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  • Writer's pictureJesse

A Beginner’s Guide To Oil Finishes

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

A Beginner’s Guide To Oil Finishes

After all the time and energy you’ve spent creating your woodworking piece, you want to choose the right oil finish. Otherwise, you’ll undo hours of hard work! Ensure that your piece lasts a lifetime with the right finishing product.

Your work is almost done. It’s time to add the finishing touches. With an oil finish, you can:

  • Protect the wood from moisture damage.

  • Boost its resilience to scratches and cracks.

  • Highlight the color and wood grain of your piece.

Those benefits sound great. But you’re left with one question: How do you apply an oil finish?

We’ve put together this step-by-step guide for beginners. Here’s how to apply an oil finish to your woodworking project:


sanding wood

Once your wood has been cut and sanded, the surface can get caked with all kinds of debris. Start by removing any dust or grease with a wet cloth. And if your wood already has a finish, gently sand it off first.

Any imperfections will come through your wood finish. Try to sand away any flaws or scratches as best you can. Start with coarse grit sandpaper and gradually move to finer grits. Be sure to clean the surface again once you’re done sanding.

Choosing Your Oil Finish

First of all, you need to decide if you want a clear or colored finish.

If you want the qualities of your wood to shine through, choose a clear coat. It won’t alter the color of the wood; instead, a clear coat will bring out the wood grain and natural beauty.

But if you’d like to add warm/cool tones or change the color altogether, choose a colored finish.

Not sure which type of finish will work best? You have a few options to choose from; the right choice will vary depending on the application.

  • Tung oil. Made from the seeds from the nut of a tung tree, tung oil is natural and eco-friendly. It won’t yellow over time, so it’s designed for a long-lasting finish.

  • Mineral oil. Clear and odorless, mineral oil is food-safe, so it’s often used on cutting boards and wood bowls.

  • Linseed oil. Made from flaxseed, this oil will penetrate the wood grain to offer deep protection. One popular type of linseed oil is the Rubio Monocoat; as the name says, you’ll only need one coat. A few tips for working with Rubio Monocoat are to stir it well before use and apply it in circular motions.

  • Tried and True oil. Tried and True Oil is perfect when you’re making anything that will come in contact with food. It’s completely food safe and doesn’t have that toxic smell other finishes sometimes do. This finish is completely solvent and VOC-free! It’s available in a variety of stain colors to suit your preferences.

Apply Your Oil Finish

apply oil finish

Now it’s time to apply the finish. An advantage of using oil-based finishes is that they take a longer time to dry than water-based ones, so you can work at your own pace.

When you’re applying any finishing product, be sure to do so in a well-ventilated room. Choose a room that’s well-lit so you can see your work properly.

Use a brush or rag to apply the oil. Try to apply the oil as thinly as possible. Depending on the product you choose, you may need more than one coat. Sand off any bumps that may arise between coats.

Drying Time

Oil finishes take a long time to cure and dry completely. It’s important to be patient and give your piece the time it needs—otherwise, your finish will get scuffs, scratches, and dings.

Your oil finish will dry within 2-3 days, but it will take up to 2-10 weeks to cure.

During this time, keep your piece out of direct sunlight. You can wipe down your piece once it’s completely dry to remove any lingering dust or excess oil.

Safety Tip: Storing & Cleaning Oily Rags

It’s true! This safety hazard isn’t very well-known, but it’s incredibly important to be aware of. It happens when the oil oxidizes and starts releasing heat; the temperature increases to a point where the oil and fabric can ignite.

Once you’re done using a rag, you need to prevent it from oxidizing. To do this, you can store it in an airtight container, soak it in water, or wash it immediately.

Now, you’re ready to start using oil finishes to protect, strengthen, and improve the appearance of your woodworking projects. The right finish can take an ordinary piece of wood and transform it into a masterpiece. We hope this beginner’s guide helps you with that.


Disclaimer on Affiliate Links: Some of the tools mentioned in this article are affiliate links, but please know I only recommend tools I truly believe in and trust. There's absolutely no additional cost to you.

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