View Full Version : Tung Oil...

cajun bones
04-29-2001, 01:20 PM
Has anyone had experience using Tung oil for finishing wood handles? I've bought some for the other woodworking projects that I do, and was wondering if there are any serious drawbacks to the use of it. It's good for filling pores, is hard and elastic. However, I've not seen it used for knifemaking applications. Any help would be appreciated...


04-29-2001, 09:35 PM
I did a little research on wood finishes awhile back and have been experimenting with them.

"Tung Oil" refers to many types of varnish/oil finishs that contain tung oil. Tung oil is the best natural finish that can be found. It is tough, waterproof and will not blacken like linseed oil when exposed to ultraviolet light. The tung oil you probably bought is not pure tung oil, but a "cooked" recipe with other resins and dryers added. These are to provide an improved finish and quicker drying times. I have found tung oil finishes to fill pores and provide a very durable finish. But be aware that it will take a lot of time and many coats to fill the pores completely. It is best to give about 24 hours or so every 2 or 3 coats. You also need to steel wool the finish after the 24 hour period and before the next series of coats so that they will stick. You will need 12-15 coats or about 1 week of work for a really good least that is what I have found. This is one of my favorite finishes except for the time involved.

Let us know your results.

Jeff Jenness

cajun bones
04-29-2001, 09:45 PM
Thanks Jeff! But no, the oil I have is 100% pure Tung impurities. Thanks for the heads up on the drying time as well as the finishing time. I don't think I'll use it any time soon, but it's good to know. You're thinking it'll be good on something like Desert Ironwood or even Snakewood? And how about finsishing out with a light buff instead of steel wool?

Don Cowles
04-30-2001, 05:26 AM
Tung oil is a great finish for woodworking. If a knife having a wood handle is to be showcased and admired (but not really used), you probably could not do much better (although ironwood and a couple other dense woods need no finish but a little wax).

On a using knife, consider the sweat, friction, etc. that are applied to the handle. Most wood finishes, tung oil included, just aren't made to deal with that kind of accelerated wear (although a tung oil finish is relatively easy to touch up).

If you absolutely must have wood on a using knife, consider stabilized wood. Just buff it. No finish required.

04-30-2001, 02:19 PM
Okay, let the young dumb guy jump in here and try not to step on any toes ;)

First off, I SWEAR by Mike Ludeman and his stabilizing abilities at Wood Stabilizing Specialists Int'l. (

But some woods don't gain benefit from stabilizing.

Ironwood (IMHO) doesn't need anything but fine sanding and a little wax.

I have talked with gun-smiths about finishing, because if you ever look at a custom rifle you will be amazed at the depth and luster of its stock. A local gun-smith turned me onto a finish that consists of Tung Oil, a little Linseed Oil, and a touch of paint-thinner. This is slightly thinner than regular tung oil, and will penetrate much deeper.

I have used it with WONDERFUL results. As was said, it is a SLOOOOOOOOOOOOW process. I like to rub it in hard, leave it sit for 24 hours, then rub gently with 0000 steel wool. Wipe it down with a clean cloth, and repeat. The more coats the better. Once you are satisfied with the finish, coat it all with some paste wax (you can find this in the hard-wood floor care section of any hardware store). Then buff with a flannel rag.

Gary (the gun-smith) has spent up to 6 months finishing show-piece gun stocks. As a knifemaker, that's too long for me. But it only takes a few minutes a day to do this. So as long as you are patient (and if you're making knives you must be) just wait it out and you will be happy in the end.

This will even accenctuate the grain of stabilized wood. I didn't think it would, until I tried it.

As Don said though, for a hard-working knife, stabilizing is by far the best route...for you will end up with the natural beauty of wood, but the durability of plastic.

Just my $0.02 ;)

04-30-2001, 08:25 PM
Don is right about stabilized wood. It is MUCH more durable and will withstand abuse better. And it is very easy to finish. The tradeoff is up front in $ and not in time. A very good thing to consider for a no nonsense knife that looks good too.

Personally, I do this to relax and enjoy putting on the tung oil finishes. As to the pure tung oil, it will polymerize too, but the drying times are much longer than the tung oil based wiping varnishes. Also, you need to add a thinner to help it penetrate. I prefer turpentine, but odorless mineral spirits works just as well. I really like the look of the tung oil finish because it looks so natural. But that is just my opinion. I would expect about 2 weeks of finish time to get the same results as a wiping varnish.

BTW, the natural oil finishes will yellow some with age, while stabilized woods won't. If you want to get a similar tung oil finish that won't yellow you can look at a polyurethane wiping varnish, which also has a harder finish (the resins used are plastics). Basically any floor varnish is polyurethane. I used this also and it works just fine.

For harder woods like cocobolo, desert ironwood and blackwood, you can use "Teak oil". This is a wiping varnish based on tung oil specially formulated for these denser, oilier woods. Works just the same as other finishes and I have had good results.

I've also looked a "Danish oil" which others swear by. Watco makes a very good danish oil. This is usually a varnish-oil blend and you must be careful to wipe off excess or you will get a cloudy finish.

Sorry to babble so long, but I just wanted to give you a little more to help you out with some others you might consider.


05-01-2001, 10:31 AM
I wanted to ask, once the knife leaves your hands, what do you tell your customers about how to care for it? I personally have a few wood handled knives (ambonia burl and rosewood, but more are on the way) and I use Ren Wax. Is this the right stuff or should I use something else on wood. I use the Ren Wax on metal (ats34, damascus, Ti, 303, 416 etc) and on Stag. Pretty much on the entire knife, only my daily carry has nothing on it, but I keep it clean and dry.

05-01-2001, 11:20 AM
Museums use the stuff(so do I).
It works great as long as your customers use the same stuff.

That brings up a GOOD point though,Be SURE to tell you're customers how to take care of natural matrials.I mean the way YOU DO.

BTW The reason I don't use tonge oil is because my tonge keeps drying out.Ever have that problem?

05-01-2001, 11:52 AM
Every time I try to use that southern version of english ya'll. I get all tongue tied! :lol:

Bill Foote
05-01-2001, 06:27 PM
I have experimented with many different finishes on mequite burl I cut and dried. Tung oil is my favorite. It gave the burl luster, depth and highlighted the figure.

05-01-2001, 09:10 PM
Gene, I just want to be around when you give a workshop on your tonge oil finishes!!!! (Good one!)