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Tung Oil Finish: The Good and Bad (Tested Results)

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V Susan
Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about woodworking, general DIY and home improvement. If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com

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Tung Oil Finish

Is tung oil a good finish? It depends.

Tung oil finish is best suited to achieve a durable and waterproof coating without the need for extra coatings such as sealer or varnish. While pure tung oil produces a clear coat, dark tung oil is suitable for adding a darker shade to the wooden workpiece.

We tested tung oil on different woods under different conditions to come up with this guide.

This article provides a detailed guide on applying a Tung oil finish to your wooden workpiece and helps you understand how to get the best results with it.

In the end, the article also compares the Tung oil finish with Linseed oil and Danish oil finishes.

MellowPine is reader-supported. When you buy through links on my site, I may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you.

Tung Oil Finish: Is it a Wise Choice?

Difference between a raw pine wood and tung oil finished pine wood
Difference between raw pine wood and tung oil finished pine wood

Tung oil, also called China wood oil, is a natural oil commonly used to enhance the appearance and durability of wood surfaces. 

Extracted from the seed of the tung tree, this oil is suitable for multiple applications, such as a wood finish, lubricant, and an ingredient in paint and varnish. 

However, it is primarily employed as a wood finish. When applied to wood, the oil seeps into the wood’s pores, creating a tough and long-lasting finish that accentuates the natural beauty of the wood grain. 

Moreover, it is highly resistant to water, effectively protecting wood from moisture damage.

One can use tung oil as a finish or as a sealer underneath other finishes such as varnish, polyurethane, or wax. 

A polyurethane topcoat is recommended if you need a more glossy or harder surface.

Tung oil works well on a variety of wood, ranging from hardwoods such as oak, cherry, and mahogany, to softwoods like pine and cedar. 

Pure Tung Oil Finish vs Dark Tung Oil Finish

There are two main types of tung oil: pure and dark.

Pure tung oil does not contain any additives and dries to a clear, honey color.

It is commonly used as a finish for indoor wooden furniture, cabinetry, and other wood products, providing a warm, rich look with good resistance to water and heat.

On the other hand, dark tung oil is a mixture of pure tung oil and other ingredients, such as a varnish or stain. 

These added ingredients give the oil a darker and richer finish, which can be beneficial especially to even out the color of wood that is in poor condition or has an uneven color. 

It is commonly used as a finish for outdoor wood surfaces, such as floors, decks, and outdoor furniture, as it provides increased durability and resistance to water. 

Although the use of additives can improve the properties of tung oil, such as imparting UV-ray protection, these additives can be flammable, making the workpiece prone to catching fire when subjected to heat.

How Much Tung Oil is Needed?

Wetting a rubbing cloth with tung oil
Wetting a rubbing cloth with tung oil

While tung oil offers many benefits as a wood finish, it is generally recommended to apply a minimum of five coats to achieve a fine finish. 

A quart (0.94 liters) of tung oil can cover an area of 100 square feet, and the number of oil coats will vary based on the porosity of the surface. 

It takes around two to three days for the oil to harden fully, which can be time-consuming and labor-intensive for some applications.

Alternatives such as oil/varnish blends and wiping varnishes offer faster drying times and may be more practical options for time-sensitive projects. 

Characteristics of a Tung Oil Finish

ProsCons
Provides a strong bond and protectionCan be more expensive 
Easy to cleanDries slowly and requires multiple coats
Does not moldCan darken the color of the wood if too many coats are applied
Easy applicationMight require maintenance and reapplication over time
Non-toxic
Pros and Cons of Tung oil finish

Tung Oil Provides a Strong Bond and Protection

Water droplet stuck on a tung oil coated butcher block
Water droplet stuck on a tung oil coated butcher block

Tung oil can penetrate deep into the wood fibers, providing a strong bond between the oil and the wood.

Unlike other finishes that provide surface coating, tung oil finish provides protection even in the deep fibers of wood, improving its resistance to water damage.

Therefore, tung oil is an excellent choice for outdoor wood surfaces, such as garden furniture, fence, decks, etc.

Tung Oil Finish is Easy to Apply

Applying Tung oil using brush
Applying Tung oil using brush

Applying tung oil does not require any professional tools, and you can get a smooth and uniform coating even by using simple tools like a brush, rag, or spray gun.

As a result, a tung oil finish is best suited for DIY, as well as professional applications.

Tung Oil is Eco-friendly

Tung oil is natural and non-toxic, making it an eco-friendly option for wood products used in a home or office environment.

However, in some cases, tung oil can lead to touch or odor-based allergies, making it important to verify if the user is allergic to tung oil.

Apart from that, tung oil does not contain VOCs and is considered to be food-safe after curing.

Tung Oil has Low Odor

Tung oil has a comparatively lower odor than other oil-based finishes and can be used in a closed space without causing discomfort.

Tung Oil Finish is Long Lasting

Tung oil finishes are known to last for years, and you can refresh them with light sanding, followed by applying another coat of tung oil.

This makes it an economical option as it does not need frequent reapplication, and instead, can be refinished by minor touch-ups.

Tung Oil is Compatible with Other Finishes

To achieve a different finish, one can combine tung oil with other finishes, such as varnish or wax.

This allows for wider options to achieve the desired look while offering better protection.

Working With Tung Oil- How to Get the Best Results?

Step 1: Prepare the Workpiece and Oil

When preparing the wood surface for tung oil application, it is essential to take safety precautions. 

These include wearing a dust mask and safety goggles and ensuring proper ventilation during any sanding or stripping of the surface. 

Additionally, if using any chemicals to clean the surface, take appropriate safety measures to avoid skin or eye irritation and ensure proper disposal of the chemicals.

Cleaning the Workpiece Surface

Sanding the workpiece to achieve a smooth finish
Sanding the workpiece to achieve a smooth finish

To properly apply tung oil, one must begin with a clean and prepped surface free of dirt, grease, or other impurities. 

Moreover, you should only apply tung oil to bare surfaces.

If the surface has any existing coating, remove the coating by sanding or stripping the surface, if necessary. 

After removing the coating, clean the surface with trisodium phosphate, followed by sanding it again with 150-grit sandpaper.

Finally, vacuum the surface thoroughly to remove any sanding dust or debris.

Thinning the Oil

Thinning the tung oil before application makes it easy to apply, dry faster, and enhances its penetration. 

However, avoid it if the surface is highly absorbent such as weathered wood, concrete, unfinished wooden floors, etc. 

It is advised to mix the oil and mineral spirit in equal proportions to get a good consistency of oil.

Avoid using “green” or “eco-friendly” mineral spirits as they do not mix well with tung oil and can negatively affect the finish. 

Alternatively, you can use pre-thinned options directly from the bottle.

Step 2: Apply the Tung Oil

Apply First Coat

Applying the first coat of Tung oil with a lint-free cloth
Applying the first coat of Tung oil with a lint-free cloth

You can apply Tung oil with a lint-free cloth, natural bristle brush, or sponge brush.

Applying tung oil in thin and even coats is essential for achieving a smooth and consistent finish. 

Moreover, applying a thick coat of oil can result in uneven absorption, leaving some areas glossy while others remain dull. 

This can also lead to difficulty in wiping excess oil during the curing phase, negatively impacting the final finish.

Nonetheless, it should be applied generously to the surface to saturate the wood fibers thoroughly.

The objective is to thoroughly saturate the wood instead of simply applying a coating, like paint or varnish.

After the application of the first coat, wait for it to dry and absorb.

Apply More Coats

Applying additional coats of Tung Oil using a lint-free cloth
Applying additional coats of Tung Oil using a lint-free cloth

After the first coat is absorbed, apply another coat. 

Generally, it is advised to wait for around 40 minutes after applying each coat to ensure proper absorption of the oil.

Repeat the process of applying and waiting until the final coat retains 80 percent of its glossy appearance for at least 40 minutes, i.e., the surface appears to be wet even after waiting for 40 minutes.

This indicates that the wood fibers are fully saturated, and you can proceed to the next step. 

Apart from the surface finish, the number of coats also depends upon the intended application of the product.

For decorative items that are less prone to damage, it is advised to apply 2-4 coats to get a smooth finish, whereas, for applications that require good durability, a minimum of 3-5 coats is recommended.

Wipe Off Excess Oil

After multiple coats have been applied, and the wood fibers reach the required saturation level, use a clean cloth to wipe off the excess oil from the surface.

Once the surface is entirely saturated, the tung oil will penetrate the wood overnight or the following day. 

After allowing the oil to dry overnight, inspect the surface finish and apply more coats if needed.

Step 3: Let the Oil Finish Cure

Allowing the Tung Oil Finish to Cure
Allowing the Tung Oil Finish to Cure

After the complete application, the curing process will begin, taking about 7-10 days for the initial curing and 15-30 days for complete curing. 

During this time, it is essential to avoid exposing the finished object to direct sunlight for an extended period. 

Furthermore, monitor the surface and wipe any excess tung oil that may seep out.

If the tung oil finish is applied to a wooden floor, you can walk on the floor with clean shoes after a few days of application, but avoid placing heavy objects or walking on them with dirty shoes. 

Tung oil naturally seals, waterproofs, and protects surfaces, so no additional sealers or protective products are needed.

Step 4: Maintenance and Care

Cleaning pure tung oil is simple and easy. You can use hot water and regular dish soap for cleaning wooden floors or other objects.

Nonetheless, surfaces used frequently or walked on regularly may need maintenance to ensure that they retain their appearance and add extra protection. 

To do this, mix thinner and tung oil in a 2:1 ratio and apply it over the surface. Allow time for it to dry as needed.

Refrain from using abrasive cleaners or scrubbers as they may scratch the surface of the wood and remove the finish.

Tung oil vs Linseed oil vs Danish Oil 

Danish, linseed, and tung oil
Danish, linseed, and tung oil
ParametersTung OilLinseed OilDanish Oil
SaturationDeep penetrationMedium penetrationSurface penetration
Drying timeModerateSlowQuick
DurabilityHighmediumLow
Water resistanceHighLowModerate
YellowingNoYesNo
Difference between tung oil, linseed oil, and danish oil finishes

Difference Based on the Saturation

Saturation is essential when applying oil to wood because it determines penetration depth and the overall quality of the finish. 

When compared to Linseed oil and Danish oil, Tung oil provides the best penetration in wood fibers because of its higher molecular weight and ability to reach with wood fibers.

On the other hand, Linseed oil has medium penetration capability, filling the wood pores but not as deep as Tung oil, whereas, Danish oil is a surface finish oil and does not penetrate into the wood fibers.

Difference Based on the Drying Time 

The time taken to dry determines the overall time taken to complete the finishing process.

Generally, Tung oil takes longer than Danish oil but less than Linseed oil.

Danish oil finish typically drys in around 4-6 hours, followed by Tung oil, which takes around 24 hours, and finally Linseed oil, which takes around 2-3 days to dry completely.

Difference Based on the Durability 

Tung oil is known for its high durability, creating a hard and durable finish that can withstand heavy use.

Linseed oil finish is comparatively less durable than Tung oil finish.

On the other hand, Danish oil does not provide good durability and is suitable for applications where quick drying time and surface finish are preferable over durability.

Difference Based on the Water Resistance 

Tung oil is known for its high water resistance as it creates a waterproof finish that can withstand exposure to moisture without significant damage. 

Linseed oil finish has comparatively lower water resistance than Tung oil finish or Danish oil finish.

As a result, it does not create a waterproof finish and is more susceptible to damage from exposure to moisture. 

Danish oil has moderate water resistance, it creates a finish that can protect the wood from moisture to some extent, but it’s not as waterproof as Tung oil.

Difference Based on the Yellowing of the Finish

Tung oil and Danish oil finish can better resist color changes over time. As a result, they maintain their natural color, even after long-term exposure to light or heat. 

In contrast, Linseed oil finish can become darker or yellowish due to the chemical reactions caused by exposure to light and heat. 

Best Tung Oil for Wood Finishing

Hope's 100% Pure Tung Oil

Hope's Tung Oil
Hope’s Tung Oil

Hope’s 100% pure Tung oil is a top-of-the-line product known for its easy application and long-lasting results. 

The oil is easy to use as it can be applied by simply wiping it on and allowing it to cure at room temperature. 

It forms a durable, non-greasy solid coating that can withstand moisture and everyday use. This makes it more long-lasting than wax or mineral oil products.

You can use it on nearly all surfaces that allow the oil to penetrate. This makes it a preferred choice for a wide range of projects.

Hope’s Tung Oil guarantees 100% purity as it is pressed from the best tung oil crops, ensuring you receive a top-notch product.

With over 50 years of industrial experience, Hope’s Tung oil finish ensures reliability to achieve a good quality finish.

Sale
Hope's 100% Pure Tung Oil
  • Easy to Use - Tung oil is a natural oil recognized by craftsmen to offer the ultimate hand-rubbed finish for all fine woods; just wipe on and allow the oil to cure at room temperature
  • Permeates - Unlike other finishes that form a film on the wood’s surface, tung oil penetrates deep into the wood fibers, cures to a flexible non-oily solid, and becomes part of the wood itself

Minwax 67500000 Tung Oil Finish

Minwax Tung Oil Finish
Minwax Tung Oil Finish

Minwax 67500000 Tung Oil Finish is an excellent option for protecting and restoring wood surfaces. 

This product is simple to upkeep and ideal for wooden workpieces that have undergone refinishing, as it deeply permeates the wood pores to revitalize dry wood. 

Reapplying another coat periodically allows the wood finish to be easily refreshed.

This oil is ideal for antiques, cabinets, and other accessories. 

Minwax Tung Oil Finish also offers high resistance to water, mildew, alkalis, and acids. This makes it an excellent option for new and restored surfaces, providing long-lasting protection and a beautiful finish.

The dry time is minimal, only 5-10 minutes before buffing.

Minwax 67500000 Tung Oil Finish
  • Easy to maintain, it is the ideal protective finish for woods that have been refinished because it penetrates wood pores to restore vitality to dry, thirsty wood
  • Wood finished with minwax tung oil can be periodically refreshed by simply applying another coat

Real Milk Paint Pure Tung Oil

Milk Paint Tung Oil Finish
Milk Paint Tung Oil Finish

Real Milk Paint Pure Tung Oil is a top-of-the-line product. This all-natural solution offers a matte and waterproof protective finish for various wooden surfaces.

One of the best things about this product is that it is 100% pure and made with only the highest quality tung oil. 

Real Milk Paint Tung Oil is also waterproof, making it well-suited for outdoor projects. 

This means it will protect your wood surfaces from water damage, making it an ideal choice for decks, wood siding, and other outdoor wood surfaces.

This product is environmentally friendly and contains zero VOCs, heavy metals, additives, or distillates. This makes it safe to use for all your wood finishing needs.

Real Milk Paint Pure Tung Oil
  • 100% PURE - Pure Tung Oil for wood finishing. Tung Oil provides an all-natural, matte, and waterproof protective finish for a variety of wooden surfaces
  • MULTIPLE USES - Use the wood oil for finishing countertops, bowls, butcher blocks, cutting boards, chopping blocks, unfinished wood furniture, decks, wood siding, wood flooring, concrete, and brick

Final Thoughts 

Tung oil is a natural, plant-based oil, known for its good absorption in the wood grain, providing a durable and water-resistant finish. 

Furthermore, it is easy to apply and maintain and can be used on various kinds of wood, including hardwoods and softwoods.

When using Tung oil as a wood finish, it is essential to prepare the wood surface by sanding and cleaning, followed by applying thin coats using a cloth or brush, and finally, allowing it to dry. 

When applying Tung oil on a well-prepared surface of wood, it is advised to use thinner to reduce the thickness of the oil for better penetration in the wood fibers.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can Tung oil be used on painted surfaces?

No, Tung oil is not recommended for use on painted surfaces, as it is an oil-based finish and may not adhere properly to the paint. It is best used on raw or previously oiled wood surfaces.

How should Tung oil be stored?

Tung oil should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and heat sources. In addition, you should keep it in a tightly sealed container to prevent air exposure and oxidation. 

Can Tung oil be used on metals?

Yes, Tung oil can be used on metal surfaces, provided the metal is cleaned and prepared correctly. Moreover, it is recommended to thin the Tung oil before applying it and heat the metal surface to improve its ability to penetrate the metal.

V Susan
Hi! I'm Susan. I am passionate about woodworking, general DIY and home improvement. If you'd like to connect with me or talk about something you like at mellowpine, drop me a mail at susan@mellowpine.com