Woodworking Tips
Woodworking Tips Index
Maintianing Oil Finishes
I received a question about oil finishes. The problem was that the finish looks great when it first goes on, but after a while, it looks worn and dull. What can you do to restore the finish, or at least brighten it up?

The real advantage to oil finishes is that they're easy to apply. (Oil finishes include natural oils, such as linseed or tung oils, oil/varnish blends, wiping varnishes, and polymerized oils.) But the downside is they often require regular maintenance.

An oil finish leaves a thinner layer of protection than most other finishes. That's not to say that oil finishes don't protect the wood at all. It just that it doesn't take much to wear them down.

Fortunately, oils are easy to maintain. Just add a fresh coat. You don't need to strip or sand the old finish. You don't even need the exact same finish. Almost any "oil" finish will do.

First, give the piece a gentle cleaning with mineral spirits and fine steel wool. This not only takes care of the dirt, it also removes any wax or furniture polishes on the wood. If there are any small scratches, a fresh coat of oil usually hides them. The scratch is still there, it's just blended in. Of course dents and gouges will require a little more attention.

After cleaning, wipe on a fresh coat of oil. Just brush or wipe a heavy coat on the project. Let it sit a few minutes, making sure the surface stays wet the whole time. Then wipe off the excess and let it cure overnight.

Add another coat or coats any time the finish begins to look "dry" or worn.

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