Linseed Oil vs Tung Oil: What’s the Difference?

Last updated on April 9th, 2019 at 10:07 pm

Often times when considering an oil finish for a piece of wood furniture, you might be comparing tung oil to linseed oil or danish oil. All three terms are often misunderstood and misused.

The term danish oil is a catch all term used by manufacturers to describe a blended oil finish that may or may not contain linseed oil and/or tung oil. But what are linseed oil and tung oil and when is it appropriate to use each?

Often replaced by synthetic alkyd resins (lacquer, polyurethane, and varnish) for the past several decades, linseed oil and tung oil are coming back in force lately. This is much in thanks to their non-toxicity and environmentally friendly characteristics.

Unlike those synthetic alkyds, oil finishes seep into the grain of the wood rather than forming a film on top of it.

What is Linseed Oil?

Linseed oil, also known as flaxseed oil, is one of the most popular wood finishes in the world. Like other hand-rubbed oil finishes, linseed oil saturates deep into the wood grain to protect against scratches and changes in humidity. It is easy to care for, eco-friendly, and produces a satin finish that really brings out the color and grain of the wood underneath.

Raw linseed oil is the purest form, but is sometimes impractical as a furniture finish due to the extended drying times- it can take several weeks for each coat of raw linseed oil to cure. Boiled linseed oil is common as a wood finish, but contains some potentially hazardous drying compounds. Polymerized linseed oil is the best of both worlds: pure and non-toxic with quick drying times.

Raw, polymerized, and boiled linseed oil are all derived from the flaxseed plant, but have been processed differently and to varying degrees.

What is Tung Oil?

Tung oil is a plant-based oil used as a wood finish. It is clear, quick-drying, and penetrates the grain to enhance and protect the wood. It’s one of the oldest and most popular wood finishes in the world and is derived from the seeds of the tung tree in Eastern Asia. Tung oil has become a staple among fine furniture craftsmen in the United States and beyond. It is eco-friendly, non-toxic, and food-safe.

Tung oil is derived from pressing the seeds of the tung tree, which is native to Eastern Asia. The oil has been cultivated and used in China as a wood finish for at least 2,500 years.

Similarly to linseed oil, it is difficult to find furniture that is made with raw or 100% pure tung oil. Many craftsmen will use boiled or polymerized tung oil, and it’s also common for manufacturers to mislabel products as tung oil when they’re not. If you’re interested in a tung oil finish, it’s worth doing a bit of digging to understand exactly what finish is being used and what it’s comprised of.

There are many reasons a craftsman might consider using tung oil to finish wood furniture. It’s all natural, non-toxic, and eco-friendly, and it doesn’t yellow as much over time as common finishes like linseed oil, nitrocellulose lacquer, or varnishes like polyurethane. On the other hand, tung oil is expensive and susceptible to water rings, stains, and scratches.

What’s the Difference Between Linseed Oil & Tung Oil?

Both linseed oil and tung oil– in their purest forms– are non-toxic, eco-friendly, and food-safe. They’re both plant-based oil finishes that penetrate and saturate the wood grain.

Here are some key differences between linseed oil and tung oil:

  • Linseed oil carries a slight yellow tint, whereas tung oil dries to a clear finish
  • Tung oil creates a harder, more durable finish than linseed oil
  • Tung oil is more water-resistant than linseed oil
  • Raw linseed oil takes significantly longer to cure than pure tung oil
  • Tung oil is generally more expensive than linseed oil

Learn more about wood finishes or shop oiled wood furniture.

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This blog is written by your friends at Vermont Woods Studios. Check out our Vermont made furniture and home decor online and visit our showroom and art gallery at Stonehurst, the newly restored 1800s farmhouse nestled in the foothills of the Green Mountains.

Riley Farabaugh

The youngest son of co-founders Peggy and Ken Farabaugh, Riley has filled different roles within the organization since it was founded out of a spare bedroom in the family home in 2005. Riley has been quickly learning more and more about woodworking, sustainable forestry, and the ins-and-outs of the furniture industry.

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