Tung oil is a natural finish that is made from the nuts of the Tung tree. It has been used for millenia by the Chinese and has earned a reputation as a relatively easy to apply finish that is more water resistant and durable than other oil finishes. Tung oil cures without the need for drying additives or other chemical treatments — as long as you’re willing to wait several days between coats. However, there are polymerized tung oils on the market that dry much faster than pure tung oil. Several such products are listed below.
- An all-natural non-toxic finish (in pure form).
- Most water resistant oil finish (after 5 or more coats), especially on oily woods.
- Doesn’t yellow or darken as much as linseed oil.
- Used as the key oil component in many high quality finishes.
- Cures very slowly (2-3 days between coats) and can turn white if applied too heavily.
- Requires many coats to achieve a reasonably protective finish with an an attractive sheen. Sanding is required between coats.
- Pure tung oil is relatively soft and not particularly scratch resistant.
- Expensive compared to other drying oils.
A word of caution: “Tung oil” has become a generic term for any wipe-on finish. There are many products on the market that are labeled as “tung oil” that contain no or very little tung oil. Many of these products are basically varnish thinned with oil. The products listed below contain actual tung oil.
Rockler Tung Oil
BenMatte Danish Tung Oil (blend)
J.E. Moser Polymerized Tung Oil Varnish
Old Masters 100% Tung Oil
Sutherland Welles Polymerized Tung Oil
Tung Oil Old-Fashioned Finish
Like all oil finishes, tung oil is easily wiped on with a rag and penetrates into the pores of the wood. This makes it ideal for achieving that hand-rubbed effect with no runs or sags in the finish. However, tung oil requires sanding after every coat and it takes five to six coats to achieve a smooth, attractive sheen. And if you’re using pure tung oil, you need to allow two to three days drying time between each coat. Some woodworkers think tung oil makes a great “friction polish” for lathe finishing or hand rubbing.