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Tung oil on Oak: We Tested the Look



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


Tung oil on oak

Tung oil is popularly used for finishing wooden workpieces.

But is it compatible with oak wood? And how does it look on oak?

Tung oil works beautifully on oak wood. It delivers a natural, matt finish highlighting the oak’s wood grain. Applying tung oil on oak also offers benefits such as easy application and protection against water damage, producing a durable finish resistant to peeling and chipping. 

I tested tung oil in different ways on oak to help

This article provides a detailed guide on how to apply tung oil on oak workpieces and helps you understand the factors you need to be wary of to get the right finish.

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 on Oak: How Does it Look?

Difference between raw oak and tung oil finished oak
Difference between raw oak and tung oil finished oak

Tung oil is a natural oil that adds a clear satin finish to oak wood workpieces, highlighting their natural grains and providing resistance to moisture damage.

It seeps into the fibers of wood, providing a durable and long-lasting finish that is resistant to peeling and chipping over time.

Depending upon the condition of your oak wood workpiece and your requirement, you can apply multiple coats to improve the durability of the coating and achieve the desired finish.

Apart from hardwood like oak, you can also use tung oil on pine and other softwood.

However, it is important to consider all the advantages and disadvantages of tung oil finish on oak before selecting the right finish for your workpiece.

Pros and Cons of Using Tung Oil on Oak

Delivers a warm matte finishUnpleasant odor
DurableNo UV protection in pure form
Resistant to acids and alcoholsDifficult to remove
Environment-friendly and non-toxicRequires multiple coats
Easy application and maintenanceLong curing time
Resistant to waterExpensive
FlexibleLess heat-resistant
Pros and cons of using tung oil on oak

When used on oak, Tung oil penetrates deep into the wood pores and ensures proper absorption.

This introduces a warm long-lasting finish that accentuates the inherent beauty of the wood grain patterns while offering added benefits.

Tung Oil Produces Beautiful Natural Finish on Oak

Whether you go for a light or dark variant, Tung oil is ideal for emphasizing the natural beauty of your oak surfaces.

It enhances the look of oak surfaces by highlighting their intrinsic grain patterns and adding a warm, golden sheen. 

Compared to other oils that fade with time, Tung oil maintains the original beauty of the wood while offering a subtle and timeless satin coloration.

The satin finish can be transformed into a semi-glossy sheen by applying multiple coats, making it suitable for a variety of applications.

Generally, our tung oil produces a honey-colored finish, while dark tung oil, containing different solvents, produces a darker finish.

Tung Oil Finish on Oak Provides Excellent Durability

The application of Tung oil on oak provides formidable protection against various damaging elements, such as moisture, dust, acetone, alcohol, and acidic substances like citrus juice. 

Furthermore, the deep penetration of the oil makes it resistant to peeling and chipping over time.

Moreover, refreshing the finish over time only requires light sanding followed by a thin coat of tung oil, minimizing the effort needed to maintain the finish for years.

This makes it an economical choice for Oak workpieces that are meant to last.

Tung Oil Finish is Non-toxic

Pure Tung oil is a natural product obtained by pressing the seeds of tung trees and offers natural resistance to pests and insects.

Furthermore, the absence of VOCs, preservatives, or any other harmful additive, makes it suitable for kitchen countertops and children’s toys. 

Although minor oxidation can occur when exposed to air, the oxides are in low concentrations and do not threaten human and animal health.

However, it must be noted that the solvents used to enhance the properties of tung oil can often alter their properties, making it important to verify the ingredients of the oil before applying.

Tung Oil Finish is Easy to Apply

Finishing oak with Tung oil is easy and particularly advantageous if you’re using it for the first time.

You can use a lint-free cloth or a brush to apply thin and even coats of oil over the surface, allow it to sit for a while, and wipe away the excess oil.

Furthermore, maintaining the finish over time requires a similar procedure to refresh the finish by applying a new coat.

Tung Oil Finish Improves Water-resistance of Oak

Water droplet on tung oil finished oak
Water droplet on tung oil finished workpiece

Tung oil offers a waterproof coating to oak surfaces, protecting them from water droplets and moisture. 

The oil hardens upon air exposure, forming a robust and water-resistant film. 

Unlike other oil finishes that form a layer over the surface of Oak, tung oil seeps deep into the grains of wood, thereby ensuring a moisture-resistant surface and core of the wood.

However, it is crucial to ensure that the Tung oil is applied evenly without missing any spots to ensure maximum protection.

Tung Oil Finish Offers Flexibility

Tung oil displays flexibility even after curing. 

As a result, when the wood changes in size due to temperature fluctuations, tung oil adjusts effortlessly without compromising its stability. 

This seamless integration with the wooden surface prevents cracking, scratches, or chipping, even when oak expands and contracts due to the change in the atmosphere.

Disadvantages of Tung Oil on Oak

Finishing oak with Tung oil also comes with a few challenges and limitations that one must consider before applying.

The major downside is that Tung oil takes a long time to cure and penetrate deeply.

Moreover, it comes at a higher cost and provides little to no protection against UV rays in its pure form.

Another factor to consider is that multiple coats of Tung oil are necessary to achieve the desired level of protection and finish.

Although pure tung oil is resistant to heat, the solvents used with the oil can be flammable, making the oil finish unsuitable for high-heat applications.

Finally, Tung oil can sometimes release a strong scent that some may find unpleasant during application. As a result, it is advised to wear a mask when applying tung oil over the workpiece.

How to Apply Tung Oil on Oak: Step-by-Step

Applying tung oil on oak by using a brush
Applying tung oil on oak by using a brush

Tung oil is easy to apply over oak workpieces. However, it is important to follow the right procedure to get the best results.

Step 1: Preparing the Oak Surface

Cleaning the Oak Surface

It’s essential to ensure a clean oak surface to achieve a consistent finish. 

Use a damp cloth to wipe the surface of dirt, debris, or any other impurity.

You may even need a wood-specific cleaner to eliminate grease, oil, or any existing coating from the surface of the oak wood.

Sanding the Workpiece

Sanding Oak workpiece
Sanding Oak workpiece

After letting the surface dry, the next step is to sand the surface of the oak gently.

Sanding helps to even out the surface, smooth the grain pattern, and increase surface adhesion.

Use coarse-grit sandpaper to even out the surface of the workpiece, followed by using fine-grit sandpaper to smooth the surface.

Generally, 150 to 220-grit sandpaper is recommended to smoothen the surface, and the best way to sand wood is to sand along the direction of the wood grains.

After the desired smoothness is achieved, use a clean cloth to wipe any dust or debris.

Repair Cracks or Damage

Before applying the tung oil on the oak surface, it’s crucial to attend to any cracks, knots, or damaged areas. 

To fix these, use wood filler or putty to fill the cracks and knots.

Wait for the filler to dry, then sand until the surface is smooth.

Step 2: Applying Tung Oil on Oak

Using a brush to apply tung oil on oak workpiece
Using a brush to apply tung oil on oak workpiece

Various Tung oil options are available in the market, but it’s advisable to choose pure or raw Tung oil for oak surfaces. 

For easier application and faster drying, it is recommended to dilute the oil with mineral spirits or paint thinner in a 1:1 ratio for the first coat.

However, for the subsequent coats, you can gradually increase the concentration of the Tung oil in each coat and use 100% pure tung oil for the final coat.

Mix the diluted solution thoroughly and strain it to eliminate any impurities.

Apply the oil using a brush with natural bristles or lint-free cloth. Work in thin, even layers and follow the direction of the grain. 

Generally, it is advised to use a lint-free cloth, as it ensures even coating and avoids over-applying, which can result in a sticky and uneven finish.

The number of coats required will vary based on the level of protection desired and the state of the wood. 

A minimum of 5-6 thin coats of Tung oil is recommended for oak, and it is advisable to wait 12-24 hours between each coat.

Tung oil starts curing after about 10 days and takes 15-30 days to cure fully. As a result, the surface should be undisturbed during the first week and protected from dust and moisture. 

After the first week, you can gradually start using it, but it’s best to let it cure completely for at least 15 days before the intended use.

Step 3: Maintenance and Care of the Finished Workpiece

Alloying the tung oil finished oak workpiece to dry and cure
Alloying the tung oil finished oak workpiece to dry and cure

Maintaining a tung oil-finished oak wood workpiece requires a few basic routines that are easy to perform.

All you need to do is wipe down the surface with a damp cloth or a soft-bristled brush to remove any dust and debris that accumulates over time.

Additionally, it’s essential to protect the treated oak from exposure to sunlight because pure Tung oil does not offer any UV protection.

Nevertheless, you can apply a protective coating like wax or polyurethane sealer if the workpiece is intended to be used in direct sunlight.

Furthermore, using coasters or placemats under objects can help prevent heat rings and stains on the treated oak.

Lastly, the Tung oil finish must be refreshed every 6-12 months by lightly sanding the surface and applying a fresh thin coat of pure Tung oil. 

Things to Consider to Get the Best Results from Tung Oil on Oak

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

Tung oil produces a warm finish on oak workpieces, highlighting their natural grains, and providing a sleek satin finish to the workpiece.

However, there are various things that you need to consider to get the best results.

Follow Safety Precautions

Although Tung oil is safer than other types of finishes, it is advisable to follow safety precautions.

This includes safely disposing of the soaked rags, which are flammable, and wearing rubber gloves to minimize skin contact.

Moreover, Tung oil may cause allergic reactions in some people, so take extra precautions if you’re sensitive or have a history of allergies.

Perform Regular Maintenance

Tung oil coating must be refreshed every once in a while to keep it looking its best and maintain its properties.

Although the finish does not peel or crack over time, it is advised to re-finish the workpiece every six to twelve months to ensure the best results with good durability.

Apply an Adequate Number of Coats

The number of Tung oil coats depends upon the wood species and the intended gloss level.

As a general principle, applying at least six coats of Tung oil is advisable to attain a flawless finish on oak surfaces. 

Nevertheless, you can apply more coats for a greater level of sheen.

Provide Ample Drying Time Between Successive Coats

Patience is vital when applying Tung oil, as the drying time between coats is at least 24 hours. 

This is essential for obtaining a smooth and even finish, devoid of any bubbles, drips, or streaks.

In addition, the oil must be worked thoroughly into the wood to yield deeper seepage and excellent protection. 

Allowing the workpiece enough drying time between each coat will ensure an excellent outcome with a natural finish that will secure your oak project for many years.

Surface Preparation is the Key

Proper preparation of the oak surface ensures proper adherence and penetration of the Tung oil.

Therefore, before you begin the application process, it is crucial to prepare the surface adequately. 

This includes thoroughly cleaning the wood to remove any dirt, dust, or existing finishes from the surface. 

In addition, sanding also helps create a smoother surface, which is ideal for an even and consistent oil application.

Other Finishing Options For Oak: Compared

Comparing Different finishes on Oak wood
Comparing Different finishes on Oak wood
ParameterTung OilDanish OilBeeswax
AppearanceSatin finish with a gold hueSemi-gloss finish with a distinct amber tintWarm and rich luster
Ease of ApplicationModerateEasyEasy with no prep work
Water-resistanceExcellentGoodGood with frequent reapplication
Drying Time24 – 48 hours4 – 8 hours20 minutes – 1 hour
Number of Coats5-63-42-3
Food SafetyYesNoSome are food safe
Penetration RateSlowFastNo penetration
Tung oil vs Danish oil vs Beeswax finish for Oak

Tung oil is the best bet for your oak projects. However, there are other promising options, including Danish oil and Beeswax.

Consider the following factors to choose an effective finish for your specific needs.

Based on the Appearance of the Final Finish

The application of Danish oil results in a semi-gloss finish with a distinct amber tint, while Tung oil produces a satin finish with a gold hue, which can be transformed into a glossy finish by applying more coats. 

When it comes to imparting a natural shine to wooden objects, Beeswax is a preferred option as it can give the wood a warm and rich luster. 

Based on the Ease of Application

While both oils are user-friendly, Danish oil stands out for being thin and able to penetrate the wood more deeply, simplifying its application process.

Tung oil is generally denser than Danish oil and requires a thinning solvent to achieve the desired consistency for proper seepage into the wood fibers.

In contrast, the application of Beeswax is effortless and straightforward. 

You only need to use a clean cloth or rag to apply it, and there is no need for any preparation work before applying the wax finish.

Based on the Desired Water-resistance

Tung oil provides the most effective waterproof finish, followed by Danish oil providing decent water resistance.

Beeswax also provides good waterproofing but requires monthly reapplication as the wax finish is easy to scratch.

Based on the Drying Time

Danish oil dries faster than Tung oil, taking approximately 4-8 hours. This makes it an excellent choice for time-sensitive projects. 

On the other hand, Tung oil requires a full day, and sometimes even longer, to dry after applying a single coat.  

Since applying multiple coats is necessary to achieve a well-finished and polished project, the process may take several days. 

In contrast, Beeswax dries the quickest, with a drying time of 20 minutes to an hour, making it the ideal choice for quick-delivery projects where time is of utmost importance.

Based on the Durability of the Finish

Although applying Tung oil requires more labor, the offered protection pays off significantly. 

When maintained properly, tung oil finish can last decades without chipping and cracking, ensuring resistance to moisture and other harmful elements of the atmosphere.

Although Danish oil provides excellent durability, it cannot surpass the durability offered by the tung oil finish, making tung oil the best choice for applications where long life is desirable. 

Conversely, Beeswax isn’t very resistant to wear and tear and doesn’t provide the same protection as Tung and Danish oil.

Wax finishes do not seep into the fibers of the wood and form a protective layer over the surface, making it prone to chipping and scratching over time.

Based on the Number of Coats Needed

Generally, Danish oil requires three coats, while Tung oil necessitates at least five coats to achieve a desirable finish. 

On the other hand, Beeswax typically requires two and rarely three coats.

However, the more coats required by tung oil are compensated by the durability and long-lasting finish that it provides.

Based on Food Safety

Tung oil is food-safe in its natural form, but its safety may be compromised if diluted with certain additives or mineral spirits. 

Nevertheless, Tung oil remains superior in quality for food-grade purposes compared to Danish oil, which contains varnish.

In the case of Beeswax, only some specifically labeled variants are food-safe.

Therefore, it is important to check the ingredients of the finishing oil and wax to ensure that it complies with food-safe requirements.

Final Thoughts

Applying Tung oil on oak projects accentuates the wood’s natural charm and offers long-lasting protection, surpassing other finishing oils. 

If you’re planning to use Tung oil on your oak projects, it is important to note that the process requires careful attention and patience. 

Ensure to sand thoroughly between each coating and allow ample drying time. 

Although danish oil and Beeswax are easier to apply, the durability achieved by the tung oil finish is incomparable.

Finally, it’s essential to reapply Tung oil every 6-12 months to maintain top-notch quality for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can I use Tung oil on all types of wood?

Yes, you can use Tung oil on nearly all wood types, like oak, pine, mahogany, and walnut. By penetrating the wood’s fibers, it enriches the wood’s natural charm while offering superior protection. Nonetheless, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines before applying Tung oil to a specific wood type.

Can I combine Tung oil with other finishes?

Yes, you can combine Tung oil with other finishes, such as varnish, to produce a customized finish with superior properties. However, ensure to experiment with small quantities and examine the outcome on a sample area before applying it to the project. 

Is Tung oil safe to use on kitchen workpieces like butcher blocks?

Yes, Tung oil is food-safe once fully cured, typically taking around 30 days. However, using pure Tung oil thinned with Citrus Solvent is essential to ensure the best food-safe quality.

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