Properties of Tung Oil: Is Tung Oil Waterproof?

Tung oil, also known as China wood oil, is a natural oil that has been used for centuries to penetrate deep into wood, enhancing its natural beauty while providing a protective layer.

It is popular among woodworkers and furniture makers for its ability to bring out the rich, warm tones of the wood and form a hard, durable finish that can resist scratches and wear.

However, the question remains whether tung oil is waterproof and can protect wooden creations from the ravages of water and humidity.

Is Tung Oil Waterproof?

Tung oil has a reputation for being waterproof, and there’s a good reason for that. When applied to wood, tung oil undergoes a chemical reaction, polymerizing into a solid, protective layer. This layer acts as a barrier, preventing water from penetrating the wood.

However, it’s important to note that while tung oil can provide a certain level of water resistance, it’s not entirely waterproof.

It can’t provide the same level of protection as, say, a plastic sheet. But when it comes to wooden furniture or flooring, tung oil can help minimize water damage.

How to Use Tung Oil Effectively

To make the most of tung oil’s waterproof properties, it’s all about the application. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Preparation: Start by sanding the wood to a smooth finish. This will allow the oil to penetrate more deeply.
  2. Application: Apply a thin layer of tung oil using a brush or cloth. Let it soak in for about 15-30 minutes.
  3. Absorption: Wipe off any excess with a clean cloth after the oil is soaked. Allow the wood to dry.
  4. Repetition: Repeat the process several times. The more layers, the more protection.
  5. Maintenance: Reapply the oil periodically to maintain its protective qualities.

Is Tung Oil Waterproof?

Let’s cut to the chase: is tung oil waterproof? The answer is a resounding yes but with a caveat.

Tung oil creates a water-resistant barrier that protects the wood from moisture when applied correctly. However, it’s not a magic potion that makes wood completely impervious to water.

The Science Behind Tung Oil’s Waterproofing Properties

Tung oil, when exposed to air, undergoes a process called polymerization. This chemical reaction transforms the liquid oil into a solid, protective layer. While not entirely waterproof, this layer does a fantastic job of repelling water.

Picture a raincoat. It doesn’t make you invincible against a torrential downpour but keeps you dry in a drizzle or light rain.

That’s tung oil for you. It creates a protective shield that prevents water from seeping into the wood, reducing the risk of water damage.

Tung Oil and Wood: A Waterproof Alliance

When tung oil meets wood, something magical happens. The oil seeps into the wood fibers, providing deep, penetrating protection. As the oil polymerizes, it forms a protective barrier that locks out moisture.

This barrier protects the wood from water and enhances its natural beauty, highlighting the grain and adding a warm, rich glow.

Comparing Tung Oil with Other Wood Finishes

Now that we’ve established the waterproofing prowess of tung oil, let’s see how it stacks up against other popular wood finishes.

Tung Oil vs. Linseed Oil

Like tung oil, linseed oil is a natural finish penetrating the wood. However, it doesn’t harden as well as tung oil, making it less durable and water-resistant. Plus, linseed oil is easier to apply and less expensive than tung oil.

Tung Oil vs. Polyurethane

Polyurethane is a synthetic finish that forms a hard, plastic-like coating on the surface of the wood. It offers excellent water resistance and durability but doesn’t penetrate the wood or enhance its natural beauty like tung oil. Plus, it can be tricky to apply and requires more cleanup.

The Verdict

Each finish has pros and cons; the best one depends on your needs. If you’re looking for a natural finish that enhances the beauty of the wood and offers a good level of water resistance, tung oil is a fantastic choice. However, if you need maximum water resistance and durability and don’t mind a synthetic finish, polyurethane might be the way to go.

Ultimately, it’s all about finding the right balance between aesthetics, protection, and practicality. So, whether you choose tung oil, linseed oil, or polyurethane, ensure it fits your project and your vision best.

Benefits of Using Tung Oil for Waterproofing

So, why should you consider using tung oil for waterproofing? The answer lies in its unique properties that offer a host of benefits.

Enhanced Durability

Firstly, tung oil significantly enhances the durability of wood. Remember the polymerization process we talked about earlier? This chemical reaction transforms the oil into a solid, protective layer that shields the wood from wear and tear.

This means your wooden pieces are not just protected from water but also from scratches and dents.

Improved Appearance

Secondly, tung oil does wonders for the appearance of wood. Unlike synthetic finishes that sit on the surface, tung oil penetrates deep into the wood, enhancing its natural grain and color. The result? A rich, warm finish that truly brings out the beauty of the wood.

Natural and Safe

Lastly, tung oil is a natural, non-toxic product. This makes it a safe choice for cutting boards and children’s furniture. Plus, it’s easy to apply and maintain, making it a practical choice for professional woodworkers and DIY enthusiasts.

How to Apply Tung Oil for Waterproofing

Now that we’ve established the benefits of tung oil, let’s move on to the application process. Applying tung oil correctly is crucial to achieving a waterproof finish.

Step 1: Preparation

Start by preparing the wood. Sand it down to a smooth finish, removing any dust or dirt. This ensures the oil can penetrate deeply into the wood.

Step 2: Application

Next, apply a thin layer of tung oil using a brush or cloth. Make sure to cover the entire surface evenly. Allow the oil to soak in for about 15-30 minutes.

Step 3: Absorption

After the oil has soaked in, wipe off any excess with a clean cloth. This prevents the oil from forming a sticky residue on the surface.

Step 4: Drying

Allow the wood to dry completely. Depending on the temperature and humidity, this can take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours. Read more: How to Make Tung Oil Dry Faster?

Step 5: Repeat

For maximum waterproofing, repeat the process several times. The more layers of oil, the more protection you’ll get

Tung Oil for Outdoor Use

Regarding outdoor wood items, tung oil shines as a top contender. Its water-resistant properties make it an excellent choice for protecting wood exposed to the elements.

Imagine your backyard deck exposed to sun, rain, and snow. Without proper protection, the wood can warp, crack, or rot. But with a coat of tung oil, you can shield your deck from water damage, prolonging its life and maintaining its beauty. Read more: how many coats of tung oil?

And it’s not just decks. Tung oil can be used on a variety of outdoor furniture and structures. From wooden patio sets to garden sheds, tung oil provides a protective barrier that defends against moisture. Plus, it enhances the wood’s natural beauty, adding a warm, rich glow that will impress.

Safety Considerations When Using Tung Oil

Safety is paramount when it comes to using any product, and tung oil is no exception. So, what safety aspects should you consider when using tung oil?


Firstly, let’s address toxicity. Pure tung oil is non-toxic and safe to use. However, some products labeled as “tung oil” may contain added chemicals or solvents, which could be harmful. Always check the label and opt for 100% pure tung oil whenever possible.

Food Contact Safety

If you’re considering using tung oil on items that come into contact with food, like cutting boards or salad bowls, you’re in luck. Pure tung oil is food-safe once it’s fully cured. This means it’s safe for your kitchenware, giving you peace of mind and a beautiful finish.

However, remember that the curing process can take several days, so be patient. Don’t use your newly oiled items until the oil has fully dried and cured.

Maintaining a Tung Oil Finish

While durable and beautiful, a tung oil finish requires some maintenance to keep it looking its best. Here’s how to care for your tung oil finish.

Regular Cleaning

Regular cleaning is essential. Dust and dirt can dull the finish over time, so regularly wipe your wood items with a soft, dry cloth. Avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners, as they can damage the finish.


Like all natural oil finishes, Tung oil will eventually wear off and need to be reapplied. The frequency of reapplication depends on the use and location of the item.

For example, a kitchen table might need a fresh coat yearly, while an outdoor deck might need reapplication every few months.

To reapply, simply clean the surface, apply a fresh coat of oil, and let it dry. Remember, patience is key. Allow the oil to fully cure before using the item again.

Tung Oil Products and Brands

There are many tung oil products on the market, but here are a few that stand out.

Pure Tung Oil

Pure Tung Oil is a favorite among woodworkers for its quality and consistency. As the name suggests, it’s 100% pure, with no added chemicals or solvents. It penetrates deeply into the wood, providing a durable, water-resistant finish.

Hope’s 100% Pure Tung Oil

Hope’s 100% Pure Tung Oil is another excellent choice. It’s easy to apply, dries quickly, and provides a beautiful, warm finish. Plus, it’s food-safe, making it a great choice for kitchenware.

Real Milk Paint Tung Oil

Real Milk Paint Tung Oil is a high-quality product that’s loved for its easy application and beautiful results. It’s also food-safe and eco-friendly, making it a great choice for those looking for a green option.

Common Questions About Tung Oil

When it comes to tung oil, a few questions often pop up. Let’s address some of these common queries.

Does Tung Oil Darken Wood?

Yes, tung oil does darken wood to some extent. It enhances the natural color and grain of the wood, giving it a rich, warm glow. However, the darkening effect is subtle and natural-looking, not drastic or artificial. Read more about dark tung oil.

Can Tung Oil Be Used on All Types of Wood?

Absolutely! Tung oil can be used on virtually all types of wood. From hardwoods like oak and walnut to softwoods like pine and cedar, tung oil enhances the natural beauty of the wood while providing a protective layer. However, the final look can vary depending on the type of wood, so it’s always a good idea to do a test patch first.

Tung Oil vs. Danish Oil

Let’s compare tung oil with another popular wood finish: Danish oil.

Waterproofing and Other Properties

Tung and Danish oil provide a degree of water resistance, but they do so in different ways. Tung oil penetrates the wood and hardens, forming a protective barrier. On the other hand, Danish oil is a blend of oil and varnish that balances penetration and surface coating.

In terms of appearance, tung oil gives a warm, natural finish that enhances the grain of the wood. Danish oil enhances the wood’s appearance but tends to give a slightly more satin or semi-gloss finish.

When to Use Each Type of Oil

The choice between tung oil and Danish oil often comes down to personal preference and the specific needs of your project. If you want a natural, warm finish and don’t mind a bit of maintenance, tung oil is a great choice.

Danish oil might be the way to go if you prefer a slightly glossier finish and want a bit more durability.

Tung Oil on Different Types of Wood

Tung oil is versatile and can be used on various wood types, each with unique results.

Cedar and Pine

On softwoods like cedar and pine, tung oil penetrates deeply, enhancing the natural grain and providing a warm, rich finish. It also helps to prevent the wood from warping or cracking, making it a great choice for outdoor furniture.

Oak and Walnut

When applied to hardwoods like oak and walnut, tung oil brings out the depth and complexity of the wood’s grain. It also adds a layer of protection, making these already-durable woods even more resilient.

Always prepare the wood properly before applying tung oil for the best results. Sand the surface smooth, remove dust or debris, and apply the oil in thin, even coats.

The History of Tung Oil as a Waterproofing Agent

Tung oil has a long history as a waterproofing agent. Originating from the tung tree seeds in China, it has been used for centuries to waterproof ships and protect wood from the elements.

Over time, the use of tung oil has evolved and expanded. Today, it’s used not only for its waterproofing properties but also for its ability to enhance the natural beauty of wood. From furniture to flooring to kitchenware, tung oil is a trusted choice for wood finishing worldwide.


Tung oil is versatile and effective for waterproofing wood. Its unique properties offer many benefits, from enhancing the natural beauty of wood to providing a durable, water-resistant finish.

Whether you’re a professional woodworker or a DIY enthusiast, I encourage you to experiment with tung oil. Try it on different types of wood, use it on different projects, and see the results for yourself. You might just find that it’s the perfect finish for your needs.

Remember, the key to a great finish is patience and preparation. Take the time to prepare your wood properly, apply the oil in thin, even coats, and allow it to cure fully. With a bit of practice and patience, you can achieve a beautiful, durable finish that truly showcases the beauty of the wood.