Listed below are the main types of outdoor furniture :
Wood - hardwoods like Kwila, and Teak
Kwila furniture is usually well priced. It is a durable tropical hardwood usually sourced from South East Asia or some Pacific Islands. New Kwila has natural colour in the wood that bleeds out over time. Take care to avoid ground staining - especially on unsealed surfaces.
Teak wood (or golden teak) is one of the very best woods for outdoor furniture. It is a hardwood timber with a natural waxiness (due to its high level of oils) which gives it outstanding durability and stability. It is, after all, the wood of choice for boats - both on deck and inside. Ever seen a kwila deck on a boat ?
There is an abundance of teak furniture, ranging from very cheap to extremely expensive. Inferior teak will have knots in the grain and will come from the outer part of the tree trunk. Imperfections and splitting may be apparent. Most often, it is pale in colour.
High quality teak, in contrast, will come from the centre of the tree trunk and is characterised by beautiful grain, virtually free of knots and imperfections. It will have a warm rich golden colour and hue. In Europe, the desirable properties of high quality teak furniture are universally recognised, and there is a huge market for premium quality teak furniture.
Understand that premium raw teak is an expensive raw material, and so the finished item will usually be a premium product. The price difference between inferior teak and premium teak can be quite dramatic and is usually a reflection of quality.
Proper teak as we know it is called Tectona Grandis. It is most often sourced from South East Asia.
Note. Do not confuse Pacific teak with Tectona Grandis. It is a totally different species of timber. Pacific teak is much paler in colour and does not have teh same enduring qualities.
Over time, most woods turn to a natural grey finish. The original colour can usually be restored through application of a suitable furniture oil. Furniture oil can also be applied to new timber to slow down the greying process.
Aluminium is a near perfect metal for outdoor furniture as it cannot rust, is lightweight and is usually durable. It's light weight needs to be considered where it may be exposed to high winds.
Aluminium furniture should be finished in a high quality powder-coat finish as this acts as an anti-corrosive barrier and also a tough surface, resistant to knocks.
Powder-coating also improves strength and rigidity, High quality powder-coating will be harder and thicker - it will be more scratch resistant and less prone to surface oxidation and discoloration. Tell tale signs of high quality powder-coating are smoothness of teh finish and evenness of the sheen. Better quality powdercoat finishes may have textured finishes - like a light sparkle effect, or high gloss effect.
Typically aluminium furniture is constructed from aluminium tubing and joints are usually welded. Good quality welds are essential for strength and appearance. Higher quality furniture will usually have even welding joints, and may even be ground down for a tidy, smooth appearance.
Avoid furniture with lumpy, irregular welding, which is indicative of poor quality.
Aluminium furniture can be ideal for seaside use due to it's inability to rust.
Sling material is often used as the seat base for chairs and sunloungers. Most slings are made from a woven PVC coated polyester fabric which is suited to outdoor conditions due to its rot-proof quality.
There are many brands of sling, of which Textilene is the most recognised.
High quality slings will have 100% memory, meaning that they will always return to their original tautness. They are also colour fast and have an attractive appearance.
Cheaper slings may permanently stretch over time and show signs of colour change.
Textilene is a good quality brand with several quality levels, as is Phifer from America. Premium sling brands include Batyline and Canatex. These brands are renowned for their strength, memory (ability to spring back to original shape) and colourfastness (resistance to colour change)
Slings should be hung from their frames (usually aluminium, or wood) very tightly with little "give" or "slack".
Slings can come in huge variety of colours and even textures. Be aware, once again, that there is a wide range of sling quality.
Stainless steel is perhaps the strongest material for outdoor furniture, yet it is possibly the least understood. The general perception is that stainless steel furniture needs little or no care to maintain its appearance and condition.
In fact, most stainless steel comes in 304 grade and the higher quality marine 316 grade. And yet, there are varying qualities within these grades due to impurities and nickel content. Higher nickel content is preferred, as this reduces the possibility of surface discolouration.
Stainless steel also comes in various finishes - natural, brushed, polished, electropolished and pearl blasted. Electropolished stainless steel is a special process that improves durability - by polishing the surface through a special process to a smoother surface, contaminants cannot adhere to the surface so easily, so discoloration is reduced. Electropolished stainless steel surfaces are usually very easy to clean.
Pearl blasting is a pleasant micro bead finish. Brushed stainless steel is a grain like etched surface texture.
Stainless steel has a tendency for a tea staining appearance as contaminants oxidise on its surface. This is a surface rust that forms within it's microscopic surface cavities.
On cheaper stainless steel, this cannot be easily removed and permanent tea staining can result which is unsightly. On higher grade stainless steel, this surface staining can still develop, but upon cleaning it will disappear completely. Electropolished stainless steel adds that further level of protection by changing the surface structure of stainless steel, minimising the chance of staining.
With all stainless steel, regular maintenance is the key to maintaining an attractive appearance.
Synthetic wicker / rattan
This type of furniture is quite new. Synthetic wicker made to look like natural rattan type finishes is usually woven around a metal frame, stretched tight to form a tight woven surface.
There are many quality variations. Cheaper PVC wicker typically only has a coloured surface. Scuffs will highlight a different coloured core.
Polyethylene wicker usually has colour running right through it, and it is capable of being very colour fast and strong.
Quality synthetic wicker has excellent memory characteristics (resistant to permanent stretching over time), colour stability that should not fade over many years and a delightful visual appearance. Often the colours running through the fiber has multiple colour tones to look natural and appealing, often simulating natural fibers.
The wicker can come in many thicknesses, from spaghetti like wicker to thick straps.
An aluminium frame is generally better than a steel frame. Some steel frames are perfectly fine if they have been treated with a galvanic and powdercoating process for protection.
Quality weaving is generally recognised by a very tight weave with very few visible holes and tidy wicker terminations. Press the wicker and see how much give there is. A firm, tight weave is an indication of quality.
A recent trend has been towards metal tone wicker fibers. These have a modern look and can be very appealing.
Concrete furniture is heavy! This can be great if you want furniture that will not get blown around, or as a deterrent for thieves. But concrete furniture usually requires many people to carry it to site and set up.
Concrete is also very porous and sealing the furniture with a concrete sealer is recommended, although this usually changes it's visual appearance.
Usually the furniture is set up on pedestals, and may need to be levelled to stop "rocking". This means that furniture is not really portable and once set up it is not practical to move it.
Lightweight concrete furniture is a new category. Essentially, it is still concrete, but the weight is reduced, either through the use of a fiberglass substrate, or the addition of fiberglass strands in to the concrete to strengthen it. The result is lightweight concrete furniture. It is still heavy, and therefore ideal for high wind areas, but they can be moved around with a littel effort.
Not so common, and usually expensive. Fiberglass furniture is usually moulded to form a shape. It is hardwearing and has high colourfastness. Usually used for exotic furniture designs.
Typically this is outdoor furniture made from polypropylene or polyethylene.
Sometimes fiberglass strands are added to further strengthen designs.
Plastic is hardwearing, available in an almost infinite choice of colours and mouldable in to a multitude of shapes.
Plastic outdoor furniture can range from economy furniture (including commercial furniture) to very expensive examples which may even have a lacquered fiinish.
Watch out for plastic quality. Always ensure the plastic is UV treated to a high degree as UV rays will turn white plastic to a dirty yellow colour if not well traeted.
Also note that many plastic surfaces have a fine dimple surface that can trap dirt and can be very difficult to clean. This is most apparent on white plastic.
This is a new material that is made from natural minerals bound with synthetic resin to form a highly durable material that can be moulded in to shapes. Solid surface are formed for chair seats and table tops. The material is resitant to scratching and staining and is naturally hygienic due to its density - bacteria cannot easily adhere to it. Scratches that form on this material can be lightly buffed off.
Its moderate weight makes it suitable for high wind areas.
Nylon/PVC strap is used as the seat base on chairs and is often called "spaghetti strings"
Try it for comfort, as sometimes the gap between teh strings can make the seat a little uncomfortable. Also watch out for taughtness of the straps and longevity and colourfastness of the material.
Steel framed furniture is generally found at the economy end of outdoor furniture as it is a cheaper material than aluminium or stainless steel.
A quality protective coating is essential for longevity. Ideally a galvanizing protection layer followed by a powdercoat finish is preferred.
Make sure rain cannot enter inside the framework or this may accelerate rusting. Any holes, screws etc should be on the underside of the framework to avoid water ingress.