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I have been selling picnic tables and other outdoor furniture for a few years now and am looking for the “best” possible outdoor finishing options. I live near Toronto, Ontario, so I have to deal with cold winters (-20C) and hot summers (40C). I normally use standard untreated SPF construction lumber for the tables but also use western red cedar and pressure treated on request. I would want something that won’t stain clothing on contact and is suitable for possible food contact. I would very much prefer a product that is a single coat application. One more kicker to contend with is “oil-based paints can no longer be manufactured or imported into Canada by any paint company. Effective September 2012 companies can no longer sell their existing stocks.”

I’m currently using mini wax helmsman spar urethane as a clear coat, and Behr premium acrylic wood stains.

I’m not expecting to get something to fit all my criteria but one can always dream right?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts or suggestions.
 

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Paint. That's about the only thing that fits those criteria. Plenty of outdoor options in a water base. For clear finish you're best off dumping that spar varnish and just using an outdoor oil. For a picnic table I'd just get whatever the Lowes/Home Depot has, I think it's olympic. For nicer stuff Penofin or general finishes.
 

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Anything "polyurethane" is about as bad as it gets for outdoor finishes, I'm surprised your customers haven't been back to complain about the Helmsman. Urethanes break down quickly in an UV environment. As for what to use, a true marine spar varnish or as suggested: paint.
 

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Since you are already using a spar I would recommend using Epifanes marine grade spar varnish. It's kinda pricey so if you are looking for something about the price of Helmsman I would recommend Cabot spar varnish.
 

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tung oil

We started using tung oil a few years ago on wood gates constructed of Spanish cedar. It needs to be reapplied every year but the prep work is minimal and it really shows off the wood grain. The down side is that it takes a few days to dry completely.
 
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