Oil-Varnish blend questions

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Forum topic by nickajeglin posted 12-27-2019 07:41 AM 521 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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9 posts in 664 days

12-27-2019 07:41 AM

Hello everyone. I just finished a windsor rocking chair. I’ve already put 2 coats of an oil-varnish blend on the rocking chair now, so it’s too late to change much on this project, but I’ve got some general questions on oil-varnish blends for next time.

For some background here’s how I usually finish things:

Items that will see hard use (like chairs stools etc) usually get pure tung oil, finished off with hard furniture wax which I can buff to whatever level of shine I want. I like this because it’s pretty easy to apply, can take some abuse (water spills and such), and can be repaired pretty easily. I often skip the hard wax unless I want some shine after the oil cures. Downside is that the tung oil will add a rather unattractive yellow tint to very light wood like maple, and it takes forever to apply the finish since tung oil drys so slowly.

“Fine” furniture I usually use shellac. I’ll slather on a thick layer as a base, wait for it to cure for a couple days, then very fine abrasive to level the surface, and then a pseudo-french polishing type of thing to get a very smooth and mirrored finish. This looks really good, and brings out the figure of the wood like nothing else, but is super fragile and annoying to repair. Hot coffee cups and water spills will screw it up, magazines left in one place for a couple weeks can leave some pigment behind, etc. There’s a cat footprint on my nightstand right now that means I will need to relevel and repolish the entire top to get it looking right again.

For things that will go outdoors, I’ll carefully brush on a bunch of thin coats of oil-based varnish (I prefer varathane or epifanes). This gives a nice amber glow, but can look plasticy.

From those experiences, I’m aware of the distinction between film building and “in the wood” type finishes.

Now we come to oil-varnish blends: The first coat on the rocking chair was much more oil than varnish, and thinned heavily. I applied this like I would tung oil (flood, let sit, wipe off). The second coat was a 1/3-1/3-1/3 mixture. I applied this the same way, but I was really unhappy with the result. It seemed like many areas were extra-varnishy with high gloss and a film finish feel, whereas others seemed more like an oil finish. I buffed it down, added some more oil, and reapplied, so we’ll see how coat 3 goes.

Oil is in-the-wood, but varnish is obviously film building, so what is an oil-varnish blend? If I change the proportion of oil to varnish, should I apply it differently? Ie: can I start with a heavily thinned oil-long mixture applied like oil, and slowly increase the proportion of varnish until I reach a point where I’ll apply the last coat like I would varnish?

My objective is to get the tactile feeling of an oil finish with some extra wear-resistance from the varnish. I don’t want the plasticy feel of a full varnish film though. The amber color is also nicer than the straw yellow of pure tung oil.

Can someone unravel the mystery for me, especially with respect to how it will behave when the proportions aren’t 1/3-1/3-1/3?

7 replies so far

View Wildwood's profile


2956 posts in 3212 days

#1 posted 12-27-2019 10:20 AM

Normally homemade oil varnish blends 1/3 Poly or Varnish, 1/3 mineral spirits, & 1/3 boiled linseed oil. Commercial oil varnish blends pretty much a chemical mystery manufacturers don’t actually tell you what in the product. Some of those products give a lot of sheen, some semi gloss, and some matt or satin finish. You don’t say if used homemade or commercial oil varnish blend. Since don’t know product used or wood species and or dealing with reaction wood. Problem could be with product used or wood itself!

-- Bill

View nickajeglin's profile


9 posts in 664 days

#2 posted 12-27-2019 11:06 AM

I used a homemade mixture of pure tung oil, mineral spirits, and some varathane oil based varnish. I put it onto walnut and red oak. The red oak seemed to be worse. Maybe pores sucking oil away, and areas with fewer pores coming out shiny.

View therealSteveN's profile


7653 posts in 1651 days

#3 posted 12-27-2019 06:02 PM

As someone before me said, All are not created equally.

So far I’ve read nothing of brand names. For me a lot of the mystery of why it’s not working ends up revolving around who’s products are used.

A lot of us in the past started using BLO, Poly, MS, in thirds, as a wipe. Most of us raved about it. Of those that didn’t rave, a lot of the time when it got to the name brand part, the names weren’t of name brand, and front line products on the persons saying they got crappy results.

The second thing I see here is “pure tung oil” many labeled as this, really aren’t. Sometimes the “aren’t” part of them doesn’t really play well with others. If for no other reason I stay away from Tung oil products. Plus I read this Flexner article from 2016, and it cemented my thoughts about Tung Oil. I have never seen so many check this, check thats for BLO, or any other finishing product.

I really like this places ads I’m shaking my head side to side in the NOT fashion. Their ads usually say in really bold letters TUNG OIL then lower in smaller text 100% Chinese production. Their hope is your mind sees that as 100% PURE TUNG oil. Possibly the finishing product with the most deception, in the marketplace is Tung Oil. If you sign up for a free MSDS site, you can check by brand name.

Good luck

Really not trying to be a shipdit, but this should cement home the need to do test pieces before exposing your hard work to the possibilities of a poor finish. For them I suggest prepping the wood to the exact same level as your piece, and always use scrap from the majority of the piece should you use mixed woods. Mess up a piece of scrap, no biggie…

-- Think safe, be safe

View Rich's profile


6814 posts in 1667 days

#4 posted 12-27-2019 07:11 PM

The degree of misinformation on topics like this is staggering. You might research Sam Maloof’s finish recipes and methods. You can also buy Maloof Finish online. Another option that will give a result that I think is what you’re describing is the Tried & True line of finishes. You can read up on them online. Just do a search.

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

View nickajeglin's profile


9 posts in 664 days

#5 posted 12-27-2019 08:56 PM

Thanks for the Flexner reference Steve. I would already have consulted his book, but it’s still in a moving box somewhere. I agree with him that tung oil drys much to slowly to be a useful finish. That’s why I’m trying a blend on this one. The only reason I have used uncut tung oil in the past is to avoid darkening over time. Mind you, I have never actually experienced that darkening, I’ve just heard that 80 years down the road or so it could be a problem (for someone other than me!).

I am quite sure that I have actual real life 100% tung oil. I got it from a reputable local supplier, and it’s pretty distinctive stuff in terms of smell, viscosity and feel. The fact that manufacturers will advertise wiping varnish as “100%*” tung oil just because they put a few drops into the can it is pretty disgusting.

In terms of brand names, I’m using behlen tung oil, varathane oil based spar urethane (smells like pecan pie), and kleen strip mineral spirits from home despot.

I believe that I have solved my gloss spotting issue. On the coat that had the problem, I’m pretty sure that I didn’t wipe the mixture off the wood sufficiently. Since the surface was too wet, areas with many pores sucked up the mixture, resulting a typical oil finish. The finish just sat on top of areas that had fewer pores, and dryed to a film leaving the spotty glossy areas that I encountered.

On the 3rd coat I let it sit a shorter time and wiped with several clean rags until it was almost dry. This gave a much more even finish that probably doesn’t even need rubbing out.

I know I really should do test pieces, and I do whenever I’m using any dyes or stains. With clear-ish finishes like oil, varnish, or shellac, I usually can just muddle through. Worst case, I spend some extra time buffing the finish and applying more coats until I hit a good one. Test panels would certainly save me time and money.

View Phil32's profile


1385 posts in 981 days

#6 posted 12-27-2019 09:27 PM

If you’re looking for consistency, your first consideration should be the wood. You hint at this in your last post. Both walnut and red oak are open grain woods. The pores should be filled and sealed before any finish coats.

-- Phil Allin - There are woodworkers and people who collect woodworking tools. The woodworkers have a chair to sit on that they made.

View Wildwood's profile


2956 posts in 3212 days

#7 posted 12-28-2019 01:18 PM

I see not problems with varnish & mineral spirits & Tung oil mix for oil varnish blend but don’t see a problem with it. Both boil linseed oil & varnish have dryers in them pure or raw Tung oil doesn’t!

One advantage of making your own is you have total control over the final finish. If want more look & feel jof wood just add more oil. Adding more varnish provides more protection and sheen (varnish look). Want easier to spread add more thinner. (mineral spirits, paint thinner, naphtha, turpentine

There are eleven different red oak grouped together agree with wood sucking up your finish, might try add tad more varnish to the mix.

Think reading Bob Flexner’s article help clear up using oil varnish blends or wiping varnish. I prefer wiping varnish mix these days over oil varnish blends because not fooling around with BLO or Tung oil and get a build of finish on my projects without other finishing issues.

Wasn’t familiar with #4 Sam Maloof’s Finish so went and had a look. He explains uses either BLO or Tung oil but not both in his homemade oil varnish blend. When you see both linseed & Tung oil listed as ingredients in commercial products manufacturer is blowing smoke. While both of those oils considered drying oil the chemical process slightly different.

Biggest reason for mixing your own oil varnish blend (OVB) or wiping varnish (WV) you can control & adjust your mixture as required for lot less money than commercial products. Homemade just as good or better than commercial products in ease of application and durability. Yes might have small learning curve finding right mix but don’t be afraid too try mixing your own!

-- Bill

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