Oil Finish Roundup

Various oil based finishes on turnings

Overview: Oil finishes are considered by many turners to be the “holy grail” of woodturning finishes. Among the easiest of all finishes to apply, these finishes impart a sensual close to the wood feeling that begs to be touched and caressed. In my demonstrations around the United States and in discussions with other turners via the Internet, no other subject has spawned more questions than finishing.

In days long past, finishing was considered an art form - in and of itself, with the procedures and formulas jealously guarded by craft guilds. Today, few woodturners handcraft their finishes from scratch. Literally hundreds of professionally formulated finishes are easily available, delivering varying levels of protection and luster. However, some turners still prefer handcrafting their own signature finishes, achieving results that rival any commercial finish.

Oils are a very popular finish for many woodturnings. However, few finishing products are specifically made for woodturnings. Therefore, much of the application information has been designed with traditional furniture finishing in mind.

Whilst some of the procedures for applying an oil finish to a turning or a piece of furniture may be the same, others are not. As woodturners, we are fortunate to be able to use our lathes in conjunction with our finishing endeavors.

"Flight of Fancy" Big Tooth Maple natural edge bowl
(Oil soaked finish)

This is a significant advantage over traditional finishing of cabinet or furniture case goods. The lathe can easily transform laborious and tedious activities into relatively quick and simple procedures. On my lathe, I can easily spin a bowl at a few hundred revs to apply, cut back, or buff an oil finish. I would not care to do this with my dining room table however!


Significant Drying Oils Used in Oil Finishes:
Linseed, Soy, Tung, Castor and Tall Oil

"Prelude" Ambrosia Maple hollow form (Boiled Linseed oil and Watco Danish oil)

Linseed oil, a primary ingredient in some oil finishes, is derived from the seeds of the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum L.) and is the oldest cultivated plant in Europe. Linseed oil was used in paint formulas as early as the Roman Empire.

In the 13th century, Eraklius noted in his book, De coloribus et artibus Romanorum, an oil purified with lime, mixed with white lead and agitated in the sun. Later in the 15th century, the Strasbourg Manuscript noted linseed oil being cooked with white burned bones, pumice and Galicenstein (a manganese zinc vitriol).

Linseed oil is obtained by various methods including pre-expelling, followed by hexane extraction of the resulting press cake. The oil is refined to remove phosphatides and gums, which naturally occur in the oil. Subsequent refining through post-desliming with sulphuric acid and phosphoric acid yields an oil with virtually no traces of phosphatides or gums. Further post-treatments include lye neutralization and earth bleaching, which yields a very light drying oil.

The natural odor of linseed oil is removed through vacuum steam distillation, which removes lingering odorous volatile compounds like aldehydes and ketones. Dewaxing the oil is the last step in the refining process, which removes the thin layer of wax that covers each linseed. Dewaxing is accomplished by cooling the oil to 4 degrees Centigrade. The cooled Linseed oil is then held at this temperature until the waxes have crystallized. The resulting crystallized wax is then removed by mechanical filtration.

Soy oil is obtained from soybeans (Glycine maxima (L). Soy oil is considered a semi-drying oil, unless it is modified. It is frequently combined with tung oil in some oil finishes. Soy oil is obtained by cracking and flaking the soybeans, followed by hexane extraction.

Tung oil is obtained from the seed kernels of the Tung tree, Aleuritis fordii (Chinese tung oil) or Aleuritis cordata, syn. vernica and verrucosa (Japanese tung oil). The principal source of raw tung oil is China and South America.

The nuts of Aleuritis montana, Aleuritis trisperma (kekunaoil) and A. moluccana or A. triloba (lumbang oil) also produce oils with properties that are similar to Chinese tung oil.

"Pure" Tung oils (from left): Liberon and Lee Valley

"Night Dancer" Australian Eucalyptus burr bowl (Formby's Tung Oil finish)

n 1298, Marco Polo reported that tung oil together with lime had been used for impregnating and sealing wooden ships. As early as 1894, tung oil was being imported into Europe and the United States as a substitute for linseed oil. Tung oil is produced by mechanical pressing, or by solvent extraction. The resulting oil is then filtered to remove any impurities.

Castor oil is obtained by cold pressing and hexane solvent extraction of the beans from Ricinus communis. The Castor oil is then converted to a drying oil by heating with acid catalysts (sulphuric acid, phosphoric acid, or acidic salts) to form dehydrated castor oil, which contains conjugated octadecadienoic acid isomers.

Castor oil ranks between linseed oil and tung oil for film drying and formation characteristics and is frequently used as a base for non-yellowing binders in flexible coatings, due to its lack of trienes.

Tall oil is a by-product of the sulphate process of producing cellulose from conifers. Pine trees produce the highest quality tall oils. Tall oil is not technically an oil, but a mixture of unsaturated fatty acids, rosin acids and unsaponifiable components. Tall oil is an important component in the manufacture of Alkyd resins.


What are Drying Oils?

Drying oils, including linseed and tung, can be defined as liquid vegetable oils that, when applied in thin layers to a non-absorbent substrate, will dry in the air to form a solid film. This drying is a result of polymerization by the action of atmospheric oxygen, i.e. autoxidation.

"Winston Churchill" Bald Cypress bowl (Lee Valley Polymerized Tung Oil Sealer)

The resultant films are typically hard, non-melting and are usually insoluble in organic solvents. (This varies with the particular drying oil) Semi-drying oils, like soybean oil and some nut oils, form tacky, somewhat sticky films when dried. Non-drying oils like mineral oil undergo no marked increase in viscosity upon exposure to air.

Drying oils are typically subdivided into three main groups for classification purposes, nonconjugated, conjugated and other oils. Nonconjugated oils, such as linseed, soybean, sunflower and safflower oil, are fatty oils that contain polyunsaturated fatty acids, whose double bonds are separated by at least two single bonds (i.e. isolated double bonds make up the nonconjugated oils).

Formby's Tung Oil Finish (left) and Western Wood Doctor Tung Oil Finish

Conjugated oils on the other hand, such as tung, oiticica, dehydrated castor oil and isomerised nonconjugated oils are polyunsaturated fatty acids whose double bonds are partly or fully conjugated (i.e. alternate single and double bonds in the carbon chain are the fatty acids).

Other oils include those with multifunctional fatty acids, which acquire their drying characteristics by chemical conversion, such as raw castor oil and tall oil. A simple way to classify fatty oils is by their iodine value. Drying oils have iodine values above 170, whereas semi-drying oils range between 110 and 170.


Variables in Drying

The place of cultivation and its climate can alter the fatty acid spectrum of a drying oil. The high proportion of linolenic acid in nonconjugated oils, like linseed oil, affects its drying characteristics. High concentrations of linolenic acid can result in rapid drying, yellowing and brittleness.

Oils with low, or no linolenic acid like soybean and safflower oil, obtain their drying characteristics from high levels of triglycerides, which contain linoleic acid. The drying of these oils produces flexible films with very little yellowing.

Conjugated oils like tung oil are considerably more reactive than nonconjugated oils. Conjugated double bonds favor polymerization and oxidation and dry more rapidly than nonconjugated oils, offering excellent surface-dry, through-dry and hardness. The resultant film offers a high resistance to yellowing and increased resistance to water and alkalis.

"Aftermath: Prince William Sound" spalted Silver Maple bowl (General Finishes Royal Finish)

"Jorell" spalted Water Oak hollow form (Boiled Linseed Oil and Tung Oil)

The principal drying component in tung oil is eleostearic acid, a conjugated octadecatrienoic acid. The oleic acid contained in the fatty oils and unsaturated fatty acids plays a small part in the drying process as well. The saturated fatty acids present, however, act only as plasticizers.


The Process of Drying

The drying of films typically progresses in three overlapping steps:

  1. Induction - Through a process known as autocatalysis, the oxygen uptake, which is slow at first, steadily increases. Factors such as temperature, light and heavy metals/inhibitors in the oil affect the overall uptake rate.
  2. Initiation - As the film continues to take up oxygen, its mass increases. The double bonds in the film begin to rearrange and polar groups such as hydroxyl and hydroperoxy develop in the film. This leads to the association of molecules, through forces such as hydrogen bonding.
  3. Cross-Linking - As the number of double bonds in the film begins to diminish, larger molecules form, and volatile and non-volatile carbonyl compounds are generated. The exact chemical reactions, as well as the structure of the film-forming polymers, are not completely understood. The initial autoxidation step in nonconjugated oils is dehydrogenation of the unsaturated fatty acid by molecular oxygen, which forms a radical. This starts a catalytic radical chain reaction that increases incrementally with time, leading to the formation of a hydroperoxide.

At low levels, the hydroperoxides produced during autoxidation decompose to form free alkoxy and hydroxyl radicals. Higher levels of hydroperoxides form free radicals through biomolecular disproportionation. The resultant free radicals react in various ways to accelerate the autoxidation process.

"Cloud Dancer" White Ash and Nigerian Ebony bowl (Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil)

"Curly White Ash bowl (Liberon Finishing Oil)

The drying of tung oil varies considerably from linseed oil. Tung oil typically absorbs approximately 12% oxygen (linseed oil absorbs approx. 16%) and quickly forms a skin on the surface.

Since less oxygen is absorbed, the viscosity of the oil increases at a faster rate. Unlike the hydroperoxide formation during autoxidation in linseed oil, tung oil forms cyclic peroxides. The methyl eleostearate that is formed has a higher molecular mass than linoleic acid esters.

The direct attack on the double bonds by oxygen forms cyclic peroxides. The resultant reaction of the peroxides with allylic methylene groups, leads to the formation of radicals. This creates a radical chain reaction that forms polymers.

The molecular mass created during tung oil polymerization is less than that achieved through linseed oil polymerization. To speed up the film formation and curing process, manufacturers add “driers” to the oils.

"Reflections from the Abyss" Walnut burr bowl (Daly's ProFin Finish)


Driers or Siccatives

Driers are oil soluble metal salts of organic acids. When these driers are dissolved in aliphatic or aromatic hydrocarbons, they are known as siccatives. When driers are added to drying oils, they are known as Boiled Oils. Traditionally, driers contained combinations of oil-soluble metal salts like Cobalt and/or Manganese with Zirconium, Lead or Calcium salts of 2-ethylhexanoic acid or naphtenic acids. Cobalt and Manganese salts act as surface driers and aid in the drying of the film on the surface, where oxygen concentrations are the highest.

"Crosswinds" Figured Box Elder platter (Deft Danish Oil Finish)

Lead and Zirconium salts catalyze throughout the film and are known as through driers. To avoid the use of Lead, which is highly toxic, modern siccatives employ blends of Cobalt and Zirconium.

This combination reduces surface drying speed, promoting even drying throughout the substrate. Calcium salts are sometimes used as well, mainly to reduce the amounts of other driers that may be needed. Various other compounds may also be present in some siccatives including Beryllium, Cadmium and Nickel.


Polymerized Oils

Both nonconjugated and conjugated drying oils like linseed and tung can be polymerized by heating under an inert atmosphere. These polymerized oils are then referred to as “Bodied Oils.” To achieve the higher viscosities of bodied oils, nonconjugated oils are heated up to 320° Centigrade and conjugated oils are heated up to 240° Centigrade.

This increase in viscosity, or “body,” is caused from thermal decomposition of naturally occurring hydroperoxides. This decomposition yields free radicals that contribute to a limited amount of cross-linking.

"Magnificent Obsession" Honey Mesquite bowl (Liberon Finishing Oil)

Lee Valley finishes (from left): Polymerized Tung oil High Luster, Polymerized Tung Oil Sealer, Pure Tung Oil

The heating of tung oil must be carefully monitored, or the polymerization will lead to gelation of the oil. The viscosity can also be increased by passing air through the oil (known as Blown Oils) at high temperatures up to 150° Centigrade.

Reactions similar to those observed in cross-linking cause oligomerization of the oil.

Polymerized tung and linseed oils dry faster, harder and are more durable than raw oils. In addition, polymerized oils produce a smooth glossy finish, whereas raw oils produce a matte sheen. This matte sheen is a result of the natural expansion that takes place during polymerization. This expansion creates a very finely textured surface that appears to the naked eye as a matte finish.

Some highly specialized polymerized tung oils are processed at extremely high pressures and temperatures. These are called Thermalized Tung oils and are used in the manufacture of nitro-cellulose lacquers. This process improves the drying, hardness and luster of the oil.

Robson's Danish Oil
and Varnish Oil


Raw Linseed Oil vs. Boiled Linseed Oil

"Genesis I: Garden of the Gods" Silver Maple platter (General Finishes Seal-A-Cell and Royal Finish)

Raw linseed oil is linseed oil that has been extracted and packaged without any additional additives. Raw linseed oil takes significantly longer to dry than boiled linseed oil. Raw linseed oil needs several weeks or more to cure, vs. 36-48 hours for boiled linseed oil.

Boiled linseed oil is linseed oil that has been altered through the addition of chemical drying accelerators, i.e. solvents and siccatives/driers. This treatment allows the manufacturer to reduce the V.O.C (volatile organic compounds) content, while maintaining the viscosity. Boiled linseed oil is frequently mixed with 10-15% Stand Oil.

Stand Oils are drying oils with increased viscosity, which are produced by heating the oil in the absence of oxygen. In order to increase the viscosity of the boiled oil, air is sometimes “blown” through the oil at 60°-100° Centigrade.

Blown linseed oils are polymerized by oxidation to increase the viscosity and acid number. Blown linseed oils are used in non-penetrating finishes and dry faster than heat bodied linseed oils.

"Calliburn" burned and scorched Ash hollow form (Minwax Tung Oil Finish)


Mineral oils show no increase in viscosity when exposed to the air

The yellowing of linseed oil is thought to be caused when conjugated unsaturated hydroperoxides are converted into conjugated unsaturated ketones. These unsaturated ketones can produce long-chain colored polyenes. Additionally, if 1,4-diketones are formed during the drying, enol tautomers can react with trace amounts of atmospheric ammonia.

This produces a substituted pyrrole, which can be converted into a colored product by oxidation, or by condensation in the presence of formic acid. Colored metal siccatives can also contribute to the discoloration and/or yellowing of linseed oil. To alleviate the yellowing, saturated aliphatic aldehydes may be added to the oil.


Manufactured Oil Finishes

Modern oil finishes can be categorized into four main groups for simplicity: unblended or pure oil finishes, polymerized oil finishes, standard varnishes and blended oil/varnish mixtures.

"Pure" oils (from left): Liberon Tung, Oils of Aloha Kukui Nut, Lee Valley Tung, Oils of Aloha Macadamia Nut, Lee Valley Walnut

"Convergence" Pecan crotch platter (Robson's Danish oil and Varnish Oil)

Unblended or pure oils typically include oils extracted from plants, nuts or petroleum. Examples of pure or unblended oils include; raw linseed oil, tung oil, kukui nut oil, macadamia nut oil and walnut oil.

The labeling on the oil finish should include the words “pure” or “100 percent,” or the oil may be blended with other ingredients. Tung oil is sometimes referred to as “China Wood Oil”.

Polymerized oils have been heated in an inert (oxygen-free) atmosphere enough to cause thermal polymerization to occur, but not enough to cause gelation. The resultant oil can be very viscous and is best applied in very thin layers. Two types of commonly available polymerized oil finishes are linseed and tung.

"Defiant" Honey Mesquite bowl (Swing Paint Company Natur-Oil)

These specially processed oils provide faster drying and harder cured films with a more durable glossy luster. Polymerized oil finishes are more expensive than standard oil finishes. In a production environment, polymerized oil finishes allow a significantly faster build, thus saving precious time and labor.

Standard varnishes include modern varnishes and polyurethanes, which are thinned with petroleum distillates until they reach application viscosities. Some of these varnishes are thin enough to be wiped on, like a typical oil finish. These thinned finishes are in reality a wipe-on or wiping varnish, but they are usually marketed as oil finishes. Thicker varnishes are made to be brushed on, but many of these can be successfully wiped on as well, with hand or high-speed methods.

Defthane Polyurethane

Varnishes are made by heating drying or semi-drying oils like linseed, tung, soybean or safflower at high temperatures with natural or synthetic resins, until the proper viscosity is achieved. The resultant varnish is then thinned with hydrocarbon solvents to reach application viscosity.

Natural resins used may include congo, copal, manila, amber, damar and kauri resins and others. Synthetic resins may include ester gum, phenolic resins, alkyd, polyurethane or coumarone-iodine resins. Today, natural resins are seldom used, being largely replaced with synthetics in most varnishes.

Blended oil/varnishes are just that, blends of various oils and varnishes. The ratio of oil to varnish, as well as the specific oils or varnishes used, determines the physical characteristics of the final finish.

Oils extend the curing time and soften the luster and hardness of the final finish. Varnishes increase the “body” of the finish and provide increased hardness, luster, water resistance and scratch protection.

Watco Danish Oil


How to Achieve Better Oil Finishes

"Katabatic II" Chinaberry bowl (Arboroil - Straw)

Next to wax, oil finishes are the easiest of all finishes to apply. However, there is more to applying oil finishes than simply wiping them on and then off. Here are a few tips to help you achieve the best oil finish possible.

  • Oil finishes tend to magnify any surface flaws on timber. Therefore, your surface must not contain bruised or torn grain areas, or they will become quite evident when the finish is applied.
  • Sand the surface of the timber to at least 600-grit metric. If your turning is a gallery quality piece, sand to 2,000–grit metric. After each grit change, reverse turn and sand in the opposite direction.
  • When you have completed sanding with the final grit, lightly wet the surface of the timber to raise the grain. When dry, resand to remove any raised grain.
  • Remove any accumulated sanding dust or grit lodged in the pores with compressed air or a tack rag.
  • To insure that the surface contains no defects, wipe on a thin coat of White Spirit and closely examine the surface. If you find an area that needs attention, resand and prepare the surface for finishing as stated above.

"English Eyes" English Brown Oak burr bowl (Waterlox Original Antique Gloss)

Applying Liberon Finishing Oil to a spalted Tallow platter

  • Apply the initial coat of oil finish to the surface to the timber by flooding it on and keeping the surface wet for 3-5 minutes. Pay close attention to areas that absorb more oil finish and appear dry.
  • Reapply the finish as necessary to insure that the surface stays wet during the rub-in process. If you are using a polymerized oil finish, the application time may be significantly less.
  • When your initial rub-in is completed, use two pieces of kitchen paper, one in each hand, to remove any excess finish. Pay particular attention to accumulated oil in any detail areas like textures or beads. A short blast of compressed air in these areas will assist in removal of any excess finish.
  • Watch for possible bleed-out of the oil finish from the wood pores and remove any that appears before it cures. Some large pored timbers are very prone to bleed-out such as Oaks, Walnut and Ash. Depending on the particular species and amount of finish applied, this bleed-out may occur for up to four hours after application of the finish.

"Fire Dancer" Black Ash crotch platter (Private blend finish)

Various BioShield oil finishes

  • Before applying the second and subsequent coats, lightly sand the surface with the finest grit of sandpaper or wire wool. Some turners prefer to wet sand at this point, especially when working past 1,200-grit.
  • When you have applied your final coat of finish, allow the surface to fully cure. At this point, you can use a cutting compound, or proceed directly to the buffing wheel to smooth and perfect the finish.
  • If you have wet sanded the previous coats, you can use a deluxing compound to perfect and polish the final coat.
  • If you will be buffing the piece, you can charge your wheel with Tripoli or White Diamond compound to increase the effectiveness of the buff. Most oil finishes also respond well to “dry” buffing with plain cotton or flannel wheels.

Applying Bioshield 39 Hard Oil to a Honey Mesquite platter


  • The speed at which to buff depends on several factors including the finish type, compound used and the structure and content of the buffing wheel. If you are a novice, start at 1,750 rpm. If this proves inefficient, gradually increase the speed until the buff cuts effectively.

Using High Viscosity Oil Finishes on the Lathe

If you wish to use highly polymerized oils on the lathe, you need to pay close attention to applying very thin, even coats. Less is more in this respect! Kitchen papers can be used with some of the thinner polymerized oils, but are totally ineffective with highly polymerized products.

"Abyssal Illusion" Walnut burr bowl (Minwax Antique Oil)

The higher viscosities of these products require the very best of applicators. Fine grade varnish brushes can be used, but they require extra effort to clean and properly store.

Because much of my work with high viscosity polymerized oils is high-speed production finish work, I wanted an easier and less time consuming applicator than brushes.

One day while walking through my local finishing stockist, I happened to notice a synthetic applicator pad made to apply oil finishes to floors without streaking. It was just what I was looking for!

The pads are very inexpensive costing only £2.00 each ($3.00) and can be cut to make several mini-applicator pads. Flecto Varathane manufacturers the pad I use, which is orange in color. To use it, I cut the pad into 25 mm wide strips.

"Calypso" Winged Elm platter (Waterlox Original Sealer/Finish).

Curly Silver Maple shallow bowl with double beaded back cut rim (Birchwood-Casey's Tru-Oil)

Before using the pads with any finish, you must remove any loose fibers that may be present. To do this, thoroughly rinse the mini-pads in Mineral Spirits or White Spirit and allow them to fully dry.

When they are dried, run a high tack adhesive tape across the surface and sides of each pad several times. This will remove any remaining loose fibers, which would otherwise compromise the quality of the finish. Your mini-pads are now ready to use.

Lightly dip the pad into your finish and apply it to the surface as the piece is spinning. Rapid strokes across the surface will produce a streak free finish. These pads also work very well for applying oil finishes by hand. When you have finished working, simply rinse the mini-pad in the recommended solvent.

Various Deft Danish
Oil finishes

Liberon finishes: Pure Tung Oil (left), Finishing Oil

The Robson Family’s Tried & True line of polymerized linseed oil finishes do not recommend using solvents to thin their products. Instead, they recommend using a thinner product in their line to reduce the viscosity of the thicker product. For example, they recommend using their Danish Oil to thin the much thicker Varnish Oil.

To use the mini-pads with extremely viscous products like Robson’s Varnish Oil, lightly load the pad with the thinner Danish Oil. Remove any excess and then load the pad with a small amount of the thicker Varnish Oil. Apply to the spinning timber at a reduced speed until the surface has been uniformly covered. Switch to a higher speed and level the finish by moving the pad across the surface at a rapid rate.

Note: If your turning contains sharp fissures or bark inclusions that have open edges, do not use these mini-pads for high-speed application! The sharp edges will pull fibers from the pad whilst the piece is turning, which will contaminate the finish. In these cases, application by hand is recommended.


Layering Different Oils for Grain Enhancement

One of the luxuries of being a production turner is the ability to test various products and application protocols on a vast number of turned items. Over the last few years, I have continually searched for new ways to increase the visual and tactile quality of finishes.

This journey has led me to experiment with hundreds of different manufactured finishes, as well as numerous personally handcrafted finishes made from scratch. I’m always in a perpetual search for a better “gallery” quality finish. To that end, I have been exploring new ways in which to apply finishes in order to maximize their ultimate visual impact.

"Celebration" Silver Maple Salad bowl (General Finishes Salad Bowl Finish)

Silver Maple hollow form (Soaked oil finish - various)

As we all know, there are literally hundreds of different oil finishes available. Some of these are designed to penetrate deeply; others are made to build faster. The colors of these oils also vary quite a bit, from almost clear to very dark amber and everything in between.

Recently, I have been layering different oil finishes on the same turning, in an effort to obtain the best visual and tactile impact possible. Up to six different types of compatible oil finishes are used in a specific sequence to build the finish in layers. These include a sub-base, base, intermediate, mid, high, and topcoat layers.

These layered oils combine to form a finish that is subtly different from that produced by a single oil finish. While an in-depth discussion of this process is beyond the scope of this article, I would encourage you to experiment with layering different oil finishes to improve the visual and tactile quality of your turnings.


Health Concerns

Most oil finishes contain various solvents, driers and other potentially harmful substances. Before applying any finish, read and follow any manufacturer’s safety recommendations. Safety measures should include protection for your eyes, lungs and skin.

Always wear goggles or safety glasses when applying finishes. Accidental splashes can and do occur! If you cannot insure proper cross ventilation of the finishing workspace with constant fresh air, wear a NIOSH approved respirator with an organic vapor cartridge when applying, mixing or working with finishes.

Curly Silver Maple bowl (Minwax #209 oil finish)

"Genesis II: England's Splendor" English Brown Oak burr bowl (Minwax #209, Royal Finish)

Whenever you apply finishes by hand, wear appropriate gloves that are made to withstand the solvents contained in the finish you are going to use. If you are unsure of the specific type of glove material to wear, consult the manufacturer for recommendations.

It’s prudent to take proper precautions when working with potentially harmful products. If you are unsure what your chosen finish contains, obtain an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) if in the U.S.A., or a COSHH in the U.K. from the manufacturer. These will list any hazardous ingredients in the finish, as well as potential health hazards associated with the product.


Summary

Modern oil finishes protect and enhance the natural beauty of wood. From soft elegant matte finishes that are “barely” there, to lustrous high gloss finishes that look as if you could step into them, there’s an oil finish to suit every taste.

The ultimate decision on which finish to use should be governed by the type of timber, its intended use, the gloss level desired and your personal preferences.

"Carrubium Fantasy" Carob burr bowl with double vision beaded back cut rim (multiple oil finishes layered for effect)

I would encourage you to step out of the “box” occasionally and experiment with different oil finishes. Subtle visual and tactile differences are difficult to describe and are even harder to photograph, but they do exist between different oil finishes.


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Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.


Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.

Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.

Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.