Another critique request for a live edge outdoor bench


miketeve
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Hi, entirely new to this forum and woodworking / furniture building.  Based on talking to a live edge vendor and consulting the internet, I've devised the following plan for an outdoor live edge bench I'm making.  Would appreciate people's feedback!

Details:

  • Maple live edge
  • Will sit under the eaves of our house, so will be somewhat protected from water, but may get damp
  • Will not get a ton of direct sunlight
  • Planning on Epifanes clear varnish for first 3 coats, then Epifanes matte varnish for last 2 coats, as I'd like as much of a matte finish as possible
  • Planning on doing this in a garage at about 60 degrees 

Plan:

  1. Prep wood to 220 grit using my random orbital sander
  2. Apply water or mineral spirits to raise grain
  3. Add varnish - starting with 1:1 varnish:mineral spirits ratio with a foam brush
  4. Let sit for 1 day
  5. Hand sand with 220 grit
  6. Add 2nd coat, 1:1 ratio, foam brush
  7. Repeat for 3rd coat, but move to 2:1 ratio
  8. For 4th and 5th coat, use the matte varnish with 2:1 ratio and with fine bristled brush

Questions:

  • Do I sand after raising the grain before varnish?  Does this even matter?
  • Does the foam vs. bristled brush matter?
  • Could I just use the matte varnish for the whole thing?  I'm assuming people use the clear as it protects better?
  • Seems varnish is a much better solution than oil, unless I want to re-apply oil at least once or twice a year.  However, a natural wood look is my goal.  Given the conditions, maybe an oil finish is the better option?

Thanks again!

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Ok, first: use water to raise the grain, spirits doesn't really do that. Then sand. The whole point is to swell the surface fibers so the final sanding cuts them smooth.

Second, most people use clear varnish to build, then matte to finish, to minimize how much the grain is obscured by the flattening agents in the matte varnish. However, those same flattening agents are there to scatter and reflect light, so theoretically, matte varnish should protect more againsnt UV damage.

Third, and this is just my preference, but ditch the brushes, and use a rag. I have far better success at achieving a smooth finish by wiping on multiple thin coats, than brushing with anything. Also opinion, but I don't see how going progressively less dilute aids anything. Especially if you want to avoid a plastic-coated look, go thin and stop as soon as a film is visible.

If you have the option, I suggest re-thinking your choice of species. The wood database lists maple as "non-durable to perishable" when it comes to resistance to rot and insects. At the very least, soak the bottom inch or so of the legs in epoxy to prevent wicking moisture from the ground.

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I tried "Epifanes clear varnish " on a live edge hard maple which sit outside in the rain/snow (shelving next to an outdoor spa in the North East). The finish was in a total failure state after 2 years. The good news, the finish was peeling so baldly all I had to do was peeling and sanding.  Hard or soft maple are not recommended for outdoor used.  I was told that epifane are old-technology finishes and I tried the Ilva product line (I made a post in  July 2019).  It does not create a build-up of finishes, more like a stain. Refinishing it is easier, like a stain, light sanding, then refinished. I should have probably do a refinishing on it last year, but with covid, I did not have an easy access to it. Now, a year later, it does need sanding and refinishing.  The wood whisperer did a post on his outdoor project/finishes. I think, having a finish which is easy to recoat is key, which rules out Epifane. I just had to stain an outdoor ramp which was painted, with the pain peeling, forcing me to pressure wash to get the paint off. With stain, typically, just a good wash would have been sufficient. 

My advice,  expect to refinish it every year, therefore, pick the easiest finish to redo.  

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If it were me, I'd use white oak. Maple won't last long outside unless it's kept bone dry.

Second, I'd use a non-film forming finish and reapply on a regular basis. I've used penofin and outdoor defense oil. Penofin has some nasty voc smell but works, easy wipe on and no film. Outdoor defense is a lower voc, smells like citrus, pure tung oil with additives to make it good outdoors.

Either that or one of the wood whisperer recommendations here. https://youtu.be/kD9WstyGg-s

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