Tung Oil Finishes for Wood Veneer

Recommendations for effective tung oil finish formulations. July 18, 2008

A client wants a white oak cabinet door and a bookshelf counter finished with Tung oil. Is this a bad idea? I feel fine with it on solid wood for furniture, but I'm not sure if it's a good idea for veneer. My other option would likely be Target's 9300. The door is edgebanded, but the counter had 1/4" solid wood on the edges. Does a film finish really help strengthen the surface that much? The guy has young kids and thinks the pieces will get some abuse (but not too much moisture or chemicals). The Tung makes it so much easier to repair minor scuffs. The bookshelf is 42" and the top is a counter.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
Any oil finish will be a two-edged sword, although Tung stands up better than most, assuming you buy something particularly marked "Pure" or "100%" Tung oil, as some "Tung Oil Finish" products are rip-offs with no Tung in them.

If that is what he mentioned specifically, then by all means use it. Make sure he understand specifically that he will need to wipe on a new coat every year or so as "maintenance" and also use paste wax on the occasion. This is true and also puts the burden on him to keep it looking good. I normally just give the client the can of leftovers.

Oil finishes do repair more easily than glossy lacquers and varnishes, but for a door and a countertop I would lean more toward 2K polyurethane or even standard oil-based polyurethane in a dull or satin finish. I would mention this to him, but if he resists, use the Tung. Remember that you sell customer confidence as much as you do "wooden stuff". Whichever finish he is most confident in is what I'd use.

From contributor B:
Use Southerland Wells Poly Tung - you'll be fine.

From contributor C:

It is a common misconception that oil finishes need to be renewed yearly or otherwise. How often does Sam Maloof have his clients re-oil his chairs? Never. Six coats rubbed in make the finish about as permanent as necessary. I have used his finishes in the past and applied as instructed they have stayed as bright and shiny as the day they were applied going on 8 years now. If you only apply one or two coats, then yes, recoating would be necessary but then the piece wouldn't look nearly as good when delivered either. Also, if the client is planning on his kids damaging the pieces then oil is the way to go for quick onsite repairs he can do himself as needed.

From contributor B:
I'm not familiar with Sam Maloof's formula - does it contain just oils and solvent or is it also a resin combination? Varnish/tung - urethane/tung or other?

From contributor C:
He has two versions and they are both blends. One is a varnish/tung/boiled linseed oil blend in thirds I believe. The other is half and half boiled linseed/tung with beeswax melted in. Not sure of the exact details of the ingredients as it has been a few years since I have used them. I think they are sold exclusively through Rockler for some reason. He does cover the exact ingredients and more about how he makes the finishes in one of his books. I used his finish exclusively on everything I oiled for years and the end result is beautiful and long lasting. It is obviously very time consuming to apply six coats of any oil finish, especially compared to spraying, which is why most people don't seem to apply so many and the finish needs touchup coats at a later date.