Let’s say that you’ve got a beautiful new piece of hardwood furniture–it could be teak or another high quality wood, and it could be either for indoor or outdoor use–and you’re mulling over how to treat the wood. Maybe you assume that teak oil is naturally the best choice for teak wood (as the manufactures want you to believe), or you’ve heard some good things about tung oil and Danish oil. You’re not sure what the difference is and which would be better to use.
First of all, we need to clarify what teak oil, tung oil, and Danish oil really are because in most cases these are just clever names created for marketing purposes. Teak oil does not contain any oil or byproduct of the teak tree, Tectona grandis. It is simply named “teak oil” because it is marketed to be used on teak wood, just as “motor oil” is sold for use in a motor, and “baby oil” is for a baby’s butt. Teak oil is not gathered by pressing teak wood just as we don’t harvest baby oil by squeezing babies (ouch!).
There are some very good reasons to not apply teak oil or other oils on teak wood furniture used outdoors. After explaining the differences between various oils, I’ll tell you about my preferred method for maintaining the beautiful color of teak wood. But first let’s answer some questions about what these different oils really are.
What’s Inside Teak Oil?
The actual composition of a Teak Oil will vary from brand to brand. In general, it is usually based on a mixture of linseed oil, varnish, and mineral spirits. Sometimes it contains a small amount of pure tung oil in the mix as well. Linseed oil and tung oil are both natural oils.
What is Linseed Oil?
Linseed oil comes from the seeds of the flax plant and has been cultivated for thousands of years. It is thought that the ancient Egyptians used linseed oil as a lubricant for moving heavy stones into place when building the pyramids.
What is Tung Oil?
Tung oil comes from nuts of the tung tree, which was originally grown in China. Either tung or linseed oils can be used on their own as a protective oil finish for wood, but care must be taken to apply them in the correct manner.
How to Apply Linseed Oil
In the case of linseed oil, you wipe or brush the oil onto the wood until it doesn’t soak any more up. Then you need to wipe up the excess oil and allow it to dry, preferably overnight. After this initial coat, you need to lightly sand down the surface grain of the wood before applying a second and possibly a third coat. Boiled Linseed Oil applied in this way can produce a very beautiful finish, but it does not protect the wood particularly well since it must be applied so thinly to prevent a wrinkling texture on the surface as it dries.
How to Apply Tung Oil
100% Pure Tung Oil has a greater water repellent quality. It produces one of the most attractive wood finishes you can get, but it also takes a long time to apply, with more work involved. This is because you must sand down the surface grain after each coat, not only the initial one. To get a really nice shiny finish from tung oil you need to apply 5 to 7 coats. Pure tung oil also takes longer between coats to dry, sometimes up to 3 days.
Tung Oil vs Tung Oil Finish
Many manufacturers are keen to market the oriental mystique of tung oil with a product that is easier for the average Joe to use, and so they’ve come up with many varieties of “Tung Oil Finish” or “Tung Oil Varnish”. These are largely similar to teak oil in that they usually contain a combination of oil, varnish, and mineral spirits. The oil component could be tung or linseed, or maybe from another type of natural oil. There’s no guarantee that a tung oil finish actually contains any real tung oil.
What’s Danish Oil?
Then finally we have the product called “Danish oil”. As you can guess, no Danes were harmed in the production of this oil/varnish mix. Rather, the oil component is once again typically linseed oil, which is mixed with a varnish and mineral spirits to make it durable and easy to work with. If you look carefully, the product is often actually labeled as “Danish Oil Finish”, which of course implies that it isn’t simply a pure oil.
All of these oil/varnish mixtures will dry out over time and need to be reapplied. At minimum they should be reapplied once a year, but sometimes the furniture item must be refinished much sooner. On actual teak wood, an oil finish is usually OK for furniture kept indoors. 100% Pure Tung Oil is going to give the best results, provided that you have the time and patience to do the job right. For outdoor use, however, the added exposure to direct sunlight can cause the oil to dry out quite rapidly, while the extra moisture in the environment paired with the oil can encourage growth of mold and mildew.
What’s Better for Using on Outdoor Teak Furniture?
Any oil treatment is not really the best choice for using on high-quality teak furniture kept outdoors. If you can learn to love the silvery patina color that teak wood fades to when exposed to the elements, then it’s probably better for outdoor pieces to be left untreated and simply cleaned regularly. A lot of people really love the golden color of new teak wood, though, and would like a reliable method for preserving and maintaining this look.
Oiled teak wood looks great at first, but the color can start to fade after just a few weeks. While it’s easy enough to apply, the need to continuously re-oil your furniture every couple months may leave you exhausted. The other main problem with oil on teak wood is that the extra moisture on the surface can be a ripe breeding ground for mildew. Once your teak tables get infected and start showing little black spots, it adds a lot of extra work to fix the problem. A good scrubbing may take care of the problem, but if the spots are very stubborn you might have to get out the sander to remove the topmost layer of wood.
All of this trouble can be avoided by treating your furniture with a Teak Sealer. There is a big difference between using oils and using a sealer. An oil is supposed to soak into the wood, but a sealer creates a protective coating over the top of it. It prevents the color from fading out of teak wood too quickly by blocking the effects of air, moisture, and UV rays.
Another huge benefit to using a teak sealer is that it’s a user-friendly, low-maintenance strategy for protecting the wood and keeping or enhancing its color. Teak sealer only need be applied once per year to achieve optimal results. It’s also quite easy to apply. I’m a big fan of Semco Teak Sealer for teak patio furniture. If you were originally considering using a teak oil or Danish oil, I’d actually recommend using this instead.