What is Tung Oil Made From: Unveiling the Secrets of Tung Oil

Tung oil is a natural oil that has been used for centuries in China and is now a staple in the toolbox of every woodworker and furniture restorer.

It is extracted from the seeds of the Tung tree, scientifically known as Aleurites fordii, which is native to China and has transformed the woodworking industry.

So, what exactly is Tung oil made from? The answer lies in the ancient lands of China, where the story of Tung oil begins.

It provides a durable, water-resistant finish that enhances the natural beauty of the wood and is an ideal choice for furniture restoration, where preserving the original charm and character of the piece is paramount.

The Tung Tree and Its Significance

The Tung tree, native to China, is a remarkable sight with a rich legacy. With its medium-sized stature, reaching heights of up to 20 meters, this tree, scientifically known as Aleurites fordii, is known for its stunning white flowers and large leaves that bloom during summer.

The Precious Tung Oil: Extracted from the Tree’s Fruit

The true treasure lies within the fruit of the Tung tree. This nut-like fruit contains seeds that serve as the source of the highly prized Tung oil.

Extracting the oil involves pressing and refining the seeds, producing a pure, natural oil that boasts numerous benefits.

A Symbol of Resilience and Adaptability

The Tung tree represents more than just an oil-producing tree; it symbolizes resilience and versatility.

Thriving in diverse climates and soils, this tree reflects the adaptability and durability mirrored by the oil it yields.

The Tung tree and its invaluable Tung oil serve as a testament to the wonders of nature and their significant contributions to the realm of woodworking and furniture restoration.

Remembering the Tung Tree’s Contribution

Next time you marvel at a piece of wooden furniture or admire the craftsmanship of a wooden artifact, take a moment to remember the Tung tree and the golden oil it produces.

Behind every remarkable work lies a captivating story, and the Tung oil story is deeply intertwined with history, nature, and the art of woodworking.

Key Points:

  • The Tung tree is native to China and stands out with its medium-sized stature, white flowers, and large leaves.
  • The Tung tree’s fruit contains seeds that are the source of the highly prized Tung oil.
  • Tung oil is extracted by pressing and refining the seeds, resulting in a pure, natural oil packed with benefits.
  • The Tung tree thrives in various climates and soils, reflecting its adaptability and durability.
  • The Tung tree and its oil play a significant role in woodworking and furniture restoration.
  • Remember the Tung tree and its oil when appreciating wooden craftsmanship, as their story is steeped in history and nature.

The Production Process of Tung Oil

Tung oil production provides an intriguing amalgamation of traditional practices and modern techniques. This journey, resulting in a product that’s both pure and potent, involves several vital steps that we will explore below.

Harvesting of the Tung Tree Fruit

The process commences with gathering the Tung tree’s fruit, which resembles small apples. These fruits are collected and subjected to a natural drying process. Their outer shells harden throughout this phase, safeguarding the valuable seeds within. Once thoroughly dried, the fruits are cracked open to expose the seeds – the fundamental source of Tung oil.

The Oil Extraction Process

Cold Pressing Method

The freshly exposed seeds now undergo cleaning and preparation for oil extraction, conducted using cold pressing. This technique places the seeds in a press where substantial pressure is exerted. The resulting pressure triggers the seeds to emit their oil, which is collected for further processing.

Refinement of Raw Tung Oil

The journey doesn’t conclude with extraction. The raw Tung oil is refined to purge any impurities, yielding a pure, high-quality Tung oil ready for various uses.

Here’s a brief recap of the stages:

  • Harvesting: Collection and drying of Tung tree’s fruits.
  • Seed Extraction: Cracking of dried fruits to reveal seeds.
  • Oil Extraction: Application of cold pressing method on cleaned seeds.
  • Refining: Purification of raw Tung oil to remove impurities.

From tree to bottle, the Tung oil production process is a powerful illustration of the synergy between nature and technology.

Ingredients in Tung Oil

Often referred to as “China wood oil,” Tung oil is highly esteemed for its distinct composition. This natural, non-toxic oil boasts diverse components that amplify its effectiveness and versatility.

The Key Ingredient: Alpha-Eleostearic Acid

Alpha-eleostearic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, is the predominant ingredient in Tung oil, comprising approximately 80% of its composition.

This fatty acid bestows Tung oil with its notable drying properties. A chemical reaction initiates when this acid encounters the air, causing the oil to polymerize or harden.

This transformation results in a durable, waterproof finish with high resistance to scratches and general wear.

Additional Fatty Acids and Their Functions

Tung oil also includes smaller quantities of other fatty acids like oleic, linoleic, and palmitic acids.

These components enhance the oil’s penetrating capacity, enabling it to infiltrate deep into the wood, providing enduring protection.

The Simplicity and Purity of Tung Oil

The charm of Tung oil is encapsulated in its simplicity. It’s a product entirely derived from nature, devoid of synthetic additives and chemicals.

This purity renders Tung oil a top choice among woodworkers and furniture restorers. It truly embodies the potency of nature and the enchantment that arises when we utilize it in its most unadulterated form.

To summarize, Tung oil is composed of:

  • Alpha-Eleostearic Acid: The primary ingredient responsible for the oil’s drying properties.
  • Oleic, Linoleic, and Palmitic Acids contribute to the oil’s penetrating power.
  • No Artificial Additives or Chemicals: Its natural, pure composition makes it a preferred choice for woodworkers and furniture restorers.

Tung Oil vs. Linseed Oil

Tung and Linseed oil often occupy prime positions in the woodworking and furniture restoration world.

Both are natural oils with rich historical usage, yet each possesses unique properties. Let’s compare these two prominent oils and understand their pros and cons.

Tung Oil: Properties and Advantages

Tung oil, extracted from the seeds of the Tung tree, is celebrated for its fast-drying capabilities and propensity to penetrate deep into the wood.

This results in a robust, waterproof finish. Moreover, Tung oil exhibits a slightly golden hue, which can amplify the natural color of the wood.

Linseed Oil: Characteristics and Limitations

Contrastingly, Linseed oil, derived from flax plant seeds, is another favored choice among woodworking enthusiasts. It takes longer to dry than Tung oil, allowing more time to seep into the wood.

This extended drying duration can be a downside, making the wood vulnerable to dust and other particulates. Over time, Linseed oil also darkens, which can modify the wood’s appearance.

Making a choice: Tung Oil or Linseed Oil?

While both oils are natural and non-toxic, Tung oil often has the edge due to its superior water resistance and durability.

The decision between Tung oil and Linseed oil ultimately relies on the specific requirements of the project and the intended finish.

Here’s a quick comparison:

Tung Oil

  • Fast-drying
  • Penetrates deep into wood
  • It provides a durable, waterproof finish
  • Enhances the natural color of the wood

Linseed Oil

  • Slower drying time, allowing more time to penetrate wood
  • Susceptible to dust and particulates during drying
  • Darkens over time, altering the wood’s appearance
  • The choice of oil should align with your project’s unique needs and the desired aesthetic outcome.

The Benefits of Tung Oil

Tung oil offers a plethora of advantages that make it a premier choice in the fields of woodworking and furniture restoration.

Its natural composition, and unique properties render it a versatile and efficient solution for many applications.

Exceptional Durability

A primary benefit of Tung oil is its remarkable durability. Owing to its high content of alpha-eleostearic acid, Tung oil hardens when exposed to air, yielding a robust, resilient finish that resists water, alcohol, and common household chemicals.

This unique characteristic makes it ideal for frequently used items such as kitchen tables or outdoor furniture.

Deep Penetration and Enhancement of Wood

Tung oil is known for deep penetration into the wood, amplifying its natural grain and color.

Unlike other finishes that merely coat the surface, Tung oil seeps into the fibers, offering protection from within. This results in a finish that’s aesthetically pleasing and long-lasting.

Natural and Non-Toxic

Tung oil is a natural, non-toxic product. It is devoid of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), making it a safe choice for users and the environment.

Common Uses of Tung Oil

Tung oil has firmly established its place in various applications due to its versatility and effectiveness. It is particularly lauded in the fields of woodworking and furniture restoration.

Tung Oil in Woodworking

Tung oil is frequently utilized as a finishing agent for wooden furniture. Its unique ability to penetrate deeply into wood and harden renders a durable, water-resistant finish that augments the natural elegance of the wood.

Tung oil can rejuvenate wooden furniture, from dining tables to antique chairs, by emphasizing the grain and infusing a warm glow.

Furniture Restoration with Tung Oil

Tung oil is a popular option for restoring old or damaged furniture. It can rejuvenate wood, restoring its natural color and shine. Whether it’s an antique chest of drawers or a vintage wooden mirror, Tung oil helps preserve and protect these cherished items.

Beyond Furniture: Tung Oil in Other Woodworking Projects

Tung oil isn’t limited to furniture; its applications extend to other woodworking projects, including wooden toys, musical instruments, and kitchen utensils.

Given its non-toxic nature, it’s a safe option for items that come into contact with food or children.

Tung Oil for Wood Finishing

When it comes to wood finishing, Tung oil is an indisputable standout. Its unique attributes make it ideal for beautifying and protecting wooden surfaces.

Deep Penetration for Optimal Protection

Tung oil’s preference for a wood finish can be attributed to its ability to penetrate the wood.

Unlike certain finishes that merely form a layer on the surface, Tung oil seeps deep into the wood, offering protection from within. This creates a durable finish that is resistant to water and alcohol.

Enhancing the Natural Beauty of Wood

Another remarkable characteristic of Tung oil is its ability to augment the natural beauty of the wood.

It accentuates the grain and imparts the wood a warm, rich glow. Regardless of the wood type—oak, walnut, or pine—Tung oil can enhance the unique characteristics inherent in each variety.

Easy Application

A further advantage of Tung oil is its ease of application. It can be applied using a cloth, brush, or even directly with your hands, making it a user-friendly option for professionals and DIY enthusiasts.

Natural and Non-Toxic

Lastly, Tung oil is a natural, non-toxic product. This makes it a safe choice for items that come into contact with food or skin, such as cutting boards or wooden toys.

Safety Considerations with Tung Oil

While Tung oil is a natural product, it is crucial to consider its safety aspects. This brings us to two commonly asked questions, “Is Tung oil toxic?” and “Is Tung oil food safe?“.

Is Tung oil toxic?

Pure Tung oil, extracted directly from the Tung tree seeds, is non-toxic and safe. It is devoid of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can pose a risk to humans and the environment.

However, it’s vital to recognize that not all products labeled as “Tung oil” are pure. Some are combined with other chemicals to hasten the drying time or enhance the finish. These products, often called “Tung oil finishes” or “Tung oil varnishes,” may contain toxic elements.

Thus, it’s imperative to carefully read the label and ensure you’re using pure Tung oil, particularly for items that come into direct contact with food or skin.

Is Tung oil food safe?

Pure Tung oil is considered food safe once it has completely cured. This makes it a favored choice for finishing kitchen utensils, cutting boards, and other items that come into contact with food.

However, it’s important to let the oil fully cure, which can take several days, before using it.

Tung Oil Alternatives

While Tung oil is a commendable choice for numerous woodworking and furniture restoration projects, other oil alternatives exist, each with unique strengths and weaknesses.

Linseed Oil

A well-known alternative to Tung oil, Linseed oil is also a natural oil that yields a durable finish. However, it has a slower drying time than Tung oil and tends to darken over time, affecting the wood’s visual appearance.

Danish Oil

Another substitute is Danish oil, a blend of oil and varnish. It combines the penetrating benefits of oil with the protective benefits of varnish. Despite these advantages, Danish oil doesn’t offer the same level of water resistance as Tung oil.

Related: Danish Oil vs Tung Oil

Mineral Oil

Mineral oil is a suitable choice for items in direct contact with food, like cutting boards and butcher blocks. It’s food safe and easy to apply. However, unlike Tung oil, mineral oil doesn’t harden, necessitating more frequent reapplication.

Tung Oil in DIY Home Projects

Tung oil is not exclusively for professional woodworkers and furniture restorers. It’s simplicity and appealing finish make it an excellent choice for DIY home enthusiasts.

Furniture Restoration

Tung oil can effectively restore and rejuvenate old wooden furniture. Do you have an antique wooden chair that’s lost its charm over the years? A layer of Tung oil can emphasize the grain, impart a warm glow, and provide a protective layer resilient to daily wear and tear.

Woodworking Projects

Tung oil is an excellent asset for DIY woodworking projects. Whether you’re creating a wooden toy for your child, a cutting board for your kitchen, or a picture frame for your treasured photo, Tung oil can deliver a beautiful, enduring finish.

Kitchen Items

Smaller items, such as wooden spoons or salad bowls, can benefit from a coat of Tung oil. Since it’s food safe once fully cured, it is a fantastic choice for kitchen items.

How to Apply Tung Oil

Applying Tung oil is a straightforward process that can be done in a few simple steps. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Preparation: Start by preparing the wood. It should be clean, dry, and free of old finishes or dust. Sand the wood smoothly, moving from coarse to fine grit sandpaper.
  2. Application: Apply a thin coat of Tung oil using a clean, lint-free cloth or a brush. Work the oil into the wood in the direction of the grain.
  3. Absorption: Allow the oil to penetrate the wood. This usually takes about 15-30 minutes. If there are any areas where the oil has not been absorbed, wipe off the excess with a clean cloth.
  4. Drying: Let the oil dry. Depending on the temperature and humidity, this can take 24-48 hours.
  5. Additional Coats: You can apply additional coats for a more durable finish. Repeat the application process, allowing the oil to dry fully between each coat.
  6. Final Buff: After the final coat has dried, buff the surface with a clean cloth to bring out the shine.

Popular Tung Oil Brands

Several brands on the market offer high-quality Tung oil. Here are a few popular ones:

  1. Fusion Mineral Paint Tung Oil: This brand offers a Tung oil product that’s loved for its easy application and durable finish. It’s a great choice for both beginners and experienced woodworkers.
  2. Craftsman Supply Pure Tung Oil (Chinawood Oil): Known for its purity, this Tung oil is a favorite among those looking for a natural, non-toxic finish. It’s versatile and can be used on a variety of wood types.
  3. Walrus Oil Pure Tung Oil: This brand prides itself on its 100% pure Tung oil. It’s food-safe, making it an excellent choice for kitchen items like cutting boards and utensils.
  4. Rusty Design 100% Pure Tung Oil: This Tung oil is appreciated for its high quality and effectiveness. It penetrates deep into the wood, providing a durable, waterproof finish.
  5. Bee Built Tung Oil: This Tung oil is popular for its ease of use and beautiful finish. It’s a great choice for a variety of woodworking projects.

Each of these brands brings something unique to the table, but they all share a commitment to quality and a passion for the power of Tung oil.


Tung oil holds a place of honor in woodworking and furniture restoration. Derived from the seeds of the Tung tree, this natural oil has been used for centuries to protect and beautify wood.

Its unique properties, including its ability to penetrate deep into the wood and harden to a durable finish, make it a versatile and effective tool.

Whether you’re a professional woodworker or a DIY enthusiast, Tung oil can elevate your projects to a new level.

From enhancing the natural beauty of the wood to providing a strong, water-resistant finish, Tung oil is a testament to the power of nature and the magic that happens when we harness it in its purest form.

So, the next time you embark on a woodworking project, consider reaching for a bottle of Tung oil. You might find it’s the secret ingredient you’ve been looking for.