How to Finish a Floor with Tung Oil

Hello!

This finishing technique can be used in many applications such as wood floors, decks, docks, concrete floors, outdoor wood furniture, wood counter tops and many other porous surfaces. Hundreds of people have used this method successfully over the years since we first reintroduced Pure Tung Oil back into the spotlight. You will find other websites that have shamelessly copied all or parts of this information to call their own. What most of them lack is the technical experience to guide you though the process. We are here to provide you with our full support to the best of our ability and make only the best materials available.

All the Best,
Dwayne

living-room-floor-1

Preparation

The biggest key to application of a finish is preparation. The surface should be free of oil, dirt, grease and any other contaminates. Pure Tung Oil can not be applied over another type of finish. It can only be applied to a previous coat of Pure Tung Oil. For best results a previously finished floor should be chemically stripped of its finish, cleaned with TSP, then lightly sanded to open up the surface.

If the surface is not clean or has recently been stripped of its finish; it should be cleaned with TSP. TSP (Trisodium phosphate) is a powdered heavy duty cleaner that will leave the surface free of contaminates. If you have a wood surface, which is old, and case hardened, it should be scuff sanded lightly with 150-grit sandpaper, to open up the wood to receive the oil. Sanding with too fine sandpaper will case harder the surface. If after removing finish you find black or brown stains, see Oxalic Acid wood bleach to remove them.

Finishing

Following is the technique, which I found to work well, although there are many others who may have variations which work just as well.

The objective with Pure Tung Oil is to saturate the surface with as much oil as fast as possible and drive the oil into the cells of the wood getting maximum penetration but without leaving a film build on the surface. With very dense hardwood a thinner ratio than described below may be required. I can not stress enough if the oil and thinner mix is not soaking in the 40 minute application period, a thinner ratio should be used. For example: 1 part oil to 1 1/2 parts solvent. The oil to solvent ration can be variably adjusted any direction from a thicker mix to a thinner one. The difficulty is trying to find the ratio of oil to thinner with each coat so as to get the maximum oil to solvent ratio that will soak in. Also I must note, Minwax stains will not work with Pure Tung Oil. They contain varnish and will not let the oil penetrate. Please see “How to Stain Floors.”

Day 1

All coats of Pure Tung Oil should be cut 1 to 1 with thinner. Thinner can be mineral spirits (paint thinner), citrus solvent (all natural thinner), odorless mineral spirits or turpentine. I prefer not to use Naphtha, as it seems to dry too fast. If the surface seems to be very hard and non-absorbent, you can thin the oil down even more. 1 to 1 is the ratio that is a good starting point which I found works best for the first coat. But if you have a very dense hardwood you may need a thinner ratio. Do a test spot to see if the Pure Tung oil / Solvent mix soaks into the wood. Adjust the ratio so it will soak in the 40 minute time frame. So lets right here make a rule to remember “The 40 minute Rule”. If the ratio you are using does not absorb in 40 minutes add more thinner. Your can use a brush, paint roller, finish pad or apply the oil with a sponge mop wrapped with old nylon stockings. The nylon stops the mop from tearing upon the floor. On floors, start at one corner and work your way to the other side with a liberal application of the one to one mix.

If the room is fairly large you will notice most of the oil soaked in where you started. Go back to the beginning and apply another coat. Continue to apply the oil from beginning to end in this fashion. You will do this until you have a uniform glossy surface for 20 to 40 minutes. If the room is not large, you should wait 20 to 40 minutes between applications. The Pure Tung Oil should stand on the surface for 20 to 40 minutes and stay glossy over 80% of the surface without really dry spots appearing. The really dry spots can be individually coated. You may have to apply 3 to 7 coats of oil one on top of the other until it stays glossy.

After all coats are applied and you waited 20 to 40 minutes you are now ready to wipe down the surface. Wipe all excess oil from the surface with lint free “T-shirt” type material. Hang rags out side to dry. Allow floor to dry over night.

Day 2

For the second application on the following day, mix a ratio of 1 part Pure Tung Oil to 1 part thinner. If the wood is very dense and non absorbent you may find a thinner ratio is required. Possibly 1 part Pure Tung Oil to 2 parts thinner. If it is an old floor and absorbing a lot of oil on the second day, a 2 parts tung oil to 1 part thinner will work better. The objective is to get as much oil into the wood without letting it build up on the surface. The ratio of thinner to oil can be varied, use your own judgment. Multiple THINNER COATS are always better than a few thick coats.

Pure Tung Oil works by oxidation with the air and polymerizes. So you want to get as much oil in the floor as soon as possible, but you do not want to apply the Pure Tung Oil with out thinning. It takes too long to dry and will sit on the surface and dry leaving a frosted appearance. Pure dry tung oil left on surfaces will also scuff leaving white marks like dry skin. So always thin Pure Tung Oil in floor applications and wipe off the excess.

Using the 1 part Pure Tung Oil to 1 part thinner, apply the same way as the first application with a brush or sponge mop. Apply the oil in several coats one after another till you get a uniformly glossy surface that stays glossy for 20 to 40 minutes. After the waiting period, wipe the oil off the surface with a “T-shirt” type material. When wiping you do not need to scrub the surface. Just gently and evenly wipe excess oil from the surface.

At this point the floor should dry for 7 to 10 days before you can walk on it with soiled shoes. You can walk on it at any time during the drying process as long as your shoes are clean. You will want to keep some T-shirt material on hand. During the next week you will want to buff up any seepage that rises to the top during the drying process. You can do this by laying the T-shirt material on the floor then stand on it and shuffle your feet around on top of the T-shirt material. This will polish and buff the floor slightly.

You may also consider putting down wax paper to walk on the floor. Do not use cardboard, newspaper, paper or plastic. Wax paper will allow the floor to breath and dry. Wax paper rolls can be purchased from the local dollar store. If you speak to the manager you can probably get a deal on a case. If you absolutely must move furniture onto the floor before it is dry, nail plastic furniture glides to the bottom of the feet. With these on the bottom of the feet and the end grain of your wood furniture legs will not absorb the oil from the floor and leave a mark. The Pure Tung Oil finish will take 15 to 30 days to fully cure depending on temperature and number of applications. Buffing the finish to a low sheen cannot be achieved before the finish is cured. Waxing over Pure Tung Oil should not be done until the finish is hard and cured. The wax will only sink in and have no effect.

The Pure Tung Oil will dry to a matte flat finish and look as though there is almost no finish at all. You will find however that water spills bead like a waxed car on the surface and do not absorb. In high traffic areas such as doorways you may want to do a maintenance coat once a year. Use thinned down oil 1 1/2 parts Citrus Solvent to 1 Part Pure Tung Oil with a clean T-shirt or bed sheet material, apply a thin coat over night or for the weekend if possible.

Pure Tung Oil will provide a deep rich color to wood floors. It does not however, provide a gloss or even semi-gloss finish. To make a semi gloss surface you would need to wax the surface or buff when the floor is dry. Any type of oil base finish can go over Pure Tung Oil at a later date.

Care and Maintenance

To clean your floors after the finish is cured a mild detergent such as “Ivory Dish Soap” or “Simple Green” will work. I am not fond of Murphy’s oil soap as it seems to break down a finish over time. Stay away from harsh oil base cleaners and ammonia. You can use a “Scotch Bright” pad to clean tough spots every so often but try to avoid abrasion unless necessary. To clean black heel marks or paint splatter, “Goof Off” or “Oops” work well. These products will not effect the cured finish. If you find you do scrub the finish too hard somewhere, just do a quick touch up with a 2 parts Citrus Solvent to 1 part Pure Tung Oil. Lightly dampen a clean cloth and apply real thin. allow to dry over night. In the years down the road if you need to add a maintenance coat, I recommend using 2 parts Citrus Solvent to 1 parts Pure tung Oil for that as well. Just rub on real thin with clean cloth or bed sheet material. If some worn area’s soak up the oil mix add more to those area’s .

Calculating Usage

Here is a way to calculate how much Pure Tung Oil and Citrus Solvent you may need to finish the floor. This formula will assume you are cutting the oil one to one with solvent. Each gallon of oil will cover approximately 400 square feet undiluted. By diluting the oil one to one with solvent, it will cover 800 square feet. In our example we will assume you have 500 square feet to cover.

This is the average amount of Pure Tung Oil you would need for your wood floor project. Antique or old wood floor (more than 100 years) will drink up much more oil than new wood. So more than 5 coats may be required for old or reclaimed wood floors

Day one 3 coats x 500 = 1500
Day two 2 coats x 500 = 1000
Total 2500
2500 divided by 800 = 3.125

This means you would need 3.125 gallons of Pure Tung Oil and 3.125 Gallons of Citrus Solvent. You could just round up to 4 Gallons of each. Old materials will absorb much more oil then a new floor Old materials may benefit from using a straight up 100% Pure coat of oil on the first coat. Follow by thinned coats for the remainder. Very dense hardwood species such a Brazilian cherry would need to use a 1 1/2 parts Citrus Solvent to one Part Pure Tung Oil for all coats.

Here is a Tip from CEI Distribution in Florida. When doing future maintenance on your oiled floor and you need to get it done fast. Put a 2 part Citrus Solvent and 1 part Pure Tung Oil into a spray bottle. Mist on the floor in the worn areas, then buff with a high speed buffer and a dense natural blend buffing pad. Do the worn area’s first then do the rest of the floor overlapping the worn area’s again just like you have not done them at all. So the worn area’s will get two coats.

Read How a Wood Floor Can Be Like A Cast Iron Frying Pan, Bill Layman’s humorous take on discovering the merits of Soy Bean Paint Stripper and Pure Tung Oil.

Floor Detail finished with all natural tung oil

Before/After photo detail of a wood floor finished with 100% Pure Tung Oil.
Click image to enlarge.

Before

Before

After

After

Check out customer Katherine Miller’s Before/After photos! She writes “We are redoing our boys’ room and are using all natural products. This is not only natural but it looks beautiful too! I can hardly believe it is the same floor. I can’t wait to redo the other rooms!”
Click image to enlarge.

Before and After submitted by Jon-David

Before and After submitted by Jon-David

Great product and great guidance to use on your website. I finished this room but took this photo halfway to show the effects.

  • http://www.maggieclarke.com maggieclarke

    Great article. Wish i’d seen it before starting this latest project on a rear hallway. I’ve done 3 coats half and half, over one day on deeply sanded floor, and one full strength 24 hours ago, 3 fans on it constantly, and not sure if it’s done (ready for wax paper)…Since it’s not supposed to be glossy, how does one tell? I could put on another half and half… or do the other half of the floor. Since it’s high traffic to the bathroom and bedroom, I divided it into four parts, starting with parts 1 and 3, leaving 2 and 4 till the first dry, so I can traverse the area during the process..

    • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

      I would stays away from using the oil full strength in the later coats . Picture a dry sponge , it is most absorbent when it is dry , becoming less absorbent as it gets full . So as you get to the end use more thinner . If you have too much oil on the floor now . Wipe. wipe and wipe . You can ice skate on some rags to get the excess oil off

  • ronwiggins

    Very important question Dwayne The 40 minute rule……..I have a 65 year old oak floor that I have bought the dark tung oil for. I have been experimenting on some pieces sanding first with 100 grit and applying thinned down dark tung oil 2 parts thinner to 1 part oil including greater and lesser degrees of thinning. I have yet to see the mixture soak in within the 40 minute rule. Thinned 400% it does soak in to the freshly sanded wood in 2 hours. Also a second coat take longer yet. What do you suggest?

    • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

      Try after sanding to wet the wood . Then allow to dry . This is called popping the grain . Apply the oil . Only sand later after you have put on several coats

  • Danica

    After having let my floors dry for well over a week (10 days?), I am still seeing footprints and smudges! What should I do?

    • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

      10 days is right at the threshold of the drying time . Partial cure takes 10 to 15 days and 30 days to full cure . I would use a cotton cloth and ice skate around to wipe up the prints . The ice skating will also polish the floor and give it a nice luster

  • james lanni

    Messed up and have film over entire floor. Fills sandpaper 60/100/150 real fast. Is there a better way to remove the white film?

    • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

      You can use a 0000 steel wool on a machine or scotch bright type pad on a buffing machine

  • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

    There is a water base mineral spirits being sold the does NOT work . It will turn the Tung Oil cloudy or turbid . So if the odorless was water base it could be the problem

  • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

    You can use 0000 steel wood on a buffing machine . Or a scotch bright type pad on a buffer . You can 0000 steel wool by hand as well

  • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

    Thanks James , I will add the tip . Sometime I talk about so much I think I already wrote it in the instruction

    • DaveK

      Note: Just because it’s labeled as “odorless” doesn’t mean it won’t work. Just make sure you read the label carefully. And if you open the container and instead of the solvent being clear, it’s milky, DO NOT use it with the tung oil

      • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

        aprove

        Best Regards,
        Dwayne Siever
        Real Milk Paint Co.
        800-339-9748
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      • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

        Excellent Tips Dave !!

  • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

    Paul , don’t wipe off after every coat . If the wood is soaking it in , it will get a matte look , glossy spots are where it is not soaking in or where the wood is saturated . You might apply up to 3 coats before you would wipe off . The luster can develop over time or with buffing

  • mark_H_

    If you overapply the tung oil, apparently it never cures. I applied it to a floor years ago, and it’s still tacky in one corner of the room. What can I do to fix?

    • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

      Hmmm…there must have been some kind of contamination in the wood there that kept it from fully polymerizing . You could go over that spot with a polymerized tung oil product like Waterlox . I did have a problem year ago on a piece of furniture where the oil would not dry . I took Japan Drier thinned with mineral spirits and painted the liquid over the tacky oil . It worked to cure the oil

  • Ryan

    Before and after stairs. No thinner as of yet. Tung oil from these guys is the best

    • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

      Thanks Ryan !!

  • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

    If the oil mix is laying on top of the wood and not soaking in , then the wood is saturated . To get more sheen , buff with a white buffing pad after allowing the oil to dry for 10 days or more . At that point the oil can take a buff

  • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

    Thanks Alex !!

  • Michelle byrne

    Can you use Varathane oil stain on pine floors before using pure tung oil?

    • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

      Michelle , You need to be sure the oil stain does not contain and sealers or varnish (alkyd) . A good test for this is to rub a small amount between your fingers till dry . If it feels sticky then it has varnish and should not be used . If not sticky then you fine to use that oil stain

      • Michelle byrne

        Thanks for the information. Varathane brand quick dry stain does contain sealers. Can you recommend a stain that will give a grey weathered look? Thanks

        • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

          Michelle ,
          You can use the milk paint as a wash and make it real thin , layering to create the weathered gray . This would be mixing Soft White with Still Water Gray to make variation of color . Mixing more water with the milk paints makes a translucent stain . Then seal with the Half and Half , two to three coats .

  • Bill Vance

    I have used the half and half on one room so far. I applied 3 coats the first day and the floor remained glossy for 40 minutes. I wiped it dry. The next day I applied another coat to make sure it was saturated. The half and half mixture again remained glossy after 40 minutes. I wiped it down and cordoned off the room for 24 hours. For the next 12:days only socks were worn in the room. Yesterday my son wore his sneakers into the room. The sneakers left black tread marks. That’s not supposed to happen after 10 days. I tried to use soap and warm water to clean the marks. Didn’t work. Now I’ll have to sand the marks out and start over unless you have a better suggestion. Is 10 days enough time to wait to walk on the floor with shoes? Do I have to wait 30 or more days for the half and half to fully cure?

    • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

      Citrus Solvent should work to clean the back spots . If you don’t have that but on the Half & Half you could use it as well slightly damp on a rag , then wipe the surface dry . The longer it cures the harder it will get . You could also wax the floor with Clear Carnauba Wax Paste . This will make the surface slicker and less things will stick . The wax can be remove with Citrus Solvent when you need to re-coat

      http://www.realmilkpaint.com/products/waxes/clear-carnauba-wax/

  • Amy Tolbert

    I’m getting ready to replace my existing flooring with wide plank SYP. Since we are living in the house I will be doing 1 room at a time so that we can move the furniture out to other rooms. Is there anything that I should be concerned about when starting the subsequent, attached sections? I’m thinking that since this is an oil and not varnish I don’t need to be concerned about getting fresh oil on the previously oil boards, but is this correct? Thanks!

    • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

      When oiling you want to stop at the edge joint of the floor , not cross grain . Some people have claimed that cross grain oiling where one side is left dry can cause non uniform coloring

  • ultimateliberal

    I have 110 yr old heart pine floors that have been destroyed in spots by excessive mopping–some planks have turned gray! Yikes! Where do I start? I do admit that I rented this apartment without having first refinished the floors–varnish had been flaking off for nearly 10 years. Help!

    • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

      We can help ! You need to use Oxalic Acid on the wood to remove the gray . One or two coats ,allowing each on to dry . The gray will be bleached away leaving the natural wood color . The neutralize with Borax . Allow to dry then Finish with Half and Half Tung Oil and Citrus Solvent http://www.realmilkpaint.com/products/tools-supplies/oxalic-acid-wood-bleach/

      • ultimateliberal

        Strange. How does “gray” get “bleached” into an amber color? Isn’t the gray a sign of dry rot?

        • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

          Water contains minerals which react with the wood ..ie excessive mopping ….these form a chemical reaction with the tannins in the wood resulting in a gray color . This is the best way I know to remove gray caused by chemical reaction .

  • http://www.realmilkpaint.com/ Real Milk Paint

    We do have the Dark Raw Tung Oil as a stain and finish in one . The type of stain to use is a water base . These do not have resin or binders the would inhibit the Dark Tung Oil from penetrating . http://www.realmilkpaint.com/products/oils/dark-raw-tung-oil/