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Cedar accepts many types of finishes

The choice of an exterior wood finish for cedar depends upon the desired appearance and the degree of protection required. Conversely, the amount of protection provided to the wood depends on the type of finish selected. Finished wood is a combination of two widely different materials and the properties of both must be considered to achieve the most durable wood-finish system. Note, however, that with all types of finishes, the manufacturer's recommendations should be followed. Cedar's excellent finishing characteristics cannot compensate for products that are unsuitable, of inferior quality, or improperly applied. Finishes perform best when the coating is applied to all surfaces (face, back, edges and ends).

In general, finishes for cedar can be grouped into four categories: (1) opaque coatings, such as paints and solid-color stains; (2) semi-transparent stains; (3) natural finishes such as water-repellents and water-repellent preservatives; and (4) oils. Wood preservatives and fire-retardant coatings may also be classified as finishes in some respects but are not within the scope of this publication. The expected service lives of different exterior finishes for cedar siding and trim are summarized in a table.

If there is uncertainty over whether to use a water-repellent preservative or a stain, first apply a water-repellent preservative. It is possible to switch to a semi-transparent stain when the wood surface needs to be refinished. Even if the cedar wood surface has been maintained with a water-repellent preservative for many years, an oil-based semi-transparent stain will perform satisfactorily

Opaque finishes

Paint provides the most surface protection against weathering and wetting by water while providing color and concealing some of the wood's characteristics. Although paint can reduce wood's absorption of water, paint itself is not a preservative.

Alkyd oil-based primers usually offer the best shield against discoloration by water-soluble extractives. Latex paint, particularly 100% acrylic formulations, remain more flexible with age and are better able to accommodate dimensional changes by stretching and shrinking with the wood.

Solid-color stains are opaque finishes with fewer solids than paint. Available in a wide spectrum of hues, solid-color stains obscure the woods true color but allow some of the natural characteristics and texture of cedar to remain. Solid-color stains perform best on textured surfaces. They are non-penetrating and, like paints, form a film. A stain-blocking primer should be applied first, followed by a 100% acrylic latex-based top coat.

Natural finishes

Water-repellent preservatives of some types are formulated with non-drying oils. These oils penetrate the wood to protect it against degradation. The cedar wood  surface may remain oily until the finish absorbs, which may take several days.

Water-repellents and water-repellent preservatives may be applied to cedar used above ground. These formulations reduce water absorption in the short term. The addition of a fungicide that inhibits the growth of mildew and decay fungi will further increase wood's durability.

A low-wax-content water-repellent preservative applied to newly-milled cedar as a single-coat pre-treatment before painting may help reduce discoloration caused by bleeding of water-soluble extractives.

Semi-transparent stains may be latex or oil-based. The semi-transparent nature of the stain, due to its low solids content, does not block all ultraviolet radiation and some will reach the wood's surface. Latex stains do not penetrate the surface and are not as durable.

Caution: Transparent, non-flexible, film-forming finishes such as lacquer, shellac, urethane, and varnish are not recommended for exterior use on cedar. Ultraviolet radiation can penetrate the transparent film and degrade the wood. Regardless of the number of coats, the finish will eventually become brittle, develop severe cracks and then fail.




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Last modified: February 23, 2014