RETURN TO FURNITURE ARTICLES
FURNITURE TIPS AND TRICKS
George Utley firstname.lastname@example.org
Oil finishes are growing in popularity as people ask for furniture that looks and feels like wood. When we mention oil finishes many people think of the old oil finishes, involving the application of boiled linseed oil. Thats one type, to be sure, and well cover that, too, but what todays home owner is more interested in is a good looking clear finish that lets the grain of the wood actually be felt. The finish resulting from either Danish or Tung oil is just that. In addition, its almost fool proof in application, and its durable. Tung oil finishes (of which Danish oil is one) form a polymerized barrier against spills when they dry, and they dry fairly quickly. A small piece, such as a coffee or end table can easily be done in one day. Application for all the Tung oils is similar; wipe it on, let it stand for 15 minutes or so (check the label of the product you use) and then wipe it off. In 1 - 2 hours (after it dries) youre ready for a rub down with steel wool, and then another application. You can repeat this process as many times as you want. Typically three or four coats gets the job done.
Aside from ease of application an durability, modern oil finishes are easy to maintain. Any finished wood surface that is used will show wear after a time, including oil finishes. The fix is to simply apply another coat (after youve cleaned the piece, of course) exactly as you did the first time...instant rejuvenation!
A possible down side of oil finishes is they dont produce a dead smooth surface. You can feel the grain even after 4 or more applications. Many people use oil finishes exactly for that reason, they want to feel the grain. It is possible to get a smooth surface, but it requires a lot more time and patience than most people are willing to expend. Tung oil finishes laid on that thick also tend to look "plastic". If youre looking for a smooth finish, varnish, lacquer, and polyurethane are all better choices.
The old style oil finish was simply boiled linseed oil rubbed onto the furniture. No, you dont have to boil it, it comes that way. If this is the look you want, you can follow this formula for application, which is not a joke, by the way. Apply once a day for a week, once a week for a month, once a month for a year, and once a year for the rest of your life! Following this method (which cant be rushed) it takes about 6 months to get a piece looking good. The original oil finish was used as much for a wood preservative as it was for enhancing the looks of the piece. Proper application usually involved all the wooden parts of the furniture, not just those parts that showed.
As a side note, you should be aware that boiled linseed oil lends itself readily to spontaneous combustion. A rag used to apply boiled linseed oil and then carelessly thrown into a trash can, can easily result in a fire. This is not hearsay - Ive seen it happen. When I was working out West I made up a furniture cleaner/polish that contained boiled linseed oil. I knew of the hazards, and told the people using it in a furniture store to dispose of the rags in a fire proof trash can. They didnt, and about 45 minutes after a clerk had thrown the rag into a regular trash can with paper and other debris, it caught on fire. Luckily, no damage or injuries, but believe me when I say boiled linseed oil is a fire hazard. In my own shop I make almost all my own stains, using boiled linseed oil as an ingredient. I am always very careful how I dispose of the rags I use in staining. Ive got insurance on the shop, but it would sure be a pain to replace everything!
This column concludes the series on furniture finishes. When we come back, well take a look at some knowledge that may come in handy around your home, whether youre dealing with furniture or not. As always, if you have any questions about furniture repair or refinishing, drop me a line at the Enterprise.
George Utley has about 20 years experience in furniture
George Utley email@example.com