A Better Way to Apply Oil Finishes!

Video - February 6, 2023

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Are you looking for a better way to apply oil finishes? You’ve come to the right place! Applying natural drying oils such as tung oil, walnut oil, or linseed oil isn’t difficult, but you can really screw things up if you apply it like other finishes. So be sure to watch the entire guide to learn not only how to apply oil finishes, but why the method I recommend is the least likely to cause you issues regardless of the oil, the wood, or the conditions in which you’re applying it.

A Better Way to Apply Oil Finishes:

  1. Use a lint-free cloth, rag or shop towel in a small bundle as an applicator.
  2. Dip the bundle into the oil and begin spreading the oil across the surface, rubbing aggressively in circles.
  3. Apply enough oil to completely change the color of the wood, but not so much that it pools on the surface. Add more oil only after exhausting all of the oil in the bundle.
  4. Wipe off any excess with a new cloth, rag or shop towel. Don’t be afraid to rub aggressively as the surface should almost feel dry to the touch when you’re done.
  5. Let the finish cure overnight and ideally for 24 hours, then reapply another coat in the exact same way.

How Many Coats:

Remember that oils don’t really build to a film like polyurethane or lacquer. Once the wood is sealed and the finish is cured, there’s a bit of diminishing returns for subsequent coats. And because of the long cure time, it can be a real test of patience to apply more than 3-4 coats to any project. As a rule of thumb, I apply 2-3 coats to kitchen items and about 5 coats to furniture. Reapplication can happen at any time as needed.

Things NOT to do:

  • Don’t apply too much oil by flooding the surface. If you have a large surface to cover, you can certainly use a brush to spread the oil but make sure you’re not drenching the surface and be quick to spread the oil around as you go. You have plenty of working time with oils so there’s no need to rush.
  • Don’t apply more than one coat a day. Oils take significant time to dry and even more time to properly cure. Applying coats too frequently will extend the overall cure time.
  • Don’t throw your oily rags in the garbage. Lay them out in a single layer on the floor or draped over the edge of the garbage can. After a few days they’ll feel dry and crusty and should be safe to dispose of in the trash. What we’re avoiding here is spontaneous combustion as the oil cures via an exothermic reaction.

Finishes and Stuff I Recommend:


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