The practice of applying oils to finished wood products has been around for a very long time, and is believed to pre-date the use of wax on wood products. Oils are one of the most popular ways to finish wood, but do not offer as much protection as some of the more modern wood finishing products such as varnishes.
Oils do however, bring out the character of the wood better than varnishes, are created from some natural materials, and are very easy to apply and maintain. But how do you know which oil to use and which will give you the best results for your particular project? This article aims to answer that question by providing the basic information for the three most commonly used oils: Teak oil, Tung oil, and Danish oil.
Teak oil, despite the name, is not derived from the teak tree. It is intended for use on dense woods such as teak, rosewood, ironwood, snakewood, walnut, mahogany, oak, and cherry to name a few. Teak oil is not pure oil, but is actually a blend of oils and varnish. What the actual blend ratio is varies per manufacturer, but teak oil typically consists of linseed oil, Tung oil, Soya oil, and varnish.
Linseed oil is the oil extracted from the seeds of the flax plant, which has been cultivated for thousands of years. Linseed oil is also used to make linoleum flooring. Soya oil comes from soybeans. Varnish is the least natural of the substances being composed of a drying oil, a resin, and a solvent.
Teak oil is not the best option when a glossy, high-sheen finished look is desired, or where high traffic and durability could be an issue. Teak oil typically results in darker, richer color with a low- to mid-level sheen. One disadvantage is that over time the original honey color can change to more of a silver shade. When applying teak oil, ensure that the wood is clean and dry before application.
- Easy to apply using just a brush or rag
- Does not crack or chip
- Works best with dense woods
- Can be used inside and outside
- Provides UV protection
- Could affect the original wood color
- Cannot glue pieces after applying
- Not suitable for all types of wood
- May not extend the durability and life of the furniture
Best Teak Oil
Star Brite Premium Golden Teak Oil
Star Brite Premium teak oil provides an excellent finish for marine teak and other woods. Premium, refined natural oils add long-term protection from moisture, harsh weather, and UV rays. This oil gives a natural warm golden color to wood and is specially crafted to enhance the grain and color of teak.
Make sure to follow the directions closely as proper preperation is key to a quality finish when using teak oil. For the full finishing system, add Star Brite Teak Cleaner and Star Brite Teak Brightener, or go for the complete Teak Care Kit.
Tung oil originally comes from the nuts of the Tung tree, buyers should be aware of synthetic alternatives marketed as Tung oil. In Chinese the term Tung means heart, which refers to the large, dark green, heart shaped leaves of the Tung Tree. Tung trees are a fast growing deciduous tree that can reach heights of forty feet. Tung trees have an average life span of around 30 years, with fruit bearing beginning at the 3 years old.
One acre of Tung trees can produce on average 2 tons of nuts and 100 gallons of raw Tung oil annually. Tung trees require specific growing conditions down to the number of warm and cool days. They grow in China, Argentina, Paraguay, and some parts of Africa.
Tung oil was first recorded around 400 BC in the writings of Confucius. The Chinese used Tung oil to waterproof the masts and sails of boats, and to finish furniture of royal families. Some legends even claim that the Chinese used Tung oil to seal the Great Wall of China.
Despite the myth that Tung oil air dries by evaporation, it actually hardens through a chemical process that happens when the oil comes into contact with the air. Upon contact with oxygen in the air, cross-linked compounds form over time until the oil is hardened all the way through. Hence, the extended “drying” time associated with Tung oil.
Tung oil is best for indoor furniture and food dishes such as wooden fruit bowls. It will result in a glossier and warmer look as compared to teak oil, and can be applied on most types of wood. When applying Tung oil use a lint free rag and put the oil on the rag not directly onto the wood. Rub with the grain of the wood and for best result apply at least 3 coats.
- It is water resistant
- Non-toxic and food-safe
- Can be used on wood that is expanding and/or contracting
- Easy to apply
- Doesn’t yellow over time
- Extending drying time
- Doesn’t store well and should be used soon after purchasing
- Needs to be mixed with turpentine to enhance infiltration into the wood
- Vulnerable to temperature changes
Best Tung Oil
Hope's 100% Pure Tung Oil
Provding a natural, brilliant shine this excellent tung oil is recognized by woodworkers as the ultimate drying oil for finer woods. This oil forms a low-gloss finish that is highly durable and resistant to sun exposure and moisture.
Danish oil, like teak oil, is not pure oil but rather a mixture of linseed oil or Tung oil, varnish, and mineral spirits. Danish oil provides a water resistant satin finish, that is soft and radiant but that can also handle hard wear and tear. It can also be used as a primer on bare wood before the application of paint or varnish.
The term Danish oil was coined some time during the second half of the 20th century, when Scandinavian furniture that was protected with an attractive finish with a low sheen, began to be exported around the world. In modern society there are a number of companies that manufacture Danish oil and each can have widely varying ingredients. Danish oil can be used on nearly all types of wood and applied the same way as teak oil. Danish oil is food-safe once the finish has fully cured, which can take a week or longer.
- Easy to apply
- Water-resistant finish
- Quick drying time
- Food and toy safe once dried
- Deep penetration into wood surface
- Low odor during application
- Stain resistant
- Less durable than other types of oil finishes
- Needs regular re-application and touch-ups
- Can be applied only to bare wood
- Should not be used on cutting boards
Best Danish Oil
RUST-OLEUM 242219 Watco
Watco Natural Danish Oil provides a rich, warm, hand-rubbed finish. The oil-based formula penetrates deep into wood pores and provides protection against moisture, abrasion and chips. This oil can be applied directly to bare or sanded wood and works best on tight grained woods.
Like many other natural things, wood finishing oils have become subject to synthetic substitution and many oils can be a combination of many different natural and synthetic materials other than what they are marketed as including varnish, resins, mineral oil, driers, naphtha, sunflower oil, cotton oil, and poppy oil. In fact, the actual amount of material that does not evaporate upon drying can be as low as 10%.
Hopefully this handy guide has clearly explained the differences between these three popular oils, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave one below!
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