Teak Oil vs Tung Oil vs Danish Oil – What’s the Difference?

teak oil vs tung oil vs danish oilLet’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!).

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.

total boat teak oil

Total Boat Teak Oil

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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.

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Linseed oil being applied to wood

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.

Sunnyside Boiled Linseed Oil

Sunnyside Boiled Linseed Oil

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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.

Hope's 100% Pure Tung Oil

Hope’s 100% Pure Tung Oil

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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.

Formby's Tung Oil Finish

Formby’s Tung Oil Finish

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Old Masters Tung Oil Varnish

Old Masters Tung Oil Varnish

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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.

Watco Danish Oil Finish

Watco Danish Oil Finish

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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. It’s probably better for outdoor pieces to be left untreated and cleaned regularly, or else treated with a Teak Sealer.