. . . To Finish or Not to Finish. That is the question.,
Factoid: There are no exterior wood finishes– be it oil, stain, varnish, or paint–that will prolong the life of your Prowell product by a single day. Your finishing decisions are purely aesthetic and entirely subjective.
We know this from 47 years of revisiting our project sites from Duluth to Miami to Santa Barbara.
1) The correct species of wood matters.
—a): Western Cedar is inherently stable, which means the dimensional changes it experiences between the seasons is minimal.
—b): Western cedar is equipped through millenniums of evolution with a plasma, or tannin oils, that deters the infestation of an ecosystem of bacterial fungus.
—c): Our standing orders from the mills specify the normal clear, kiln-dried demands. But more so, vertical grain and a growth ring count of at least 20 per inch.
——-c1): Vertical grain boards are less likely to cup, warp, or twist than face grain board
—- –c2): 20 growth rings simply means that the tree is not harvested prematurely, which in turn means the tannins have fully matured and fiber between early harvest tree is less baby fat than developed, stable wood fiber.
2): The design of the products themselves accounts for a level of dimensional change and drainage that must be considered with any wood assembly fully exposed to the elements. The wood must breath.
3): The complexity of wood joinery, which in turn allows the cedar to breath feeling for decades and decades, without being inhibited by nails, screws, bolts, and metal fasteners.
Exterior Wood Finishes Reviews Choosing the best finish for outdoor projects
Prowell’s products are fully exposed 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 that is at odds with nature, and a rather painful recurring expense. We’ll review the various options for the best exterior wood finish below, with their advantages and disadvantages.
OPTIONS: Most of the below options require that the cedar be fully exposed to the element for 2-3 weeks prior to applying any non-penetrating outdoor finishing product. The cedar will acclimate from the Pacific NW of its heritage to wherever you are. This requires 3-4 weeks. If you apply a non-penetrating finish–paint, etc–prior to this, the paint may not expand and contract at the same rate as the gate and the result is bubbles and checks.
EXTERIOR CLEAR OIL WOOD FINISHES 1 year timeline.Can be applied immediately upon receipt of gate Properties:
Earth tones only. Matte finish
Clear Oil finishes are absorbing, which is good. The more coats applied, the better. Waiting 24 hours between coats. The best results are allowing it to sit, absorb, and before it sets to a sticky consistency, wipe it dry. Oil-Based Advantages:
1) Oil enhances the color of the wood.
2) If maintenance is neglected, oil does not crack or peel. So it can be re-oiled long after it has grayed out, and the color returns. Disadvantages:
1) The best exterior oil finishes require multiple initial coats. The more the better.
2) Oil finishes, at best, last a year, maybe two.
2-PART FINISHES WITH TOP COATS 3-5 years timeline. Cedar must acclimate 2-3 weeks prior to coverage Properties:
2-part finishes begin with an absorbing coat that provides the pigment, or tint. Essentially an oil finish.
The second follow-up coat a day later provides the lustre. Oil-Based Advantages:
1) Lustre is nice. Front entry doors have lustre. Dining room tables have lustre. Some lips have lustre.
2) A showcase sheen to your products. Disadvantages:
1) There is no finish impermeable to the moisture in the air–humidty, dew, fog. Wood exposed to the ements is going to breath–expand.contract regardless. Inhibiting its ability to breath with sealant finishes is counter intuitive.
2) The top coat and its sheen, if neglected, will ultimately crack and peel. Requiring scraping and sanding prior to refinishing.
3) 2-part finishes have a lifeline of 2+ years. i.e. they require frequent maintenance.
MARINE SPAR EXTERIOR VARNISH 1-2 years timeline. Cedar must acclimate 2-3 weeks prior to coverage Properties
Better known as Man O’ War Spar varnish, the thick, molasses-like signature high-glosss varnish for classic mahogany and teak wood boats. Oil-Based.
Advantages: None Disadvantages:
1) Unless you are a classic boat enthusiast who has nothing better to do with you days than spend them refinishing your gate, this product is to be avoided at all costs.
2) Severe checking and peeling of neglected
3) Requires annual maintenance. 4) Long, slow dry time. This means you have to continually check for runs if finishing the gates vertically. It also means that while the finish is drying, it collects dust particles like flypaper.
SEMI-TRANSPARENT EXTERIOR WOOD STAIN 5+- years timeline. Can be applied immediately upon receipt of gate Properties
Absorbing stains that provide color pigment and sealer in one coat. Oil-Based Advanatges:
1) With pigmented color at your disposal, you can match the trim or house body color
2) An absorbing product, meaning it penetrates the wood fiber and won’t crack or peel. If neglected, it simply wears away and the cedar eventually weathers to a natural gray. The cedar is allowed to breath freely. Disadvantages:
1) No speakable disadvantages other than only 5 years between re-finishing.
SOLID-BODY PIGMENT EXTERIOR STAINS 7+- years timeline. Cedar must acclimate 2-3 weeks prior to coverage Properties
A paint-like consistency that lays on the wood, as opposed to penetrating finishes. Oil and water based. Advantages:
1) Wide range of pigmented color to choose form.
2) Much less chance of checking or peeling if neglected beyond the timeline.
3) Gives a slight sheen , somewhat less than semi-gloss paint Disadvantages:
1) No real disadvantages other than the cedar requires 2-3 weeks to acclimate prior to finishing.
EXTERIOR PAINT 7-10 years timeline. Cedar must acclimate 2-3 weeks prior to coverage Properties
Good quality exterior paints such as Kelly Moore provide the longest lifeline of any finish. A layered finish that does not absorb into the cedar Advantages:
1) A perfect match to the preferred color
2) Long lasting and consistent color. 3) Wipeable surface. Easy to clean off smudges, etc Disadvantages: 1) If neglected, it peels and checks and becomes unsightly, not unlike the siding of your house with the exception that the gate/fence, etc are fully exposed to the elements, hence a slightly shorter lifeline. If ignored, requires scraping and sanding before re-painting.
2) It will last almost as long as the paint on your house, but not quite. Unlike the front door or the siding of your house facing one direction only, the gate is exposed on 360 degrees.
WOODRX EXTERIOR WOOD FINISHES 7-8 yr timeline. Can be applied immediately upon receipt of gate or pre-finished by Prowell Woodworks Properties
The premier, non-solvent absorbing finish. Earth tone pigments only. Advantages:
1) The privilege of having the finish applied prior to shipping or delivery. Two industrially sprayed coats by our professional finishers.
2) If the timeline passes and maintenance is neglected, fresh coats can be applied with no prep to the existing cedar. Otherwise it will gradually fade and the cedar will consequently weather to a gradual gray.
3) Water-based. meaning it dries very quick. Second coat can be applied within an hour.
4) No solvent fumes to ingest. Disadvantages:
1) Because it dries so fast, applying with a brush is not advisable. WoodRX sells a pump sprayer that is more effective than brushing.
2) Only a dozen or so earth tone colors available, And several of them are nearly indistinguishable from one another. Check the link below to see the various pigments on our products.
Exterior Wood Finishes
When, and when not, to Finish:
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 hard scapes 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 –WoodRX
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.
If, however, the lot is within a manicured neighborhood and the gates and fence are not only connected physically to the main architecture but in close enough proximity to be viewed as a single entity, the gates and fences are often finished with the same color coding as the primary residence. The house body or trim colors extended into the landscape. As the same finsih, or the same pstina but with the flat matte of a pigmented transparent stain.
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.
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. 4) Leave your products alone to weather and age to an unfettered silvery grey.
Note: We do not offer stain samples. Well, perhaps occasionally, if the scope of the commission warrants it.
Exterior Wood Finishes
By far the most advanced of the exterior wood finishes 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’s online store w/ sprayer.
$44+_/gallon + shipping.
Slightly waxy finish with a satin sheen.
Single Gate: $630 Two Panels: $800 Six Panels: $2,100 Gate and two Panels: $1,275 Benches/Swings: $685 Driveway Gate: $1475
*Inquire for pricing on Garden Gates beyond 47″ with and Driveway Gates beyond 12′ overall width.
WOODRX COLOR CHART
WOODRX COLORS ON OUR GATES
(Click the image)
Jorge applies the first of two sprayed coats of WoodRX Ultra to Driveway Gates #27 (Tint: Chestnut)
The first of two eventual coats to Bench #4 (Tint: Teak)
Francisco illustrating a combination of a sprayed application followed by back-brushing. Arbor #19 .(Chestnut)
Prior to the spraying application, the gates are detailed with a light spray-over to expose blemishes such as glue stains or light scratches.
A distressed pre-weathered finish drawn from a centuries-old remedy that transforms freshly milled wood into a silvery grey overnight. This is a mildly distressed procedure that results in an aged aesthetic with a mixture of hard cider and the chemical reaction occurring with the dilution of steel wool. The more steel wool, the longer it settles, and the darker the gray.
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.
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.
Single Gate: $630 Two Panels: $800 Six Panels: $2,100 Gate and two Panels: $1,275 Benches/Swings: $685 Driveway Gate: $1475
The same day a pre-weathered finish was applied at the finishers
Gate one day after an application of a pre-weathered finish.
NATURALLY WEATHERED GRAY
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 exterior wood.
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.
RECOMMENDED TECHNIQUES Applying your exterior wood finishes
Finishing on site
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.
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.
Exterior Wood Finishes
PROBLEMS RESULTING FROM CERTAIN FINISHES
TOP COAT FINISHES
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.
TOP COAT 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 meticulously maintained on an annual basis, forever.
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.
Once every few years we get a letter from a concerned homeowner whose gate is host to a blackened discoloring. A fungal bacteria randomly deciding upon the cedar gate as a suitable home. Because there is a heritage among so many species of fungus that associates wood fiber with tasty buffets, the tendancy is not surprising. Eventually, however, these colonies come to realize that the fiber they prefer–fir, pine, poplar–is instead embedded with a genetic tannin oil that to the fungus, is as poisinous as a man-made chemical insecticide. Cedar, redwood, and teak all possess this natural defense mechanism, and in time the fungi spread the word among themselves that that particular gate, this western cedar gate, is best vacated. Left behind is the carnage of decomposed fungal skin that ultimately washes away in the rain. The gate does not suffer any damage to its wood fiber beyond a temporary blemish to its beauty.
The image on the right was was of many our homeowner sent during the year following her gate installation. her efforts to eliminate the problem included a list of off-the-shelf products such as Goo Gone, Hydrogen Peroxide, dish detergent and water, and a 50/50 mixture of Clorox and water. To no avail. Efforts that spanned almost six months and then one day, returning from vacation, the black spots were gone.
Lastly, a photo of a new gate left to weather naturally. Less than two weeks from delivery, the cedar shows the expected discoloring from the evenings dew and fog. Although this is easily removed with light sanding, it should be noted that if such blemishes are of concern, the natural weathering aesthetic might not be right for you. Perhaps a more uniform finish is advisable.