Using Walnut Oil as a Wood Finish

Walnut oil, a product derived from the nuts of the walnut tree, has found its way into the woodworking industry as a popular choice for a wood finish.

This natural oil is not just used for its rich, warm glow that it imparts to the wood, but also for its protective properties that enhance the lifespan of wooden items. It’s a versatile finish can be used on various wood types, from furniture to cutting boards, and even on toys.

The Basics of Walnut Oil as a Wood Finish

Walnut oil is a drying oil, meaning it hardens upon exposure to air. This property makes it an excellent choice for a wood finish as it forms a protective layer on the wood surface, shielding it from damage due to moisture, dust, and wear.

One common question when considering walnut oil as a finish is whether it alters the color of the wood. The answer is yes, but in a good way. Walnut oil tends to bring out the natural color and grain of the wood, making it more vibrant. It can darken the wood slightly, but this effect often enhances the natural beauty of the wood rather than detracting from it.

Benefits of Using Walnut Oil as a Wood Finish

The benefits of using walnut oil as a wood finish are numerous. Here are a few key advantages:

  1. Food Safety: One of the primary benefits of walnut oil is that it’s safe for use on surfaces that come into contact with food. This makes it an excellent choice for finishing wooden kitchen utensils, cutting boards, and butcher blocks.
  2. Easy to Apply: Walnut oil is easy to apply. It can be wiped onto the wood surface using a cloth, allowed to penetrate, and then any excess can be wiped off. This process can be repeated to build up a more durable finish.
  3. Enhances Wood Appearance: As mentioned earlier, walnut oil enhances the natural color and grain of the wood. It gives the wood a warm, rich glow that’s hard to achieve with synthetic finishes.
  4. Natural and Eco-friendly: Walnut oil is a natural product that’s non-toxic and eco-friendly, making it a great choice for those seeking green alternatives.
  5. Self-Sealing: Unlike some other finishes, walnut oil is self-sealing. This means you don’t need to apply a separate sealant after applying the oil.

How to Apply Walnut Oil as a Wood Finish

Applying walnut oil as a wood finish is a straightforward process that requires minimal tools. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it:

  1. Prepare the Wood: Start by sanding the wood surface to make it smooth. Use fine-grit sandpaper for the best results. Wipe off any dust using a dry cloth.
  2. Apply the Oil: Pour a small amount of walnut oil onto a clean, lint-free cloth. Rub the oil into the wood, following the direction of the grain. Ensure the oil is spread evenly across the surface.
  3. Let it Soak: Allow the oil to penetrate the wood. This could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the type of wood.
  4. Wipe Off Excess Oil: After soaking in the oil, wipe off any excess oil using a clean cloth.
  5. Repeat: You can apply multiple coats of oil for a more durable finish. Let the oil soak in and wipe off the excess after each application.

The process is the same if you’re using Mahoney’s walnut oil. This brand is known for its high-quality walnut oil, perfect for wood finishing.

Maintaining a Walnut Oil Wood Finish

Maintaining a walnut oil finish is essential to keep your wood items looking their best. Here are some tips on how to do it:

  1. Regular Cleaning: Clean the wood surface regularly using a damp cloth. Avoid using harsh cleaning chemicals as they can damage the finish.
  2. Reapply Oil: Over time, the walnut oil finish may wear off. When this happens, reapply the oil following the steps above.
  3. Dealing with Scratches: If the wood gets scratched, you can repair it by sanding the affected area lightly and then reapplying the walnut oil.

Common Mistakes When Using Walnut Oil as a Wood Finish

While walnut oil is a fantastic choice for a wood finish, people often make a few common mistakes during its application. Let’s explore these pitfalls and how to avoid them:

  1. Not Preparing the Wood Properly: The wood surface must be prepared before applying walnut oil. This includes sanding the surface to make it smooth and removing dust or debris. Failing to do this can result in an uneven finish.
  2. Applying Too Much Oil at Once: Walnut oil should be applied in thin coats. Applying too much oil at once can result in a sticky surface that takes a long time to dry.
  3. Not Allowing the Oil to Soak In: Walnut oil needs time to penetrate the wood. Rushing this process and wiping off the oil too soon can prevent it from fully soaking in, reducing its effectiveness.
  4. Not Wiping Off Excess Oil: Any excess oil should be wiped off after the oil has had time to soak in. Leaving excess oil on the surface can result in a gummy finish.
  5. Not Applying Enough Coats: Multiple coats of walnut oil are often necessary for a durable finish. Failing to apply enough coats can produce a finish that wears off quickly.

The Durability of Walnut Oil Finish

Walnut oil is recognized for providing a durable finish that can withstand everyday use. However, it’s important to note that it may not be as hard or resistant to damage as other finishes, such as polyurethane. This suggests that it might not be optimal for items or surfaces subject to high traffic or significant wear and tear.

Enhancing Durability with Multiple Coats and Proper Maintenance

Nevertheless, the durability of a walnut oil finish can be enhanced by applying multiple coats and maintaining the finish appropriately. This involves regular wood surface cleaning and reapplication of the oil as required.

The Limitations of Walnut Oil: Moisture Resistance

It’s also crucial to note that while walnut oil does offer some degree of protection against moisture, it is not waterproof. If the finished item is likely exposed to a substantial amount of water or humidity, a finish that is more resistant to water might be a better choice.

Safety Considerations When Using Walnut Oil

There are a few safety considerations to remember when using walnut oil as a wood finish.

First and foremost, always work in a well-ventilated area. While walnut oil is generally safe and non-toxic, it’s still a good idea to ensure plenty of fresh air when applying it.

Secondly, be aware of potential allergic reactions. While rare, some people may be allergic to walnut oil. If you notice any signs of an allergic reaction, such as skin irritation or difficulty breathing, stop using the oil immediately and seek medical attention.

Lastly, it’s important to note that while walnut oil does provide a protective layer on the wood, it is not a sealant in the traditional sense. It does not form a hard, impermeable layer on the wood surface. Instead, it penetrates the wood and hardens within the fibers, providing a durable but breathable finish.

Where to Buy Walnut Oil for Wood Finishing

If you’re looking to buy walnut oil for wood finishing, you can visit several places. Here are a few options:

  1. Mahoney’s Utility Finish Walnut Oil – 4oz – Available at Bernal Cutlery for $8.00.
  2. Mahoney’s Oil Wax Finish – 8oz – Also available at Bernal Cutlery for $20.00.
  3. Mike Mahoney’s Utility Finish Walnut Oil 16oz – Available at Buffalo Woodturning Products for $18.00.
  4. Walnut Oil – Available at Wood Tamer for $6.60.
  5. Fusion Hemp Oil Wood Finish – While not walnut oil, this natural oil finish is available at Jones & Co Vintage for $43.00.


Let’s address some common questions people often have about using walnut oil as a wood finish:

  1. How long does it take for walnut oil to dry on wood? – The drying time for walnut oil can vary based on factors like the type of wood, the thickness of the application, and the environmental conditions. However, it can generally take a few hours to a few days for walnut oil to fully dry.
  2. Can walnut oil be used on all types of wood? – Yes, walnut oil can be used on virtually all types of wood. However, the final look can vary depending on the wood’s color and grain pattern.
  3. Does walnut oil provide a glossy finish? – Walnut oil typically provides a satin finish that enhances the natural beauty of the wood. Consider applying a wax topcoat over the dried oil for a glossier finish.
  4. Is walnut oil safe for surfaces that come into contact with food? – Yes, walnut oil is generally considered safe for surfaces that come into contact with food, making it a great choice for cutting boards and wooden utensils.

The Chemistry Behind Walnut Oil as a Wood Finish

The efficacy of walnut oil as a wood finish can be traced back to its unique chemical properties. Walnut oil is classified as a drying oil, which signifies that it undergoes a chemical reaction known as polymerization when it comes into contact with air. During this process, the oil molecules interlink to form a solid, protective layer on the wood surface.

The Protective Layer: A Shield for the Wood

This polymerized layer is the source of walnut oil’s protective qualities. It serves as a shield for the wood, protecting it from moisture, dust, and wear, thereby extending the lifespan of the wooden item. Moreover, this layer enhances the wood’s appearance by accentuating its natural color and grain.

The Role of Linoleic Acid

Walnut oil is abundant in linoleic acid, a fatty acid renowned for penetrating deep into wood fibers. This deep penetration aids in nourishing the wood and preventing it from drying out, which can lead to cracking and splitting.

The Art of Wood Finishing: Oil and Wax

Oil finishes, such as walnut oil, penetrate the wood’s surface, enhance its natural allure, and provide a warm, rich finish. Their ease of application and maintenance have made them a favorite among woodworkers. However, it’s worth noting that oil finishes alone may not offer sufficient protection against scratches and moisture.

Wax Finishes: A Protective Barrier

In contrast, wax finishes rest on the surface of the wood, forming a protective barrier. Depending on the application method, they can yield a satin or glossy finish. Like oil finishes, wax finishes are also simple to apply and can be reapplied as necessary to maintain the finish.

The Best of Both Worlds: Oil and Wax Combination

Some woodworkers opt for a combination of oil and wax finishes to leverage both advantages. The oil penetrates the wood to enhance its grain and color, while the wax provides a protective, durable topcoat. This combination can lead to a beautiful, long-lasting finish that is relatively easy to maintain.

Walnut Oil and Wood Interaction

The interplay between walnut oil and wood is a captivating phenomenon that transpires at the microscopic level. When walnut oil is applied to wood, it infiltrates its pores, engaging with the cellulose fibers. The oil molecules permeate the wood, occupying the minuscule voids within the wood’s composition.

The Process of Polymerization

As the oil dries, it embarks on a process known as polymerization. The oil molecules interconnect during this process to create a solid, protective layer.

The Dual Role of the Protective Layer

This layer serves a dual purpose. Not only does it safeguard the wood, but it also enhances its aesthetic appeal. It imparts a richer and more translucent appearance to the wood, amplifying its natural allure.

Comparison of Walnut Oil with Other Oils

When it comes to wood finishes, there are several oils to choose from, each with unique properties. Let’s compare walnut oil with other popular choices: linseed and Danish.

  • Walnut Oil: As we’ve discussed, walnut oil is a drying oil that provides a warm, rich finish. It’s easy to apply and maintain, and it’s generally considered safe for surfaces that come into contact with food. However, it may not provide the best protection against scratches and moisture.
  • Linseed Oil: like walnut oil, is a drying oil that penetrates the wood and hardens. It’s often used in its “boiled” form, dries faster than raw linseed oil. Linseed oil provides a durable, water-resistant finish but can significantly darken the wood.
  • Danish Oil: Danish oil is a blend of oil and varnish, providing the best of both worlds. It penetrates the wood like an oil, enhancing its natural color and grain, while the varnish provides a protective, durable surface. Danish oil dries faster than most oils and provides a satin finish.

Each of these oils has pros and cons, and the best one for your project depends on your specific needs and the look you aim to achieve.


Walnut oil is a versatile and easy-to-use wood finish that enhances the natural beauty of the wood while providing a certain level of protection. Its food-safe properties make it an excellent choice for cutting boards and wooden utensils.

You might want to consider other options like linseed or Danish oil for projects requiring a more durable finish. The best oil to finish wood with depends on your specific needs and the characteristics of the wood you’re working with. Always test the finish on a scrap piece of wood first to ensure you’re happy with the results.