A Beginner’s Guide to Tung Oil
Tung oil is a drying oil that’s extracted from the tung tree, which is native to China and a few other Asian countries. The oil has been used for centuries as a water-resistant finish for boats and other wooden objects, as well as to finish stone. Tung oil is an excellent alternative to other drying oils, such as walnut, linseed, soy, and others.
On top of producing a beautiful and protective finish, tung oil is also a popular choice for projects because it’s versatile, easy to use, and environmentally friendly. If you want to know more about tung oil and how to use it, then you’ve come to the right place!
Top Benefits of Using Tung Oil as a Finish
There are many reasons why people love tung oil for their projects, and one of the most popular is its flexible, durable, and protective waterproof finish that doesn’t mold, darken, or go rancid. On a practical note, tung oil also dries faster than other oils, making it easier and less time-consuming to apply. From an aesthetic standpoint, tung oil also cures to a beautiful matte finish that adds depth to woodgrain, producing an antique-style finish on any surface.
Difference Between Raw and Dark Tung Oil
As the name suggests, the pure tung oil is free of additives and distillates, meaning it doesn’t create a glossy or heavy finish. Pure tung oil dries to a honey color. The only difference with dark tung oil is that we’ve added a non-carcinogenic and PCB-free resinous hydrocarbon that gives the tung oil a darker and richer finish.
The Many Applications of Tung Oil
Carpenters, woodworkers, crafters, and hobbyist alike all love tung oil, and over the years they’ve used it as a beautiful and protective finish on a wide number of projects and surfaces. For instance, tung oil has been used with fantastic results to finish wood, bamboo, concrete, stone, brick, and even metal surfaces. Tung oil is a favorite for finishing wood floors, cabinetry, decks, siding, furniture, guitars and other musical instruments, handmade toys, and more. If you’re wondering if it’s the right wood oil for your project, it probably is!
How Much Do You Need for Your Project?
A gallon of tung oil will cover 400 square feet of surface. Depending on how porous the surface is, you could need about six coats of tung oil. To cover a 500-square-foot area, for instance, you’d need a little over 3 gallons each of tung oil and solvent (for thinning).
Easy-to-Follow Steps for Applying Tung Oil to Your Projects
1. Clean the surface
The proper application of tung oil depends on you starting with a clean and properly prepared surface. Before you start, make sure there’s no grease, oil, dirt, dust, or other contaminants on the surface.
If necessary, start by sanding or stripping the surface to remove any coating or finish that’s already there. Tung oil can only be applied to bare surfaces or over another coat of tung oil. Follow that up by cleaning the surface with trisodium phosphate. Sand the surface one more time with 150-grit sandpaper, and then vacuum well to remove all dust.
2. Thin the oil
A thinner will make the oil easier to apply and faster to dry and will improve penetration. The only time you shouldn’t thin the oil first is if you’re applying it to weathered wood, concrete, old and unfinished wood floors, or other highly absorbent surfaces. To thin the oil, combine it with equal parts Citrus Solvent or mineral spirits before application.
3. Apply a generous first layer
You can apply the oil with a natural bristle brush, a sponge brush, or a soft and lint-free rag. Apply the oil liberally to the surface. Unlike varnish (which sits on top of the wood), the goal with tung oil is to thoroughly saturate the wood cells. When you’ve applied the first coat, let the oil absorb.
4. Apply subsequent coats
After the first coat has absorbed, apply a second coat. Continue this process of applying coats until over 80 percent of the surface stays glossy for at least 40 minutes. This means the wood cells have been saturated. Decorative items may need two to four coats, while functional surfaces that will be handled, used, or walked on may need four to six.
5. Allow the oil to soak in overnight, and repeat the next day
When the wood won’t absorb any more oil, use a clean rag to wipe the surface. If there are any puddles of oil on the surface, mop them up with the rags.
Leave the oil to fully soak into the surface over the next 24-hours, or until there’s a consistent sheen over the entire surface. This process could actually take up to 48 hours. Then, apply one to two more coats as before, waiting at least 40 minutes for it to soak in. When the surface is glossy, wipe up the excess with a rag. Hang wet rags to dry before disposal.
6. Let the oil cure for up to 30 days
From here, the oil will need a week to 10 days to start curing, and 15 days to a full month to fully cure. During this time, you can walk on floors with clean shoes, but avoid placing heavy objects on the floor or walking on it with dirty shoes.
7. Reapply as necessary to provide more protection
Surfaces that are used often or walked on frequently may need an annual renewal coat to keep up the protection. To do this, simply apply fresh coats of tung oil until the surface is saturated again.
Tung oil has been popular for thousands of years, thanks to the protective and waterproof finish it creates on wood and other porous surfaces. These days, tung oil is also gaining momentum because it’s non-toxic, environmentally friendly, and food safe, meaning it’s ideal for kitchenware, countertops, and even toys.
Applying tung oil is easy and effective, and the main tips to remember are thinning out the oil with equal parts solvent, starting with a clean surface, and applying coats until the surface is fully saturated.