Dunn Lumber values our relationships with suppliers, and many of those relationships go back decades. One such relationship is with our long-time supplier, Exterior Wood. Over 15 years ago, Exterior Wood gifted my father-in-law a bench made from Alaskan Yellow Cedar–a relatively uncommon species of lumber with an unusual appearance. The bench was left natural—with no finish on it—and weathered over the years in our Seattle climate.
Skip forward to the present, when I decided restoring the bench would be a great do-it-yourself project. Though very weathered, the bench was still sound and retained potential. I used the wood cleaner to remove dirt buildup, a wood brightener to enhance the original color, and an oil finish to bring out the wood’s color and help protect it from weathering. A great bench was back again!
Though my father-in-law isn’t with us anymore, we have his bench restored to its original splendor. It makes a striking and memorable addition to the back yard. Here are the steps for refinishing a bench of your own.
Step 1: Gather your Materials
Get all of your materials and place them near your work station.
Step 2: Cover Any Areas You Don't Want to Refinish
Mask off any areas you don't want to refinish. This bench had a plaque, which we wanted to protect. Rather than removing the plaque, we covered it with masking tape.
Step 3: Wet Areas Surrounding your Work
After masking, wet any vegetation surrounding your work area. Even though the Penofin products aren’t toxic, this is an added safety precaution for protecting your plants or grass, while ensuring they are not negatively impacted.
Each step in the refinishing process works differently, and it’s helpful to remember that the staining step is the only one that requires a dry surface. In other steps before staining—like cleaning and brightening—surfaces can be wet, and some steps can be done back-to-back without delay. Overcast weather—or avoiding direct sunlight—is ideal for projects like this. A light drizzle shouldn't be a problem for some steps in the process. Read the product directions thoroughly, or visit Penofin's very helpful website: www.penofin.com
If our bench had an old finish, we would have used Penofin's Pro-Tech Stripper, but since it was unfinished we started our restoration with cleaner. We grabbed the hose and lightly misted the bench to dampen the surface.
Step 4: Apply Penofin Pro-Tech Cleaner
Mix the Penofin Pro-Tech Cleaner crystals into clean, warm water. Warm water helps the crystals dissolve so the product can do its work without clogging the sprayer nozzle. We used a ratio of one cup of crystals to one gallon of water. Be sure to dissolve the cleaner crystals thoroughly!
Put on gloves, then (using a non-metallic scrub brush) agitate the surface of the boards. Scrub well in spots where dirt remains stubborn. We used an old sponge to get down between the boards of our bench. Let the cleaner sit for 10-15 minutes before rinsing. Don’t let the surface dry out while you’re waiting; mist it with water as needed.
Step 5: Rinse
Now rinse off the cleaner with water from a hose.
Step 6: Apply Penofin Brightener
As mentioned above, you can do this step immediately after the cleaning. If you brighten the bench on a different day, make sure you start off by protecting surrounding plants and vegetation. Also remember that you're working with wood cleaner and wood brightener, so it will do the job on any wood it comes into contact with.
Add one cup of brightener crystals to one gallon of warm water, and stir until completely dissolved. We advise wearing rubber gloves and covered shoes during this process, as the Oxalic acid is very hard on skin.
Apply the brightener with the garden sprayer in the same way you did with the cleaner. This is a fun step, because you will start seeing results immediately! Agitate lightly with a brush. Allow the brightener to sit for 10 minutes, and then rinse it off with a hose.
Step 7: Rinse
Rinse the brightener with water from a hose.
Step 8: Allow to Dry for 36-48 Hours
You've reached the end of day one. Before you begin staining, wait 36-48 hours until the wood is completely dry. Of course in Seattle, rain is a big factor, and if the weather is cold, rainy, or cloudy—it will take longer for your wood to dry.
Step 9: Glitch in the Project
Now here's where we hit a surprise. After rinsing, we noticed some raised grain and loose wood fibers on our bench. The wood looked "fuzzy." This isn't necessarily going to happen to you, but we wanted to know why this happened, and what to do about it. Our cleaners weren't defective, so this may have happened due to:
- Using too strong a mix of cleaner and/or brightener
- Leaving the cleaner and/or brightener on the wood too long
- Scrubbing too hard
- Rinsing with a stream of water that was too strong
For this particular project we mixed the solutions carefully and at the minimum recommended strength, so that was likely not the culprit. We didn't rinse with a pressure washer or other strong stream of water, so that wasn't a factor either. It was probably a combination of leaving the solution(s) on a bit too long, and scrubbing a bit too hard. Our bench is made of cedar, which is also a rather soft wood, so the wood fibers loosened easily.
How did we solve it? It's an easy and straightforward solution: once dry, sand the affected areas. It didn't take much sanding to remove the "fuzz," and most of our raised grain was on the top surfaces, so we didn't have to sand everything. Of course a power sander makes the job easier, but a sanding sponge and elbow grease can work just fine too. Once sanded, we were ready to apply a finish.
Step 10: Apply Stain
We wanted to apply a stain to our bench, but didn't want to change the color dramatically. Penofin comes in many colors, so how did we pick the right one? Dunn Lumber provides free samples of Penofin stain products for situations just like this! We tried three samples on the underside of our bench (where it wouldn't show). We decided to use Penofin's Marine Oil Finish because it brought out the tones of the cedar without changing the color drastically. The Marine Oil Finish is also a great choice for an outdoor bench because it has 99% ultra-violet protection along with added mildew protection.
Like most Penofin products, one coat is all you need. Use a drop cloth below the bench to catch drips, and apply the Penofin stain—allowing the penetrating oil finish to soak into the wood. We used a stain pad to apply the Marine Oil Finish. The finish will have soaked in after just 30 minutes. Following the instructions on the can, wipe down the entire bench with a fresh, nap-free cloth. The goal here is to wipe off any excess stain.
Penofin is an oil-based product, so clean or dispose of your tools in a way that doesn't cause a fire hazard due to spontaneous combustion. This is particularly important for the rags you use to wipe off the excess product. Don't leave them in a pile or bundle! Read about spontaneous combustion and proper rag disposal here.