Tung Oil Finish for a Kitchen Table?
posted on May 10, 2007 by Rockler

rockler tung oil finishSome wood finishes excel at one thing, others at something else, and to get the effect you want, you sometimes have to use more than one. Below, a Woodworker’s Journal eZine reader wants to know whether it’s advisable to put a tougher protective coating over a grain-popping tung oil finish.

Q. I am making two kitchen tables: one out of red oak, the other out of hard maple. I want the natural wood look with low gloss, so I plan on rubbing in quite a few coats of tung oil finish. But to stand up to everyday wear, I wonder if should put something on after the tung oil, like clear polyurethane, or will the tung oil be sufficient? I don't mind a slightly aged look, but I don't want water damage from spills and glasses.

A. Michael Dresdner: "Yes, I would put a coat or two of oil-based polyurethane on for more durability, and it is fully compatible over the dried tung oil (or linseed oil, or any other drying oil for that matter.) In fact, you can apply it in much the same way as you did the oil -- scrub it on with fine Scotchbrite, then wipe it off. That will leave a thin coat that will maintain the look you want with no drips or brush marks. Add at least three coats, at one coat per day. If it starts to wear down the road a few years, add extra coats the same way."

A. Lee Grindinger: "You'll get there eventually if you keep applying the tung oil finish. Tung oil finish is varnish, highly thinned varnish, so your coats are very thin and you'll need very many. If you want a faster build use a regular varnish and brush or spray it on. There are still many varnish formulations that use tung oil. To keep the sheen low use satin or eggshell. Plan on rubbing the surface out with steel wool or rubbing compound to remove the nibs."

From the Woodworker's Journal eZine archives

You may be wondering about Lee Grindinger’s comment: “tung oil finish is varnish” . The important word in the statement is “finish”. Tung oil finishes are usually blends of tung oil, resins and other oils. They are designed to incorporate the desirable properties of tung oil – easy application and its characteristic grain enhancing effect – into a mixture that dries quicker and provides a tougher finish. Minwax Tung Oil Finish is a good example. Rockler's Tung Oil, on the other hand, is not a “tung oil finish”; it’s the real thing – 100 percent pure tung oil.

general finishes arm-r-sealTung oil is one of the most water resistant of cuing oils and has a centuries-long history of use as a final finish. Still, it’s no match for modern varnish in terms of durability. For any surface that’s going to see a fair amount of use, a tougher top coat is highly recommended. For a kitchen table, any resin varnish would be an improvement over a final finish of curing oil, but it’s possible to do even better than that. Either General Finishes Arm-R-Seal, if you prefer a wipe on finish, or Rockhard Table Top Varnish, a brush-on finish, will offer superior durability and lasting protection against the not-so wood friendly kitchen environment.

posted on May 10, 2007 by Rockler
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19 thoughts on “Tung Oil Finish for a Kitchen Table?”

  • Al Miller

    Question -- When Michael Dresdner suggested putting on a coat or two of oil-based polyurethane -- scrubbing it on with fine Scotchbrite, then wipe it off. Can this be done with oil-based polyurethane straight out of the can, or does the polyurethane have to thinned with mineral spirits first.<br /><br />Thanks<br /><br />

  • Blog Editor

    Thanks for the question. The general wisdom is that brush on varnish straight out of the can is too thick to work well as a wipe on finish.<br /><br />In <a href="http://www.rockler.com/product.cfm?page=11436" rel="nofollow">Understanding Wood Finishing</a>, Bob Flexner suggests adding 25 percent mineral spirits to the typical brush on varnish, and then, if necessary, adding more unitl you're happy with the way the finish applies.

  • Dave

    What surface prep needs done between the last tung oil application and application of polyurethane? How long is it necessary to let the tung oil cure before the polyurethane coat?

  • Blog Editor

    Pure tung oil cures slowly. It would be best to wait several days before applying the final coats of clear finish. A light sanding with very fine grit sandpaper before finishing is the appropriate surface preparation.

  • Greg

    I am using 100% tung oil. a. Will applying multiple coats of T-oil darken the wood further?
    b. How many coats of t-oil do you reccomend before applying the a poly finish (or the types you suggested above)?
    c. It is difficult for me to sand between coats as i am using reclaimed barn wood and want to preserve the original milling/use marks, which are quite riased
    in places. How do I get around that and prep the surfaces properly?

    Thank you.

  • Rockler Blog Team
    Rockler Blog Team April 29, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Greg - Successive coats of oil may change the appearance of the wood some, but the most dramatic change typically happens with the first coat. If you follow Michael Dresdner's advice (above) carefully (or anywhere else, for that matter) you are very likely to achieve success. Note that pure tung oil one of the slowest drying oils to cure. It couldn't hurt to allow a few days before coating with varnish.

  • Cassandra

    I finished my dining room table with several coats of Formby's tung oil finish. But it is not resistant to moisture/staining at all! Every little thing leaves a mark. So now I want to put a few coats of something more durable down. What would you recommend? I was thinking a satin finish wipe-on poly.

  • Rockler Blog Team
    Rockler Blog Team May 17, 2011 at 8:35 am

    Cassandra - thanks for the comment. You're on the right track. A few coats of a film finish will make the surface more water and scratch-resistant. The product you mention should work fine.

  • Greg

    I'm in the process of putting my 5th coat of 100% tung oil (thinned) onto small table top and think it is ready for poly (for protection). The wood is reclaimed barn floor and has much charachter.
    Questions: 1. Of the poly you suggested be used in the earlier thread, would you reccomend satin, semi, or gloss? and why?
    2.I have read that to many coats of semi or satin can result in a dull/lack of depth appearence. A suggestion I read stated to use gloss for the first few coats and satin for the last. What are your thought about that?

  • Rockler Blog Team
    Rockler Blog Team September 1, 2011 at 9:33 am

    Thanks for the comment Greg. It's really a matter of preference for the final appearance. If a satin look is what you're after, the a few thin coats of a satin finish should be fine. Another approach - but a little more work - would be to use a high gloss product like Rockhard Top Varnish (http://www.rockler.com/product.cfm?page=17265) and then, when it's cured, cut it back to a satin sheen with #0000 steel wool. If you didn't like the appearance, you could always work it back up to a whatever sheen you like with rubbing abrasives.

  • Tobin K. Clark

    I specifically recall buying and using Formby "satin" tung oil finish. I bought Formby "low gloss" and to me it is not the same as satin -- too shiny. Where can I purchase Formbys "satin" tung oil finish?

  • Rockler Blog Team
    Rockler Blog Team January 9, 2012 at 6:17 am

    Tobin - We're not doubting your word, but as far as we're aware, that product is only offered in either high or low gloss. If you want to dull down the sheen, the classic method for producing a satin finish is to rub the completely cured finish in the direction of the grain with 0000 steel wool and a lubricant, such as mineral spirits or lubricating oil (http://www.rockler.com/product.cfm?page=17635). The results can be very nice, especially if you take care to rub straight with the grain. You can use masking tape to protect cross-grain when rubbing up to the edge of a joint, where the grain direction changes. Hope this helps.

  • Tobin K. Clark

    Thanks. I will try that process on circa 1940's mahogany dining table.

  • Alan

    I've heard the for the final coat a 50/50 mixture of PU to pure tung oil can produce very nice results. Does anyone have any experience with this?

  • Rockler Blog Team
    Rockler Blog Team January 30, 2012 at 6:10 am

    Alan - mixing tung oil with varnish is a popular way to toughen up the finish while retaining the oil look and ease of application. It won't produce a finish that's as tough or scratch resistant as straight polyurethane, though. If the surface won't have to stand up to a lot of wear, then it could be a good choice.

  • bob g

    just refinished my daughters kitchen table and used my hand
    to rub in POLYURETHANE. it took four coats but the results
    were great .

  • Josh

    Sorry to go slightly off topic but i was wondering if applying pure tung oil to a rosewood kukri handle would cause it to be slippery when used or affect the integrity of the wood especially when used near coastal areas (possible the knife will be used when deep sea fishing). I just dont want a custom $120 knife flying out of my hand into the ocean when cleaning/gutting a large fish. Also how much do i use and how often depending if this application is possible. Anyone recomend a good heavy duty anti rust liquid for boats? Thanks!

  • Roberta Weitlauf
    Roberta Weitlauf November 23, 2013 at 7:56 am

    Is there any way I can remove the red permanent marker
    that bled through a piece of paper I was using to make a sign and on to (and seemingly into) my wooden dining table with a 20+ year old ting oil finish?

  • Kaye Robertson

    We have built a dinning table out of reclaimed wood, I have finished it with 4 coats of gloss tung oil finish it is a bit shinny. Can I use an extra coat of the low gloss to tone it down a bit?

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