Pure Tung Oil ~ vs ~ Tung Oil "Finish"

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Forum topic by John Smith posted 04-27-2018 11:14 PM 13364 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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John Smith

3044 posts in 1623 days

04-27-2018 11:14 PM

Topic tags/keywords: tung oil finish enamel varnish spar poly polyurethane lacquer hand rubbed french polish pallet wood alder how to wipe on apply stain rub rubbing

I did not research the full list of properties or ingredients of each of these items,
but, like so many experienced members here have said, each item has its own pros and cons.
due to the “Truth in Advertising” laws, a manufacturer does not have to list its ingredients
to call it a certain item or label it accordingly. such as; percentage of UV inhibitors in Spar Varnish.
it is up to the consumer to know the product and the application methods prior to actual use.
here are just a few examples of 100% Pure Tung Oil and Tung Oil “Finish”.
it is up to you, the consumer, to know the difference in the two.

as often stated:
Read, Understand and Follow the instructions on the label of all products you use.
Pay particular attention to the safety notes and heed the warnings accordingly.
any rags used in the prepping/finishing process that have paint, stain, solvents,
or oils on them, should be laid out in the open to completely air dry prior to discarding them.
improperly discarding rags that have wet oils and finishes on them could result
in spontaneous combustion that could result in a fire causing personal injury
or the total loss of your shop or home.



-- I am a painter: that's what I do, I like to paint things. --

5 replies so far

View LesB's profile


3471 posts in 4904 days

#1 posted 04-28-2018 12:37 AM

With out the ingredients being listed I have read other articles which refer to Tung oil as a “finishing” oil but I think the labels cited as Tung oil finish may indicate the oil contains some “dryers” that make it dry or cure faster than plain tung oil. Other than that there is probably not much difference.
Others for instance, BLO boiled linseed oil is not boiled or heat treated it just has drier added. Regular linseed oil can take days to dry but BLO will dry overnight. Actually I don’t think it technically drys it cures and the oil oxidizes and the molecules bond and become solid.
I think that most of the problems people run into with oil finishes has to do with the drying time and the particular ambient temperature and humidity at the time they use it.

For example, Birchwood Case Tru-oil, it has been polyermized (heat treated) and has dryers added although they don’t tell you that. I can’t even find out if it is tung oil or linseed oil but it works great.

There is a good article in this months issue of Woodworkers Journal by Michael Dresdner who writes almost monthly on how to finish wood. This month he covers oil and wood.

-- Les B, Oregon

View Rich's profile (online now)


8125 posts in 2050 days

#2 posted 04-28-2018 04:53 AM

I think you’ve formed the crux of a really great thread here, John. Tung oil is one of the most confusing finishes out there, given that there is tung oil, and tung oil finish. There’s also a lot of confusion regarding the application of real pure tung oil. There are countless recipes for what cut to use.

I use the MilkPaint Pure Tung oil you show in the graphic. I also use their citrus solvent to cut it. I’m not all that into the green initiative, I just like the product. Anyway, I cut my tung oil 50/50. It soaks in nicely, dries relatively quickly and enhances the wood nicely. I pretty much never take it to completion as my final finish, preferring lacquer.

So that’s my tung oil story. Maybe we can turn this thread into a “here’s how I do it” thread.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View jdh122's profile


1282 posts in 4278 days

#3 posted 04-28-2018 11:53 AM

Looking at the MSDS for the 5 tung oil varnish/finishes on the bottom, all have a lot of solvents (the lowest seems to be Watco, Waterlox is very high, at 75% solvent), which probably goes a long way to explaining why people find them so much easier to apply than pure tung oil (unless you thin it yourself like Rich does).
Waterlox, Old Master and Watco all seem to be a resin and tung oil mixture (plus the solvents, of course). I think Waterlox is a natural resin, the other two are alkyde resins. For Minwax and Formby’s it’s hard to tell if they have any actual tung oil and I’ve never used either.
Tung oil is my preferred finish. I like the polymerized stuff (Lee Valley sells it, but so do others). Dries a lot faster than pure tung oil, but the main thing I like about it is the ability to get a higher luster (although the higher the luster the more difficult the application becomes). I don’t topcoat it.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View LesB's profile


3471 posts in 4904 days

#4 posted 04-30-2018 06:04 PM

Another good article on oil:

After reading umpteen internet articles on Tung oil and Linseed oil I can understand the confusion. The biggest misconception is that these oils do not DRY they CURE or go through a process called polymerization where there is a chemical bonding that takes place when they are exposed to oxygen after being applied to the wood. That is what forms the scum on a partially full container too. What I didn’t know was 80+% of Tung oil comes from China….where everything else seems to come from LOL.
Solvents may cause them to soak into the wood easier but mostly just dilute the oil meaning more applications may be necessary to get the desired result. Some of them may go through a distillation process that helps them polymerize faster upon application. Adding “dryers” essentially heavy metals also speeds up the polymerization process.

Everything else is chemical wizardry of adding shellac and various hardeners, mostly to form a top finish.

From Canadian WoodWorking magazine: Myth: 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.

-- Les B, Oregon

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

7230 posts in 4655 days

#5 posted 04-30-2018 06:47 PM

I use 100% tung oil, and I mix it 50% with tung oil, and 50% mineral spirits….It’s one of my favorite finishes to use….I generally put on a coat, let it dry good, and lightly sand it with 600 wet /dry paper….Add another coat, and repeat the process till I have about 3-4 coats on….I don’t like just tung oil finishes….100% tung oil for me..!!

-- " There's a better way.....find it"...... Thomas Edison.

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