What Kind of Paint Can I Use on a Picnic Table?

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Choosing the right paint or stain for your picnic table is now more complicated than ever. The vast number of different paints and stains available for outdoor furnishings can be staggering. Gone are the days when you had only a small selection of oil-based paint from which to choose to protect your wood picnic table. Now you can choose from a number of varnishes, stains and clear coat finishes as well as paints to make your picnic table really stand out as a centrepiece of your landscape design.


Exterior paint for use on your picnic table can be mixed to match a specified colour of your choosing. The paint swatches at your local home store can provide a range of colour from which to choose. All exterior paints used today still utilise an oil base, which allows the paint to avoid the absorption of water once the paint has dried as is common with latex water-based paints intended to be used indoors. Oil-based paint is generally thick and will tend to cover or hide the grain of the wood except on wood which is particularly heavy. In these cases, the paint will form around the wood grain and you will see the texture of the grain but not the colour variations.

Whitewash Wood Stain

A colour-based oil stain that coats the wood in a similar fashion to painting but which does so without hiding the natural grain of the wood is whitewash wood stain. Using whitewash wood stain provides protection for the wood but will show colour variations through the stain which are naturally occurring on the wood. These stains work particularly well on smooth-sanded pine boards, and though they are known as "whitewash" wood stains, they can be tinted to a number of different colours to suit your taste.

Wood Stains

Wood stains are composed of more traditional wood colours than you will find with whitewash stains. Wood stains are available in a variety of shades of brown and grey. Wood stains are also more translucent than whitewash stains and can effectively mask the presence of cheaper wood, such as pine, when viewed from a short distance. These stains are useful for providing a depth and consistent colour when building your picnic table using pressure-treated lumber, which has a generally yellowed look due to the pressure treatment process.

Water Repellent

Oil-based clear varnishes that apply over the bare wood or stain to further protect the wood's surface are water repellents. Water repellent varnishes can be applied over the top of other finishes, such as stains and whitewash stains, to provide additional ultraviolet protection and prevent the wood from developing cracks and checks which are naturally occurring in cut and even treated wood over time. Water repellents can also be used over the top of bare, untreated wood to help protect it from water damage and the sun.

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