Beyond their capabilities to create biodiverse ecosystems and turn greenhouse gases into clean oxygen, trees also provide one of the most versatile materials on the planet- wood. In addition to being used by carpenters and builders for framing houses, wood is perhaps most commonly used for furniture and flooring, here in the US and around the world.
When properly maintained, wood lasts a long time- generations. But part of maintaining wood means adding a finish. Using a finish on wood furniture and flooring helps modulate the humidity content of the wood. When wood dries out too much, it is prone to cracking and splitting, so it’s important to seal in the appropriate moisture content.
There are lots of options for finishing wood, but when it comes to furniture and flooring, most products fall into one of these categories: oils, varnishes, polyurethanes, lacquers, and waxes.
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.
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?
One of the hallmarks of Vermont furniture is the finely sanded wood and hand rubbed finish. When you run your hands along the top of these chests or the foot board of this shaker bed, it almost feels like skin– very soft and smooth. So we spend a lot of time talking with customers about how to maintain that beautiful finish after your furniture arrives at home. Like a fine wine, a hand rubbed finish will improve with age. Here are a few tips to care for it.
Follow the Manufacturer’s Instructions for Re-oiling
When you receive your furniture it may be tacky from the oil finish we have applied in the studio. The entire piece should be wiped with a clean, soft, lint-free cotton cloth. Do not use commercially available polishes or waxes. Wood remains a live medium and can tend to dry out over time. For maintenance– pure, non-toxic linseed oil (such as this Tried and True finish) or any high quality furniture oil (without petroleum dryers or thinners) should be applied immediately after delivery and again every 3-12 months*. Regular oiling will deepen the hand rubbed finish while enhancing the natural beauty of the wood. It will also restore the finish over scratches. Good quality oil products are widely available in better hardware stores. With minor care, this furniture will be enjoyed for years and likely generations to come. More furniture care instructions here.
Whether your wood furniture has a hand rubbed oil finish, a lacquer or poly, routine cleaning will keep it looking good. With an oil finish, it’s especially important to clean up spills quickly before the liquid penetrates into the fibers of the wood. Learn more about dusting (damp cloth or dry?), polishing and cleaning up spills on our furniture care website.
Humidity and Lighting
Wood is sensitive to changes in relative humidity. As the weather changes, so does the relative humidity in your home and in the moisture content of the wood in your furniture. This means that furniture is constantly expanding and contracting. Most furniture makers recommend conditions of around 70°F-72°F and a relative humidity of about 50-55% to keep your furniture looking good and lasting a long time.
Many woods, especially cherry are sensitive to light and will change colors when exposed to high intensity light or even sunlight for long periods of time. Here are some tips for controlling light exposure and humidity on the furniture care page of our website.
* How often should you re-apply an oil finish? The furniture aficionado’s rule of thumb is: once upon arrival into your home, then once/week for a month, then once/month for a year, then once per year thereafter. Sounds like a lot of oiling but you’ll end up with the most beautiful patina you can imagine!