Tung Oil vs. Linseed Oil: Which One is Suitable for You?

Tung Oil vs. Linseed Oil

Tung oil and linseed oil are two of the most commonly used oil finishes for furniture and woodwork. What makes them popular is that they cure well and leave behind a nice and protective finish.

But, despite the fact the two are made from different compounds and deliver different results, many woodworkers and DIYers often confuse the two. However, in this piece, we aim to make the differences between the two clear enough so that you know what you need for your projects.

Overall Findings

Tung Oil

Linseed Oil

  • 2 to 3 days of drying time
  • 4 to 5 coats required
  • Honey-like color and dries to a clear finish
  • It provides more water resistance
  • Mostly food-safe
  • Produces a hard, durable, and flat finish
  • 1-day dry time (for boiled linseed oil)
  • 2 coats are often enough for most pieces
  • Starts as a yellowish color and fades to a darker orange finish
  • It does not provide any water resistance
  • Most linseed oils are not food-safe
  • Produces a softer finish with a sheen

Tung Oil

  • 2 to 3 days of drying time
  • 4 to 5 coats required
  • Honey-like color and dries to a clear finish
  • It provides more water resistance
  • Mostly food-safe
  • Produces a hard, durable, and flat finish

Linseed Oil

  • 1-day dry time (for boiled linseed oil)
  • 2 coats are often enough for most pieces
  • Starts as a yellowish color and fades to a darker orange finish
  • It does not provide any water resistance
  • Most linseed oils are not food-safe
  • Produces a softer finish with a sheen

Comparison

1. Application: Tung-Oil Is Perfect for Foot Items

Although you will mostly be able to use these two finishing oils interchangeably, each has some applications where it seems to do a better job than the other.

The Tung oil is water resistant, non-toxic and food-safe. And this means that it will be more appropriate for items that will be used to handle food such as cutting boards, bowls, plates and even wooden countertops that are used to hold food. Also, this oil is more preferred where a clear and scratch-resistant finish is desired.

Linseed oil, on the other hand, will be more ideal when you are looking to give surfaces a nice sheen. This natural oil will also be very handy when you want to give wood a more colorful finish as it does not dry into a clear coat. Other applications of linseed oil are wood conditioning and doing some light-duty polishing.

2. Drying Time: Boiled Linseed Oil Dries Faster

Drying time will always be one of the biggest concerns when buying oils for refinishing furniture as it will determine how much time you will need to dedicate to the job. While both Tung and linseed will still not dry as fast as the non-natural types like polyurethane, their drying times differ.

Tung oil will typically take between 2 and 3 days to cure and given that you will need to apply up to 5 coats to get a presentable look, it will take a lot of time to finish the application. When using Tung oil, it can sometimes take several weeks to finish the piece.

Although in its pure form linseed oil can take several weeks or even months to cure, in its boiled state, it will only take a day to cure. Boiled linseed oil contains driers that will help speed up the curing time by introducing oxygen relatively faster. And because 2 coats are often enough, the overall drying time will be further shortened.

Note: If you use raw linseed oil, it will remain sticky for a long time even after giving it enough curing time and wiping off any excess.

3. Water-Resistance: Tung Oil is More Resistant to Water

If you are looking for a natural refinishing oil that you can use to provide extra water protection for your pieces, the Tung oil will be a better option as it will provide relatively more water resistance.

Tung oil will have 3 crosslinks between the molecules, while linseed oil will have less than two. This property is what makes it a more water-resistant oil.

Hence, Tung oil will be more ideal for use on things that will require more frequent washing or interaction with water like plates and other woodpieces that will be exposed to moisture.

But with that in mind, it is also important to note that both Tung and linseed oil cannot be build up very thick, and they are less water-resistant than a properly applied and built up lacquer, shellac or polyurethane varnish.

4. Color and Finish: Both Deliver a Good Enough Finish

You cannot overlook the color and finish quality that you get when using either of these oils. Hence, when trying to pick between them, you will need to understand what to expect when using either.

Linseed oil will start with a yellowish color during the application, but over time and as the piece is exposed to the elements, this color fades to a darker orange hue. Hence, the darker orange color is what should be on your mind when using linseed oil as it will be its more permanent shade.

Tung oil, on the other hand, will start in a honey-like color and as it dries, it will create a clearer finish than linseed oil. Hence, if you want the piece you are finishing to look more natural, Tung oil is a better option.

Tung oil will leave a more flexible, harder, and durable finish that will offer more scratch resistance, while linseed has a soft finish but with a more pleasant sheen.

Conclusion

If you want something for use on food-related items like bowls and plates, Tung oil will be ideal as it is food safe. Also, Tung oil is your best bet if you want a more flexible and harder finish.

But, if you working on strict deadlines and do not have a lot of time for refinishing the pieces, the faster dry time of linseed oil makes it the better choice. Also, boiled linseed oil will generally give you an easier time when it comes to the application as you only need a couple of coats.


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