Tung oil vs. natural stain?

moissyDecember 28, 2007

We are doing oak trim inside our new home and trying to decide on how to finish. Can anyone tell me the difference in appearance between using tung oil vs. a "natural" color stain like Zarr's or Minwax). The tung oil sounds like more ongoing maintenance and application time. We have a pretty large amount of trim to do. Thanks.

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Tung oil isn't a stain, it's a finish. Stains, "natural" or otherwise, are just colorants, and should be topcoated with a compatible finish. It doesn't make sense to ask this as an either/or question.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2007 at 7:39PM
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To further confuse things, most things you'll find on the shelf labeled "Tung Oil Finish" is not tung oil and has no tung oil it it. Most are either thinned alkyd varnish or thinned varnish with linseed oil.

And things in a yellow can called "Wood Finish" are merely stains with just enough binder to hold the pigment in place.

Here is a link that might be useful: Oil FInishes

    Bookmark   December 28, 2007 at 8:44PM
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Minwax makes a stain that does not add any color---on most woods---it is labeled Natural. That stain is more a preconditioner for a finish---to prevent too much of the finish from being absorbed into the wood.

There are two types of finishes, water based and oil based. Shellac is alcohol based and lacquer has a different disolver, but both those will not be a good idea for your trim.

My recommendation---which is also what a good many home builders and trim carpenters use-----is to use the Natural stain and a good varnish. I prefer varnish from a name brand paint store---Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore. Two reasons. The shelf life is usually less---that can be a problem at HI stores---and the product is simply better.

The reason I prefer varnish to polyurethane is that repairs to varnish can be made without completely recoating the entire piece---something that usually has to be done to a poly finish.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2007 at 9:21PM
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Sorry I should have stated the question better. If we want to just have the natural color of the wood show through, what is the difference in appearance between tung oil or doing a "natural" color stain plus poly or varnish. We want a matte/satin finish on the woodwork. Our windows themselves are pine and have already yellowed quite a bit since installation. I have been playing with various color stains to try to blend the red oak trim with the pine windows. I know they will never match exactly, but would like to at least integrate them as much as possible.

Was considering using Zarr Honey Maple stain on the trim and "Natural" stain plus poly on the actual windows....then hubby suggested tung oil. I did read other posts about the tung oil "finishes" so understand that difference....Trying to decide best way to finish trim and windows to look good together. Thanks for any suggestions.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2007 at 9:24AM
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For oak, I like the Minwax natural finish, with a thinned varnish on top. You should find some scrap and test various combinations. I think "Tung Oil" or what passes for it is more for furniture/tables. You might also consider a blonde or amber shellac finished with a satin varnish.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2008 at 7:19PM
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Waterlox is a tung oil finish. It has resins and some other ingredients along with the tung oil and makes a beautiful finish. Stain can be added to the sealer to help ease the blotchy look some soft woods get when the stain is put directly on the wood.

You can read about it at:

I use it on wood floors and it is my favorite on pine.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2008 at 10:35PM
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Waterlox is a Tung Oil-based _varnish_. The tung oil chemically combines with resins (phenolic, in this case) and creates a new substance called "varnish." There is no tung oil left in it. It imparts properties to this varnish, but it is no more correct to call it a tung oil finish than it is to call a loaf of wonder bread "all-purpose flour." It is a fine finish, but let's call it what it is.

Nitpicking, but there is this mystique about "tung oil" that made Homer Formby a rich man. His tung oil finish is not tung oil, either.

From that web site:
"WaterloxÂs exclusive process takes tung oil, resin, mineral spirits, and other ingredients to produce a complete wood finish that gives you the look and feel of a naturally-oiled wood, with the additional benefit of forming a surface that is waterproof, stands up to foot traffic, and protects against household spills. Like pure tung oil, Waterlox is easy to apply, repair, and re-coat when necessary."

oil+resin --heat--> varnish (too thick to use as-is)
varnish + mineral spirits --> canned varnish

quack, quack, waddle, waddle. Sounds and walks like a duck.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2008 at 4:15PM
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I like tung oil because it's all natural and petroleum free. it's also naturally mildew resistant. I couldn't find any at my hardware store, but did order some from dwellsmart. They have lots of info about it on their website.

Here is a link that might be useful: dwellsmart

    Bookmark   February 6, 2009 at 4:27AM
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