When you’re well into a woodworking or furniture refinishing project, you usually have a tough choice as you prepare to finish the wood. Should you use tung oil or linseed oil? Both are naturally derived finishing oils that are widely used, making the tung oil vs. linseed oil debate harder to solve. However, the two options stand apart, making it easier.
There are several differences between tung oil and linseed oil. Linseed oil yellows over time, while tung oil dries clear. Tung oil offers more water resistance, faster curing times, and more durability, while linseed oil is easier to apply and is more flexible.
However, those aren’t the only differences between the two options. That’s why it’s wise to take a deep dive into what each one brings to the table. Here’s what you need to know about tung oil vs. linseed oil.
Contents (Jump to Topic)
- Tung Oil vs. Linseed Oil: Key Points
- What Is Tung Oil?
- What Is Linseed Oil?
- What’s the Difference Between Tung Oil vs. Linseed Oil?
- Can You Use Linseed Oil on Cedar?
- Does Linseed Oil or Tung Oil Darken Wood?
- How to Apply Tung Oil
- How to Apply Linseed Oil
- Can I Put Tung Oil Over Linseed Oil?
- Linseed Oil vs. Danish Oil
- Alternatives to Tung Oil and Linseed Oil
- Which Is Best, Tung Oil or Linseed Oil?
Tung Oil vs. Linseed Oil: Key Points
When choosing a finish for your woodworking or furniture refinishing projects, it’s easy to assume that all finishing oils are the same. However, that isn’t the case. Tung oil and linseed oil have some benefits and drawbacks, which could make one option a far better choice for your project than another.
If you’re debating between tung oil vs. linseed oil, learning how the two differ is essential. Here are some key points you’ll want to consider when choosing between these options.
|Tung Oil||Linseed Oil|
|Drying Times||2 to 3 days||2 to 10 weeks for pure, 1 to 3+ days for boiled or polymerized|
|Color||Light yellow oil, dries reasonably clear||Light yellow oil, dries slightly yellow, turns orange over time|
|Safety||Food, pet, and person safe||Pure and polymerized versions are food, pet, and person safe. BLO isn’t food safe and may release VOCs|
|Number of Coats||Up to 5||Up to 3|
|Ease of Use||Easy||Easy|
|Common Uses||Furniture, cutting boards, butcher block, wood dinnerware and serving pieces, trim, paneling, moldings, beams||Furniture, paneling, trim, moldings, beams (food-safe versions can go on cutting boards, butcher block, and dinnerware)|
What Is Tung Oil?Tung oil is derived from the seeds of the tung tree, which is native to China and some other Asian nations. It’s long been used to finish wood, adding water resistance to boats, furnishings, and similar items for centuries.
Along with being a natural product, tung oil is non-toxic, environmentally friendly, and food safe. You can use it around people and pets without any issues and apply it to items used to prepare or store foods, such as cutting boards, butcher block, or wood bowls.
While tung oil isn’t as water-resistant as some other wood finishing products – like varnish or shellac – it does offer excellent durability. It also resists mold and mildew, and the color stays true long-term. The final finish is matte, ensuring the natural beauty of the wood takes center stage.
Regarding drawbacks, tung oil can take a while to penetrate the wood. It can also require many coats (potentially up to five) to get the best result.
- Highly durable
- Food, pet, and people safe
- Won’t yellow over time
- Water, mold, and mildew resistant
- Slower wood penetration
- High number of coats
What Is Linseed Oil?Also known as flaxseed oil, linseed oil is a yellowish oil derived from ripened flaxseeds. It’s incredibly popular for woodworking and furniture refinishing projects, protecting the wood against humidity and certain kinds of damage while highlighting the woodgrain and bringing out the wood color.
Pure linseed oil is also non-toxic and environmentally friendly. For those who appreciate greener options for their projects, that can make linseed oil look like an exceptional fit. Plus, it adds a soft sheen, something that fans of traditional home design might appreciate. Finally, it’s incredibly flexible, allowing it to adjust if humidity or temperature fluctuations cause the wood to swell and contract.
It’s important to note that three types of linseed oil are on the market. Pure linseed oil features no additives and is typically found in food supplements. Along with being food-safe, it’s safe for people and pets. However, its drying times are incredibly long, usually measured in weeks, not days.
Polymerized linseed oil is also pure and food-safe; it’s simply been heated using a specialized process to thin the oil. Along with making it easier to use, it can speed up drying times. Plus, like pure linseed oil, this option is VOC-free.
Along with a pure and polymerized, there’s boiled linseed oil (BLO). While the term “boiled” seems innocuous, it refers to the addition of drying agents (typically petroleum-based compounds or metallic solvents) that lead to faster drying times. Those components usually prevent the linseed oil from being food-safe, making it a poor choice for projects like wood cutting boards or butcher blocks. Plus, it may emit VOCs, depending on what’s added.
- Highlights woodgrain
- Easy to apply
- Soft sheen that matches a traditional aesthetic
- Flexibility allows it to stand up to swelling and contracting
- May not be food-safe
- Can turn orange over time
- May scratch
What’s the Difference Between Tung Oil vs. Linseed Oil?
When it comes to tung oil vs. linseed oil, it’s wise to take a close look at key points to see precisely how the two stand apart. That makes it far easier to determine which option is best for your project, allowing you to choose a finishing wood with greater confidence.
Here’s a look at the difference between tung oil and linseed oil.
The drying times for tung oil and linseed oil vary depending on the exact product involved. Usually, tung oil takes between two and three days to cure completely, though some products may take as little as a day, particularly if you don’t need many coats.
With linseed oil, the amount of variation is significant. With BLO, the drying time usually ranges from one to three days, though some products may take slightly more. Polymerized linseed oil might dry in a day, though two to three days is more common.
With pure linseed oil, the drying times are usually measured in weeks, not days. Two to three weeks is common, and some projects may take four to six weeks to fully cure, depending on the number of coats.
Tung oil offers far more water resistance thanks to the three crosslinks between the molecules. However, neither is impervious to water because they don’t harden in a way that makes building up a protective layer possible.
As a result, tung oil and linseed oil can’t stand up against certain other finishes in the water resistance category. For example, varnish, lacquer, and shellac will always outperform these oils in this department, even if you apply the oil correctly and use a suitable number of coats.
Both tung oil and linseed oil are slightly yellow out of the container. However, tung oil won’t necessarily yellow the wood. Instead, it generally dries clear, keeping the original hue of the wood intact.
With linseed oil, there is a slight yellowing initially. While that might not be a concern, that yellowing can transition to an orangey shade as time passes. This can cause the final look to change dramatically as the weeks and months go by, possibly to a point where you’re no longer happy with the result.
On the finish side of the equation, tung oil tends to produce a matte finish. There’s essentially no noticeable sheen, which might be preferable in various cases. A matte finish may make certain imperfections less noticeable. Plus, it ensures that a sheen won’t take away from the natural beauty of the wood, giving the piece a bit of rustic flair.
With linseed oil, you do get an oil finish with a noticeable shine. Most wouldn’t consider the final look glossy. Instead, it’s more akin to the satin finish you see on paint. Some people may enjoy that slight glow, as it can add some dimension visually. Plus, it can make a wood furniture piece feel a bit more traditional.
For durability, tung oil outperforms linseed oil. Along with being water-resistant, tung oil is also resistant to mold and mildew. Plus, it isn’t overly easy to scratch since it dries somewhat hard. Plus, if you do, repairing the marks is typically simple.
Linseed oil is flexible, making it a reasonable choice for woodworking projects involving softer woods or in areas where weather conditions lead to more swelling and contracting. However, it isn’t as durable as tung oil.
Linseed oil is far easier to scratch, which doesn’t make it ideal for high-traffic flooring or high-touch furniture. Linseed oil may also be more prone to mold and mildew, though this can vary depending on the brand.
Tung oil is generally safe for people and pets, so you can use it on high-contact furnishings or flooring without much worry. Plus, it’s a food-safe option, making it suitable for dinnerware, serving pieces, or food storage containers.
Whether linseed oil offers comparable safety depends on the type. Pure and polymerized linseed oil is generally people, pet, and food safe. However, BLO usually isn’t, as the additives may release VOCs or could involve compounds that are harmful if consumed.
Number of Coats
One area where linseed oil typically outshines tung oil is the number of required coats. In many cases, you can use just one or two coats of linseed oil and get an excellent result. At most, you may need a third coat, though that isn’t necessarily common.
With tung oil, three coats are usually the minimum recommended to get a great result. In some cases, it may take up to five, which can dramatically lengthen the total time required for a project.
Ease of Use
In most cases, tung oil and linseed oil are easy to use. Tung oil is natural and non-toxic, and requires little more than a soft rag to apply. The same goes for pure and polymerized linseed oil.
However, things change a bit if you’re using BLO. Since it can contain harsh additives, you’ll need to take extra precautions to ensure your safety. For example, while gloves and eye protection are wise regardless of the oil you’re using, you may want to don a respirator or mask if you’re working with BLO.
Since tung oil is non-toxic and environmentally friendly, it’s a solid choice for nearly any wood project. Furniture, toys, flooring, cutting boards, cabinetry, musical instruments, butcher block, and a slew of other items are all essentially fair game.
With linseed oil, you may need to exercise caution with BLO. It isn’t ideal for children’s toys, musical instruments, or anything that’s in contact with food, as the additives could make that unsafe. However, it can be a good choice for furniture, cabinetry, and similar pieces.
If you’re using pure or polymerized linseed oil, you get more options. Those are typically non-toxic, allowing you to use them the same way as tung oil.
Regarding price, tung oil and linseed oil are essentially the same. Usually, the biggest variances you’ll see are between brands and grades, with the end price range for both oils being pretty similar.
However, since tung oil can take far more coats than linseed oil, that can drive the total cost of your project up. As a result, it’s critical to factor that in when pricing out a project, especially if you’re finishing a larger wood piece, such as a furniture item, numerous cabinets, or a sizeable amount of flooring.
Can You Use Linseed Oil on Cedar?
Yes, you can use linseed oil on cedar. Linseed oil can be an excellent choice for natural cedar outdoor items, such as fencing or patio furniture. Linseed oil adapts to humidity – and the related wood swelling or contracting – more easily than tung oil. It may also stay in better shape as the cedar dries out, a process that typically causes some shrinkage.
Does Linseed Oil or Tung Oil Darken Wood?
In most cases, linseed oil doesn’t darken the wood. However, it can initially apply a slight yellow tint, and the finish may shift toward orange as time passes. In some cases, that may make the finished wood seem darker, depending on the original color. In others, it will simply make the wood hue warmer over time.
Whether dung oil will darken wood depends on the type you choose. If you opt for traditional tung oil, it’ll highlight the wood grain, but the color of the wood will largely remain unchanged. If you go with dark tung oil instead, it may deepen the hue, particularly if you apply it to lighter or mid-toned wood.
How to Apply Tung Oil
1. Put on Safety Gear
Tung oil is generally safe to work with, so you won’t need much in the way of safety gear. Usually, some gloves and eye protection is sufficient, though you can also wear a mask if you prefer.
2. Prepare the Wood
Before you worry about applying tung oil, you need to make sure the wood is ready. Usually, that means sanding it smooth and cleaning the surface, ensuring there’s no finish that would prevent oil absorption.
3. Apply Tung Oil and Rub
After preparing the surface, you’ll apply some tung oil to the wood using a soft, clean cloth. As you apply, spend time rubbing the tung oil into the surface, ensuring the coat is even and fully covers the piece.
4. Let the Tung Oil Sit
Once the oil is applied, allow it to sit for 30 to 40 minutes, giving it time to absorb into the wood. Then, use a cloth to wipe up the excess oil.
5. Repeat Steps 3 and 4
After the first coat, you’ll repeat steps 3 and 4 two to four more times. After coat three – and every one after that – check the finish to see if it’s reached the desired point. If not, proceed to the next coat, reaching a total of up to five.
6. Wipe Up Excess Oil and Cure
Once you reach the desired finish or the fifth coat, wipe up the excess oil using a clean, dry, soft rag. Then, allow the finish to fully cure – a process that can take up to three days – before using the piece.
How to Apply Linseed Oil
1. Put on Safety Gear
Before you work with linseed oil, you’ll want to put on some safety gear. For pure or polymerized linseed oil, gloves and eye protection might be enough, though you can add a mask if you like. If you’re using BLO, a mask becomes essential, as it can potentially release VOCs while you work.
2. Prepare the Wood
You’ll want to take the time to prepare the wood before you start applying linseed oil. Make sure there isn’t a finish in place that would limit absorption and that the surface is sanded smooth. Then, you can start the application process.
3. Apply Linseed Oil and Rub
Once the wood is ready, you can apply the first coat of linseed oil. Use a soft rag or soft-bristled brush and work in circular motions, working the oil into the wood.
4. Let the Oil Sit
After applying, let the linseed oil sit for 30 minutes. That lets it absorb into the wood before you wipe the piece down with a soft cloth to remove the excess.
5. Repeat Steps 3 and 4
After the initial coat, repeat steps 3 and 4 one to two more times to get the needed number of coats. You can check the finish after the second coat to see if you’ve reached the desired point. If not, then add the third.
6. Wipe Up Excess Oil and Cure
Once the final coat is in place, wipe up as much excess oil as possible. Then, let the project cure, a process that can take one to 45 days depending on the type of linseed oil you use. If you’re unsure how long to wait, check the manufacturer’s product labor for insights.
Can I Put Tung Oil Over Linseed Oil?
Generally, you can put tung oil over linseed oil. However, you’ll usually want to make sure that the linseed oil is completely dry before you change over to another kind of finish, including tung oil.
Additionally, if you used BLO instead of pure or polymerized linseed oil, adding tung oil as a top coat doesn’t suddenly make the project VOC-free or food-safe. As long as the BLO finish remains, it’s best to assume that there is some degree of risk.
Linseed Oil vs. Danish OilWhile linseed oil (aside from BLO) is comprised of a single ingredient, Danish oil is a hybrid product that features several types of oil and some additives.
Usually, polymerized linseed oil is part of the mix, as well as tung oil and vegetable oil.
However, Danish oil may contain other additives, not unlike what you find with BLO. As a result, Danish oil isn’t always food safe or appropriate for projects like children’s toys or musical instruments.
Alternatives to Tung Oil and Linseed Oil
In most cases, you have two main alternatives to linseed and tung oil: mineral oil and Danish oil. Mineral oil is in a wide range of products and can be both non-toxic and food-safe, depending on the form and whether additives are present. It also dries clear, though it may not offer the same level of durability or protection as you get with linseed or tung oil.
Danish oil is a hybrid product. It usually contains tung oil and polymerized linseed oil as ingredients, along with vegetable oil and other additives. In many cases, Danish oil creates a waterproof or highly water-resistant finish. Plus, it’s fast-drying and easy to apply. However, it may or may not be food-safe, so keep that in mind.
For non-oil finishes, you have multiple alternatives. Shellac, varnish, and lacquer are the most commonly used. They all create protective layers over the wood, though each has its own benefits and drawbacks. As a result, it’s best to do some digging into those options before choosing one for your wood project.
Which Is Best, Tung Oil or Linseed Oil?
Overall, both linseed and tung oil have their place in the woodworking world, mainly because they have unique benefits and drawbacks. If you’re looking for food-safe options, tung oil or polymerized linseed oil are strong choices. However, if you want to avoid discoloration, you’re always better off with tung oil.
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