If you have ever tried painting or staining wood, you know that wood is surprisingly porous. The captivating swirls and lines that make up natural wood grain are dancing across a surface that might as well be a sponge.

Sure, your slab of ash, maple or oak is strong, but it’s not impervious to the elements. To withstand time, temperature, moisture, and normal wear and tear, your butcher block, deck, sandbox, treehouse, cutting board, picnic table and other wood-based items need a little help.

Finishing oils are the final touch your wooden surfaces crave, and hemp oil and tung oil are two of the best products to use on. How do you know which one to buy for which project? Real Milk Paint has everything you need to know about when to use hemp oil or tung oil for your wood projects.

What is Tung Oil?

Tung oil is harvested from the seeds of the tung nut tree. It’s a favorite among woodworkers and other crafters, construction experts, and DIY fans because it has the ability to harden into a protective coating that wards off moisture. Once tung oil is exposed to oxygen, it begins a chemical process called polymerization, eventually morphing from a viscous substance into a hardy yet flexible and fully transparent layer that stands guard between your beloved wood and other elements.

Tung oil is typically sold in two forms: pure tung oil and dark tung oil. The pure oil is just as described — pure tung oil with zero additives or alterations — while dark tung oil contains a non-toxic resin that intensifies the appearance of the existing wood grain.

What is Hemp Oil?

Hemp oil is harvested much in the same way as tung oil. Hemp seeds are pressed until they release their oils — a process that’s usually done without heat to maintain purity. While unrefined hemp oil is typically light to dark green in color, refined oil is crystal clear and without any noticeable color. Refined oil is generally reserved for use in personal care products, where an absence of color is an asset, while unrefined oil is ideal for crafting, construction, and other industrial uses.

Hemp oil is also prized for its nutritional value. It’s packed with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which help your body do everything from regulating blood fat levels to minimize joint pain, as well as essential antioxidants and other vitamins. While you won’t be directly consuming the hemp oil you use to finish and cure your wood-based creations, it’s good to know that it’s a food-safe product.

Best Uses for Tung and Hemp Oils

When it comes to using both oils, they share many similar characteristics and benefits. Both products are:

  • 100% natural and biodegradable for use on items that will come into contact with food
  • Relatively odorless
  • Water-resistant
  • Free of additives, preservatives, solvents and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Drying oils that seep in and harden to form the desired finish
  • Matte when dry, meaning they impart a warm, natural look rather than a glossy shine
  • Ideal for penetrating deep and protecting wood from the inside out
  • High-grade for the best color and quality
  • Low allergy

Both oils are eco-friendly and sustainable. You can use them outside and not worry about contaminating your yard or the groundwater, and you can use them inside and know your family can still breathe easy.

They’re also aesthetically pleasing. Our oils add a lovely rich hue to wood surfaces, enhancing rather than changing the wood’s natural coloring. The older the wood is, the more porous it will be and the more oil will absorb. For this reason, adding a finishing oil to reclaimed wood can have a dazzlingly beautiful effect.

Having two oils that are safe to use with food is a big deal too. Many alternative products contain additives like petroleum distillates that aren’t approved for culinary applications. Some oils may seem odorless now, only to break down and leach volatile compounds over time, exposing your family to potentially dangerous chemicals.

Other oils are made with toxic chemicals and other harmful elements, but our oils are natural, eco-friendly, and safe to use on your wooden utensils and island countertop, you can slice tomatoes, knead dough, and portion out pork tenderloin to your heart’s content.

Major Differences Between Hemp and Tung Oil

There are three significant differences between the two oils; the need for a solvent, durability, and water-resistance.

Hemp oil is ready to apply right out of the bottle while Pure Tung oil is more viscous and often must be thinned with Citrus Solvent to create the proper consistency for application and penetration into the wood. You can mix tung oil and citrus solvent on your own or buy a half-and-half mix that’s pre-blended with the exact right ratio. We’ve created a helpful infographic (below) to show the best way to thin tung oil depending on the wood species and its Janka scale hardness.

Your initial application of tung oil will last longer and deliver more water-resistance compared to hemp oil. It’s low allergy. If you suffer from allergies and need a safe butcher block oil, this oil is a promising candidate. While it’s not very possible that people with nut allergies could experience a reaction, butcher block oil is generally considered to be very low on the allergenic scale, and the fact that it cures to a hard, relatively impermeable finish.

It’s therefore recommended that you use tung oil for projects that require more staying power (your backyard shed, for instance) and save hemp oil for lightly used items that wouldn’t be exposed to wind, rain or repeated trips through the dishwasher. Hemp oil would work better for wooden kitchen utensils or repairing worn areas on your furniture but would be hard-pressed to have the same durability and water resistance provided by tung oil. Pure Tung oil would be best to use on the hardwood floors in your living room, bedroom, bathroom, or kitchen where high traffic and consistent use is expected.

Whether you’re sealing your butcher block before working some culinary magic or putting the final touch on your newly built gazebo, all-natural tung and hemp oil offer eco-friendly ways to preserve your possessions without exposure to noxious fumes or icky chemicals. Let Real Milk Paint help you choose the oil that’s right for you and get to work.