The Best Hard and Soft Woods for Your All-Seasons Outdoor & Patio Furniture

Outdoor or patio furniture is expensive, often extremely expensive, depending on the type and quality of materials used.

The most affordable outdoor furniture is typically made of plastics or metals.

Wood outdoor furniture, considered the most luxurious and aesthetically desirable, will be among the most expensive.

However, because there’s such a large variety of wood types available to you, each with its own distinctive characteristics and qualities, pricing runs the gamut from the very affordable to the unbelievably expensive.

Today, I’ll carve out a handful of popular woods that might fit your budget, whatever it might be, and I’ll also list their pros and cons.

We’ll start, of course, with the king of exotic hardwoods…


teak outdoor furniture  

Teak, native to tropical Southeast Asia, has been used since antiquity to build and accessorize sea-faring ships for the following inescapable reasons:

One, it’s waterproof and insect-resistant thanks to an abundance of oils and resins within its distinctive and attractive grains.

Sun, desert heat, snow, freezing winds and rain will not negatively impact its strength, durability, or its natural beauty. 

Two, it does not require constant care. It’s a relatively no-fuss, long-lasting, durable and dependable wood.

Teak’s only downside (because of all the reasons above)—it’s one of the most expensive woods to buy.

A patio set, from a big name brand employing the best construction techniques using the best quality teak, could easily put you back $30,000 or more.


IPE (pronounced ee-pay)

 ipe outdoor furniture 

Ipe is an increasingly popular alternative to teak, thanks to its relative abundance and its teak-similar properties.

Ipe is grown primarily in Central and South America, and its wood is even harder than teak.

However, because ipe is a much harder, heavier and denser wood than teak, it requires special equipment, and expertise, to harvest, cut, shape, and transport. And that can often make ipe a bit more expensive than teak.

While teak is honey-gold or caramel in coloring, ipe is a deep reddish-brown or blackish-brown. In short, it’s a darker wood.

It’s also more environmentally sustainable than teak.

Teak’s popularity, and over-harvesting, is making it increasingly rare—and more expensive.

And this, unfortunately, has fostered a thriving worldwide illegal trade in teak.

So, caveat emptor when buying teak, or any prized wood for that matter.



 Acacia outdoor furniture

Acacia, also known as Mimosa, Thorntree and Wattle among others, is a hardwood that can be found throughout most of the temperate world.

As such it’s one of the most environmentally-friendly hardwoods.

In fact, there are over 1,350 species of Acacia worldwide, which is why acacia’s grains can be straight or wavy, and its color can range from a light amber to chocolate to a dark mahogany.

Irrespective of its species, acacia wood is smooth to the touch; it doesn’t splinter or chip; and it’s generally resistant to scratches.

Due to its lower oil content it can easily be stained or painted, unlike teak or ipe.

However, though it’s somewhat water-resistant, it's certainly not waterproof. Therefore, acacia needs to be treated regularly with a moisture-resistant finish before exposing it to a climate that has a lot of rain, high humidity or heat.

It also requires much more care and maintenance than either teak or ipe, which is why, aside from its widespread availability, it’s a more affordable hardwood (compared to teak and ipe.)



 cedar patio furniture

Rich with highly aromatic oils, cedar has long been recognized for its excellent insect repellant qualities.

In fact, I remember my parents lining one of their closets in Florida with cedar paneling to keep insects (of which there are plenty in Florida) from eating holes in their clothes.

For my part, to keep my cigars fresh, my cigar humidor (and all cigar humidors for that matter) is lined with cedar to help damp-down unacceptable levels of humidity.

Though it’s a soft, lightweight wood, cedar doesn't shrink, swell, warp, or decay even when there are severe changes in weather. Maybe not to the same degree as teak or ipe, but it’s still a great choice for humid climates.

And because cedar grows quickly, and widely, it’s a sustainable and eco-friendly resource.

On the downside, as a soft wood, it’s susceptible to scratching and denting.

And it requires regular maintenance and care.

Worth noting too, cedar’s distinctive reddish-brown coloring and grain patterns gives it a noticeably rustic look, so make sure it fits your aesthetic and style preferences.

As for cost, it’s comparatively price-friendly.



 Douglas-fir outdoor furniture

Among softwoods, Douglas fir is one of the strongest—twice as hard as cedar.

It’s resistant to rot and decay. And it’s abundant and fast-growing, therefore sustainable—one of the reasons it’s favored as a Christmas tree.

However, it’s not extremely durable. Untreated, it can last approximately 15 years (cedar can last up to 30 years.)

With regular maintenance and treatments, Douglas fir’s lifespan can double. Still, that’s a far cry from teak which can last 75 years or longer even when untreated.

On the other hand, Douglas fir is far less expensive than teak, or even cedar.

Appearance-wise, it has a reddish-yellow or reddish-brown hue, similar to cedar, though not as pronounced.

Regular cleaning and refinishing are necessary to preserve both its appearance and longevity.

To protect it from insects and moisture, it’s actually best to seal it.



 cypress outdoor furniture

Cypress is a softwood with a light yellow to medium brown color in the heartwood, and nearly white in the outer rings (sapwood.)

It’s a rather unique wood in that it has the strength and durability of a hardwood, yet it’s not a very dense wood and therefore relatively lightweight.

Like cedar, it’s rot and insect resistant. And because it grows in wet, swampy areas, mostly in the southeastern United States, it’s highly resistant to moisture—its most prized attribute.

Bald cypress (another variety) grows pretty much throughout the U.S.

However, cypress is a slow-growing tree, so sustainability is an issue—especially now that logging is increasing. Currently, though, it’s still moderately priced.

If the lumber comes from the heartwood and/or from an old-growth tree (exceedingly rare, and expensive), it can with proper care and treatment last upwards of 100 years.

Even “run of the mill” cypress, when properly treated and sealed, can still provide you with a lifetime of quality service.


In summary…

Wood, all wood, is wonderfully alive. It breathes. It reacts to temperature and humidity by contracting and expanding (some woods more than others.)

Wood’s coloring and grain patterns, its hardness or softness, its strengths and durability is why when you approach it you instinctively extend your hand to touch it, to run your hand across it, to feel its smoothness and warmth.

The beauty of wood, and its value, is timeless.

You cannot say that about plastic or metal.

Of course, the cost of any wood is dependent on many factors.

Some require more care and maintenance than others. Some woods are eco-friendly, sustainable—some are less so. Some can last for many generations, others not.

If you’re drawn to nature—if you appreciate the beauty of nature, and want to live beside it—a part of it—you owe it to yourself, when shopping for outdoor furniture, to investigate the many, many varieties of wood that are available to you.

Final Note: this article is only a jumping-off point, a beginning, and hopefully an inspiration. Do your research. Follow you heart.

See the forest, and the trees.

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