Outdoor Patio Furniture. Understanding Traditional Tubular Options.
If you are considering getting a new set of outdoor patio furniture for the deck or patio, you have lots of options. There’s all-weather wicker, cast aluminum, stone or synthetic tables, poly, and even wood. The list grows every year, but let’s focus on a traditional style that has been around forever. That would be tubular furniture, usually composed of either steel or aluminum, and both are easy to find.
For decades, this has been the most frequent style found, but all aluminum sets are not the same. Tubular aluminum furniture can be made of extruded or rolled aluminum. Extruded framing is done by heating a block of aluminum until soft, then pressing it through a die or mold. The final product is malleable and can be formed into chair or table frames. As there are no seams, this is usually a very strong frame, capable of holding more weight. On the other hand, rolled aluminum furniture starts with a thin, flat piece of aluminum. It is then forced through a die that bends it and forms it into the desired shape. Then, the loop is sealed in a weld-like process. The quality of the finish is determined by how much effort the finisher places in his work. However, these sets usually have noticeable seals, some better than others.
Extruded sets tend to be thicker and stronger than rolled and are less susceptible to denting or cracking. But with either style, water can accumulate inside the frame, either from rainwater or condensation. Most sets will have small, barely noticeable weep holes drilled at a low point and on the underside. When prepping for winter, make sure these holes remain unclogged. Shake the chair. If you hear sloshing, locate the weep hole and clear it with a needle or something similar. Allowing it to stay clogged can result in cracking of the frame or damage to the finish when water freezes.
Now, a word on the frame finish. Once formed, better manufacturers apply an electrostatically applied powder coat finish. This finish further seals the frame but allows for a wide variety of design colors. This is an expensive process, and it is not uncommon for some frames to have thinner or no powder coating. Economy sets may only have a sprayed-on paint finish. Quality sets can also have a painted finish but usually involve baking an enamel finish on at high temperature. This method makes it adhere better and more resistant to chipping.
I’ve owned two steel sets. The first was a $300 set I purchased from a discount store thirty years ago. That translates to about $600 today. It was not a fortune, but back then, it was still a good chunk of change. Unfortunately, it lasted just three years before the swivel chairs were so rusted that they wouldn’t spin. I swore I’d never have another steel set, then ten years later, I took a chance. I bought an upper-end demo set from Eastgate Pools & Spas, and I’ve had it ever since. The steel frame was acid-washed, then coated with a thick powder coat finish that has withstood Mother Nature’s worst efforts.
Unfortunately, with most steel sets these days, this is not the norm. They tend to be inexpensive, which lures in the economy shopper who only looks at price. These are often found in big box stores and even groceries. Seriously? Furniture from a grocery? “I got my patio furniture at the grocery. It was squeezed in next to the hamburger buns, potato chips, and microwave mac ‘n cheese.”
I’ll end my discussion of tubular steel with a short story. Years ago, we sold a backyard makeover to a very nice family. They took out a home improvement loan and purchased an in-ground pool and an amazing hot tub from Eastgate Pools. Add in a landscaper and a deck builder that constructed a beautiful synthetic-material deck, and this became an expensive project. Try $80,000 plus. However, there was one problem. They were over budget by the time it came to getting outdoor furniture for that new deck.
Max, we made a mistake.
Fall turned to winter, then spring arrived and into the store they came to get chemicals for their new pool.
“Are you ready to look at furniture for that amazing new deck?” I asked. The husband looked sheepishly at his wife, then explained.
“Max, we made a mistake. We went over budget and bought a set at ****. We just didn’t have the money to get the set you showed us that we really liked. The furniture we bought looked nice and was comfortable, and we covered it for the winter like we should. A few days ago, I took the covers off and started to move the chairs around so I could clean. Rust water ran everywhere, and our beautiful deck is now stained.”
To summarize, steel oxidizes. That means rusted product, just like that first set of furniture I had. Water plus rust is a bad mix when it pools on any surface. My personal advice is to avoid the potential headache and go aluminum.
The Moral of the Story…
I’ll end by quoting English philosopher John Ruskin. “It is unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. Quality is never an accident.” If you want quality outdoor patio furniture, do the research and understand the product. You might even find yourself interested in a completely different concept, like cast aluminum, poly, or an alternative material. Click here for a link to Eastgate Pools & Spas’ furniture introductory page. Better yet, stop in and let our professional staff help you find the outdoor furniture that suits your needs. And your budget.