Best ways to waterproof wood?

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Wood needs to be waterproofed to protect it from rot, warping, and cracking. There are many types of wood sealers, including oils, paint, and synthetic products. DIY enthusiasts can also create their own waterproofing mixes. It is important to clean the wood before applying the sealer and to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Some products can be harmful to humans and the environment, so precautions should be taken. Non-toxic waterproofing solutions are becoming more popular.

A thorough knowledge of wood sealers is not essential for waterproofing wood. Although some people hire waterproofing professionals for large jobs, most simply purchase a container of waterproofing solution to apply to the exterior wood. Others choose to create their own solution. The best method depends on the type of wood, personal preferences, and possibly health and environmental concerns.

Reasons for waterproofing

It is essential to waterproof the wood to protect it from rot, warping and cracking. Untreated wood will absorb water, causing it to expand and then contract as it dries. This cycle of expansion and contraction can cause them to crack or warp. Water can also strip the color from some woods, and moisture promotes the growth of mold, mildew, and algae, which can damage or discolor the wood.

Deciding whether the wood should be waterproofed is simple: If the wood is untreated, it’s a good idea to apply a sealer. Where the wood structure has been waterproofed in the past, spraying the wood with water can help determine whether to apply more solution. If water collects when it hits the wood, the material is still protected and doesn’t need another application.

Types of wood sealer

Wood waterproofing products come in many varieties. They can provide a waterproofing membrane or surface barrier, or they can penetrate deep into the wood, filling pores and spaces. Some products consist simply of a type of oil that repels water. Others contain a polymer or resin in a solvent that evaporates, leaving a solid, impermeable material.

Epoxy resin is one of the most common solvent-based products. It comes in two parts – the resin itself and a curing agent that hardens it – which are mixed just before being applied. It’s important to control the curing time, because if the resin cures too quickly, the person applying it may not have time to finish their job before it hardens. Products with a short cure time may not be suitable for larger projects.

Of the waterproofing oils used to penetrate the wood, linseed oil was often used in the past. Tung oil, another natural product extracted from the seeds of a tree, is now considered more effective. There are also some synthetic oils that provide even better protection. Penetrating oils have the benefit of giving a natural look that many people prefer, but they usually need to be rubbed into the wood which can be hard work. They also require several applications and regular treatments every six months to a year.
Paint and similar products provide a water-repellent surface coating. Often a single coat is sufficient, while a second or third coat may be required for softwoods. These coatings are long lasting and may not need to be reapplied for several years.

Waterproofing products for wood can be transparent or colored. Light shapes show the natural beauty of the wood, but colorful blends with natural wood undertones can offset any loss of color as the wood ages.
It is also possible for the DIY enthusiast to prepare their own waterproofing mixes. An example is polyester resin dissolved in acetone, a solvent that evaporates quickly. This mixture quickly penetrates deep into the wood and leaves behind a strong, waterproof material. It lends itself well to waterproofing wood that can be immersed in water, such as on wooden boats.
There is growing interest in non-toxic waterproofing solutions. These are better for the environment and are not harmful to children, pets and wildlife. While they may be harder to find and usually don’t last as long as regular wood sealers, they are low-odor and generally safer than other types. In most parts of the world, information on toxicity, possible harmful effects and environmental “compatibility” can be found on the container.

Applying wood sealers
Before applying the sealer, it is important to clean the wood well. This may involve sanding to remove old paint or other coatings. The wood must also be dry when applying the product.
Some nontoxic oils, such as tung oil, are best scrubbed by hand — the warmth from the hand helps the oil penetrate more deeply — although a washcloth can also be used. Solvent-based products are best applied with a brush. Some products can be applied with a garden sprayer; however it is important to check this first as unsuitable mixes may clog the nozzle or not penetrate deep enough into the wood if applied this way.
The number of applications of sealant to apply depends on the hardness of the wood. Softer woods, such as pine and cedar, will absorb more product, so two or three applications may be required. Harder woods, such as beech or oak, can often get by one-handed, although it’s important to read the instructions for the product you select and use it as directed.
Health and safety precautions
Many solvent-based mixtures are potentially harmful to humans and the environment. Some solvents, including acetone and petroleum-based compounds, are classified as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They can cause eye, nose and throat irritation as well as headaches and dizziness if not used in a well-ventilated area.
Some petroleum-based solvents can produce serious adverse effects when inhaled in large quantities or through regular exposure over a long period. These problems are unlikely to occur under normal use; however, all of these products should be kept away from children and pets. Solvents are often highly flammable and products containing them should not be used near open flames or other heat sources. It is essential that you read the manufacturer’s guidelines before using any waterproofing product.

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