Outdoor Signs – What Is The Best Wood

Woodworking By LPI Custom - Outdoor Sign

Here I share my research for outdoor signs and my results. Is the wood naturally resistant to to inclement weather without additives. What would give the best look? What would last the longest?

The best wood for outdoor signs depends on your location and weather. Medium Density Overlay or MDO is the best solution for North Eastern United States. It allows for different applications such as color and can withstand the elements if properly sealed and cured.

What Are The Different Options For Outdoor Sign Wood?

There are many options of wood for outdoors signs. It greatly depends on where you are located. However, during my research I surprisingly found many options which made it a little difficult to decide.

Treated pine is typically the choice for outdoor projects and signs. However it doesn’t hold up to inclement weather as well as a natural resistant wood choice. What other choices are there?

Getting Into The Details – Outdoor Wood

Being analytical in my thoughts I thought a lot about what was the best way to describe to you the considerations for wood you have when you are looking at your outdoor wood sign.

I decided to put together a chart from my research below to show many things which may make sense before you look to invest your money.


1 – Excellent 2 – Good 3 – Fair 4 – Poor

The chart above depicts the rating of wood availability, warping, cracking and use. These are important factors when considering a wood for an outdoor sign. There are other considerations for wood for outdoor use.

Details of Outdoor Wood Options

Medium Density Overly (MDO)

Medium Density Overlay or MDO – MDO is a layer plywood with a element (Weather) resistant resin on the outside to protect it. MDO is typically utilized for outdoor traffic signs in lieu of aluminum for more colorful application providing a better eye catching outdoor wood sign.

Rot – MDO is especially resistant to rot due to its high quality fiber with phenolic resin solids. MDO is also water proof and water resistant which makes it an excellent product for outdoor wood signs. It is typically used for outdoors wood signs and also used for marine applications such as flooring for pontoon boats.

Finished Look – MDO accepts primer and paint with excellent results. A variety of presentations can be created. A rustic, crackle and modern look can be applied to this outdoor wood for log cabin, nautical, and barn applications. Additionally, you apply several sealers such as polyurethane, Spar Polyurethane, and custom epoxy resin with clear or color combinations.

Use – This outdoor wood is very flexible as it is very close to its cousin generic plywood. Just as you would be able to create custom edges, glue or nail external letters and/or images cut out to the face its use is you or your customers imagination. It can be drilled, sawed, routed and shaped to your specifications for your wood signs. The uses are endless.

Cracking – With the high quality fiber with phenolic resin solids MDO is resistant to cracking. Most generic wood sign choices such as pine will crack and present issues to the appearance or with break in half depending on the depth of the crack and length which compromises its strength.

Warping – MDO is also resistant to warping which is a common problem with wood for outdoor signs. Due to its construction, like plywood, MDO has layers of wood laminated together which strengthens it overall. However, once exposed to the outside elements, wood being a natural material moves, flexes and constricts depending on the weather. With its layered construction and high quality fiber with phenolic resin solids it resists warping.

Availability – This wood is available through most of your local hardware stores as well as online if you choose. The price is comparable to regular plywood. MDO comes in sheets, with different sizes and thickness, which gives you the flexibility to create more and space to do more.

If you would like to see what products I’m using and purchase you can see my recommended products here – “Recommended Products

How long does MDO last in an outside application? Typical length of time is 5 to 10 years. This is providing you properly primer, paint, and seal the MDO wood for the outdoor sign. If you would like to know more about outdoor paint and painting signs you can see our post on “Paint For Outdoor Wood Signs, What Kind Do You Use?“. It goes into depth on painting choices and painting outdoor wood signs.

MDO Manufacturing with Bob Vila – All rights and trademarks belong to Bob Vila

Redwood and Cedar

Redwood/Cedar – The more known choice is Redwood or Cedar. They provide a natural resistance to inclement weather, rot, decay and insects. The other advantage is this species of wood resists warping and twisting making them and easy choice for your wood signs.

Rot – Redwood/Cedar is naturally immune to rot. Having a natural brownish-red hue. Redwood very tight grain pattern and is mostly free of natural knots and other flaws. Cedar can be red, white or yellow depending on the species. Most porous is Red cedar and has a color close to Redwood.

Redwood/Cedar has for centuries been used for outdoors wood signs and also used for exterior applications such as siding, roofing and outdoor furniture.

Finished Look – Redwood/Cedar has a beautiful finished look which capitalizes on the red-hue color. Additionally, if you use a spar polyurethane it will bring out the red-hue further giving it a beautiful finished look. Additionally, Redwood/Cedar paints very well. And if properly done with primer and paint can last for years without a sealer.

Use – Most Redwood/Cedar can be picked without knots and imperfections if you mill is willing to work with you. This provides a clean surface for your outdoor wood sign project. It can be drilled, sawed, routed and shaped to your specifications for your wood signs, although if you would like a sheet for a project 36″x 36″ or bigger you may need to join the boards with wood glue or epoxy.

Cracking – Redwood/Cedar is highly resistant to cracking. However it is know to crack if the moisture level is high in the wood. Small amounts of water can cause Redwood/Cedar to crack. Beware of the moisture content in the wood before purchasing or starting your wood sign project.

Warping – Both of these are resistant to warping. However, if moisture level in them is high it is important to note. Although they truly don’t warp due to grain issues, they will warp due to moisture. Most likely due to moisture on the edge of the wood hitting the more dense interior causing them to crack or what looks to be warping.

Availability – Both of them are readily available and most likely without knots or imperfections. If you are looking for a small or one-time wood sign your local hardware store will suffice. However, if your wood signs are more of a product line or customized more often you may look for a local mill or source from an internet search. There are many sources you can get specific species of Cedar and also Redwood for your outdoor wood sign.

How long does MDO last in an outside application? In a comparison Redwood is more dense than cedar, approximately by 23% on average, however the fact that it is more dense doesn’t mean it will last longer for your outdoor wood sign. Cedar will also last quite a while as well. For both of them, 10 years is the most common answer given. However it depends on your paint, possible sealer, maintenance of the outdoor wood sign and weather at your location.

Considerations For Outdoor Sign Wood

Considerations for your wood sign and the wood you would use are as follows.

  • Will the wood sign contact the ground – If your wood sign will be in contact with the ground you may consider treating your wood sign with a treatment such as Rust-Oleum Wolman. This treatment protects the wood with EPA-registered protection which protects against rot, decay and insects.
  • Do I put a sealer on – There are many sealer applications on the market today to protect your wood sign. Consideration should be given for the appearance as well as the maintenance you will need to do in the coming years. Do you have color on your wood sign? Do you have stain on your wood sign?
    • Generic Polyurethane – Generally protects your wood sign from UV and weather. Needs an application approximately twice a year depending on your location and whether or not in direct sign light or rain
    • Varnish – Excellent sealer over stain wood signs. However, still needs maintenance approximately twice a year depending on your location and whether or not in direct sign light or rain
    • ResinEpoxy Resign is the best choice for completely sealing your wood sign for outdoor use. The resin combined with a hardener creates a shield from weather, UV and insects.

All of the wood options spoken here are great options for wood for your outdoor sign. It really depends on your project, appearance, location and how you finish the outdoor wood sign.

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Woodworking By LPI - How To Choose Wood Outdoor Wood Signs

Henry Brady

I have been working wood signs since 2018, however my experience goes further back to my childhood working on wood projects from home decor to home repair. Prior to 2018 my business was rehabbing homes and then creating wood furniture products. My passion is wood signs and how many ways you can create them.

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