What is Tung Oil Used For: A Comprehensive Guide

Tung oil is a naturally derived, highly efficient, and versatile product from ancient China as a waterproofing agent and wood finish. It is refined and amalgamated with other oils or solvents to enhance its drying properties and usability.

So, what exactly is Tung oil used for? Tung oil’s applications are diverse, emphasizing its unparalleled properties.

Tung oil is a popular choice for wood finishing due to its capacity to infiltrate deeply into wood and create a robust barrier. It also has excellent color stability, making it an ideal choice for maintaining the vibrancy and appeal of woodworks.

It is also waterproof, making it an ideal choice for outdoor wooden structures, such as decks and patio furniture, regularly exposed to the elements.

Why is Tung Oil Used on Wood?

Tung oil has long been favored for wood finishing due to its unique properties that effectively enhance and protect wood.

This natural oil penetrates deep into wood fibers, filling and hardening them, improving durability and accentuating the wood’s natural beauty.

Protective Properties of Tung Oil:

One of the most notable advantages of Tung oil is its exceptional protective qualities. It forms a tough, flexible finish that resists abrasion, avoiding chips and peeling.

Consequently, Tung oil is an ideal choice for furniture and other wooden items that are frequently used.

Waterproofing Abilities of Tung Oil:

An often-raised question is whether Tung oil protects water. The answer is a resounding yes.

Tung oil creates a waterproof finish that shields wood from moisture and prevents water damage. Therefore, it is a popular choice for outdoor furniture and other items exposed to the elements. Related post: What is tung oil made from?

Enhancing Wood Appearance:

In addition to its protective features, Tung oil interacts with the wood, enhancing its appearance. It brings out the grain pattern, highlighting the unique character of the wood, and imparts a warm, rich glow.

Unlike superficial finishes, Tung oil finish deeply penetrates the wood, resulting in a finish that both looks and feels exceptional.

Tung Oil vs. Other Oils: A Comparison

When it comes to wood finishing, various oil options are available, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Tung and linseed oil are frequently compared but have distinct characteristics that differentiate them.

Understanding these differences can help select the most suitable oil for specific applications.

Properties of Tung Oil

Tung oil is a drying oil that penetrates the wood and hardens upon drying. It offers several benefits compared to linseed oil:

Harder and More Durable Finish: Tung oil dries to a harder and more durable finish, providing enhanced protection to the wood surface.

Superior Water Resistance: Tung oil offers better water resistance, making it an excellent choice for outdoor applications where exposure to moisture is a concern.

Warm and Glossy Finish: Tung oil typically dries to a warmer and glossier finish, enhancing the wood’s appearance with a rich glow.

Properties of Linseed Oil

Like Tung oil, linseed oil is a drying oil that penetrates the wood and hardens. However, it differs from Tung oil in the following aspects:

Longer Drying Time: Linseed oil has a longer drying time than Tung oil. This longer drying period can be advantageous as it allows for more working time during the application process. However, it also means a longer wait before the finished piece can be used.

Soft and Satin Finish: Linseed oil leaves a softer and satin finish on the wood, which can create a more subtle and understated appearance than Tung oil’s warmer and glossier finish.

How to Apply Tung Oil on Wood

Applying Tung oil to wood is straightforward but requires patience and attention to detail. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Preparation: Start by preparing the wood. It should be clean, dry, and free of old finish or dust. If necessary, sand the wood with progressively finer grits of sandpaper until it’s smooth.
  2. First Coat: Apply a liberal amount of Tung oil using a clean, lint-free cloth or a brush. Make sure to work the oil into the wood, following the direction of the grain.
  3. Wait and Wipe: Allow the oil to penetrate the wood for 15-30 minutes, then wipe off any excess oil using a clean cloth. It’s important not to leave excess oil on the surface as it can become sticky and create a poor finish.
  4. Additional Coats: You can apply additional coats once the first coat has dried (usually 24-48 hours). The number of coats of tung oil depends on the desired finish and the type of wood. Hardwoods like oak may require fewer coats, while softer woods like pine may need more.
  5. Final Buff: After the final coat has dried, buff the surface with a clean cloth to bring out the shine.

But what about sanding? Should you sand after applying Tung oil? The answer is yes, but only lightly and only between coats. Light sanding with fine-grit sandpaper (220 grit or higher) can help smooth out any irregularities and improve the adhesion of subsequent coats.

Tung Oil for Different Wood Types

Tung oil is a versatile wood-finish suitable for various types of wood. However, the outcome of using Tung oil can vary depending on the specific characteristics of the wood being treated.

Application on Hardwoods

When applied to hardwoods such as oak, Tung oil yields impressive results:

Enhanced Richness and Grain: Tung oil highlights hardwoods’ deep, dark tones, accentuating their natural richness and beauty. It also highlights the grain pattern, adding visual appeal.

Effective Penetration: Tung oil penetrates hardwoods well, ensuring a durable finish that can withstand everyday wear and tear. This makes it an excellent choice for hardwood furniture and other items subject to frequent use.

Considerations for Softwoods

Softwoods like pine have different characteristics that can affect the application of Tung oil:

Uneven Absorption: Due to the porous nature of softwoods, they can absorb Tung oil unevenly. This may result in a blotchy or uneven finish if the oil is not applied carefully.

Using Wood Conditioner: To avoid the uneven absorption issue, applying a wood conditioner before applying Tung oil to softwoods is often recommended. The wood conditioner helps to prepare the wood surface, promoting a more even and consistent finish.

Tung Oil in Furniture Care

Tung oil has been a trusted ally in furniture care for centuries thanks to its protective and enhancing properties.

It’s particularly effective on wooden furniture, penetrating deep into the wood fibers and providing a tough, flexible finish that resists abrasion and doesn’t chip or peel. This makes it an ideal choice for pieces with a lot of use, such as tables and chairs.

But what about outdoor furniture? Can Tung oil be used on outdoor furniture? Absolutely! Tung oil is an excellent choice for outdoor furniture due to its water-resistant properties.

It creates a waterproof barrier that protects the wood from moisture and water damage, making it a popular choice for items exposed to the elements.

Safety Considerations When Using Tung Oil

While Tung oil is a natural product, handling it carefully is important. Pure Tung oil is food safe and safe to use, but some products labeled as “Tung oil” may contain added chemicals or solvents that can be harmful.

When using Tung oil, always work in a well-ventilated area and wear protective gloves to avoid skin irritation. If you’re using a product containing solvents, consider wearing a respirator to avoid inhaling harmful fumes.

Always store Tung oil in a cool, dry place out of reach of children and pets, and dispose of any rags used to apply the oil properly, as they can spontaneously combust if not handled correctly.

Common Misconceptions and FAQs about Tung Oil

There are a few misconceptions about Tung oil that are worth addressing. One of the most common is, Is Tung oil waterproof? As we’ve discussed, Tung oil does provide a waterproof finish that protects the wood from moisture and water damage. However, it’s not a permanent barrier and may need to be reapplied over time, especially on outdoor furniture exposed to harsh weather conditions.

So, what does Tung oil do to wood? Simply put, Tung oil penetrates the wood and hardens, providing a durable, flexible finish that enhances the wood’s natural beauty and protects it from damage.

As for the disadvantages of Tung oil, one potential drawback is its relatively long drying time. Tung oil can take 24-48 hours to dry between coats, prolonging the finishing process. Additionally, some people find the smell of Tung oil off-putting, although this usually dissipates once the oil has fully dried.

Best Tung Oil Brands

If you’re looking to try Tung oil for your wood projects, here are a few brands that come highly recommended:

  • Fusion Mineral Paint Tung Oil: Priced at $35.99, this Tung oil is a favorite among woodworkers for its high quality and excellent finishing properties.
  • Craftsman Supply Pure Tung Oil (Chinawood Oil): Available for CAD 6.5, this pure Tung oil is known for its deep penetration and hardening capabilities.
  • Walrus Oil Pure Tung Oil: At $29.99, this Tung oil is praised for its easy application and beautiful finish.
  • Rusty Design 100% Pure Tung Oil: Priced at CAD 21.0, this 100% pure Tung oil is loved for its ability to enhance the natural beauty of wood.
  • Bee Built Tung Oil: Available for $10.0, this Tung oil is a great choice for those looking for a budget-friendly option without compromising on quality.

Tung Oil Alternatives

While Tung oil is a fantastic choice for many wood projects, there are alternatives for those who may prefer something different.

  • As mentioned earlier, Linseed oil is a popular choice, known for its deep penetration and protective qualities.
  • Danish oil, a blend of oil and varnish, is another option that provides a durable finish with a beautiful sheen.
  • For those looking for a non-toxic, food-safe finish, mineral oil is a great choice, especially for cutting boards and kitchen utensils.


Tung oil is a versatile and valuable tool in the world of woodworking. Its protective properties, ability to enhance the natural beauty of wood, and historical significance make it a fascinating subject.

Whether you’re a seasoned woodworker or a curious novice, understanding Tung oil can add a new dimension to your appreciation of wood and its many possibilities.

So why not give it a try on your next project? You might find it becomes your new favorite finish.