How to Refinish Your Outdoor Furniture

The Nags Head Hammocks guys are true outdoor furniture experts. They live and breathe the stuff every day, and it was a pleasure working with them as we refinished one of their popular bar stools.


Be sure to check out our video guide if you haven’t seen it already. It’ll walk you through everything that follows in this post.

OUR TARGET CHAIR, 4 Years Outside, Partial Sunlight

We took pictures of three chairs to demonstrate the process that wooden furniture undergoes during prolonged exposure to the elements. We’re refinishing the chair above, which still looks pretty darn good, considering it’s been outside for 4+ years already.
Brand new Nags Head bar stool
BRAND NEW CHAIR, 0 Years Outside

This is our goal. We’re expecting our four year old chair to compare favorable with this chair once we’re finished. We photographed it to have an authentic reference point for “brand new.”
Extremely weathered Nags Head bar stool
THE OLD MAN, 7+++ (???) Years Outside, Full Sunlight

Let this serve as a warning to those who fail to refinish their furniture every few years: Once that outer stain has faded, the wood underneath becomes extremely vulnerable to rot — even quality hardwoods. This chair is handcrafted from fine oak, and while still salvageable, would have benefited greatly from some simple upkeep during its outdoor career.
Finishing supplies

You’ll see that we used Helmsman’s clear gloss spar urethane. Helmsman’s is the sealant of choice for our Nags Head outdoor furniture experts, along with Olympic brand sealant. Remember to go for synthetic over oil-based brands for greater staying power and mildew resistance. Stain+Sealant combinations are great for bringing that like-new color back to your wooden furniture while simultaneously increasing weatherability.
Finishing supplies 2
Get some plastic gloves when handling sealant. Ideally, it should never touch exposed skin if you can avoid it. We used a screwdriver to partially disassemble our furniture. You may need additional tools if you’ve got a piece of furniture that’s in really bad shape, because in that case, you should consider disassembling the piece for as thorough a refinishing as possible.
Finishing supplies 3
You’ll notice we have two grit levels of sandpaper — a finer and rougher grit. You’ll use the finer for sanding sharp corners, and also after our first two coats of stain — more on that later.
Sanding the Nags Head bar stool
Closeup of sanding the Nags Head bar stool

After cleaning your outdoor furniture with a heavily diluted bleach solution (~1/4 cup of bleach per 2-3 gallons of water), thoroughly sand it from top to bottom. This will ensure the adherence of the stain. Don’t overdo it — use no heavier than medium grit paper, and lightly go over every surface you plan to stain.
Applying the stain to the Nags Head bar stool
Applying the stain to the Nags Head bar stool 2
Work in a well-ventilated area. We stayed in the sun for the sake of demonstration (prettier pictures), but we recommend a shadier setting for staining, if possible. Apply evenly, following the wood drain of each section and avoiding overlap at all costs. The more even each application is, the better looking the final product will be.
We applied three coats to our bar stool, and that’s generally what we recommend. 2-3 coats every year will keep most furniture looking immaculate; stretch it out to 2-2.5 years and you’ll probably still be OK. Environmental variables, the stain used, and the wood beneath all are factors with these estimates, so keep in mind that your mileage will vary.

The Nags Head Hammocks bar stool with a brand new finish on it

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