Tung Oil vs. Linseed Oil – Differences and How To Choose

A person wearing blue gloves to apply linseed oil to a butcher block.

If you’re in the market for the most popular finishing, or drying, oils, then you’re in luck!

There are plenty of great types used to improve the durability of wood. Yet, in this article, we’re focusing on only two: tung and linseed oils.

What’s the difference between tung oil and linseed oil? The main difference between these plant-derived oils is that tung oil dries to a clear finish while linseed oil tends to give a slightly yellow tint to the wood. Tung oil is more resistant to water and provides a more durable finish, but it requires more coats and takes longer to dry.

There are plenty more differences and similarities between these two eco-friendly finishing oils, so keep reading to learn more about tung and linseed oils and how you can use them to give your woodwork a gleaming, beautiful finish.

Let’s dive in.

Key Differences Between Tung Oil and Linseed Oil

  Tung Oil Linseed Oil
Ingredients Extracted from seeds of the Tung tree nut Extracted from flaxseed plants
Toxicity Nontoxic Nontoxic
Water Resistance Highly water resistant Not as water resistant as tung oil
Drying Time 2-3 days dry time 1-day dry time
Durability Creates a sturdy, durable finish Less durable than tung oil
Finished Appearance Starts as pale yellow, then dries to a clear coat Starts as a yellow film, then ages into an orange coat
Recommended Number of Coats 4-5 coats 2 coats
Best Used For
  • Food-related items (bowls, cooking utensils, cutting boards, etc.)
  • Woodwork, concrete, and brick surfaces
  • Used in coating wooden crafts, flooring, furniture, decks

* Many types of linseed oil aren’t food safe, so they’re usually not recommended for food-related items

Price Expensive Affordable

Tung Oil vs. Linseed Oil

If you’re a carpenter by profession or hobby, you’ve probably thought long and hard about which finishing oil to use on your wood projects.

For years, people just slapped on a layer of varnish or lacquer and called it a day.

In recent years, however, more eco-friendly, nontoxic options are beginning to make a comeback, like tung and linseed oils.

For starters, they’re low maintenance and less of a safety hazard. Another benefit is that they seep into the wood grain, making it more durable.

Tung Oil

Tung oil has been used for waterproofing and sealing woodwork for centuries.

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Tung Oil Characteristics & Ingredients

Tung oil was first used in China around 400 BC.

Tung oil, or “Chinese wood” oil, is extracted by pressing the seeds of the China-native Tung tree. Over the years, the tools used in making tung oil have evolved, yet the process is the same.

The first record of tung oil dates back to 400 BC in Southeast Asia. Today, it’s manufactured in several countries besides China and sold worldwide.

Tung Oil Uses

Tung oil is used primarily to coat wood items and safeguard against scratches and humidity. It’s also used to give wood a gleaming, almost wet look.

It’s applied on surfaces that regularly come in contact with water and environmental factors, like wind, rain, and the sun. Another advantage is its resistant to insects and mold.

Tung Oil Application & Drying Time

In its purest forms, tung oil requires no less than five coats. Unfortunately, each coat takes between two and three days to dry, which can be a nuisance if you’re pressed for time.

The good news is there’s a way to make it dry faster: add paint thinner or mineral spirits. That alone can cut drying time in half.

To apply, dip a cotton cloth into the mixture and apply it to the wood. You’ll notice it immediately seeps into the wood.

When it’s time for the next coat, make sure you stir the mixture because the oil tends to sink to the bottom when left for several hours.

If it seems too watery, add some oil to thicken it up a bit.

Bear in mind that the wood tends to “sweat” off excess oil, so make sure you regularly wipe the wood off as it dries.

Tung Oil Finished Appearance

When tung oil dries, it leaves a gleaming, almost wet look.

In addition, when all the coats have dried, they turn into a solid surface, thus providing maximum protection against scrapes and cuts.

Linseed Oil

Linseed oil is a natural wood finish and another fan-favorite among woodworkers.

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Linseed Oil Characteristics & Ingredients

Linseed oil is called “flaxseed oil” or “flax oil” because it’s made by pressing ripe flaxseeds and extracting the solvent.

It’s known to permeate into almost every type of wood grain, giving it a soft, satiny finish. It also acts as a nice protective coating to boost durability.

Linseed Oil Uses

Here’s a fun fact: wood is hygroscopic. This means it absorbs moisture from the air until the amount of moisture in the wood equals that found in the air.

This is where linseed oil comes in. It safeguards against changes in humidity, thus preserving the shape and integrity of the wood.

When you apply linseed oil, you’ll notice that it seeps deep into the grain. This is because it acts as a natural sealant over the surface.

Plus, it enhances the beauty of the wood grain while protecting it against scratches and scrapes.

That said, we have to mention that linseed oil isn’t as resistant to water as tung oil is. This makes it not the best choice for items that need to be washed regularly.

As long as it isn’t subjected to environmental factors, linseed oil is a good option, especially when you need to finish your project quickly.

Linseed Oil Application & Drying Time

Linseed oil is a low-maintenance finishing oil that offers a satiny finish that brings out the beautiful color of the wood.

One drawback is that raw linseed oil has a long drying time. This is why carpenters often opt for boiled or polymerized linseed oil.

Both are derived from the flaxseed plant. However, they’re processed differently, resulting in two different solutions.

Boiled linseed oil dries fairly quickly. To accomplish this goal, it’s treated using metallic dryers, which cut down drying time to a couple of hours.

That’s great if it weren’t for these compounds being toxic and hazardous to your health.

Alternatively, polymerized linseed oil is made by heating raw linseed oil in a sealed tank. It contains no metallic compounds, so it’s 100% nontoxic.

The best part is that one coat can dry overnight, even quicker in ideal conditions.

Linseed Oil Finished Appearance

Linseed oil tends to have a yellowish tint to it when you’re applying several coats. Then, it turns into a deep shade of orange with time.

Is Linseed Oil Better Than Tung Oil?

As you’ve seen from our detailed rundown of each type of finishing oil, one isn’t necessarily better than the other. The main deciding factor is what you’ll be using it for.

Can I Put Tung Oil Over Linseed Oil?

Yes. You can apply the tung oil over dried linseed oil to make the woodwork more durable and weather resistant.

Another option is to mix two parts linseed to one part tung oil. Just make sure you’re using boiled or polymerized linseed oil, or your woodwork will take forever to dry.

Will Tung Oil Darken Wood?

There are two main types of tung oil: pure and dark. Each type dries to a different shade, depending on the wood.

Light-colored woods, like pine, oak, and maple, will do better with pure tung oil because it has a light-colored coating.

That yellowish tint only adds to the charm and beauty of the wood.

In contrast, cherry, walnut, and mahogany are dark-colored woods that work better with dark tung oil. However, both have similar base colors, so the difference won’t be noticeable.

So, the only time tung oil will darken wood is if you use the dark oil on light-colored woods.

Is Tung Oil Waterproof?

Tung oil is highly resistant to water. Being waterproof, it’s able to resist mold and fungal growth as well.

As a result, it’s often the preferred choice when coating items that need regular washing. It’s also a great pick for sealing woodwork that’s exposed to the elements.

Related Questions:

Here are two common questions to shed light on our tung oil vs. linseed oil faceoff.

Is Tung Oil Good for Cutting Boards?

Yes, tung oil is one of the best finishing oils for cutting boards. For one, it’s water resistant, so it’ll stand up to all the heavy-duty use and regular washes.

Another reason is that it’s food safe. Thus, there’s no health hazard when food comes in contact with the tung oil coating on the cutting board.

Can I Put Danish Oil Over Tung Oil?

Yes, you can apply Danish oil on top of a tung oil coating.

Danish oil is compatible with tung oil since it’s made by mixing either tung or linseed oil with any type of varnish, resin, and mineral spirits.

As long as the tung oil has dried, apply one or two coats of Danish oil for added durability and sheen.

How To Decide Between Tung Oil and Linseed Oil

Remember that if you’re coating wood items that are regularly subjected to water and the elements, it’s better to go with tung oil. It is long lasting, doesn’t fade, and provides the ultimate protection.

On the other hand, if you need an oil that’s affordable and user friendly with a short drying time, linseed oil is your best bet. It works on any type of wood for a shiny, glossy finish.

After reading about all the basics in our tung oil vs. linseed oil faceoff, there’s just one thing left to do: go pick out your next project!

Last update on 2022-05-18 at 06:48 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Rich

Rich

I'm a hobby enthusiast with a real love for painting miniatures. I also happen to run this site and write the majority of its content!