Best Exterior Finishes for Western Red Cedar 2023

October 4, 2023

Different types of outdoor furniture using western red cedar wood.

Sometime around the beginning of 2018, I was trying to figure out the best exterior finish for Western Red Cedar. So, I researched and asked my other woodworking friends about the best exterior finish for such a wood. My research and inquiries have allowed me to narrow down my options to what the experts recommend. And I would like to share with you the fruits of my research and inquiries.

The cedarwood, especially the Western Red Cedar, is a widely used wood species for outdoors. It is a tough wood characterized by its anti-microbial properties. Hence, it is a perfect choice for outdoor furniture. It might be a resilient wood, but you still need to provide primary care to preserve its natural beauty. Thus, giving western red cedar wood the best exterior finish would further extend its longevity. It will also protect the wood from turning gray.

Which Finish Should You Choose?

You got two options when treating cedar. You can either stain or paint it. Moreover, you can also leave it untreated. Your choice, however, boils down to your preference. It will also depend on the level of protection required by your project. 

It will help balance the protection you would like to provide your cedar and the appearance you would like to render it. If you want your cedar to sport a weathered appearance, you can use a transparent oil finish. If you are desirous of protecting your cedar from UV lights and other harsh elements, you should use an opaque finish. 

As a caveat, the amount of rain and sunlight that affects the cedar will shorten the longevity of the finish that you have applied. Hence, you should use an oil-based stain if you think the wood will be constantly exposed to these harsh elements. 

Besides, your choice will depend on the maintenance level you intend to provide your cedar. If you don’t plan to reapply refinishing on your project within a year, you might as well choose a finish that doesn’t require immediate refinishing within a year or two.

Most Recommended Exterior Finish for Western Red Cedar

If you’re a beginner in treating Western Red Cedar, and you are searching for the best exterior finish, you might get confused about which exterior finish to choose for your project. You can narrow down your options to the best choices if you are familiar with following most options at hand:

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1) Ready Seal 520

The Ready Seal 520 is the perfect finish for western red cedar. It is an oil-based and semi-transparent stain. It is a frequently-used sealer for cedar furniture and fixtures, including decks, pickets, and fences. 

This exterior stain comes with inorganic pigments meant to block UV rays. These inorganic pigments make the wood mildewproof and waterproof. Thus, it can improve the longevity of wood used outdoors. Moreover, experts highly recommend this stain. 

Another pro of using this is it doesn’t create streaks or lap marks. Besides, since it is semi-transparent, and it does enhance the appearance of western red cedar.

This stain is easy to apply and use. You can also apply it at whatever temperature. When applying this stain, you can use a roller, brush, or sprayer. Moreover, it doesn’t necessitate back brushing. 

You don’t need to coat the wood multiple times with this stain, for you will find a single coat of this stain enough to protect your outdoor cedar. Moreover, it is sticky enough and dries out within an hour. Nevertheless, it will be best to wait up to one to two days before using the outdoor furniture. 

You will also notice that it is darkest when you apply it. But it reveals its actual color after two weeks. Furthermore, you got ample options with these stains. You can choose from dark walnut, mahogany, redwood, and many other options. 

As a caveat, you should not apply this over a painted surface. Moreover, you need to sand the wood surface before you apply this stain. Additionally, it is easy to clean using mineral spirits. This stain needs reapplication within two to three years.

2) Thompsons Waterseal 41851

The Thompsons Waterseal 41851 has been specially formulated for protecting decks and other exterior wood from damages caused by water. It offers a certain level of resistance from UV damage and mildew. Besides, this stain belongs to the best finishes in the market today for red cedar projects. 

This stain doesn’t alter the natural appearance of the wood. It also has advanced polymers that offer resistance to fade. Hence, experts would readily recommend this stain for fences, decks, and outdoor cedar furniture. Besides, it can make the wood water resistant for four years when used on decks and five years if you use it on exterior wood furniture. 

The Thompsons Waterseal 41851 is easy to use and safe to apply. You only need to apply it once. Yet, you can also recoat the wood after drying it for an hour. You can apply this stain using a paint pad, brush, spray, or roller. You can also apply it on dry and cleaned damp wood.

3) Penofin Red Label

This concoction comes with Brazilian Rosewood Oil. It also comes with trans-oxide pigments. These two ingredients offer several benefits. The Brazilian Rosewood Oil, for example, protects the cedar against moisture. You can use it for finishing decks and other wooden fittings outdoor.

On the other hand, the trans-oxide pigments enable the stain to retard fading of the wood stain under the attack of UV light. These pigments also provide rich color and help preserve the wood’s natural beauty. This stain not only performs well with cedar but also performs well with other types of wood. 

This stain also can protect the wood from rain, snow, and molds. So, if you want to raise the quality level of your wood, it will be best to use this stain. Furthermore, it improves the wood fibers’ durability by hardening those fibers. Moreover, it makes the wood almost scratch-resistant. 

The Penofin Red Label is easy to apply and use. You can apply it using a roller, paintbrush, spray, and paint pad. This stain is also best applied under a temperature range from 45 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. 

You can apply a coat, and it will be enough. But you can also add another coat within three hours of drying. It necessitates 24 hours to dry out this stain completely. Besides, this stain will last up to five years when used on exterior furniture. 

But its longevity depends on how much exposure it has to UV light and rain. One downside of its use is its bad odor when it is wet. But when it entirely dries out, it is odorless. This product is also flammable. So, you should keep this stain away from open flames and heat.  

4) Rust-Oleum 250041H

If you’re looking for an excellent stain option for Western Red Cedar, you should check out the Rust-Oleum 250041H. The Rust-Oleum 250041H provides a water-based stain that offers excellent protection for your wood against UV light and water. It also offers excellent resistance to mold, scratches, and mildew. 

It is a perfect choice for your windows, doors, and outdoor furniture. The thing is, this stain allows for expansion to adapt to the vicissitudes of weather. Moreover, it doesn’t give off a strong odor. Plus, it offers a pleasant and clear finish, characterized by excellent glossiness. 

The Rust-Oleum 250041H offers a topcoat that doesn’t yellow over time. It can shield the wood against wood rot and weathering. You can also expect this stain to protect your wood for up to five years. 

Rust-Oleum 250041H is also easy to use. You won’t need a brush to apply it since it comes in an aerosol spray. Thus, you won’t have a hard time applying it to outdoor fittings. It dries immediately within half an hour. 

Yet, you should wait up to a day before you use the finished surface. With this aerosol spray, you can achieve efficient coverage of the corners of the wood surface. 

It will be best to prepare the wood by sanding it before applying this stain. You should also remove the dust residue and clean the wood surface. Dry the wood surface before you apply this stain. 

Before using, you should also shake the can. Protect, likewise, the adjacent areas that the spray might accidentally hit. Hold the spray can twelve inches away from the wood surface when spraying. For best results, you should apply up to four coats. You can recoat every after two hours.

5) Deck Armor-Total Wood

The Deck Armor-Total Wood contains plant-based oils and UV inhibitors. It offers a clear appearance, imbuing the wood, forming a solid bond with the fibers. It provides excellent protection from water, UV light, and other natural harsh elements. Thus, you won’t need to re-apply this stain constantly. 

You can also use this to seal and waterproof bamboo, exotic wood, pressure-treated wood, and other types of wood. This one is a multipurpose stain. You can use it to stain decks, outdoor furniture, railings, fences, dog-houses, and many other outdoor wood projects. Besides, you can protect outdoor wood from curling, cracking, cupping, and other wood problems and issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you know the most recommended stain for Western Red Cedar and understand the factors you should consider when choosing a stain, you can quickly narrow down your options to the best options. Yet, it will also help if you know the following FAQs about exterior finishes for Western Red Cedar:

How Can You Keep Looking New Your Western Red Cedar?

Well, to keep your Western Red Cedar looking great, you should provide it with the best finish. Finishes can be transparent, semi-transparent, semi-opaque, and opaque. It will be best to select the type of finish that offers the best finish for your wood. 

If you want to give it a natural look, you should opt for a clear finish. If you want to showcase some wood grains, you can use a semi-transparent finish. 

Solid stains, of course, would obscure the natural color and tone of the wood. Moreover, to preserve the stain, you need to reapply stain every three to five years, depending on the longevity of the stain you’ve chosen.

Is Thompson’s Water Seal Highly Recommended for the Cedar?

Well, as mentioned above, the Thompson’s Water Seal belongs to the highly recommended stain and sealer for Western Red Cedar. As such, it can provide your cedar with an excellent finish and protection that you would surely appreciate. It also can spruce up the appearance of your cedar and protect it from damages caused by UV light and water. 

How Would You Keep the Western Red Cedar from Fading?

You can apply a good sealer to your Red Cedar, something with mildew and UV light protection. In this way, the stain can block the UV light and prevent the wood from undergoing decay and fading due to UV light exposure. 

Other than UV light, mildew can also cause the wood to fade. So, it will help to choose a sealer that comes with ingredients that protect the wood from mildew. 

Can You Leave the Cedar Untreated?

Well, treating a cedar depends on your preference. You can leave this wood untreated, and it will turn grey. Moreover, it will get attacked by insects and molds. Plus, it becomes susceptible to the harsh effects of UV light and water. 

So, if you desire to prolong the usefulness and longevity of the cedar, you should provide it with treatment.


Wood materials, like the Western Red Cedar, differ from other building materials because they are natural materials. Hence, they come with different physical and chemical traits. If you don’t care for your Western Red Cedar by giving it proper treatment, it may exhibit a premature decay and fading that is irreversible. 

So, if you desire to prolong the usefulness of your Red Cedar, you might as well provide it with the proper treatment. Provide it with the appropriate staining and choose the best stain and sealer to make it impervious to the harsh elements of nature. In this way, you can expect longevity and prolonged usefulness from your Red Cedar.

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