A drying oil extracted from the seeds of the tung tree, pure tung oil by the Real Milk Paint Co. offers a water-resistant finish that doesn’t yellow or go rancid with time. Tung oil, also known as Chinawood oil (derived from where the tung tree grove is located), is a favorite finish solution among hobbyists and woodworking enthusiasts due not only to its environmentally friendly formulation that contains no additives or distillates but also because it dries quickly to a flexible, food-safe finish. Additionally, tung oil works on numerous surfaces besides finished, painted and bare wood, providing a versatile top coat for a plethora of DIY projects.

The key to getting the results you desire, however, comes down to knowing how to apply tung oil properly for the task at hand.

Tung Oil and the Janka Hardness Scale

The type of tung oil and how to thin it down for your projects typically depends on where the wood you’re using falls on the Janka Hardness Scale. This scale helps you figure out how well wood species generally withstand wear, dings and dents and how hard or easy it is to nail, sand, saw or screw the wood type in question. Likewise, the Janka Hardness Scale predicts how well tung oil absorbs into various species of wood. For example, tough hardwoods such as pecan and mahogany range from 1500 to 3510 on the Janka Hardness Scale, making a mixture of two parts solvent and one part Pure Tung Oil a winning combination. Rough-sawn light woods such as red cedar, basswood and western hemlock, however, have a much lower rating, allowing use with undiluted Pure Tung Oil or Dark Tung Oil. Woods on the lighter side between the two extremes work well with Half & Half, Dark Half and Outdoor Defense Oil, while woods on the harder side easily absorb Hemp Oil.

Uses for Tung Oil

Pure Tung Oil from the Real Milk Paint Co. works well for numerous projects involving porous surfaces like wood, concrete, brick, unglazed tile, etc. The food-safe formulation makes it a great choice for oiling cutting boards and wooden spoons, and it works equally well on concrete and butcher blocks. It provides a natural way to finish countertops and kitchen cabinets that avoids potentially hazardous products like varnish and lacquer, and it delivers extra protection to wood surfaces covered with milk paint. Some uses woodworkers, artists and tradesmen have for this oil product include:

  • Sealing interior brick fixtures like fireplace mantels
  • Waterproofing outdoor deck and patio furniture
  • Polishing boat or canoe oars for water resistance
  • Preservation for metal arts and crafts projects

How to Thin Tung Oil

Pure Tung Oil is a rather thick medium, so in many instances you’ll need to thin it down before use. Many people mix tung oil with oil-based thinners such as turpentine, mineral spirits, paint thinner or naphtha, but better alternatives exist that are far more eco-friendly. For a “greener” finish solution, instead mix tung oil with all-natural thinners such as citrus solvent for tung oil or odorless mineral spirits by the Real Milk Paint Co. For added convenience, we offer a premixed Citrus Solvent and Pure Tung Oil formulation with our Half & Half line so you don’t have to mix this oil product at all. Keep in mind that Pure Tung Oil also works well at full strength for some projects and should go on smoothly so long as you apply thin coats as evenly as possible. Since Pure Tung Oil doesn’t go rancid, you can store any leftover mixture for future projects for economical use.

Prepping Surfaces for Tung Oil

The first thing to look for when using tung oil is making sure your material is porous and doesn’t have any other kind of existing finish on it. This would need to be removed before proceeding. The next step to prepping wood surfaces for tung oil application is cleaning. If you wish to treat a bare wood surface, wiping it down with a damp cloth to remove any lint should suffice. For surfaces covered in dirt or grime, however, a quick once-over with Tri-Sodium Phosphate should cut through for easy cleanup.

After the piece is dry and clean,, then sand with fine to medium grit sandpaper will bring up the grain of the wood. Tung oil absorbs into the cracks and crevices of woodgrain, so raising up those unique details a bit lets it seep deeper for superior results. Once you have the bare wood or porous surface ready for tung oil application, you just need a couple of rags or a bristle brush and rag to begin your project.

How to Apply Tung Oil

Since this drying oil absorbs into porous surfaces, knowing how to apply tung oil correctly helps ensure you get just the look you want. For proper tung oil application, follow these easy steps:

  1. Use a clean, dry, soft rag to rub, a natural bristle, or foam brush to stroke on a generous first coat of tung oil.
  2. Wait up to 40 minutes to continue after the porous surface has absorbed the first coat.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 by applying a second coat and allowing it to absorb into the surface.
  4. Continue these steps over and over again until you’ve fully saturated the surface and no more oil absorbs into it. Then let it stand at least 40 minutes .
  5. Use a clean, dry, soft rag to wipe away the excess oil pooled or puddled on the surface.
  6. Let the oiled surface properly cure before using it.

Applying Pure Tung Oil to Butcher Blocks

Due to a formulation that’s safe for food contact, Pure Tung Oil makes a great choice for oiling up butcher blocks. The application process helps protect cutting boards and countertops from damage, mold and mildew, and it imbues a gorgeous flat finish that brings out the beauty of high-quality wood. The steps for applying Pure Tung Oil to butcher blocks includes:

  1. Mix one-part Pure Tung Oil to one-part Citrus Solvent. By mixing the two products, you boost absorption of the oil into the wood.
  2. Sand your butcher block, up to 220 grit, to create an even surface for Pure Tung Oil application. During the sanding process, be sure to buff out any scratches, and pay special attention to duller areas.
  3. Wipe the surface down with tack cloth  to remove any dust and debris.
  4. Use a clean, dry rag to apply the Pure Tung Oil/Citrus Solvent mixture to your butcher block. Once applied, give the mixture ample time to soak into the wood.
  5. Once the mixture has soaked into the wood, apply another coat, waiting up to 40 minutes between coats.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until the wood no longer absorbs the Pure Tung Oil/Citrus Solvent mixture.
  7. When the wood no longer absorbs the oil, use another clean, dry rag to wipe all the oil away.
  8. Wipe away any pooled oil that oozes out of the wood grain over the next few weeks.
  9. Wait at least a month before using the butcher block for heavy-duty tasks, as Pure Tung Oil typically takes about 30 days to properly cure.

Curing Surfaces After Tung Oil Application

Drying oils such as Pure Tung Oil sometimes take up to 30 days of drying time to completely cure, depending on the amount used. Waiting a minimum of 7-10 days before using the surface is recommended. This water-resistant sealer offers a polymerized finish achieved without additives or distillates to speed up the process. When curing items finished with Pure Tung Oil, keep in mind they cure best in warm, well-ventilated areas. You should keep everything off the surface while it’s curing to prevent it from suffocating.

If you’ve finished countertops or butcher blocks with tung oil, avoid use for 7 to 10 days to ensure proper curing. During the first 5 days rub the top with a clean cloth to pick up any seepage . While you can use most tung oil-finished items during the first 15 days of the curing process, you shouldn’t allow those surfaces to accumulate dirt or let liquids puddle on them. After that initial 15 days, however, durability increases. Keep in mind that some tung oil may rise to the surface during the curing process due to expansion. If you find any excess oil seeping up through the grain of the wood on a tung oil finish, simply remove it with a rag and continue use of your finished product.

Once you have the hang of how to apply tung oil, it’s a skill you can use over and over again. Whether you’re a crafter making custom farmhouse decor, a woodworking aficionado who makes your own furniture or a craftsman seeking a water-resistant wood finishing option, the Real Milk Paint Co. has you covered with high-quality products that help your merchandise or belongings look their best, even with time and use.