A Complete Guide to Garden Finishes


Now is the time of the year when many are stepping out to their outdoor space with a keen eye at their disposal and a pen and paper in their hand. Maintenance is a keep part of bringing out the highest potential your garden has to offer, and, while you may very well have a fairly astute idea of where to begin, there are always factors to consider before approaching the job at hand. 

Taste, personal requirements, practicality and budget all come into question when selecting which treatments you wish to apply. But where to begin? The world of garden finishes, like furniture can be a daunting place for those without prior knowledge or experience. It’s fortunate that we’re the wood finishing experts, then. And we thrive on passing on our knowledge to those in need. 

Decking is just one of many exterior surfaces that benefit from a quality finish. Photo credit to: Manns


Oil-based based treatments are natural products, specifically designed to preserve and extend the life and vitality of a number of garden projects, such as decking, fences and summer houses. By penetrating and absorbing into the surface grain of the wood, they provide excellent coverage as well as ensuring a high level of durability against timber splitting, cracking and warping. They also offer protection against the effects of moisture, such as rot, mildew and other issues caused by fluctuating weather conditions.  

Available in both clear and coloured options, these treatments are built with a dedication towards heightening your outdoor living spaces in a manner that compliments what came before. Moreover, they work to actively enhance the natural grain and character of the wood, deeply nourishing it in the process. 

Some oils provide protection from UV exposure. Photo credit to: Osmo

Variety is a component of oil-based treatments, so it’s always worth doing your research before taking the proverbial plunge and investing. For example, some treatments contain UV filters that protect the wood against the damaging, discolouring effects of the sun, such as Manns Decking Oil. Its impeccable weather and UV protection capabilities make it an excellent choice for both softwood and hardwood decking. In the same regard, Osmo UV Protection 420 is perfect for vertical wood surfaces that require protection from the sun, such as cladding. 

For the purposes of protecting hardwood garden furniture, we suggest Osmo Teak Oil 008. Available in a convenient spray canister, it penetrates deep into the wood surfaces to regulate moisture and prevent swelling and shrinkage. For loftier projects, we have Barrettine Log Cabin Treatment. This product provides exceptional durability against water ingress and other moisture related issues, as well as safeguarding from UV rays. There’s also an added dose of protection for previously preserved or tanalised wood. Summer houses, as well as garden furniture, provide the means for a relaxing space in the modern garden, and these high-quality treatments help to ensure they remain in top condition.


Varnishes are a synthetic product designed precisely to endure moderate to drastic changes in temperature and moisture, an invariable factor of the outside world. By providing a hard-wearing surface layer that effectively seals and protects the wood, they also offer excellent protection against wind, rain and sun damage. 

Think of varnishes like a plastic coating over the wood. Exterior varnishes, for instance, need to be particularly flexible in order to cope with the moisture that wood naturally absorbs. As a result, they typically tend to be softer than their interior counterparts, so it’s unlikely you’ll find any for surfaces that sustain a lot of foot traffic, such as decking or wooden walkways. However, they work fantastically well on doors, cladding and summerhouses.   

Varnishes can also be used to great effect on garden furniture. Photo credit to: Pixel 1

Varnishes will bring out the best on any wooden surfaces. Much like oils and stains, they are available in clear and coloured options, depending on your needs and aesthetic preference. To achieve the natural look, we suggest Sadolin Extra Durable Clearcoat, ideal for all joinery including window frames, doors, and conservatories. This highly protective exterior varnish also provides excellent resistance against UV damage and weathering.

For those tempted by a splash of colour, Extra Durable can be fittingly paired with Sadolin Classic Wood Protection as a base stain. Its deeply penetrating formula provides colour and exceptional protection to your exterior wood and can also be applied as a standalone product. Alternatively, Dulux Ultimate Woodstain is a high-performance product that provides an equally attractive aesthetic through its range of natural wood tones. Its highly durable capabilities are backed up by a 10-year weather shield protection. 


Exterior paints offer a splash of colour as well as offering a level of protection against weathering and UV damage. Like wood stains, a surface layer sits on top of the wood and helps to keep moisture from penetrating into the grain of the wood. 

Their practicality and ease of application present an ideal choice for most garden-based projects. With a host of attractive colour choices, they have a lot to offer those seeking a touch of style and creativity in their garden. The more adventurous among you can turn to exterior paints to really liven up your outside space with big, bold, expressive splashes of colour, while the more subtle may seek to employ them more as a hidden weapon in their decorative arsenal. Either way, exterior paints are versatility personified. 

Exterior paints can be used in a manner that adds character. Photo credit to: Cuprinol

For seeking a product exemplified by versatility, look no further than Cuprinol Garden Shades. A wide range of attractive shades provides creative inspiration and years of lasting protection for just about any outdoor space. For decking specific purposes, look no further than Ronseal Ultimate Protection Decking Paint. This water based decking paint affords vibrancy to your decking as well as durability from foot traffic and weathering. It also carries the potential to lock down splinters and fill any cracks in your decking.

To bring out the very best aesthetic from your summerhouse (a project that surely warrants it) we recommend Protek Royal Exterior. Its new and improved formulation is based on natural, renewable resources, while a rich, extensive range of colours ensure lasting protection for a guarantee of up to 5 years.  

Cleaning and Maintenance

To borrow a cliche, a stitch in time saves nine. Correct and thorough maintenance and cleaning is, in fact, the most important step in the application of any garden-based finishing product. Neglect, or the carrying out of improper practices, can create much larger problems and, worse still, be very damaging to the wood you wish to treat. Such a result is undesirable for anyone.

To ensure proper maintenance of your treated exterior wood, always be sure to apply regular cleaning methods. We suggest turning to our range of exterior wo o d cleaners, which have been specifically formulated to cleanse and restore their vitality. 

Throughly carried out maintenance can make all the difference. Photo credit to: Osmo

As with any treated surface, the condition invariably begins to grow weary over time. An attractive feature of oil-based treatments is their ease of maintenance. Once the surface has been thoroughly cleaned and given time to dry, it’s simply a case of reapplying your finish as before. It’s worth considering that oil-based treatments require more maintenance than their counterparts, a perceived downside for some. However, if looked after properly, they ensure not only quality but also a strong sense of longevity.

Should you need to reapply a varnish finish to your exterior wood, you can apply another coat after simply sanding back the first layer to reveal the wood underneath. Make sure to clean the area in question beforehand to remove any dirt and debris that can contaminate your surface.

If you wish to simply start all over again, we have a range of wood finish strippers and removers, perfectly ideal for the job in question.

Need further help with garden finishes?

Contact our team of resident experts who are always on hand to help with project advice and product recommendations. Alternatively, see our FAQ page which covers many of the most commonly asked questions.

We love to see before, during and after photos of any wood finishing project. If you would like to share your project pictures with us and our followers, you can either send us some photos or share on our Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram pages.

Other great blogs that discuss garden finishes and projects

  • How to Approach: The Eco-Friendly Garden
  • All About Wooden Garden Fence Maintenance
  • Garden Gates: The Essential Guide

    1. Can Sikkens Cetyol HLS Plus be used on rough sawn fence panels? I have used it on my gates (light oak) and want to get as close a colour match as possible. The Sandolin light oak Classic is a completely different color.


      • Hello Mike,

        Thank you for getting in touch with your question. I would have to say no for the use of the Sikkens on the rough wood, it is designed for use on joinery or cladding and this is nearly always smooth wood.

        The Sadolin you have mentioned can be used on rough sawn wood and is the better option. Colour wise they are quite different in colour results and I would recommend going by the swatch rather than the name of the colour as brands can vary greatly in interpretation. Heritage is perhaps the closest, although how it looks on your wood can very.

        For rough sawn woods the most suitable products do tend to be those that soak in to the wood well and give good colour such as the Preserver or perhaps a product like the Cuprinol 5 Year Ducksback which has the Autumn Gold as probably the closest colour option.

        I hope that helps, if you need any further advice please feel free to get in touch via our contact us page.

        Kind regards Samantha.


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