Dave Ps Tung Oil comment in his Knife post

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Blog entry by robscastle posted 08-15-2019 10:36 PM 591 reads 1 time favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Dave made a comment about Tung Oil, in his knife “Post” of which sent me off looking, this is what i found

As to how accurate it is I don’t know just yet
May be you could add some Knowledge based comments.

The info Follows

If you’re a woodworker, I bet you have a strong opinion about tung oil. As a rookie, I became preoccupied (okay, obsessed) with tung oil because I heard so many different opinions about it from veteran woodworkers. Some loved it and some hated it. So I started researching and found that the information available about tung oil was often incorrect, conflicting, and/or misleading. Let’s examine and debunk some of the myths.

Myth #1
Tung Oil was invented by Homer Formsby in 1965 (Formsby’s Tung Oil Finish).
Nope. Tung oil has been around for thousands of years. There’s no doubt that Homer Formsby put tung oil on the map in North America in the late 1960s, when he started marketing his special finish. However, according to Bob Flexner in his book, “Flexner on Finishing”, Formsby’s concoction was really a wiping varnish made with (maybe) a little tung oil, a resin and a thinner.

When you buy tung oil, you have to carefully read the ingredients on the package to have an idea what you’re dealing with. I got my hands on several products labelled tung oil that actually contained solvents, and/or metal compounds that speed up polymerization (or drying), and/or other mystery ingredients. Sometimes there was a little tung oil in there too. It’s also possible to buy partially polymerized tung oil, which hardens faster. I’m not criticizing any of those products, but for the purposes of this article I’m referring to pure tung oil with no additives. By the way, Lee Valley was kind enough to send me several samples of the real thing for testing in this article.

The earliest reference I can find to the use of tung oil is in the writings of Confucius around 500 B.C. The Chinese have used tung oil, also known as China wood oil, for at least 2500 years for wood finishing, wood waterproofing, caulking, inks and paints. I also found some references to using tung oil for medicinal purposes in ancient history. I don’t suggest you ingest it or take a bath in it, but apparently some primitive cultures did. In the 13th century, Marco Polo wrote about the Chinese using tung oil to build and waterproof their traditional boats called “junks”.

In 1905, a USDA scientist brought Tung tree seeds to the US to try to cultivate them in Florida. The crop grew well, but bad weather and a succession of hurricanes spelled the end of most of the US production by 1969. Blake Hanson, president of Industrial Oil Products, the only global supplier of tung oil from all sources, told me that there was some US production again from 1998 to 2005 (from his company) until Hurricane Katrina reared her ugly head. Today, world tung oil production comes mostly from China (83 percent), then from Paraguay (about 14 percent), Argentina (2.75 percent), and Brazil (a tiny bit) and it is used in wood finishing, paints, inks, fuels and other things. According to Professor B. Sivasankar, who wrote a recent textbook on engineering chemistry, these drying oils form stable films that protect surfaces from corrosion and weather. This is why tung oil and linseed oil, for example, are essential components in paints. “Without these drying oils, paints cannot function as protective coatings.”

Paraguay is second to only China in worldwide tung oil production.

China is by far the world’s largest tung oil producer, providing 83 percent of the world’s supply.

China has used tung oil in many ways, including building and waterproofing their traditional boats, called “junks”.

Myth #2
Tung Oil dries in the air by evaporation.
Nope. Tung oil definitely gets hard, but it doesn’t happen by evaporation. Chemists classify oils as “non-drying”, “semi-drying”, and “drying”. The word “drying” is misleading because the oils don’t really “dry” or evaporate; they “harden” or cure.

The most commonly known drying oils in woodworking are tung and linseed oil. They polymerize or solidify by a chemical process that requires oxygen (from the air) to create cross-linked compounds that make the oil get hard little by little, until it is completely hard all the way through.

Myth #3
BLO is just like tung oil, but better and cheaper.
Sorry, but that’s wrong too. Comparing BLO (boiled linseed oil) to (pure) tung oil is like comparing apples to oranges. So let’s look at both:

Linseed oil, which comes from flax seeds, has a long history.

Flax (cloth) fibres have been found from 30,000 years ago, and we know linseed oil was used in oil paints in Europe in the 14th century. Woodworkers have used linseed oil in wood finishes for a long time because it was readily available, flax being grown easily all over the world. Pure linseed oil dries more slowly than pure tung oil, but no one knows that because everyone buys BLO, which dries fast because of all the added chemicals! BLO is definitely cheaper, and it is good; but it’s not better.

Tung Oil vs. BLO – To compare the two finishes, Vaughn MacMillan applied boiled linseed oil to the left half and tung oil to the right half of this platter. The tung oil is a bit lighter, and this difference will get more noticeable as time passes. (Photo by Vaughn MacMillan)

Myth #4
Don’t use tung oil on food surfaces (like counters and cutting boards) because it’s risky for people with nut allergies.
Wrong. I heard this information stated adamantly and authoritatively several times in a few different places, but it’s just simply not true.

First, depending on whose statistics you believe, approximately 1 percent of the population in Canada has an allergy to tree nuts. And according to Dr. Gerry Allen, associate professor of biology at the University of Victoria, tung nuts from the tung tree (species Aleurites fordii) are not true tree nuts at all. They are the seeds of the fruit (drupe) like the seed inside a peach pit. So, are allergies to tree seeds as prevalent as allergies to tree nuts? Again, it depends on who you ask, but probably not. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology says the incidence of allergy to seeds is 0.1 percent in Canada. We also know that allergies to seeds are more common in cultures where the population comes in regular contact with them. Aside from woodworkers, I’d say the general population in North America rarely comes in contact with tung “nuts”, seeds, or oil. So now our risk of allergy to tung oil is down to 0.1 percent of the population.

We know from a study published in the British Medical Journal in 1997 that in a test group with known allergies to tree nuts, none of the test group had a reaction to nut oil that had been refined.

So if tung oil comes from a seed, and if it is unrefined, the probability of an allergic reaction upon exposure is now reduced to 1/10 of 0.1 percent of the population. Is tung oil refined? Sometimes. Blake Hanson told me that often it’s sold as pure unrefined oil but sometimes a solvent extraction (or refining process) is used. So the probability of being allergic to liquid tung oil is now somewhere between 0 and .01 percent of the general population, while the cured hard oil has even less risk.

Myth #5
Tung Oil never dries and you can’t get a good result from it.
Yes it does, and yes you can.

Almost all experts agree that using a cloth moistened with warm water is the easiest way to raise the grain on your project before oiling. This should be done before you apply tung oil. Raise the grain, sand, and then begin. Bob Flexner says that applying oil is simple, “wipe, wait, sand, repeat.” Apply the oil liberally with a soft cloth or brush and then wipe it off like you mean it. Check after an hour or two, and if extra oil has beaded on the surface, wipe it away. Don’t forget that rags used to apply drying oils are highly combustible. When you’re finished with your rag, hang it outside to dry. Be careful disposing of them.

When using pure tung oil, you need several coats. It’s very important that you thin each coat with the first coat being the thinnest (I recommend 70 percent solvent). Each successive coat should be thicker (less thinned), and the last coat must be the thickest. Your thinner needs to be an organic solvent, one that is carbon based like turpentine, mineral spirits or the newfangled “citrus solvent”.

Every layer except the last must be sanded, so the next layer of tung oil will bond to the previous layer. Three hundred and twenty-grit sandpaper creates the “tooth” that grips the next layer. When sanding between coats, you have to go lightly or you will suddenly sand through one or more previous coats and you will have dreaded witness lines.

Getting good results requires using the right techniques and not being in a hurry. I would allow at least a week between coats, although I have heard of people doing it faster with good results. There are many other finishes better suited to a tight schedule; varnishes, lacquers, and even BLO. However, if you want to use oil, and you have some time to devote to the finish, pure tung oil is in a class by itself. There is no other drying oil that has the same resistance to water, mold, bacteria, yellowing, darkening, but offers strength and flexibility.

Well, all that is wonderful, but is tung oil safe? I asked Marc Spaguolo (of internet Wood Whisperer fame and a woodworker with a background in molecular biology) his opinion of tung oil. He said, “It is my belief, that yes it is safe once cured. In general, most of the ‘bad stuff’ in mineral spirits and other petroleum distillates goes away upon evaporation. Any remaining residue can be washed away with soap and water.” He added, “The biggest difference [between BLO and tung oil] is probably cost. BLO is going to be significantly cheaper. But if one is really concerned about chemicals and food safeness, they will be happier with tung oil.”

So let’s recap: tung oil is more expensive than BLO, and it takes longer to dry. The chances of allergy to tung oil are remote, and tung oil has several other advantages over linseed oil. Professor Norm Kenkel, a biologist at the University of Manitoba, reminded me of another reason to use it: “Tung oil is an environmentally safe and sustainable wood finishing product.” There are reasons why tung oil has been used as a wood finish for thousands of years. It’s great stuff. For a traditional pure oil-rubbed finish, it’s the only game in town.

What say you ol LJs brains trust?

-- Regards Rob

9 comments so far

View pottz's profile


6001 posts in 1466 days

#1 posted 08-15-2019 11:18 PM

once again my friend you have educated and mezmerized me.i use both tung oil and blo but in a blend of 1/3 tung oil 1/3 blo and 1/3 satin poly,it’s the same formula that sam maloof used.

-- sawdust the bigger the pile the bigger my smile-larry,so cal.

View EarlS's profile


3033 posts in 2830 days

#2 posted 08-15-2019 11:38 PM

I think I will have to favorite this one just to have an excellent reference on tung oil. Thanks for the plethora of information.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10698 posts in 4534 days

#3 posted 08-15-2019 11:40 PM

Very Interesting…

Thank you!

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:

View recycle1943's profile


3185 posts in 2104 days

#4 posted 08-15-2019 11:45 PM

I have never use tung oil on anything, probably never will. I don’t have the patience for it (drying time) so it just won’t be in my shop for several reasons.
Another thing just to brag on my ignorance, I didn’t have a clue what BLO was until just a few moments ago.

I feel bad that I use neither of the above but forever thankful for the information

Thanks Rob

-- Dick, Malvern Ohio - my biggest fear is that when I die, my wife sells my toys for what I told her I paid for them

View anthm27's profile


1357 posts in 1592 days

#5 posted 08-15-2019 11:58 PM

Interesting Aussie Rob

I can tell you that Wildwood Bill here at LJ,s is an expert on the subject, he answered some questions for me a while back.

For those that would like further reading he put me on to this article written in 2011.

Kind Regards

-- To be a true artist one must stick to their own thought process

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

4118 posts in 1064 days

#6 posted 08-16-2019 12:41 AM

Thanks for the info, Rob! As I said on my post, I’m familiar with linseed oil, both “boiled” and raw, and am pretty comfortable using it. Most of my shop furniture gets commercial (with heavy metals) boiled linseed oil, followed by shellac (mixed from flakes and denatured alcohol myself, so I know it’s fresh). I’m working on learning more about traditional varnishes, as well as French Polishing. I may try tung oil at some point, as it’s no more exotic than sandelac varnish, but I’ll probably always have linseed oil on hand, both boiled and not.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View htl's profile


4793 posts in 1641 days

#7 posted 08-16-2019 01:24 AM

Very interesting, now that my eyes have quit bleeding, LOL
Just kidding!!! Great post and I learned a lot. thanks

-- An Index Of My Model making Blogs

View Boxguy's profile


2847 posts in 2749 days

#8 posted 08-16-2019 06:32 AM

Rob, thanks for the science. I enjoyed the read. I am not a purest. I just do what works for me.

All my boxes have a first coat of Minwax Tung Oil. I put it on liberally and let it soak in the wood briefly then wipe it off before it dries too much. If you wait too long, just put some of the oil on a rag and wipe with that so that you soften the coating and can wipe off any excess oil. As a result, you get a thin coat of oil all over your project.

Of course it dries better outside in the wind. But even in ideal conditions, I let it dry a couple of days. I like the way Tung Oil darkens and deepens the natural colors of wood. This is a link to my entire finishing process. It will take you through the whole thing.

-- Big Al in IN

View crowie's profile


3156 posts in 2432 days

#9 posted 08-16-2019 08:38 AM

Thank you Rob…
I started using a home made WOP mixture giving to me by a well respected Master Woodturner.
I was told the Tung Oil lifts, beings out the timber grain, finger, colour while the satin clear polyurethane gives a hard surface finish without looking plastic.
The home made Wipe On Poly mixture is as follows:
30% Tung Oil,
30% Mineral Turpentine
40% Satin Clear Polyurethane
I use it, 3 coats on each of my wooden toys for the past few years.
And I just brush it on leaving it 12-24 hours between coats, though less if a hot summers day.

-- Lifes good, Enjoy each new day...... Cheers from "On Top DownUnder" Crowie

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