be drenched in water, dried by the wind, and baked by the sun.  With appropriate materials, design, joinery, and hardware, you can fashion pieces that will be as durable and long lasting as any kitchen side chair or bedroom armoire.

Choose a project by reviewing some of the styles and types of outdoor pieces that have been popular with woodworkers.  Your next concern should be selecting a wood species that is naturally decay resistant.  Several native species fit the bill, such as Northern white cedar and redwood, as do some imported ones like teak.  Since most of these species are softwoods, which are generally sold as dimensioned lumber, your wood projects will be more economical if you design them on the basis of their available dimensions.

Keep in mind that some of the same substances in decay-resistant woods that ward off rot can also give rise to allergic reactions in builders and end users.  Redwood, for example, can cause respiratory ailments, while teak can product skin and eye allergies.  Wester red cedar has been known in some cases to trigger all three types of reaction.

Your second line of defense against the elements is the joinery you select.  A basic rule is to avoid joints that will trap water that will eventually rot the wood when the weather is warm, or split the joint apart when it freezes in cold weather.  Many outdoor pieces rely on joints like the half lap that, when reinforced by screws, bolts, or knockdown fittings, should be stainless steel to avoid rust.  You should also use waterproof adhesives, such as epoxy or resorcinol.

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