How to Stain, Paint and use Pressure Wood for Picnic Tables

As we approach the last quarter of the year, many people have started thinking about those thanksgiving parties in their backyard, porch, or patio. 

The barbecues and other cookout parties with families are what make these periods at the year-end most interesting. 

Since it is a time when everyone is catching up, you are probably thinking of a nice outdoor space where you will relax as you eat. 

You will need a steady table that won’t keep wobbling and can stand environmental elements. 

For example, treated wood, but How to Stain, Paint and use Pressure Wood for picnic tables? is It safe?

To much relief, yes! Pressure-treated wood is safe for your picnic or whatever outdoor activity you would like to engage in. 

Modern-day manufacturers use non-toxic chemicals in the manufacture of pressure-treated wood. 

Using such a table is safe for you and your family as you sit and relax. Your pets are also safe if you want to tag them to the picnic. 

This article will address everything you need to know about Pressure treated wood and its safety.

What Is Pressure Treated Wood?

Pressure-treated wood is a type of wood that has gone through a unique process in its making to increase its durability. 

The process also reduces the risk of the wood decaying or being destroyed through insect infestation, mold, or water. 

Interestingly, other pressure treatments can protect your wood from the fire and make it fire-retardant. 

There is a variety of pressure-treated wood, all of which are useful as they are unique to individual users and projects. 

What Are Picnic Tables?

Image of picnic table. But, Is Pressure Treated Wood Safe for Picnic Tables?Sometimes referred to as a picnic bench, a picnic table is featured benches specifically designed for outdoor dining with your family and friends.

Picnic tables are often associated with rectangular tables that have an A-frame structure. The “picnic tables” may be used for indoor and outdoor activities.

Why Is the Use of CCA a Big Deal in Picnic Table Wood Treatment?

Copper Chrome arsenate (CCA) treated wood has been treated with a preservative containing copper, chromium, and arsenic. 

The CCA treatment is essential because it enhances the durability of the wood. It protects your wood from insect and fungal attacks. 

This may explain why it is mainly used in decking, playground equipment, fences, retaining walls, vineyards, and jetties. 

Various concerns are raised concerning a potential health risk associated with CCA in wood treatment. 

The concerns are worth considering, especially if you are planning to use it to preserve a wood that you would use for a social activity like a picnic date.

The primary concern in using CCA in wood treatment is that the chemical contains arsenic which can be ingested or swallowed. 

Also, the chemicals from a CCA may gradually leach, although some research confirms that the amount of leached arsenic is way less than that found in our daily food.

However, the concerns have attracted international awareness. There are speculations that CCA may pose potential harm because of its leaching property. 

This is an essential point of consideration, especially when using it in the treatment of a picnic table. 

We want to be as safe as possible; therefore, the possibility of the picnic table leaching and eventually affecting your health in the long run, should not be ignored.

Following such concerns, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) reviewed the safety implications of using CCA in wood treatment. 

From the review, the body advised against using CCA-treated timber in constructing a picnic table, domestic decking, patios, play equipment,

Other surfaces you should not use CCA treated wood on are handrails, new garden furniture, or exterior seatings.

Should You Paint or Stain a Picnic Table Made of Treated Wood

Pressure-treated tables are specially designed to last longer than your regular tables. Therefore, you may want to give that neve-aging table a fresh look from time to time. 

Yes, you can stain or paint your picnic table that is Pressure treated. The pressure-treated wood is protected against damage and may not need any protection. 

However, staining and painting are essential as it reduces the possibility of your wooden surface cracking and splitting. 

Besides, the painting will enhance your picnic table’s appearance, while staining will help your wood preserve its natural beauty.

While you can paint or stain your pressure-treated wood, there are some critical restrictions you should consider. 

Note that the pressure-treated wood is different from your ordinary lumber. 

Therefore, using the wrong material in this work will likely find yourself in a peeling disaster. 

Let us know the proper painting procedures in the discussion below.

How to Paint Pressure Treated Wood

Step 1: Ensure your wood surface is dry.

How do you know if your surface is completely dry? Simple! Touch it; the feel on your fingers should determine its dryness. 

You can also run a water test by spilling water onto your wood surface. If the water beads up, your wood is not dry yet; give it more time.

Several factors speed up or slow down the drying ability of your pressure-treated wood. 

Putting your furniture outside where warm temperatures may speed up the drying time. However, it may also cause unwanted warp.

Similarly, if your piece of wood is in a dark and damp environment, it will likely take longer to dry. 

Your pressure-treated wood can dry naturally over a couple of months. However, it may take forever if you live in an area with a cool and wet climate.

If you are in doubt and want to be sure that your would is completely dry, we recommend using a moisture meter. 

The moisture meter checks the moisture content of your wood. If it reads below 14%, then you are good to go! Your wood is dry.

Step 2: Clean Your Wood Surface

Working with pressure-treated wood could be a test of your patience. The procedures often take a considerable amount of time. 

If your wood has passed the initial water test stage, you can move on to the next.

Use soapy water and a stiff brush to remove dirt and grime that could stick to your wood surface. 

The soapy water will also eliminate any chemicals lying on your wood, thus enhancing the adherence of your paint.

Opt for deeper cleaning if the wood is not in a desirable shape. You can use a commercial wood cleaner or a power washer. 

This is mainly done if your pressure-treated wood has been unused for a long time and has damage symptoms.

Avoid using a strong pressure washer, as it can damage your wood.

The pressure washer can tear up your wood surface, allowing water to penetrate the wood fibers, thus further slowing down the drying process.

After cleaning, allow your wood to dry again (patience, remember?). 

The drying may take several more weeks as we apply more liquids on top of the chemicals in your pressure-treated wood. 

If the wood absorbs the water during the water test, it is ready for painting.

Note: You may need to use pressure-treated, kiln-dried wood, especially if you are working against a fixed deadline.

 The kiln-dried wood saves you time as you won’t need lengthy drying procedures.

Step 3: Apply a Primer

You always need to prime unfinished wood before painting or staining it. Apply the primer using a roll, spray, or brush.

 The primer contains high solids, creating an impressively smooth surface necessary for your painting. 

The primer also forms a protective layer. The layer would prevent your wood from unnecessarily soaking up lots of painting. 

Safe to say that the primer is not only cost-effective but also time-saving!

Ensure that your primer and your paint match. With latex, use a stain block latex or an oil-based primer. 

An oil-based paint would work well with a stain-blocking oil-based primer.

Once your wood is fully primed, allow it to cure, depending on the allotted time specified by the manufacturer. Different types of primers have different curing periods.

It may take a while before your primer fully cures. Therefore, ensure you move your furniture in a clean environment, free from dirt and dust. 

If you are working in your workshop, ensure that you cover it to prevent debris from entering your primer while still wet.

The advantage of using a primed piece of furniture is that it is flexible enough. Choose an option that best suits your needs. 

Step 4: Now Paint Your Pressure Treated Wood

After your primer has completely dried up, apply paint to your pressure-treated wood.

Choose the best quality paint available in your local store—plan on using two coats to achieve the desired color. 

Before applying the next coat, allow the paint to cure thoroughly. Re-coating it before it dries would cause adhesion problems.

We recommend painting your wood as the paint will give it a new life with vibrant colors. Paints, unlike stains, are available in a wide range.

It allows you to brighten up your wood, unlike stains which only offer shades of brown.

If your pressure-treated wood is a deck, consider staining it rather than painting it. The color of a painted deck may be too attractive to ignore. 

However, you could instead go for opaque stains, which work best on horizontal surfaces.

How to Stain Pressure Treated Wood

Staining, just like painting, is essential for maintaining your pressure-treated wood. It prevents cracks, lengthens its life, and preserves its natural appearance. 

Enhance the appearance of your pressure-treated wood, be it a deck, fence, picnic table, or any other exterior wood, by following the following procedures.

  • Select the Right Stain

One of the primary advantages of working with pressure-treated wood is its flexibility. 

This kind of wood is compatible with any stain as long as it is designed for exterior use. You are most likely to find oil-based stains and latex stains. 

However, most woodworkers prefer working with oil-based stains, particularly on their pressure-treated woods.

Oil-based stains are recommended due to their ability to soak into the wood. This protects the wood from water penetration which may otherwise damage your wood.

If you are a DIY enthusiast, you do not want to use a latex stain. Latex stain is more like pain. It is opaque, explaining why it hides the wood’s grain pattern.

Also, consider using a water-repelling stain and a UV stabilizer on any outdoor project. The color of stain you choose solely depends on your desired finishing. 

Generally, expect the following features from every type of stain:

  • A transparent stain is usually clear; it would have no color.
  • A semi-transparent stain would portray some color. It also has UV protection properties. Just like the transparent one, it would also make the beauty of the wood’s grain visible.
  • While a solid stain would offer your wood the most UV protection, it may not wholly penetrate the wood. This will result in the peeling of the surface film over time.

Luckily enough, some manufacturers have innovated stains that are specially designed for use on pressure-treated woods. 

Be sure to check in with your preferred manufacturer for the best recommendations.

  • Prepare the Surface that You Intend to Stain

After selecting the perfect stain for your project, prepare the surface you want to work on. Begin by cleaning your pressure-treated wood.

To remove all the loose dirt and debris, use a stiff brush.

Use the same brush to scrub into the wood. To do this, use a deck cleaning solution of 1 gallon of water, 1 pint of rubbing alcohol, and 1 quart of oxygen bleach.

If your surface is heavily soiled or damaged by mold, consider using a commercial cleaner or restorer. Clean according to your manufacturer’s instructions. 

Ensure that you rinse off the chemicals with clean water.

If your wood is painted or varnished, use a wood stripper to eliminate the paint before staining.

Ensure that your wood is dry before applying the stain. The chemicals used to treat the wood usually leaves some moisture. 

Note that the drying period differs depending on the weather and the type of wood you are working on. It ranges anywhere between a few weeks and months.

You want to determine if your wood is dry by testing its moisture level. To test, perform a bead test. 

Drop some small amounts of water onto your wood. If the water beads, then your wood still has moisture. If it absorbs the water, it is dry and ripe for staining. 

You can also test the moisture by pressing a nail into the wood. If the wood produces water around the nail while it is still being pressed, it is still moist. 

Give it enough time to dry up before applying the stain.

  • Check the Weather Forecast

Checking the weather forecast allows you to choose the best time for your staining project. The recommended weather for your staining activity is a cool day within a 50-degree range. 

Since your stain will dry up within 24-48 hours, check your forecast to ensure that you don’t expect rain within the two days. 

Also, due to the fast-drying properties of stain, ensure that you work on your project away from direct sunlight.

Protect your surrounding vegetation by covering it with plastic sheeting or painter’s tape.

  • Applying the Stain

Thoroughly stir your paint. Pour a small amount into a paint tray you’ll pick with your stain brush. 

You can also have this done at the hardware store during the purchase. Keep stirring the stain as much as possible for the best application.

Test your stain color by dabbing it at the corner or underside of a board. Do this to ensure that the stain color is of your preference.

Use a paint pad applicator to apply the stain in large and flat areas.

Using a paintbrush, fill in the gaps between your boards and other areas that may be hard to reach. 

Side Note: The butted end of the boards will consume more stain than other areas.

Avoid overlapping the brushstrokes. This will help you achieve a uniform result.

If your working surface is new, stain the unexposed sides before you screw them into place.

Allow your stain to dry within a 24–48-hour period.

Follow these steps to protect your outdoor living space from aging. Besides, the staining will enhance the natural beauty of your landscape. 

You will also enjoy it for more extended periods than you imagine!

Here’s How to Stain Pressure Treated Wood:

Types of Pressure Treated Wood

Pressure-treated wood is quite different from the typical lumber we use daily. There are several types of pressure-treated wood

These types of lumber are always classified based on the chemical solutions used in their creation. Here are some of the classifications.

Chromate Copper Arsenate (CCA)

CCA is a mixture containing chromium, copper, and arsenic, responsible for changing your wood into a green color. 

This preservative was historically used between the 1930s t0 2004. However, as mentioned earlier several studies by different organizations deemed CCA hazardous for environmental use. 

It was in the best interests that the lumber industry reached a consensus against the production of CCA for residential purposes.

In contemporary society, CCA is primarily used for industrial purposes.


Borate products are pressure-treated using water-based mineral salts. 

Borates are used to describe the sodium salts that are used in water-based pressure treatment solutions. 

These salts help retain the wood’s color and protect against insect infestation, mold, mildew, and fungi.

However, when exposed to wet conditions, the treatment solution leaches out of the wood. This may negatively affect the surrounding environment. 

For this reason, borate products are ideal for use in arid areas.

Micronized Copper Azole (MCA)

Unlike borate and CCA, MCA is such an environmentally friendly water-based preservative. 

MCA solution is safe for animals and plants and can be used instead of CCA. 

As safe for living organisms, avoid using it when it comes into contact with human or animal feed.

MCA solution, just like other wood preservatives, protects your timber against insects, mold, mildew, fungus, and rot. 

One outstanding feature of the MCA is that it turns the wood into a light brown hue. 

MCA solution is flexible. You can use it either inside or out, above ground, in-ground, or in freshwater contact residential areas.

Alkaline Copper Quaternary (ACQ)

This type of wood is treated with environmentally safe chemicals. The solution contains soluble copper, quaternary ammonium alkyl, or substitute compounds. 

The solution is also specially designed to protect the wood from rotting, insects, fungus, mold, and mildew. 

ACQ, just like MCA, turns the wood into a brown tone.

While the wood is safe for humans and animals, ensure that it does not come into contact with food or animal feed.

Note: We can further narrow down the above-discussed types of pressure-treated wood into three main classifications:

Above ground: These types of pressure-treated wood are primarily used when insect resistance and rot are not a significant concern. 

This is because the preservatives used to make it will leach out if exposed to water or moisture, hence the name “above the ground.” An excellent example of this is borate.

Ground contact: The chemical solutions used to preserve wood in this category do not leach out. 

Because of this, these types of pressure-treated wood are safe for “ground contact.” This means you can use the ground contact wood even in wet environments. 

They are also more durable than ‘above the grounds’ as they can last up to forty years.

Marine lumber: This pressure-treated wood is significantly more resistant than all the others. They are designed to construct docks, sea walls, and other seaside locations.

Types of Chemicals Used in Pressure Treatment of Wood

  • Alkaline Copper Quat (ACQ). ACQ is a recent chemical linked to the family compounds of copper and quaternary ammonium.

The ACQ also comes in different types: ACQ-B, -C, and -D. They all have unique properties designed for different performances in treating.

  • Ammoniacal Copper Zinc Arsenate (ACZA). As the name suggests, this chemical combines copper, zinc, and arsenic.

The United States prefers this chemical because of its effectiveness in treating Douglas fir.

  • Borates preservatives. Borates are a solution made up of such salts as sodium octaborate, sodium tetraborate, and sodium pentaborate. These salts are water-soluble.

Therefore, wood made from this solution should be used strictly above the ground. Exposure to water and moisture will result in the borates leaching out, thus causing rot.

  • Copper azole (CBA). Chemicals used in making CBA include amine copper and co-biocides. Ammonia is used in some cases where the woods do not allow for easy penetration (e.g., Douglas fir).
  • Chromated copper arsenic (CCA). CCA consists of chromium, copper, and arsenic. The lumber industry no longer uses these chemicals in preserving pressure-treated wood.

This is because of the increased concerns regarding its toxicity. However, some companies still use it for commercial and industrial purposes.

  • Oil-Type Treatments. Chemicals present here include creosote, pentachlorophenol, and copper naphthenate.

These treatments leave your wood with an oily touch and an unpleasant odor.

Due to such properties, wood made from these is specially designed for use in utility poles, piles, and other structures that do not involve frequent human contact.

Safety Measure When Using Pressure-Treated Wood

Pressure-treated wood’s flexibility will allow you to work on several outdoor projects. 

While enjoying working with it in your workshop or DIY projects, ensure you protect your vision, hearing, and breathing. 

Also, protect your body from splinters, cuts, and scrapes. Follow the following recommended tips for the safe use of your pressure-treated lumber:

  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants (or a long-sleeved overall)

While cutting and sanding your projects, sawdust and chips will likely fall everywhere. 

This can increase your exposure to the preservatives used in the treated wood. 

You will want to protect your body from direct contact with the wood by fully covering it. 

Upon your project completion, ensure that you wash your clothes separately to avoid the risk of contamination.

  • Wear gloves

Gloves are essential as they protect your hands while reducing the risk of exposure to chemicals when handling pressure-treated wood. 

Gloves are crucial because most of the time, the pressure-treated wood is bought while still wet. 

This means that if you are handling it, you are exposed to the excess liquid stuck in the wood. 

I recommend sturdy leather work gloves because of their durability.

Even though the gloves protect your hands, ensure that you wash your hands after working with pressure-treated wood.

  • Use a Dust Mask

The sawdust produced when cutting and sanding wood may get into your lungs. Use well-fitting disposable dust masks to avoid a potential health risk from inhaling the sawdust.

  • Cut and Sand outside.

This may seem a no-brainer because you will likely do most of your woodwork projects outside. 

I encourage handling your projects outdoors to prevent sawdust from settling on your indoor surfaces. 

Also, consider upwinding your work to ensure that all the sawdust is blown away.

  • Properly dispose of dust and scraps.

Pressure-treated woods contain more chemicals than usual. Therefore, it is sensible that you sweep up sawdust and chips. 

Also, collect the scraps left over and dispose of them in the trash. Avoid using sawdust as mulch. 

Never burn the scraps, as their chemicals pollute the environment and affect human and animal populations.

How to Dispose of Pressure-Treated Wood

Most homeowners and gardeners are often challenged on how to dispose of their pressure-treated wood. 

While burning may seem the easiest option, avoid it, as its toxic chemicals make it dangerous. 

There are limited options on how to dispose of your pressure-treated wood. Choose the option available in your state or province.

  • Landfill Disposal

Landfill disposal is considered the safest way to dispose of treated wood. Dispose of them in special landfills with protective liners. 

Without the liners, the contaminants may spill into the soil and water. Consult with your municipality to access a landfill near you.

  • Specialized Bins

If you cannot access a landfill, use a large, specially marked bin exclusively for storing treated wood. Do this till you locate a landfill where you can disclose. 

You will want to cut the wood into smaller pieces for them to fit into the bin. Don’t forget to wear a dust mask while doing this.

If you cannot dispose of your treated wood, consider using safer alternatives in your project. 

Use softwoods such as cedar, recycled plastic, stone, metal, and wood treated with lower-toxicity chemicals. 

This is because we have limited resources for properly disposing of treated wood.

Final Thoughts

It is that time of the year when families and friends want to catch up after such a busy year. Just like the summer days, you want to relax outdoors and engage in activities. 

You want to make picnic tables and are asking yourself…

Is Pressure Treated Wood Safe for Picnic Tables? 

Yes! You can use pressure-treated wood to construct picnic tables and other outdoor furniture. 

However, avoid using CCA to treat your wood. Instead, we recommend ACQ (Alkaline Copper Quaternary) as it is more environmentally safe. 

Be sure to check the labels on the wood when buying to determine the type of chemicals used.

Now that we have answered this and other Frequently Asked Questions on pressure-treated wood, we hope you’ve enjoyed reading through. 

Use the recommended types for your outdoor furniture and observe all the precautionary measures.

All the best as you prepare your picnic tables for the incoming end-year meet-ups and celebrations!

Image of a woodworker wearing hearing protectors for woodworking

Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.

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