5 Best Clear Finish for Outdoor Wood 2022 [Top Picks]

When it comes to any wood projects, be it inside or outside your house, it is not uncommon to want that which is long-lasting for your items. However, attaining this level of durability for outdoor wood items does not come as easy as it does for indoor wood items. 

The reason is that outdoor wood items are greatly affected by several factors from the exposure they face. Some of the factors include UV rays from the sun causing fading, high temperatures, or moisture. Therefore, different techniques have been put into practice to protect our outdoor wood projects from some of the above-mentioned adverse conditions. 

One of the techniques used includes using a clear finish, which goes a long way in ensuring you get the durability you so much desire. There being a large variety of clear finishes for outdoor wood, I decided to put together a list of some of the best clear finishes that you can use on your outdoor wood.

Top 5 Best Clear Finish for Outdoor Wood 2022

1. Varathane 200061H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane

Varathane 200061H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane

This water-based polyurethane provides a protective layer that is very clear and does not yellow, allowing the naturally beautiful look of the wooden surface to shine through still. It is used on wood surfaces, like windows, to give clarity and an astonishingly clean and nicely polished look.

The water-based polyurethane can be used on stained or painted wood surfaces as long as you ensure that the surface you are applying it on is parched. For unfinished surfaces, sand the surface it is to be applied on, then wipe the dust off and apply the finish. 

You must have the best adhesion for finished surfaces, which is met by making sure the surface has no wax or oil before application. Recoating is done once the previous coats are completely dry and they have a hard texture. With its high resistance to stains and scratches, the surface quality and the color are well preserved for a long time. In addition, it gives a pleasant glossy outlook showing the depth and beauty of the wood surface. 

The minimum number of coats that I would recommend is four coats. After that, cleaning the surface will never be a hustle; you only require to use soap and water, and you will save up on cleaning time.

Pros

  • Excellent scratch and stain protection.
  • Little to no odor polyurethane.
  • Surfaces with this finish are easy to clean.
  • Dries up fast.

Cons

  • It takes time to dry up when the temperatures are low.

2. Minwax 630500444 Water Based Helmsman Spar Urethane

Minwax 630500444 Water Based Helmsman Spar Urethane

It is a clear coat finish that is used on outdoor wood to protect it. Contains special oils that give a satin finish and allows for expansion and contraction depending on the outdoor temperatures. It is sometimes applied on untreated wood, ensuring protection against UV damages and water during rains. It is, therefore, without question, also perfectly safe to use on treated wood. 

This finish is clear when applied to any light-colored wooden items, forming a thick surface for wood protection. By protecting against any UV damages, it stops the wood from fading and any color lightening. In addition, the special oils in the finish help the wood items adapt to temperature changes during any season of the year. I would highly recommend that you apply a minimum of three coats if this is your choice of clear finish for outdoor wood. 

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I would highly recommend you apply approximately 4 to 5 thin coats using a natural bristle brush. Later on, you can reapply one coat per year to acquire 6 to 8 thin coats, which is highly recommended for the best protection. Ensure you sand in between the coats to ensure that the next coat applied adheres a lot better to the newly reapplied surface. When it comes to the final coat, you do not necessarily need to sand it unless there are bubbles which only occur when the finish is applied in thick layers.

Pros

  • Protects untreated wood for outdoor use.
  • Lasts for two to three years without requiring a do-over.
  • Easy to use.
  • Great for use on light-colored wood.

Cons

  • It gives a yellow tint on light-colored wood.

3. Rust-Oleum 250041H Ultimate Spar Urethane Water Based.

Rust-Oleum 250041H Ultimate Spar Urethane Water Based

This water-based finish is a crystal-clear gloss finish specifically made to keep your wood protected from any of nature’s harsh conditions. Outdoor wood items are protected from any UV damage caused by the sun by using UV absorbers. While offering protection from UV damage, it ensures the mold and mildew are kept out. In addition, it resists any scratches over a long period to ensure your outdoor wood stays beautiful and new. 

This finish leaves a clear look without a hint of any yellow tint being visible on the wood even after a long time. One of its features is that it dries up very fast if you can get to apply up to three thin coats in a day. Unfortunately, after each applied coat, you are required to wait for 2 hours before recoating. 

It covers approximately 87 square feet per quart. Since the finish is water-based, it gives out little to no odor, and cleaning it up only requires soap and water, which is easy. To acquire maximum protection on your doors, windows, or fences, I would advise that you use a minimum of 4 or 5 thin coats. Your wood’s elegant design will still be upheld and with a smooth finish.

Pros

  • Quick and easy to use.
  • Gives a durable finish.
  • Provides a hard surface.
  • Dries up quite fast.
  • Weather-resistant.

Cons

  • Leaves streaks behind on application

4. General Finishes Outdoor Oil

General Finishes Enduro-VAR Water Based Urethane Topcoat

The outdoor oil is specifically made for most of your outdoor wood projects, except for excessively oily exotic woods. It is designed to keep your outdoor wood safe from the rains, the sun, and even the wind. In order to enhance protection, the oil has mildew prohibitions, heat stabilizers, and protection against UV rays. 

Before applying that the wooden surface is clean and dry, always sanding the surface and then removing the dust, the oil does not form a film, but rather it penetrates the wood. Therefore, once applied on the desired surface, allow it to infiltrate into the wood, then make sure you wipe off the excess oil using a clean cloth. 

To clean the coated surfaces, you can use mineral spirits or use the oil itself on stains. Outdoor oil contains twice the usual amount of oil and resin found in other oil-based finishes. If you want to give your outdoor wood projects extra protection, you can use this clear finish over any different finish coating your wood.

Pros

  • It is brushable.
  • Composed of UV stabilizers.
  • It can be used over already existing finishes.
  • Contains twice the oil that is contained in other brands.

Cons 

  • On few occasions, it may not adhere to exotic woods that are too oily.
  • Takes time to dry out completely.

5. TotalBoat Halcyon Marine Varnish

TotalBoat Water Based Polyurethane Wood Finish

This varnish is perfect for high-wear areas, such as doors, toe rails, cockpits, and handrails, to give you a flawless look for your outdoor wood and marine applications. In addition, you do not require days or weeks to get your desired varnish on your outdoor wood; it only takes approximately an hour to dry, allowing you to apply five coats in one day. 

For application, it requires neither mixing nor thinning. Instead, you apply the varnish onto the wooden surface using a nylon or foam brush, spray, or roll. In instances where thinning is necessary, you can use water. Apply it evenly or liberally and then sit back and watch it level out on its own within an hour. The varnish dries to give you a rich, clear gloss, clear satin, or amber gloss finish that is flexible, allowing for expansion and contraction without peeling or cracking. 

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Halcyon cleans up easily with soap and water. It offers excellent resistance to abrasion, scratches, and amazing UV prohibitions. Ensure you are working in a clean, dust-free space to avoid any dust from settling when the varnish is drying out. You are only required to apply one or two coats every year to give your wood the long-lasting effect you need.

Pros

  • Fast-drying.
  • Does not require sanding in between the coats.
  • It is ultra-durable.
  • It is UV resistant.
  • No strong fumes.

Cons

  • It does not work over soft finishes like Cetol

Choosing The Best Finish for Outdoor Projects

We can all agree that when it comes to our outdoor wood, we all want to use only the best finish products to capture the beauty of your outdoor wood and enhance it. Unfortunately, outdoor conditions are not always that favorable to wood projects, ranging from rain to high temperatures. It isn’t easy to find any in-between conditions that will be most favorable. 

Paint will provide a solution, but the disadvantage of your masterpiece wood project being covered up comes with this solution. That is why choosing the best clear finish is the topmost priority on our list, and there are many factors that you have to consider. 

Choosing a clear finish that will satisfy all your unmet needs might prove to be a little difficult considering the many options you have. However, you are required to go for a clear finish that will serve you for long, and that is why I came up with the above-listed varieties of clear finish that have always stood out for me. 

Outdoor finishes

Most of our outdoor projects are usually for leisure purposes example sitting out on the patio or taking a boat ride, and we all want outdoor spaces we pretty much enjoy. The use of outdoor finishes fixes several issues that attack your outdoor wood, including termites and rust. At the end of it, all using great outdoor finishes will give you the ultimate satisfaction.

Simple to super durable

Every piece of wood used on wood projects comes naturally simple. However, once the wood has been used to make your desired project, we must maintain its natural look. That is why I highly recommend using finish, varnish, or any other sealant to keep your outdoor wood for the longest time without losing its beauty.

Exterior oil

Exterior oils are used to maintain and preserve any outdoor woodwork by bringing out the natural elegance of the wood. For application, let it flow onto the surface and allow it to soak, then lastly wipe off the excess oil making the application process fast and easy. Exterior oils require no sanding in between the applied coats.  

They are divided into two main categories; natural wood oils and chemical-based formulated oils. Exterior coils require regular maintenance, and I would advise you to use natural wood oils on small-scale wood projects as they need quite a handful of maintenance to retain the wood color.

Exterior varnish or urethane

Exterior varnish is a popular alternative used on outdoor wood due to its thick and durable surface provides excellent protection. It can withstand even the harshest outdoor conditions keeps out moisture while shielding your wood from damages caused by UV rays. The varnish will flow smoothly on application, and it does not accent the grain on the wood. Varnish lasts up to two or three years before requiring any recoating. 

Before recoating, always sand off the topcoat, then go ahead and apply the new coat and let it bond with the other layers. The clarity of exterior varnish is what makes it perfect for use as a protective coating. Always check for any damages regularly because as soon as cracks get to the wood, you will have to strip off all the layers. With exterior varnish, apply at least three to eight coats for maximum effect.

Epoxy with exterior varnish

I highly recommend epoxy because of its weatherproof characteristics, but it can prove to be hectic for anyone trying it out for the first time. However, epoxy on its own is a fantastic choice for waterproof varnish even while being an inch thick. 

Unlike other exterior varnishes, epoxy is not that effective when it comes to protection against UV rays. However, epoxy mixed with exterior varnish will give you the perfect outcome you want. With the outer varnish coat underneath and the epoxy coat on top, the wood will be protected against color fading. 

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How do you seal painted wood for outdoor use?

Adding a sealant to painted wood is the best way to keep your painted wood safe from harsh outdoor conditions and any other natural factors. There are a couple of different methods that you can use to seal off your painted wood. 

 The first method is the use of exterior oils that makes your painted wood waterproof and thus reducing the chances of fungal growth or wood rot. Next, apply the oil using a natural bristle brush, let it soak and wipe off the excess oil, and let it dry for approximately twelve hours.  

The second method is the use of exterior varnish that also gives a waterproof effect and has UV absorbents to prevent any damage. For the best result, apply eight thin coats of the varnish while sanding between the coats, then let it dry. For maintenance purposes, reapply after every two years.   

The third method entails applying epoxy and exterior varnish, which proves to be quite expensive but worth the price. It will give you a long-lasting effect by allowing expansion and contraction without cracking and protection from UV rays. Apply four thin epoxy coats, allow them to dry, then sand them and wipe off the sanded epoxy coat using a dry cloth. For the exterior varnish, apply it in between the epoxy coats. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best exterior clear coat for wood?

In order to consider choosing a clear coat for your outdoor wood projects, your woodwork must be quite eye-capturing. Getting a clear coat for wood will require you to do a lot of maintenance and regularly. For the clear exterior coat, I will remarkably recommend the Varathane 200061H Water-Based Ultimate Polyurethane with its incredible ability to protect from scratches and easy to clean up.

What is the most durable clear coat for wood?

If you are looking for a durable coat, ensure that it is a hard or thick finish. The thicker the finish is, the harder it is to penetrate therefore serving its purpose of durability. The most durable clear coat finish, in my view, would be General Finishes Outdoor Oil.

What is the best product to seal outdoor wood furniture?

Any wooden furniture is destined to rot over time, and this proves to be the most significant challenge anybody who has worked with wood would say. Yet amazingly, there have been new techniques developed to protect your wood against rotting. One of these techniques includes the use of different products to seal the wood projects. There have been distinct varieties of products over time, but the one that stood out for me was any Spar Urethane Water Based finish products.

How do you protect outdoor wood furniture?

You can protect your outdoor furniture by choosing to paint it with latex paint that lasts longer than other paint variants. Use of sealants is also a wise decision to make as this will waterproof your wood, leaving no chance for rotting to occur. Sealants can either be oils or finishes depending on the factors you have in consideration. 
A varnish coat is an option if you do not prefer to paint or seal the furniture. Varnish, which is clear in color, unlike paint, will retain the originality of the wood. If you do not want to use any of the methods mentioned above, store your furniture away until outdoor weather conditions are favorable for the piece of furniture to be used.

Final thoughts

Outdoor wooden pieces of furniture are as much a part of your house or workplace furniture as the interior pieces. They give off nature’s natural beauty if well taken care of, and they make your outdoor compound a nice feel. In addition, having the ability to maintain outdoor wood will give you some satisfaction. 

Before diving headfirst into buying finishes take your time and look for the best in the market. I have highlighted some of the best products that I am sure will meet your demands and give your wood the lasting effect it deserves.

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