What outdoor finish has the balance of looking good, protecting wood and maintanable by non-woodworker

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I got a friend that want's me to make a wooden head piece for his parents grave out of a 24x18x3" Hawaiian Milo slab. Instead of setting on a slab on cement like a headstone he plans to hang it from frame like a sign so he can easily take it off to maintain the finish. I do some CNC work and know little about finishes but even less about outdoor finishes. Paint is not an option and he is not a woodworker so I want to set him up with a finish than isn't too had for him to maintain but looks beautiful and hope fully protects the Milo color which tends to turn gray in the sun.

I don't think he'll have an issue with needing to refinish several times a year but I wondering if he'll need remove the finish before re-apply or is there something that we can add on the existing like I see some woodworkers do with oil finished. Some of the script text and images I'm putting on is thin so I want to make sure the maintenance process with not effect the carvings.


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Another recent thread about outdoor signs has many suggests that coukd apply here. Unfortunately, there aren't many clear finished that provide good UV protection to prevent the wood from turning gray. If your friend doesn't mind the maintenance, I'd suggest a clear deck sealer of some type. Many advertize UV protection, and the maintenance process is usually to just was and re-apply. But you have to stay on it, if mildew takes hold you will lose some surface material getting it off.

If the frame includes a small roof to add shade and reduce rain exposure, it will last much longer.

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4 hours ago, roldogg said:

I have a wooden gate that was built when I bought my house 3 years ago, and since then, the wood weathered to the typical grey color, which I was tired of looking at. So, I sanded everything at 220 grit, then applied a couple coats of TotalBoat penetrating epoxy. Once this cured, I followed it up with 4 coats of TotalBoat’s Lust, a marine spar varnish. The process took some time, but the gate looks exactly like it did 6 months ago when I finished it. The penetrating epoxy prevents water from getting under the varnish, causing the varnish to peel and crack, and the varnish protects the wood from UV rays. Being a gate outside, which gets constant rain and full sun, I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. The gate has a glossy finish to it, but Lust comes in both a gloss and a matte finish. I haven’t tried the matte, but I think this combination of finishes for an outdoor project has made it just about bulletproof. I hate the grey weathered look of wood, and so far, it’s holding up like a champ.


That's' the basic formula I know, too (Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer, followed by spar varnish.)  I used it on an outdoor table that really doesn't get much UV (still looks like new, but not a good test.)   My expectation is that it will require a bit more spar varnish from time to time.

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