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Aluminum Garden Furniture - What's So Good About Aluminum for Garden Furniture?

wrought cast powder metal

A quarter century ago, aluminum ‘garden’ furniture was typically a folding, lightweight tube frame with webbing for a seat. If it was left out in the garden, the first good thunderstorm would probably blow it to the other side of the lawn. That kind of lawn furniture is still useful, but now it is used for occasions like camping or tailgating parties when its portability is valued.

The aluminum garden furniture of today has come a long way, largely because of the many qualities inherent in aluminum alloys. Aluminum furniture originates from bauxite ore. These rocks are crushed, ground, and mixed with caustic sodium hydroxide to make a slurry. This slurry is cooked under heat and pressure to remove the aluminum compounds, and then gravity does its job. Most impurities sink to the bottom; the solution on top is further filtered and more impurities are precipitated out. When dried, the caustic soda is recycled and the remaining white alumina powder is ready to be sent to the smelter for making aluminum.

The smelting process uses very high amperage of electrical current. The resulting aluminum may have copper, silicon, magnesium, or manganese added to make it into an even stronger alloy. The same characteristics that make aluminum a prized metal in the aerospace industry— its light weight, its ductile nature, its durability, its resistance to oxidation, and its strength, all make it a premium metal for use in garden furniture.

Aluminum garden furniture is manufactured to fit all budgets and falls into two main categories: cast aluminum and wrought aluminum. For cast aluminum, the molten metal is poured or ‘cast’ into sand molds. Cast aluminum has very little joinery, and simple pieces can be cast as a single unit. Using molds allows the furniture to have very intricate and finely detailed designs. Wrought aluminum is made by techniques similar to those used on wrought iron. This metal-working method shapes solid aluminum into the final form and design. Tubular aluminum is a subclass of wrought aluminum.

Cast aluminum will have a bit more heft than wrought aluminum because it is solid. This makes it ideal for garden furniture that will stay in the garden all year long. Some cast styles are painted and designed to mimic vintage ironwork of the eighteenth century. Other cast pieces take full advantage of aluminum’s silvery luster to make contemporary designs that either gleam like chrome or exhibit a fine patina.

Wrought aluminum is a good choice wherever portability is a concern. The lighter weight makes it easier to move chairs around a table when dining outdoors. Wrought aluminum garden furniture is also easy to move for cleaning. Generally, it is less expensive than cast, but there are some high quality designs that are available only as aluminum wrought work, such as stylish mesh and woven patterns.

Part of the allure of aluminum is that it can be finished using different techniques to get very special looks. Anodized finishing is a process that creates a protective surface by boosting aluminum’s natural oxidation process. Similar to the way copper naturally ages to a turquoise green coating of copper oxide, anodizing creates a silvery aluminum oxide surface that will never peel off. Powder coating is another popular finish that is also done during manufacture. Pigments in powdered resin are bonded directly onto the surface to create a long-wearing shell. Some powder coatings look like paint, and some of the glossy powder finishes look like plastic. Paint is still another option, and one of the few finishes suitable for do-it-yourselfers. Successful painting requires using a paint that is specially formulated for use on aluminum.

Aluminum makes a wonderful choice for specialty garden furniture. An aluminum bird bath or sundial adds a lovely focal point to a garden setting. An aluminum garden bench for two adds a touch of romance to a terrace. If you have a ‘working garden,’ an aluminum potting table will not rust, rot, or warp.

All garden furniture requires maintenance because it is regularly exposed to drying and fading sunlight, rain and mold-producing humidity, and temperature extremes. But aluminum garden furniture is easier to clean and maintain, enduring longer with fewer repairs than most other garden furniture.

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