Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: 34.25n 119.27w
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Re: new wood and varnish ???
Since your pieces are already made, I would precoat with 1-2 coats of varnish or spar urethane (more on that later). Drill for plugs and use the same finish to glue in the plugs. If you use a very sharp chisel to cut the plugs down you can get away without sanding and damaging the stain. Just 220 sand as you would between coats, spot stain the plugs and varnish.
Helmsman spar urethane is a very hard finish, easy to apply and dries very quickly. Two to three coats a day are possible. The only trouble I've had with it is that it turns dark in the sun (very high uv index here in SoCal). You may have no trouble with it at all where you are. The up-side to the darkening, if it does occur, is that in a year or so it could hide the fir and oak a bit.
BTW, keep the wood coated and it should last. No moisture, no mold. What kills most varnish jobs (besides neglect) is moisture and weathering at the edges. You need to eliminate ALL routes for moisture to enter the wood.