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Treating Unfinished Wood

Americans spend more than $500 million on unfinished exterior furniture every year. According to Kaile Warren, home improvement expert and founder of Rent-A-Husband, most choose the raw furniture to save money, but most also ruin their investment by not protecting outdoor furniture properly.

Kaile visits Thursday's The Early Show to show how to prepare exterior furniture by either stain and varnish or paint.

Here is what you should keep in mind before starting this project:

Always have two work areas: a preparation area and a finishing area. It is important that you not try to stain or paint the piece in the same area where you have just sanded. Sanding will create a lot of dust and you want to prevent kicking up dust onto the furniture while you are staining and varnishing it.

Look for knots. Most people know what a knot looks like, but they do not know how to tell the good from the bad. A knot is where a branch was once hooked to the tree. A black knot means that it was harvested when it was dead. That is not a good piece of wood.

The problem with knots is that they loosen and fall out. A brown knot is okay as long as it doesn't have cracks in it. Sometimes knots add character. If your furniture has "bad" knots, you will need to use an epoxy glue to permanently secure it.

Prepare the surface. There are two ways to protect unfinished exterior furniture. You can either stain and varnish it or paint it. The one you choose depends on your preference.

The reason to stain is to color product to match something. The varnish is clear coating to protect wood and stain from weathering elements. The paint serves the same purpose, but is a quicker process. You have more color options with paint.

Follow the steps below to stain and varnish:

  1. Check for knots
  2. Lightly sand entire piece with palm sander or hand sander
  3. Take linen cloth and wipe piece
  4. Wipe with "tac" cloth (a cheese cloth with a tacky texture). The "tac" cloth picks up lint pieces that could show through varnish.
  5. Apply coat of wood conditioner. When you have wood that has parts that have been cut across the grain (like on the ends), you have to use wood conditioner. If you don't use wood conditioner, you risk having areas that look darker, which means the stain has absorbed faster in that spot. Let set for an hour or two.
  6. Rub the piece with emory cloth, which is a fine sand paper, or steel wool. This process will remove burrs that have been caused by wood conditioner.
  7. Wipe again with tac cloth.

    Move item to the finishing area

  8. Apply a coat of stain. Let set overnight. (You can come back later - 1 week or 1 month)
  9. Apply varnish. Use "spar" varnish, which is made for exteriors. You can't use interior varnish because it will blister outside.

Total work time is 1-2 hours. However, when you consider the drying time, it's a weekend project.

The first seven steps are the same to finish wood with paint. Once you move the item to the finishing area, follow the steps below:

  1. Apply one coat of exterior primer paint and let set for a few hours. Primer is important because it gives you better adhesion for paint and seals wood. A good tip is to make sure the primer is tinted within a couple of shades of paint color for easier coverage. If primer is white - which it normally is - and your paint is dark, you may have to apply several coats.
  2. Apply one coat of paint. Make sure you use exterior paint.
Generally, it is a good idea to freshen up your outdoor furniture with a coat of varnish (no need to stain again) or paint every 3 to 5 years. This may vary depending on whether you bring the furniture in during off-seasons.