Exterior Wood Finishes for Prowell Products

Garden Gates, Driveway Gates, Wood Fences, Garden Arbors, Porch swings by Prowell Woodworks Garden Gate Products Gate Hardware Contact Prowell Woodworks About Charles Prowell Woodworks Payment Gateway Site Map

charles and ben prowell woodworks
prowell woodworks  

. . . To Finish or Not to Finish. That is the question


Prowell's products are exposed fully to the elements in a way unknown to the wood siding of a house or a front door or a garage door, etc, and consequently expecting them to accept any finish with the same forgiveness and lifeline is leashing yourself to a maintenance schedule every few years that is at odds with nature, and a rather painful recurring expense.

Delivered or Shipped Unfinished
Western Cedar: Extremely high resistance to decay, combined with Prowell's specified grade from the mill and the methods of construction, there is no finish that will prolong the life of our products by a single day.
Mahogany: Somewhat less resistant than western cedar. It benefits from a protective finish, and particularly in warm fetid climates in proximity to the ocean air. The forgiven exceptions are wood boat enthusiasts, devoting a good portion of their idle lives to maintaining these collectible pastries.

To many organic landscapes, a weathered gate or fence is the preferred aesthetic. Sites and properties designed in such a manner where products such as Prowell's are more about the landscape than the architecture of the residence. Painting or staining hardscapes such as fences and gates, etc on these sites is to attempt to carry the precedent of the architecture of the residence into the expanse of the wilderness. On these sites, it is often preferred to simply allow the products to either weather naturally or opt for our pre-weathered finish, which quickens the weathering sequence from two years to being shipped in such a state.

Finishing with Earth-Tones

Within the above aesthetic, there is a distinction between organic wilderness and cultivated wilderness. If the lot is large and the gates and fences extend some distance from the residence and as a perimeter to carefully maintained landscapes, it is architecturally preferable to finish the products with any of the earth-toned patinas offered by WoodRX. This distinguishes the hardscape (fences, gates, etc) from the residence by separating natural colors from architectural colors. A waxy finish with a satin sheen.

Finishing with Color
_Paint, Semi-transparent stains, solid-body stains.

There are those sites when a hardscape of fences and gates are inexorably linked to the architecture of the residence. Smallish lots where the gates, etc adjoin the building and never stray too far to establish an identity apart from the primary architecture itself. They are seen upon first impression as accessories to the building. Such as the front porch railing. So, in these scenarios it is more common to match--or closely match--the hardscape gates and fences to either the house's sidewall color, or the trim. This is a practice followed with with either paint, or color-pigmented stain.

Finishing with Exterior Varnishes
--Spar Varnish, Varathane, etc

Although there may be a tendency to match the luster of a front door, it should be noted that the front door is insulated on one side and protected by a jamb and an eave and often a porch roof as well. Using luster varnishes associated with wood boats will require enormous maintenance. Because Prowell products do not need the protection, such finishes are a personal aesthetic preference and of those who've opted for the glamour of a sheen, they've come to regret the liability and eventually, ultimately, slacked off to the result of cracking and peeling and yellowing patinas akin to the flaking skin of a severe sunburn.

For a variety of reasons, we offer only the WoodRX as a pre-finish. While also a pre-weathered finish that simply enhances the aging process to a silvery gray without having to wait two years for the natural aging.
1) WoodRX is the most durable and flexible exterior finish product on the market.
A lifeline of approximately 7-8 years in most parts of the country; slightly less in the hot humid conditions of the south, and slightly longer in the temperate climates of the West Coast.. Available only in the earth tones seen in the chart below.
2) Forgo the tedium of waiting several seasons for that natural silvery weathered gray, and simply have Prowell pre-weather the product prior to delivery/shipping.
3) For pigment color, in matching trim or body color of the house, your longest lifelines come from solid-body stains and paint. Neither are absorbent and therefore cannot be applied until the wood has fully acclimated to the local climate. Approximately 3-4 weeks. Sansin offers a good stain product that can be difficult to find. And Benjamin Moore a good paint product. Both are to be applied on site.
Leave your products alone to weather and age to an unfettered silvery grey.

We do not offer stain samples. Well, perhaps occasionally, if the scope of the commission warrants it.

Linked to WoodRX web siteWoodRx wood finish

By far the most advanced exterior finish available.
A non-toxic environmentally-friendly finish for exterior applications. Easy application and quick drying allows for two coats within two hours. (The second coat is extremely important). Because of the quick drying, it also all but eliminates the collection of dust particles gathering between coats. Although it can be brushed, it's best to spray. If brushing, maintain a wet edge to your brush to avoid overlapping brush strokes against the grain.

*Non-toxic, water-based formula. Easy clean-up. Odorless. Quick drying. Longer lasting..
*Timeline: 7-8+ years.
*Click on the WoodRX image for more information, or order through Home Depot or Lowe's websites w/ sprayer.
$44+_/gallon + shipping.
Slightly waxy finish with a satin sheen.

To view the WoodRX web site
To view the WoodRX color charts
To view the WoodRX colors on our products



Single Gate: $575
Two Panels: $725
Six Panels: $1,900
Gate and two Panels: $1,150
Benches/Swings: $625
Driveway Gate: $1375

*Inquire for pricing on Garden Gates beyond 47" with and Driveway Gates beyond 12' overall width.




CLICK HERE for the four WOOD RX Sampleswe offer as they appear on our cedar products.
Below, the color chart as it appears on the WoodRX web site.

Jorge applies the first of two coats of WoodRX Ultra to Driveway Gates #27 (Tint: Chestnut)
staining a cedar driveway gate
  finishing a wood gate with stain
The first of two eventual coats to Bench #4 (Tint: Teak)
spraying WoodRX. prowell
Francisco illustrating a combination of a sprayed application followed by back-brushing .
Arbor #19 .
spraying WoodRX
Prior to the sprayong application, the gates are detailed with a light spray-over to expose blemishes such as gule stains or light scratches.



Eco-Wood finishes

ECO WOOD TREATMENT is a non toxic wood stain, treatment that chemically reacts to the cedar to create an aged aesthetic. This is a mildly distressed procedure that results in light silvery grey patina that eliminates the normal two-year aging process that ocurrs when frech cedar is exposed to the elements,

As the coloring wears off over the next couple of years, the underlying cedar is gradually exposed and gradually graying itself until the transformation is completed, and unnoticed.

The advantage is an obvious one: You simply do not have to wait two years for the brightly-milled cedar to become a stately silvery gray.


*The process does not involve pigments; there is no finish layering the surface of the cedar. The dilution simply reacts to the tannins within the cedar,


Single Gate: $525
Two Panels: $675
Six Panels: $1,750
Gate and two Panels: $1,050
Benches/Swings: $575
Driveway Gate: $1250

Unfinished cedar  
The same day Eco Wood Treatment was applied at the finishers
  Three days exposed to the elements and the pre-weathered finish reaches its darkest patina.
  grarying cedar
weathere cedar aged
weathered cedar
Fence panel style #11 as unfinished cedar.  
The same panel illustrating the aging patina from one sprayed coat of Eco Wood.
  unfinished cedar
Eco Wood cedar




Leave your products alone to weather and age to an unfettered silvery grey. Their lifeline is far beyond what any warranty can claim and that lifeline will not be extended one day by the application of any finish whatsoever.

In part because of the species of wood and the grades of that species and the age, or maturity of that grade spec'd by Prowell to insure a minimum number of growth rings stipulating the maturity of the tree at the time of harvest.

But moreover, a thorough understanding of wood and joinery and design. Designing a


product that mimics the techniques and species employed by the Japanese and Norwegian temples built in the 3rd and 4th century that stand today! If the wood is allowed to freely breath throughout the year, under any conditions, be it Duluth, MN or Ft Meyers, FL, and that wood is the right wood, the application of finishes is as superfluous as fertilizing a lawn.

Be mindful of the maintenance and cost you're committed to with a finish. All those little grids and pickets refinished by a finishing contractor every few years and be particularly mindful of those finishes that, when ignored, such as paints and marine varnishes, will crack and peel and require scraping and sanding and on and on.

In the spring of 2013 we visited a site featuring Panel Style #1 originally installed in 1996. Allowed to weather with no detrimental affects to the integrity of the product.


No finish, listed below or above, will prolong the life of a Prowell product by a single day.
This is due to both the species and grade of wood spec'd from the mill, as well as the methodology of both the joinery and design that encourages a stress-free environment for dimensional movement.

Yes, we're repeating ourselves.



Wood Gates built from even the highest standards of western cedar are not to be confused with decks or house siding or front doors or even garage doors (These have one whole side insulated from the weather, as well as the overhead roof and jambs. Decks and siding planks are fastened to joists or studs every 16" and exposed on only one face). Prowell's products are fully exposed to the elements on all six sides. Because our cedar comes from the coastal Northwest, and then inventoried in the shop of coastal Northern California, it will invariably want to breath once it finally leaves the shop and is exposed for the first time to the full climate. Some areas will see more dimensional adjustments than others, such as Florida compared to San Diego.

Prowell's products are designed to specifically allow the seasonal expansion and contraction of the cedar experienced most dramatically in the first weeks of exposure to the elements. But . . . solid finishes such as paint or solid-body stains or 3-part layered sealants and exterior varnishes will not always cooperate with the wood's inherent need to acclimate to your specific micro climate. While the cedar is adjusting and breathing during those first weeks, paints and solid stains and marine varnishes will not necessarily stretch with the same pliancy. They may, in 15-20% of the time, even see bubbling and checking and blemished results in the finish.

The solution? If you prefer a painted or solid-body stain finish, it's best to wait 4+ weeks once your product arrives and has been installed. Allow it to breath, acclimate itself in its full exposure, and then apply your solid finish to a much higher degree of success. If it rains and takes on moisture during that time frame, allow it to dry in the clear weather for several days prior to applying your finish--lest the absorbed moisture becomes trapped by the finish and has no means of escape.


Although we do not offer oil finishes, it seems appropriate to post a few words regarding this product.

Oil finishes are those finishes that have no pigment, no polyurethanes, and no sealing capacities. These finishes are always earth tones whose primary function is to enrich the wood's existing grain. These finishes do not extend the life of the cedar product by a single day.
1) Provides an enriched timbre to the wood.

1) They must be re-applied once every year.. If neglected they will simply lose their clarity and the wood will gradually season to a grayish color.
2) They further enhance the darker and lighter contrasts existing in western cedar.
** Oil enhancers are developed for a single even coat. Successive coats result in a splotchy finish.


Painted finishes can provide a long lifeline (7-10 yrs), as well as offer a full medley of color options.
Because our products need to acclimate to any local climate, painted finishes are not available as a pre-finish option. Paint is an applied finish layered onto the cedar and does not stretch with the initial breathing wood as easily and readily as the absorbing, penetrating WoodRX finish. If the products are primed and painted prior to being fully acclimated, there is a chance of the paint bubbling or even cracking. (We're repeating ourselves, yet again!)
1) Long lifeline of 7-10 years
2) Flat or satin sheen. Wipe-able surfaced.
3) Option of unlimited colors.
1) Not offered as a pre-finish, so it must be applied on site, with the product installed. (setting your gate in the garage for a month does not serve to acclimate it to the direct climate.)
2) Our products must adjust to your climate, requiring a 3-4 week delay between installation and paint
3) If not properly maintained, the painted finish will check and crack and peel, requiring extension prep of scraping and sanding prior to re-applying another coat.


Unless you are a wooden boat enthusiast who loves spending several weekends a year refinishing your Prowell product, marine and Spar varnishes should be avoided. This includes any product that is 2-part, or includes a top sealer coat that often results in a pleasant sheen.

1) Offers a shiny finish.
1) Binds the cedar behind multiple layers of resin that inhibits the products from their natural need to breath.
2) Requires maintenance every 1-2 years.
3) If not kept maintained, it will crack and peel and yellow, furthering the labor-intensive steps of re-coating
See photo below


Solid-body stains are slightly more penetrating than paint, although not to be confused with the fully absorbent WoodRX. These finishes offer a wide range of colors and are aesthetically identical to paint, but without the option for a satin finish. Because they do not absorb, they cannot be applied until the wood has acclimated to your local weather. Solid body stains are opaque and do not expose the wood grain. Can be brushed or sprayed.

1) Wide color pallet
2) Longer lifeline than transparent stains.

3) If not maintained, it will not chip or crack like paint; the color will simply fade out gradually.
1) Cannot be shipped or delivered as a pre-finish from the shop.
2) Shows no wood grain.
3) Requires two coats.

4) Insures laborious repercussions if the maintenance schedule is not adhered to.
(p.s. Regarding ending the above sentence with a preposition, it was Churchill who said, : "This is the type of errant pedantry up with which I will not put.")


Semi-Transparent stains are absorbing finishes that will stretch with the breathing wood. They will not hinder the wood from seasonal changes. These are offered in a variety of color pallets and can serve to match the residential color while offering a somewhat organic dilution of a paint.

1) Shows the wood grain and can match the body or trim color of the house, but as a flexible, absorbing finish.
2) Easy to apply. But only one coat. Do not apply a second coat of semi-transparent stains, as it will not be able to penetrate through the first sealing coat and therefore result in a splotchy finish.
3) If not maintained, it will simply fade out instead of the cracking and peeling of un-maintained paint.

1) It lasts only 3-5 years.



A few notes regarding the application process for exterior finishes.

Although sealing or staining or painting your Prowell product does not prolong the life of the high-grade cedars by a single day, it is often an understandable aesthetic preference.

Excerpted from the Prowell Installation Manuals:

A few tips for those who will be finishing their own products:
When applying your finish, start with one side, brushing the bottom rail with the grain and then the vertical stiles with the grain to avoid the brush strokes over-lapping.(This is particularly important with WoodRx, which is water-based and dries very fast). For all horizontal rails, not allowing the brush stroke to dry before brushing the vertical stile. Do not apply stain to the edges of the pickets or upper pattern on this side or the stain will run down the opposite side and leave run marks penetrating the bare wood before you are able to finish the opposite side. For those with solid lower panels, do not stain the edges of your open slots until the back side is addressed. Once you turn to the other side, you can then apply stain to the picket faces and edges, knowing the run-off will not absorb against the already stained surface. Check, when finished, the direction of your brush stroke to smooth out any over-laps.

Spray finishes: All of the above recommended products can be applied with compressed air sprayers for a more even finish without the risk of runs.
WoodRX sells an accompanying sprayer, available direct from them or through Home Depot.




A typical gate finished with Sikkens 2-part Cetrol-1, and 23-Plus. The top coat shown only four years later has begun to crack and weather.

If not refinished on schedule, the checking and yellowing will only become worse until the process involves scraping, sanding, and stripping.

exterior finishes




Here we have a Prowell knock-off of Gate style #93. Identified by the missing Prowell stamp; the placement of the upper slots; and the copper cap on top.

Additionally, the use of an un known 2-part exterior finish with a top sealer coat.


Illustrating what happens to sealer coats if not meticukously maintained on an annual basis, forever.


ad exterior wood finished


An example of a product being painted before the wood has fully acclimated to the local climate. This job was in Atlanta, which has a very different climate than the Prowell Shop, therefore resulting in an initial adjustment where the wood swells and shrinks to find the natural stability of Atlanta's humid environment.

Because paint is not a penetrating finish, it can potentially refuse to stretch with the adjustments of the cedar during the first few weeks on site. The result is a bubbling effect, seen here.

Occurring with enough frequency that we cannot offer paint as a pre-finish option




1. 8 0 0 . 4 6 6 . 1 8 5 0 (PST)




©1996-Present Charles and Ben Prowell.
This Web Site was launched in the Spring of 1996.

1 . 7 0 7 . 8 6 1 . 3 4 0 9 (FAX)





Unless otherwise noted, products appearing on this site are the sole design rights of Charles & Ben Prowell.