Refinish an old wood bench with Varathane stain, and turn an outdoor eyesore into beautiful patio furniture.
When we moved into our mid-century home, there were two wood benches in the backyard that looked like they might have been built when the house was. They were old and very gray. The benches are structurally sound, so they are perfectly safe to sit on. They just looked ugly and worn (if you need to fix an unsafe bench, read this post on Reinforcing a Park Bench). Here’s how I refinished one of these wood benches, and made it into beautiful outdoor furniture.
How to Clean Old Wood
The internet is filled with ways to make new wood look old and grey. Rustic wood is very popular right now. But I wanted to make old, grey wood look new or at least healthy wood-color. It took a lot of research to learn how. First, I learned that wood turns grey mostly from dirt, not age. That’s why wood left outdoors in the elements will grey much more and much faster than unfinished wood inside.
Next, I learned that many deck cleaners use bleach, which is really bad for wood. The outdoor wood may look whiter and brighter after cleaning, but bleach is really hard on the wood grain.
Oxalic acid is actually the best way to clean old, stained, or grey wood. It will clean black stains off wood furniture and take the grey dirt out of weathered wood. And oxalic acid doesn’t damage the wood grain.
The best part? I already have oxalic acid in my cleaning cupboard. It’s called Bar Keeper’s Friend. I think that stuff may have more than a million uses.
I sprinkled some Bar Keeper’s Friend powder on the wet bench, scrubbed it with a deck brush, and poured water to wash it off. Just a tip though, oxalic acid is not good for plants, so you probably don’t want to clean your old wood in the middle of a nice, green lawn.
Here you can see the difference between the bench I am refinishing and the other old bench. The cleaned bench is less grey and more tan (more wood-color). It looks a lot healthier.
Staining with Varathane
With the wood cleaned, it was ready to finish. I started looking at stains and paints to use on it. I really wanted the bench to add color to our patio, instead of just another brown thing, but I didn’t want a painted bench that would look bright, brand new, and plasticky. That would look stand out too much.
I found the perfect balance with Rust-Oleum’s Varathane wood stains. These stains add a rustic and worn color, so I could have my colorful bench that still looked like subtle wood. (full disclosure, Rust-Oleum gave me a free sample of the stain to try).
I used “worn navy” Varathane wood stain because I’m trying to use blue as an accent color throughout my house, including the patio. I used a brush to apply the stain. Usually, I would wipe off extra stain after brushing it on, but because the bench is so old and dry, it soaked up all of the stain and there was nothing left to wipe off. I also tried using a rag to apply the stain, but the rag put less stain on the wood, so I would have needed a second coat. One coat was plenty with the brush.
The stained dried quickly. I could pick up the bench and move it an hour after staining. I still gave it a few days to dry completely before I sanded the bench a little, just to let more wood show through.
There was also a little of the original paint left on the legs and underside of the bench. Those areas didn’t soak up much stain, so the paint still shows some. I really like the rustic touch those spots give to the bench.
Protecting the Wood Bench
The wood still needed to be protected from the elements because this is an outdoor bench. I sprayed Thompson’s Water Seal all over the wood bench to make the surface more water-resistant. You can see that the water sits on top of the wood instead of soaking in. That way the water won’t damage the wood.
The refinished wood bench now sits in front of our garden box. It’s a great place to sit and it looks good on our patio. The blue of the bench looks really good with the orangey garden box and patio tile because blue and orange are complementary colors.
This is a close-up of the finished wood. A beautiful and uneven blue with lots of wood grain still showing. Color and wood. It’s the best of both painting and staining.
I also used the Varathane stain on some of my flower pots. These are some dollar store pots, but the terra-cotta really absorbed the stain well. I like this much more than a painted pot.
The refinished wood bench and pots are now beautiful accessories in our backyard. I can’t believe that less than a year ago this was all mostly dirt. You can see the irrigation valve box behind the garden box, which is now overflowing with tomato plants. And I love our new lawn that we installed with sod this spring after putting in sprinklers. You can click on any of those links to read more about them. Just a few more projects and our backyard will be finished.
This post was shared at some of my favorite link parties.