The Comprehensive Guide to Using Tung Oil on Cherry Wood

Tung oil is a drying oil, which means it hardens upon exposure to air, and when applied to wood, it penetrates the surface, filling and sealing the pores.

As it dries, it forms a hard, protective layer that not only enhances the wood’s appearance but also guards against moisture and wear. Unlike synthetic finishes, tung oil is entirely natural and contains no additives or thinners, making it a safe and eco-friendly choice for wood finishing.

The use of tung oil on cherry wood is a match made in heaven, as it brings out the intricate patterns of the wood grain, adding depth and dimension that’s hard to achieve with other finishes.

The Benefits of Tung Oil on Cherry Wood

Tung oil offers a plethora of benefits when used on cherry wood, making it a favorite among woodworkers and furniture enthusiasts. Let’s explore some of these advantages.

Firstly, tung oil enhances the aesthetic appeal of cherry wood. It penetrates deep into the wood, highlighting the grain and enriching the wood’s natural color. The result is a vibrant, wet look that accentuates the wood’s inherent beauty.

Secondly, tung oil provides a robust protective layer. It’s a drying oil, which hardens upon air exposure, forming a solid barrier against moisture, dirt, and wear. This protective layer preserves the wood’s integrity, prolonging its lifespan and maintaining its aesthetic appeal over time.

Lastly, tung oil is easy to maintain. Unlike other finishes that chip or peel, tung oil can be easily refreshed with a new coat, making it a practical choice for furniture and other frequently used items.

How to Apply Tung Oil to Cherry Wood

Applying tung oil to cherry wood is a straightforward process, but it requires patience and attention to detail. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you achieve the best results.

Step 1: Preparation
Start by preparing the wood. Sand the surface using fine-grit sandpaper to smooth out any rough spots. Wipe off the dust with a damp cloth and let the wood dry.

Step 2: Application
Pour a small amount of tung oil onto a clean, lint-free cloth. Apply the oil to the wood, working toward the grain. Ensure the oil is spread evenly across the surface.

Step 3: Absorption
Allow the oil to penetrate the wood. This usually takes about 15-30 minutes. After this, wipe off any excess oil using a clean cloth.

Step 4: Drying
Let the wood dry. This can take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours, depending on the temperature and humidity.

Step 5: Additional Coats
For a more durable and glossy finish, you can apply additional coats of oil. Just remember to allow each coat to dry fully before applying the next one.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Applying Tung Oil

While applying tung oil is a relatively straightforward process, there are a few common pitfalls that can compromise the quality of the finish. Here are some mistakes to avoid:

Applying Too Much Oil: More isn’t always better. Applying too much tung oil can leave the wood surface sticky and may prolong the drying time. It’s better to apply thin, even coats and let each one dry fully before applying the next.

Skipping Sanding: Sanding is a crucial step in preparing the wood for oil application. It smooths out the surface and opens up the pores of the wood, allowing the oil to penetrate more deeply. Skipping this step can result in an uneven finish.

Ignoring Safety Measures: Tung oil is generally safe, but it’s still important to take precautions. Always work in a well-ventilated area and wear gloves to protect your skin. Also, be aware that oil-soaked rags can spontaneously combust if not properly disposed of.

The Impact of Tung Oil on Cherry Wood Color

One of the most appealing aspects of using tung oil on cherry wood is the way it enhances the wood’s natural color. Cherry wood is known for its warm, rich tones, ranging from light pink to deep reddish-brown. When tung oil is applied, it deepens these hues, giving the wood a vibrant, lustrous appearance.

Tung oil penetrates the wood, interacting with its natural pigments. This interaction enriches the color, making it more intense and dynamic. The oil also brings out the grain patterns, adding depth and dimension to the wood.

The result is a finish that not only protects the wood but also celebrates its natural beauty. The deep, wet look that tung oil provides is particularly suited to cherry wood, enhancing its elegance and charm. Whether you’re working on a piece of furniture or a decorative item, tung oil can help you achieve a finish that is both beautiful and durable.

Tung Oil vs. Other Finishes for Cherry Wood

When it comes to finishing cherry wood, there are several options available, each with its own set of advantages and drawbacks. Let’s compare tung oil with some popular alternatives.

Linseed Oil: Like tung oil, linseed oil is a natural product that penetrates the wood and hardens upon exposure to air. However, it dries slower than tung oil and doesn’t provide the same level of water resistance. Linseed oil also darkens the wood more than tung oil, which can be a pro or con depending on your aesthetic preference.

Varnish: Varnishes provide a hard, protective surface layer that’s highly resistant to scratches and moisture. However, they don’t penetrate the wood as deeply as tung oil, which means they don’t enhance the wood grain to the same extent. Varnishes can also be more challenging to apply and maintain.

Shellac: Shellac is a natural finish that provides a high-gloss sheen and is easy to apply. However, it’s less durable than tung oil and isn’t resistant to heat or alcohol, which can limit its use on certain items like dining tables or bar tops.

In comparison, tung oil strikes a balance between aesthetic appeal and durability. It enhances the wood’s natural beauty while providing a robust protective layer that’s easy to maintain.

Maintaining Cherry Wood Finished with Tung Oil

Maintaining cherry wood finished with tung oil is a straightforward process. Here are some tips to keep your wood looking its best:

Regular Dusting: Use a soft, dry cloth to dust the wood regularly. This prevents the buildup of dirt and grime that can dull the finish.

Avoid Harsh Cleaners: Avoid using harsh chemical cleaners, which can strip the oil finish. Instead, use a damp cloth for cleaning. If necessary, a mild soap solution can be used for stubborn stains.

Refresh the Finish: Over time, the finish may start to look dull or worn. To refresh it, apply a new coat of tung oil. Remember to clean the surface thoroughly and let it dry before applying the oil.

Avoid Heat and Sunlight: Excessive heat and direct sunlight can damage the finish and fade the wood. Try to keep your wood items in a cool, shaded area.

By following these tips, you can preserve the beauty and longevity of your cherry wood pieces, ensuring they continue to shine with the rich, lustrous finish that tung oil provides.

Safety Precautions When Using Tung Oil

While tung oil is a natural and generally safe product, taking certain safety precautions is still important. Here are some key points to remember:

Ventilation: Always work in a well-ventilated area when applying tung oil. This helps to disperse any fumes and reduces the risk of inhalation.

Protective Gear: Wear gloves to protect your skin from direct contact with the oil. If you’re sensitive to fumes, consider wearing a mask or respirator.

Proper Disposal: Be aware that rags soaked in tung oil can spontaneously combust if not properly disposed of. After use, lay the rags flat in an outdoor area until they are completely dry. Once dry, they can be safely discarded.

Storage: Store tung oil in a cool, dry place out of reach of children and pets. The container should be tightly sealed to prevent leaks and spills.

Tung Oil for Different Cherry Wood Applications

Tung oil is a versatile finish that can be used for a variety of cherry wood applications. Let’s explore a few:

Furniture: Tung oil is an excellent choice for cherry wood furniture. It enhances the wood’s natural beauty while providing a durable finish that can withstand daily use. It’s particularly well-suited for items like tables, chairs, and bookcases.

Flooring: Cherry wood floors with tung oil have a rich, lustrous appearance. The oil penetrates the wood, providing a protective layer that’s resistant to wear and tear. However, keep in mind that floors may require more frequent maintenance compared to other applications due to heavy foot traffic.

Decorative Items: For decorative items like picture frames or sculptures, tung oil can provide a beautiful, glossy finish that highlights the intricate grain patterns of cherry wood.

Outdoor Applications: Tung oil is also suitable for outdoor applications, such as patio furniture or decking. It provides a water-resistant finish that can withstand the elements, though outdoor items may require more frequent reapplication of the oil.

The Science Behind Tung Oil and Wood

The effectiveness of tung oil as a wood finish lies in its unique chemical properties. Tung oil is a drying oil, which means it undergoes a chemical reaction known as polymerization when exposed to air. During this process, the oil molecules combine to form larger, more complex structures, creating a solid, protective layer on the wood’s surface.

This polymerized layer is not just a surface coating; it actually penetrates the wood, filling the pores and hardening within them. This creates a barrier that is highly resistant to water and wear, protecting the wood from damage.

In addition, the oil’s refractive index is close to that of wood. This means that light entering the oil isn’t significantly bent or scattered, allowing the wood’s natural color and grain to shine through. This gives tung oil-finished wood its characteristic lustrous, ‘wet’ look.

How to Remove Tung Oil from Cherry Wood

If you need to remove tung oil from cherry wood, perhaps to refinish the piece or correct a mistake, here’s a simple guide:

Step 1: Sanding
Start by sanding the surface with medium-grit sandpaper. This will remove the top layer of the finish. Be sure to work in the direction of the grain to avoid scratching the wood.

Step 2: Apply a Solvent
Next, apply a solvent such as mineral spirits or denatured alcohol to a clean cloth. Rub the solvent into the wood, working in small sections. This will help to dissolve the remaining oil.

Step 3: Wipe Off the Solvent
After a few minutes, wipe off the solvent with a clean cloth. You should see the oil coming off onto the cloth.

Step 4: Repeat if Necessary
If there’s still oil left on the wood, repeat the process until it’s all removed.

Step 5: Clean the Wood
Once all the oil is removed, clean the wood with a mild soap solution to remove any residue. Rinse with clean water and let the wood dry.

The History of Using Tung Oil in Woodworking

Tung oil, also known as China wood oil, has a rich history that spans over a thousand years. Originating from the seeds of the tung tree native to China, this oil has been used in various applications, from waterproofing ships to preserving wood.

Its use in woodworking can be traced back to ancient China, where it was prized for its protective and aesthetic properties. Over the centuries, the use of tung oil spread across the globe, becoming a staple in the woodworking traditions of many cultures.

Despite the advent of synthetic finishes in the modern era, tung oil has retained its popularity. Its natural origin, durability, and the beautiful finish it imparts to wood make it a favored choice among woodworkers and furniture makers to this day.

Alternatives to Tung Oil for Cherry Wood

While tung oil is an excellent choice for cherry wood, there are alternatives that might be better suited to specific applications or preferences.

Polyurethane: This synthetic finish provides a hard, durable coating highly resistant to water and wear. It’s a good choice for surfaces that see heavy use, like kitchen tables or floors.

Danish Oil: A blend of oil and varnish, Danish oil penetrates the wood like tung oil but dries to a harder finish. It’s easier to apply than pure tung oil and offers a balance between durability and aesthetic appeal.

Lacquer: For a high-gloss, glassy finish, lacquer is a good choice. It dries quickly and is easy to apply, but it doesn’t penetrate the wood as deeply as oil-based finishes.

The best finish for your cherry wood depends on the specific requirements of your project and your personal preferences.


Tung oil is a time-honored finish that brings out the best in cherry wood. It enhances the wood’s natural beauty, provides a durable protective layer, and is easy to maintain.

Whether you’re a seasoned woodworker or a DIY enthusiast, using tung oil on cherry wood can help you achieve a beautiful and long-lasting finish.

Remember to take safety precautions when using tung oil and to follow the correct application process for the best results. You can transform your cherry wood pieces into art with patience and attention to detail.