How To Refinish Furniture with Tung Oil

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Refinishing furniture with tung oil is a safe, inexpensive method that will restore wood furniture. It is nontoxic and easy to use, but, like other oils, it is combustible. Tung oil is a penetrating oil that hardens and seals the wood and provides a clear coating for the wood. It will not add color but has a slight amber tone, which will enhance the sheen of the wood. Tung oil can be purchased in its pure form, 100%, or in a diluted form. The diluted product is named 'Tung Oil Finish' and is usually mixed with solvent or citric oil. In its purest form, tung oil penetrates and dries slowly. So if you want to cut down the amount of time you spend refinishing the furniture, choose a diluted form, or mix the tung oil with 50% turpentine or mineral spirits.

Things You'll Need

  • Oil-free soap, such as Spic n Span, Ivory Dish Liquid, Joy Dish Liquid, or similar products, mixed with water.
  • Sandpaper, grit 224
  • Paint or Varnish Stripper
  • Steel wool, grade 0000
  • Thick rags or soft paintbrush

Preparing the Furniture and Applying Tung Oil

  • Tung oil adheres only to wood, or to other tung oil, so you must first remove the old furniture paint or finish with a paint or varnish remover. In this step, you are getting rid of the old oil and sealants used on the furniture.

  • Clean the furniture with soap and water to remove stripper residue. Let the furniture dry for several hours.

  • Use grit 224 sandpaper to remove additional finish and smooth any rough spots. Sanding also prepares the wood by making it porous.

  • Clean the furniture again with the soap mixture to remove additional finish and sanding residue. Let the furniture dry for a few hours, then rub the piece with 0000 steel wool. This will open the grain of the wood.

  • Once again, clean the furniture and let it dry throughly. It's best to let it dry for 24 hours.

  • Apply the tung oil evenly to the furniture. A tung oil finish is best if hand rubbed with thick rags, but a brush can also be used for its application. Let the oil penetrate for 30 minutes, then remove the excess. This is the first coat. Allow the first coat to dry. This can take 24 to 48 hours, depending on the strength of the tung oil and the humidity.

  • Test the coat by touching it. It is dry when it's not tacky to the touch. Apply a second coat, repeating the instructions in Step 6. Continue the application process for at least four coats of tung oil. You can apply additional coats until you have the shine you want.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you are using tung oil on raw wood furniture, you can apply a stain to the piece and start at Step 6.
  • One hundred percent tung oil is nontoxic and requires normal ventilation. However, if you mix tung oil with turpentine or mineral spirits, be sure the room is well ventilated. Use caution with the rags, brush and steel wool used to apply the tung oil. Tung oil, like any oil, is combustible, so keep these items away from open flames, space heaters, and cigarettes.
  • Dispose of the rags, brushes and steel wool by soaking them in water and wrapping them tightly in a plastic bag.
  • Use gloves and goggles to avoid skin contact and splashes.

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