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. Does it need a teak oil finish? Or is another oil better?
Maybe you assume that teak oil is naturally the best choice for teak wood (because they both have the word “teak”). Well, that’s exactly what the oil manufacturers want you to believe.
Or maybe 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, tung, and Danish oils really are because in most cases these are just clever names created for marketing purposes.
Pure teak oil does not exist as a product that you can buy. The “teak oil” you buy in a bottle 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 oils on teak wood furniture used outdoors. After explaining the differences between the various ones, I’ll tell you about my preferred non-oil method for maintaining the beautiful color of teak wood. But first let’s answer some questions about what these different oils really are.
What is Teak Oil?
Now that we know what it isn’t, the question still remains: “What is teak oil made from?” The actual composition 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 and tung oils are both naturally occurring plant-based materials. Mineral spirits, also known as petroleum naphtha, is a clear liquid derived from petroleum. It’s added to the oil as a thinner.
Teak oil ingredients:
What is teak oil used for?
Now that we know what teak oil is made from, you may be asking yourself “What is teak oil used for?”
The two main teak oil uses are for coating outdoor wood furniture and wooden sections of boats. In both cases, the wood is used outdoors and experiences lots of contact with the elements—water, wind, sunshine, etc.
Teak wood begins as a lovely golden color when it is freshly cut or sanded. But over time it fades to a gray color. Exposure to the elements speeds up this process. The oil application to the surface is meant to slow down the color fade, so that your teak wood appears like-new for longer.
Is teak oil waterproof?
Teak wood is naturally resistant to water damage, but teak oil is not waterproof. In fact, you should be cautious using it in very humid climates because this can feed mold growth. Teak oil is not food safe either. I would not recommend using it to treat a cutting board. It’s not stain-proof either. If you spill a glass of wine on an oiled teak table, it can stain. For very stubborn stains, sanding is the only sure-fire way to remove them.
Can you use teak oil on pine or cedar?
Teak oil can be used on many different kinds of wood, but it’s better for hardwoods similar to teak such as eucalyptus, shorea, and acacia. Teak oil on pine is not such a good idea. This drier wood type will soak up large quantities, and the boiled linseed oil component of the formula will feed mold growth. A clear varnish is a better outdoor wood finish for pine, or you could go with tung oil, though it will take many coats. Teak oil on cedar should be fine in most cases.
Are some better than others?
Not all teak oils are made equally. Some formulas far out-perform the others. If you’re looking for a good quality oil, one of the better ones out there is Starbrite Premium Golden Teak Oil. It gets excellent reviews from those who appreciate its long-lasting color protection.
Some people have asked the question: “Can linseed oil be used on teak wood instead of teak oil?” The answer is obviously YES since most teak oils consist of a large portion of linseed oil. Pure linseed oil will look, feel, and act slightly different on the wood, though, since it doesn’t contain the mineral spirits or solvents found in your average teak oil formula. Instead of this, you could make your own version of a teak oil by mixing 4 parts linseed oil with 1 part mineral spirits.
What is Linseed Oil?
Linseed oil comes from the seeds of the flax plant and has been cultivated for thousands of years. It is even thought that the ancient Egyptians used linseed oil as a lubricant for moving heavy stones into place when building the pyramids. Wow!
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 finish for wood, but care must be taken to apply them in the correct manner.
Boiled Linseed Oil vs Tung Oil
When specifically comparing Tung Oil vs Linseed Oil, each has their own pros and cons. Tung oil is more water resistant, but takes a long time to dry and requires many coats. Linseed oil, on the other hand, dries more quickly and applies very easily, but won’t give much protection from water.
What is 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. So then what is Danish oil made of? Well, the oil component is once again typically linseed oil and/or tung oil, which is mixed with varnish, mineral spirits, and synthetic resins 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.
Why is it Called Danish Oil?
This is a very good question. Once again it is simply a marketing term, but one that came about in a rather interesting way. Back in the middle of the previous century, Scandinavian wood furniture imports started to become very popular. These items tended to feature a low-sheen oil finish. When local companies began creating new oil finish formulas to replicate this look, they decide to name them simply “Danish oil” because of the perception that “Scandinavian oil” or “Scandinavian teak oil” were too long to use for names. If you see any products labeled as such, just realize that they are essentially the same as Danish oil.
How to Apply Teak Oil
There are basically 2 parts to successfully treating your furniture or boat with a teak oil:
- Preparation (cleaning and sanding)
- The actual oil treatment
Let’s look at both briefly.
Clean and sand the wood beforehand
Before you apply teak oil to wood furniture or boat sections, you need to clean the wood. The most effective method is to use a commercial teak cleaner/brightener product. Using a Scotchbrite pad or scrub brush you work the cleaner into the wood and then give it a few minutes to activate. Then scrub it again and hose it off. Finally, allow the wood to completely dry.
If you’ve followed the cleaner’s directions, your teak or other hardwoods should now look fresh and new, with the dull, gray aged color gone. Some stains can go deep, however, and for these you’ll need to do a light sanding. Make sure your furniture is entirely dust-free after sanding, and now you’re ready to oil.
Using teak oil
You can use a brush to apply the teak oil to the wood initially. Then with a clean cloth rag you want to work it into the wood and distribute it evenly for total coverage. After waiting for several minutes you need to go over the surface again with a cloth to absorb any excess oil and prevent it from pooling. This is a key step if you wish to avoid attracting mildew down the road.
After the first coat is dry, you’ll probably want to repeat this process with a second coat (and possibly even a third) to reach the desired color. The minimum number of coats recommended is two.
Teak oil treatments need to be re-applied on average once every 3-6 months for the best results.
How to Apply Linseed Oil
In the case of linseed oil, you wipe or brush it onto the wood until it doesn’t soak any more up. Then you need to wipe up the excess 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 (such as this one by Sunnyside) 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 finish actually contains any real tung oil.
How Long Do Wood Oils Last on Outdoor Furniture?
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 than Oil for Using on Outdoor Teak Furniture?
No oil treatment, in my opinion, is actually 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.
What’s the disadvantage of oil?
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.
What can you use instead?
All of this trouble can be avoided by treating your furniture with a Teak Sealer (such as this one). 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, and judging by all the good reviews, I’m not the only one. If you were originally considering using an oil, I’d actually recommend using this instead.