107 – Oil-Based Finish Basics

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Oil-based finishes are typically the first type of finish we confront as woodworkers, be it straight oil or a can polyurethane. Although they are all derived from oil, these finishes can vary widely in terms of application method, durability, and maintenance. The key to understanding these finishes is to understand their ingredients. With that foundation in your tool belt, you can start looking at ingredients lists instead of brand names and labels, and you’ll know exactly what to expect from the finish. Since this is a live session, we have a bunch of viewer questions in the video as well.

Categories: Finishing, Live Events


  1. Lone_Wolf December 1, 2009

    I just wanted to be the first one to post. I’ll watch the video and come back. I sure it will be as good as all the others. Thanks for your work.

  2. Dan Drabek December 1, 2009

    An fine overview of the basic oil finishes. I’d only add that in comparing boiled linseed oil to tung oil, the biggest difference between the two is that tung oil is quite a bit more water-resistant than linseed. So it would be a better choice where exposure to moisture is a consideration. However, neither, as you indicated, is a particularly durable or protective finish.


  3. Dan December 1, 2009

    Hey Marc,

    Great episode on finishing – I’m generally a water-based finish guy, but do on occasion use oil-based finishes, so this was a great refresher.

    I wanted to comment a bit on the new ads at the begining of the episode. I know you’re running a business here, and I guess I’d rather 30s of commercials at the beginning rather than spread throughout, but one of the things I really liked in the past was the lack of commercials in your work (except for the web site of course). Here’s my vote to keep videos commercial free (sponsors are OK).


      thewoodwhisperer December 1, 2009

      Hey Dan. Its actually just a trial experiment. As long as we have strong sponsorship, we shouldn’t need to do things like pre-rolls. But keep in mind that sponsors are not exactly something we are in control of. So I need to have a full understanding of all of our advertising options, including pre-rolls. So don’t worry, its not permanent. But should we ever lose our big sponsors, it may be a viable option for us.

      If given the choice between ads and no ads, of course we would all choose no ads. But if given the choice between Wood Whisperer with ads, and no Wood Whisperer at all, I would hope the choice is just as obvious. :)

      • Dan December 2, 2009

        Yep, it’s just as obvious :)

      • Andrew December 8, 2009

        For what it’s worth Marc, I think you do a great job, and I hope that you can get Rockler and Powermatic and anyone else to pay you tons of money to keep doing it.

  4. Dean December 1, 2009

    Wow! 36 minutes of pure information! Thanks Marc for the very informative video. You definitely removed a lot of gray areas for me, as well as made me aware of things I don’t know about. I hope the pre-roll doesn’t “drive” everyone crazy :)

  5. Jon McGrath December 1, 2009

    The live session was excellent – and the little DJ Marks trick which was communicated – FINALLY, I was so frustrated with the Tung Oil deal – turning out to be arm-R – i can now see the world, the grass is greener, the birds – they fly… LOL – all joking aside – good stuff and informative. Death to the misrepresenting marketers!!!

  6. Michael December 1, 2009

    No one mentioned the shirt yet? Maybe I’m just a nerd but Marc, I love the Link shirt. One of my favorites in your wardrobe now.

  7. brian schmitt December 1, 2009

    what do you think of walnut oil from lee valley

      thewoodwhisperer December 1, 2009

      I consider it pretty close to BLO and tung oil. I kind of lump them all into the same family of oils that actually do dry. Lots of folks like using walnut oil on food items, as a nice alternative to mineral oil, which never dries.

  8. Thanks for the crash course. I am planning on doing a varnish on my current project, so it was good to have a refresher on the subject.

  9. Mark Williams December 1, 2009


    Keep the commercials if it helps you out. With all of the commercial messages we each are bombarded with each day another 30 seconds is not a big deal. Who else do you know that responds to your questions with solid advice for free? The reality is that each email Marc responds to, or activity he undertakes costs him time and time is money. So Marc, if you can make more I say go for it!

      thewoodwhisperer December 1, 2009

      Thanks dude. Fortunately we aren’t at the point where we need to pull revenue from every possible source. But its nice to know what our options are.

      • Mark Williams December 2, 2009


        Your the expert when it comes to this!

  10. Lone_Wolf December 1, 2009


    Great video. A lot of info in just 30 min. You stated that you like to stay away from varnishes in drawers. What finish do you use for the inside of drawers?

    Thanks again for another good video.

      thewoodwhisperer December 1, 2009

      On the inside of drawers, I usually just seal it up with a couple coats of shellac. Its just the inside of a drawer so as long as the drawer is sealed, I am happy. I should also add that if its a drawer on a coffee table or end table, I might just use varnish. But its when the drawer contains clothing, blankets, or maybe even food items, that I will avoid using oil-based products.

  11. Joe Hill December 1, 2009

    I came up out of the garage to do a little research on oil finishes and found your new post. Thanks for being psychic.

    Quick question: I picked up some boiled linseed oil on your suggestion for getting that shimmery-iridescent quality under the top coat. If I’m topping with Watco Danish oil, do I need to start with the straight BLO?

    Also, it seems that the label on the BLO is really playing up flammability. Is it particularly dangerous compared to other oil based products? Thanks again.

      thewoodwhisperer December 1, 2009

      If you are using with Danish oil, there is already oil in the mix. There will be pretty much no benefit to using straight BLO first. So I would just go with the Danish Oil alone.

      Anything with oil in it is flammable. But oily rags, soaked with BLO or tung oil, can be particular problematic. They cure slowly and if a rag is folded over several times, the heat from the oxidation process can build up to such a high level that ignition can occur. With varnish, the curing process happens so quickly this is usually not as big of a concern. Regardless, any rag that touches oil-based finish of any kind gets spread out on the floor in a single layer to dry. Once completely dry and stiff, they are safe to throw away. So yes, please take heed of the flammability concerns.

  12. Joe Watson December 1, 2009

    You mentioned other uses for shellac. shellac is also used in the food industry to give a shine to the surface of something. like for instance m&m’s or skittles etc. the shiny glaze is called confectioners glaze but is nothing more than shellac.

  13. Ray McCon December 1, 2009

    Thanks for the vid. It is very timely for me, as I am about to finish a cabinet/stand I built for my wife. I just bought some finish components today and this helps me alot on how to combine and apply. Great job.

      thewoodwhisperer December 1, 2009

      Ahh you’re a gnome! lol My main used to be a gnome, but I was lured over to the dark side. :)

  14. So what’s the best finish for Oak? – Just kidding ;)

    Keep the commercials. They are fine. If people won’t sit through 30 seconds of commercial for 30mins of free woodworking education, then they are crazy. But it might be worth reminding people that there are no ads in the downloaded versions.

    You’re varnish DVD really does cover this in great detail so I think it’s a good resource for people wanting to use this type of finish.

    It’s a shame my connection is so rubbish I can’t view the live sessions without constant interruptions, even when I do stay up late enough ;) Great that you provide the recording tho.

    Keep it up man :D

  15. Dan December 2, 2009

    Hi Marc,
    Thanks for the video, and the commercial is a non-issue should it help you keep making quality pod-casts. Now the question:
    Is there any difference between a straight oil coat followed by a varnish compared to multiple coats of an oil-varnish mixture?
    Also, would you recommend a coat of pure varnish over an oil/varnish mixture such as Danish oil? Any benefit to this on a surface that won’t see much abuse?

      thewoodwhisperer December 2, 2009

      From my experience, there is a difference between oil followed by varnish. The oil/varnish blend will be less durable since you are essentially putting less varnish on the surface. Also, once the surface is sealed, the oil in the mixture has a difficult time curing. Oil cures best when it can absorb into the wood. So you can’t really add coat after coat to build up the protection without running into curing issues at some point.

      So if you are top-coating with an oil-based varnish, I usually recommend skipping the oil all-together. I find that adding oil to the wood first does very little to change the look, and only extends the finish time. Now this is very much a personal opinion since I know many folks who claim to see a dramatic difference. But I don’t.

      And same thing goees with the Danish Oil question. If you are just going to topcoat with a varnish, I wouldn’t bother with the Danish oil. And if the piece is not going to see a lot of abuse, the Danish Oil should be more than adequate. At that point, I would only apply varnish to that piece if you like the look of varnish as opposed to the oil/varnish blend.

  16. Chester December 2, 2009

    Marc –
    Maybe you cover this in your DVD … but
    It seems that most people will build, then stain, then apply varnish. You spoke of varnish as if it was a choice over oil or oil blend. Stains, for the most part, are a BLO base with a tint. So, if I have stained and then varnish, I am, in essence, doing an oil-varnish blend. Is that right??

      thewoodwhisperer December 2, 2009

      Hey Chester. See my reply to Dan above. A varnish applied after a coat of oil will be stronger than a single coat of an oil/varnish blend.

  17. Brad Nailor December 2, 2009

    Hey Marc
    Great video..thanks for explaining all that for me. I never knew that poly and varnish were the same thing!I have been a lacquer guy for a long time, but recently i have discovered arm r seal, and I like it allot. One thing you said in the video that confused me was that when you apply arm r seal you put 2 or three coats on then wipe off the excess. That seems to be contradictory to the instructions on the can? Did I misunderstand you or did you develop some hybrid way of using the product?

  18. Tim December 2, 2009

    Hey Marc! This was my first live chat that I participated in, and it was fantastic! Thanks for all that you do man! One quick question. I’m about to finish a small redwood box, and I’m wondering if redwood has any finishing issues. I’m probably going to use Watco Danish Oil Natural, and top that with a few coats of poly. Any tips would be much appreciated! Thanks again!

  19. Hi Mark (and community),

    You talked about Watco Danish Oil being an oil/varnish blend. I used Danish Oil for my first fine-woodworking project (a jewelry cabinet) based on the recommendation of a friend and was very pleased with the ‘natural wood’ look it gave.

    My current project is a sofa table that will get a bit more abuse than a jewelry box, but nothing like a kitchen table. Would Danish Oil contain enough varnish to protect this type of furniture or would a more concentrated varnish be required?

    Along the same lines, would Danish Oil and its brethren be sufficient for something like a kitchen table?

    One last (hopefully quick) question, do Danish Oil and the other oil/varnish blends suffer from the same layer-buildup issue that pure varnish does?

    Thank you so much for all of your informative videos! They have been an invaluable to me as I have ventured into this hobby.

    – Adam

  20. Josh December 2, 2009

    Great info. Really appreciate the fact that we can find “helpful” info and it doesn’t cost us an arm and a leg to get it. Just wanna say Thanks

  21. Ryan December 2, 2009

    Great video Marc!

    I do have a quick question/thought though. You talked about thinning the varnish for a cutting board so that it travels all the way through the grain, and completely seals the wood. I though that the pores in the wood was what made them more sanitary – bacteria gets sucked into the board with other moisture, gets trapped and dies. If the wood is totally sealed, wouldn’t that allow bacteria to hang out on the surface, more like a plastic cutting board?

      thewoodwhisperer December 2, 2009

      Hey Ryan. I suppose there is some logic to that. I have read conflicting studies concerning bacteria on cutting boards and its hard to know what to believe. Some say the natural anti-bacterial properties of wood make it more sanitary and some say plastic is more sanitary since it can go in the dishwasher and its easier to sanitize. I say, no matter what your board is made of and how you finish it, keep it clean and sanitize it occasionally and you have nothing to worry about.

      Now here are my thoughts on the moisture. Keep in mind this is just my opinion and its how I choose to treat my own boards. As I see it, I would rather we never give the moisture and bacteria a chance to get into the wood at all. As we know, wood loves to pull in moisture and its pretty reluctant to let it go. Whether that moisture is from the atmosphere or from a raw piece of chicken, its going to pull it in and hold onto it for a while. And in general, where there’s moisture, there’s bacteria. So a sealed board never lets that moisture in and is able to dry faster and more thoroughly than one that isn’t sealed.

      Now I do keep a plastic board in the house and I can see why some folks believe them to be less sanitary. After a while, the surface gets chewed up quite a bit with deep cuts and you wind up creating a lot of surface area for bacteria to get lodged into and thrive. But I find that the wood boards are much harder than plastic and it doesn’t gouge quite as easily. Furthermore, by the time your wood cutting board shows excessive wear, you can just take it into the shop, sand it down, apply a fresh coat of finish, and bring it right back into the kitchen.

      • Ryan December 6, 2009


        My wife is a Biology teacher, and one of the experiments they do is test which is more sanitary – wood or plastic cutting boards. The first time she did the experiment a few years ago my wife threw out all of our plastic cutting boards!

        Basically, what they did is let some chicken sit out uncovered overnight on the cutting boards. The next day they swabbed the cutting boards and then a sterile petri dish for both wood and plastic cutting boards as a control. Then they cleaned and scrubbed some with soap and water, others with bleach water, and the rest with anti-bacterial soap, swabbed while wet and put all of the petri dishes in an incubator. They then repeated wetting the boards and swabbing them again two days later.

        Long story short, even with fresh chicken juice on the wood cutting boards, there was not a lot of bacteria, and none grew at all from the wood boards that were washed. The plastic was a whole different story. Even the boards that were washed with bleach and anti-bacterial soap, dried for two days and re-wet grew bacteria.

        It would have been interesting to see exactly what bacteria it was, but the high school doesn’t have the equipment. She also mentioned something else about not being allowed to breed enough bacteria – safety regulations…

        The wood cutting boards were just the el-cheapo ones from the utensil aisle at the grocery store.

        So, we only use wood now! My wife is teaching Earth Science this year, but if she does Biology next year, I’ll see if I can throw some endgrain cutting boards together with different finishes to see how different finishes affect the anti-bacterial properties.

  22. Bart December 2, 2009

    Thanks for the great info. I was going to ask you about some of the info you put in this video last week but never got around to it. perfect timing.

  23. Ryan December 2, 2009

    Uh oh – I put 2 light coats of poly on the inside of a built-in dresser unit which you specifically say not to do. This was about a 6 weeks ago. I left the drawers in my garage for about 3 weeks to let them air out. So far, I’ve only noticed a very small odor. Will that eventually go away or should I be thinking about refinishing the inside of the drawers?

      thewoodwhisperer December 2, 2009

      Hey Ryan. Giving it three weeks to air out was a very smart move. If there is still some odor, it will probably linger for quite some time. But if it doesn’t bother you, than don’t sweat it. If it does bother you, than try a coat of shellac to seal off the odor.

  24. Tim Kremer December 2, 2009

    Incredibly informative episode, Marc. In my humble opinion, this is one of the “Must See” episodes of The Wood Whisperer.

    Keep up the great work! Your videos and articles have probably given me more inspiration to get out in the shop than anything else.

  25. Jim 2 December 3, 2009

    Hey Marc,

    I’m getting ready to begin a mahogany desk for my wife. What finish do you recommend for a very porous wood? And what do you recommend for the writing surface?

      thewoodwhisperer December 4, 2009

      For a mahogany writing surface, you might consider doing a grain fill, not that you should be writing directly on the desk anyway, ;). But as far as a top coat goes, there are many options. What I would do is a wiping varnish. Plenty durable for a desk and very easy to apply.

  26. Ed December 3, 2009

    Thanks for posting this…I dig the live format.

  27. Germain December 3, 2009

    Yet another outstanding video. While Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” seems to be going in a strange direction of late, “The Wood Whisperer” just keep getting better.

    • Frank Kovach December 16, 2009

      Don’t dis AB. :)

  28. Jason Chvat December 4, 2009

    Once again another awesome video especially for us newbie’s. Thanks mark

  29. Jim Bullard December 4, 2009

    Thanks for the explanation of finishes. I also want to thank you for a tip I got from you some time back on making my own sanding sealer. I used to be able to buy sanding sealer in the hardware store but they don’t carry it any more and I really liked using it to get a smooth finish.

  30. Stafford White December 4, 2009

    Thanks for another great video. You explain everything in terms that beginners can understand, and for that, a big ‘Thank You!!’, from one beginner. I have learned, and more importantly, understood, the information that put out in these videos.

  31. John Hall December 4, 2009

    Great video! I have been very foggy as it relates to finishing. You have done a lot to help brighten my understanding. I am sure my finishes will be less foggy and much brighter.

  32. Joe December 5, 2009

    Informative video – thanks! I’ll be watching this again to make sure it soaks in – heh!

    Keep up the good work.

  33. CrackPotWoody(Gregg) December 5, 2009

    Great episode Mark! Also lots of good questions and answers here in the comments. I’ve learned a lot.

    I would love to see an episode like this on the topic of shellac and lacquer finishes too. Or maybe there is already something you can point me to.


  34. Michael Morton December 5, 2009

    I was interested to hear you say you dilute with Mineral Spirits, as I’ve always used Turpentine in my home-made oil/varnish mixes. Then I picked up a recent Woodworking Magazine that had an article on testing Turpentine versus Mineral Spirits versus Low-Odor Mineral Spirits. The outcome is that it essentially doesn’t matter which you use.

    Found that bit of news interesting.

  35. Larry Dufault December 6, 2009

    Hey Marc,
    Great video. (as usual) I have a question though if you’ve got time. I am making a couple of keepsake boxes for Christmas presents. I’m planning on using Arm-r seal and was wondering if you’d finish the inside as well? I was also toying with the idea of using flocking (sp?) material on the inside. What’s your opinion?
    Also on another note the quick comercial in the begining is fine. As your site is free to check out your videos I would think that nobody should have a problem with them at all.
    Also I loved the shirt!!! I was a big fan of The Legend of Zelda.

      thewoodwhisperer December 6, 2009

      Hey Larry. I would at least put one coat of Arm-R-Seal inside the keepsake box. I would also let the box air out with the lid off for at least a week to help reduce any residual odor.

      As for flocking, well, I don’t do much of that. But, I think it really adds a nice touch to a keepsake box. I would practice first, just to get the process down. But its certainly a viable option.

  36. Mike Brogan December 6, 2009

    I would like to see a video on the water-based finishes. I have not used them in the past and your videos are very informative. My wife who can’t stand the smell of the oils, and I recently bought some water-based poly, but I am more confident in the how oils will look and continue to make the house smell.

      thewoodwhisperer December 6, 2009

      Hey Mike. Someone requested something similar in another thread. here was my response:


  37. planbbob December 6, 2009

    Hi Mark,

    The finishing video is great and your current show on finishes fits in nicely.

    Someone mentioned sander-sealer. where does this product fit with the rest of the finishes.

    thanks for the help

      thewoodwhisperer December 6, 2009

      In my work, sanding sealer doesn’t really fit in at all. I rarely use it. Think of sanding sealer as a thinned finish with some components added to make it easier to sand. But another product does this very well, and you probably (or should) already have this stuff in your shop: shellac. A thin coat (maybe 1 lb cut) of shellac is all the “sanding sealer” I need. So that’s one less can in the cabinet.

  38. Skip Florey December 6, 2009

    HI Marc,

    Great episode, keep ‘em coming. For top coats I like Minwax Wipe-on-Poly. Gives a very serviceable finish. It worked very well over an Behlen “Solar-Lux” dye stain (which also let the grain stand out), bathroom vanities, kitchen cabinets and other small items.

  39. Peter December 6, 2009

    I found this episode very informative. Thanks.

  40. Greg December 7, 2009

    This is s great educational podcast. I was not aware of being able to seal an oily wood.
    I have also began to use the Rockler brand General Arm-r Finish.

    I was asked to finish a friend’s gun handle so I disassembled the handle lightly sanded it. I then sprayed several coats of Tru-oil. The neighbor was very pleased.

  41. Terry December 12, 2009

    Great video as usual Marc. Finishing is definitely one of the biggest learning curves to the art. You could devote a whole section to it… The Finishing Whisperer ??? Just kidding. Keep up the great work. Just as a side note, I noticed that you keep your paper towel chained down. Rough neighbourhood I guess. haha

  42. Frank Kovach December 16, 2009

    Don’t mean to be facetious, but my advice on the gun stock thing would be to not have a gun stock made out of wood. I just approach guns from a standpoint of complete functionality. Any wood has the potential of warping over time in any environment more or less humid than the one in which it was made. That’s one reason a lot of gun makers (especially tactical gun makers) no longer use wood. This is especially true in the case of sniper rifles. The military went from hunting rifles off the shelf which were then modified to fabricating from scratch their own rifles in the late 70’s, early 80’s for this reason. Wood just wasn’t going to cut it for the abuse those long guns would take and still fire true. I understand your question though, and you probably already know this, but I just wanted to throw it out there anyway.

  43. Stephen January 23, 2010

    Hi Marc, great job, now I am totally confused. I use pure tung oil on furniture like curio cabinets, does a great job, just need to apply several coats.

    Gun stocks are best treated with linseed oil. I am a former USMC drill Instructor, and that is all we used on those precious rifles.

    appreciate the info

    hoppeman ( the hoppe woodworker)

      thewoodwhisperer February 22, 2010

      Don’t get me wrong, those oil finishes will give the wood some protection. And for surfaces that receive a lot of wear and tear and will likely need to be refreshed (like a gun stock), oil is a good choice. Its also ok as a light duty finish for furniture. But my personal preference is to give the wood more protection by using varnish. So that’s not to say you can’t use oil. Its just pointing out that oil isn’t a very protective finish.

  44. Mark February 22, 2010

    Have you used Penofine Verde finish? Any comments on that compared to your other oil/varnish finishes?

      thewoodwhisperer February 22, 2010

      Hey Mark. I haven’t used that myself. But it looks like a pretty durable drying oil. Hard to tell exactly what it is but it looks like its similar to polymerized oil. It doesn’t say polymerized, but when an oil offers the protection level they are claiming, that usually indicated something else is going on. But it looks like its worth investigating. Wanna be the test subject? :)

  45. Thomas Tarner February 28, 2010

    Great video Mark,

    I just used an oil/varnish blend for the first time today. I mixed it using the third’s method you mentioned in this video. I wiped on the first coat and was wondering how long you should wait between coats? Also should I use the oil/varnish blend for the following coats or just use varnish? If I should just go with the varnish I’d like to be able to wipe it on. Do I just mix 50/50 minwax poly to mineral spirits?

      thewoodwhisperer February 28, 2010

      Hey Thomas. Dry time between coats could be anywhere from 6-12 hours. If its cold and humid, it could be even longer. When it doesn’t feel cold and clammy to the touch, its ready for another coat. Whether you should switch to a wiping varnish just depends on how much protection you want and what kind of look you are going for. You can get away with probably another two coats of the oil/varnish blend, flooding on and wiping off the excess, and that will give you a decent film with a decent amount of protection. It will also be a relatively close to the wood look. But, if you want more protection and a thicker film, switch over to the wiping varnish.
      And a 50/50 mix is a good way to go for a wiping varnish.

      • Thomas Tarner March 1, 2010

        Cool, thanks for reply mark.


        ….Thank you for all you’re hard work and information you’ve made available to people like me.

  46. Laura April 13, 2010

    I know that tung oil is used a lot lately. However it is a nut oil and can be DANGEROUS. My teenage grandson was in the hospital last night due to a reaction from using a project with tung oil on a project. If you or anyone in your family has a reaction to peanuts or tree nuts then it should not be used. There is a lot online about allergic reactions and tung oil.

  47. Jason Land June 8, 2010

    Unbelievable information!

    It is borderline creepy how many times I am having an issue I can’t figure out on my own that I find a solution for immediately by searching on thewoodwhisperer.com.

    One slight question though Mark….I am relatively new to making furniture and am completely self-taught (using the internet as much as humanly possible) so I haven’t really strayed out of the “big box” stores yet for purchasing wood. For that reason, I have created several table tops (mostly children’s tables) out of the “select pine” 1x stock that the big stores carry. By applying a nice medium stain and several coats of sprayed on “wiping” lacquer (which says not to spray on the can but seems to work great), I get a very desirable looking finish. Obviously though, durability is my major problem. There is a wood supplier about 30 minutes away, but I don’t want to go in there blindly wandering the aisles. Can you recommend a better, more durable, but still affordable wood to try on my next table project?

    Again, thanks for all you do for woodworking.

      thewoodwhisperer June 8, 2010

      Glad you are finding the site useful Jason. We aim for “creepy” :)

      As for woods to try, how about red oak. Its usually very fairly priced, very durable, and takes a stain very nicely. In my book, its a great entry-level hardwood that will get you used to dealing with a heavier denser wood.

  48. Johnathon November 6, 2010

    Nice compact flood of information about finishing, keep up the great work. I have a couple of questions. I really like using oil/varnish blends (I tend to make my own by mixing poly, tung and mineral spirits). I am curious to try Arm-R, which you say is already diluted. What mixture of oil and Arm-R would you use? Secondly, I am finishing a cutting board (the type that goes under the counter). I chose to use pure Tung Oil as it was food safe and offered protection. You mention you used a mixture BLO with mineral spirits on your cutting boards, but I was under the impression this was a bad idea as food will be touching the cutting board and mineral spirits is not food safe.

  49. John Paulling February 19, 2011

    Great information-

    I just bought a can of Sam Maloof’s poly/oil mix for use on a small cabinet. The back of the can encourages me to use another ‘wax’ mixture after the first mixture. Is that necessary? What is the function of the wax? Thanks.


      Hey John. I believe that same brand has another mix with the wax in it, but you definitely don’t have to use it. I am not much a fan of wax and when you are working with varnish, I don’t feel it adds a whole lot to the party. So I’d say stick with the poly/oil mix.

  50. John Paulling February 19, 2011

    Thanks for the speedy reply. That’s what I was hoping you would say. I didn’t want to spend the extra $.

  51. Isaac Merrell March 3, 2011

    Thanks for the video, it answered a lot of my question, but I still get confused with so many options. For example what is the difference between what you talked about (varnishes, shellac, urethane) and lacquer? Also where do food safe wax finishes fit in? Can I cover those with varnish or shellac. The other thing I wonder is when I use a stain from minwax or something can I just use any of those film finishes or do only certain things go over an oil-based stain.

    Sorry for so many questions but I am just getting to the point where I am sick of ruining many of the beautifull things I have built.


      Hey Isaac. I think what you need is a more comprehensive review of finishes in general. I would recommend you check out any of Flexner or Jewitt’s finishing books. It will help to put these things into perspective in the broader world of finishing products.

      And honestly, the most important thing you can do is pick a finish and stick with it for a while. One failure doesn’t mean try something else. It means try again until you get good at it and keep the process as simple as possible. Avoid staining if you can, at least until you perfect adding the protective coat. And don’t worry about all the other options. Just about any finish will work for a normal piece of furniture.

      As for “food safe”, any film finish is food safe when cured. And yes, you can pretty much use any film finish over a cured Minwax stain.

      • Isaac Merrell March 5, 2011

        Thanks Marc thats good advice I just browsed for those two books and I definitly liked them better than some of the ones I’ve looked at. Anyway thanks for the tip and I really enjoy the blog!

  52. ALDI August 28, 2011

    Hi again, so if I stain my dinning table can I put some of polyurethane gloss on top not risk at all for food poisining after cure, talking about cure how long the polyurethane takes to cure to be safe thanks God blees you.


      There really isn’t any risk of toxicity that I know of once the finish is cured. I’d give an oil-based poly at least a week. But if you are having direct food contact, I would wait until it no longer has an odor (several weeks).

  53. Skip September 17, 2011

    Hi Marc – I was re-viewing your Oil-Based Finish video since I an finishing a small box (thanks for the great video). For the main box I am using Arm-R-Seal over some great looking curly maple. The sides of the box are cocobolo. I have read that the best finish for this wood is simply to wax it. What would you suggest?


      Hey Skip. In my opinion, a wax finish is really one minor step above using nothing at all. Cocobolo is a very dense and naturally oily wood, so I can see why it might be tempting to simply wax it and call it a day. It might do just fine on a light-use item like a small box. But if you really want some protection on there, you probably want to apply a film-forming finish. A lacquer would be a good choice for something like this and can apply it straight from a rattle can. Varnish is ok too, but you are going to want to seal the wood first with some dewaxed shellac. That will block out the natural oils and allow your varnish to dry.

  54. Skip September 17, 2011

    Thanks Marc – I appreciate the feedback and will give the lacquer a go…. I will send a picture or two when it is completed.

  55. Skip September 27, 2011

    Hi Marc – The box is finished. I ended up just using wax. Mostly a time constraint and that it will be light use. Sending some pictures to the viewer projects.
    I will try the lacquer another time.

  56. Hi Marc-great video! I just finished a sign made from mahogany. I want to paint the letters but keep the brown mahogany look elsewhere. The sign will be hanging outdoors. After watching the video, I wasn’t sure if I should use the cpes epoxy or the arm-r-seal? It sounded like you were recommending the epoxy for protection and if looks aren’t super-important but the arm-r-seal is a good compromise and might need a recoat every few years.


      I don’t think I’d use Arm-R-Seal at all on an outdoor piece. It is an interior varnish. I’d rather see you go with Epifanes for better protection. You might want to dilute it a bit though. You can certainly use the epoxy as a sealer prior to using the Epifanes if you want even more protection. But it probably isn’t essential for a sign.

  57. jannybee August 12, 2012

    I am really sick of the horrible finish on my oak wood table top. I think it has a shiny poly finish on it now and the finish is coming off,and there are scratches and gouges. I hate the uneven finish worse than scratches, etc so I’m thinking of sanding of the finish and oiling it so that when it gets scratched or banged up again, I can just oil it again–easier than totally refinishing it. Is that a really dumb idea?


      Not necessarily. If you completely remove the old finish and apply a few coats of Danish Oil (which contains some varnish), you’ll have a handsome low-lustre finish that will be easy to repair in the future.

  58. David Smith October 21, 2012

    Hello Marc, I have just recently found your site and have been reviewing your videos over the last week or two. (Great job, by the way). However, like many others after reviewing the Oil-Based Finished basics, I feel that I am more informed, but I still have trouble remembering all the info. Like most people, I am a visual person and I would love to find a simple chart (Maybe a flowchart design) that I could have on the wall at my finish station would be a great help. It could have the three different types of varnishes found in the Varnish family Urethane, Alkyd,Phenolic,and what each of them bring to the table as in which is more protective, etc. Then it could also have the water-born and lacquer families. The only problem is, I don’t have the knowledge to create this helpful chart, and only know of one person that could. (hint, hint, hint). Great job!!

  59. Ernie May 28, 2013

    Hello Marc,

    I’m building a claro black walnut tabletop, and I wanted to get the piano finish you mentioned in this video. You didn’t get into the specifics of what kind of lacquer or Meguiar’s polishing compounds you used. I’m imagining you used a Catalyzed lacquer, but I’d like to be sure, and I’d like to know how many times. I also have absolutely no idea which Meguiar’s products I should be considering, they seem to have 100’s to choose from.

    Since I hopefully have your attention, this is the process I’m considering:

    1) Apply Enduro Sanding Sealer 2x, sand in between
    2) Apply CrystaLac® Clear Waterborne Wood Grain Filler 2x, sand in between
    3) Apply BLO 1x
    4) Apply Lacquer ?x, wet sand up to 2000 grit
    5) Apply Meguiar’s polishing pastes, buffing in between
    6) Finish with a swirl remover, if needed.

    Would appreciate any thoughts on this plan.


      Hi Ernie. It’s been a while since I’ve done this type of finish so I’m not even familiar with the current selection of polishing products on the market. So I won’t be a whole lot of help there. Chances are, many of them will work for the sake of a polished finish.

      As for your finish schedule, there are lots of ways to get the job done. What you are doing there can certainly work. But if it were me, I’d cut out the sanding sealer and the BLO. Try some samples and see if you can tell the difference with those two removed from the sequence. If there is a difference at all, you might find it isn’t worth the extra work involved. Lacquer is an amazing product and looks great on just about any wood. And it doesn’t really need much help to look great. So I’d personally start with the pore filler. If you’re worried about the pore filler staining the surface or something, you can always lay down a coat of dewaxed shellac first, then pore fill. Apply as many coats of lacquer as you deem necessary. I’d say you should build up at least 5-6 coats before doing any serious buffing. But of course sand between each coat to help promote a nice level surface. A final 2000 grit sanding to completely level the surface and then finish off with your polishing compounds and swirl remover.

      Again, try it on scrap first just to make sure your happy with the finish build and overall look.

  60. Matjaz August 29, 2013

    Hello Marc,
    after getting and watching your DVD “a simple varnish finish” and this video I’m still confused about one question:
    -could I start my finish for instance with oil varnish blend (1/3 oil + 1/3 alkyd varnish + 1/3 mineral spirit) and follow with fex coats of only viping varnish?
    -could I start with oil only and finish with viping varnish?
    The questions are about proper layering and good adhesion (sorry for my bad language if terms are not written well )


      As long as the oil is dry and cured, you are good to go with a varnish top coat. These finishes are compatible but curing is essential. But I would encourage you to try this on test boards. Sometimes, an oil coat is completely unnecessary visually.

      • Frank December 7, 2013

        How long does it take to cure an oid finish like linseed?

  61. Chewie2175 October 14, 2013

    Here is a problem i just had in the past 2 weeks i bought a new can of Minwax’s gun stock wood stain. start to use it first coat looked great. color was beautiful. let it dry over night as it was humid out second coat from the same can turned to a rusty gun stock color, more brown then red. now when i was done the first coat i closed the like i always do put the lid on and hammer it shut. has this ever happened to anyone else??

  62. Corey November 11, 2013

    I have a veneer wood dining room table and I had a plastic protective sheet on it, when I removed it, now the top off the table looks spotty, is there anything I could do to fix this.


  63. Vicente Henrique December 27, 2013

    Hi, Marc. I found your channel watching WWMM on Youtube and became a fan of your channel. Is great to have such a nerd woodworker (that’s a compliment). I’m from Brazil and the finishing market here have very different products and names, so I’m studying the ingredients to compare. My questions are about deck stains: Are they oil/varnish or oil/resin blends? The deck or fence stain is a good final finish for exterior furniture like an Adirondack chair? Please make more videos like this.


      I think it depends greatly on the product. There are a lot of deck stains with lots of different formulas. So you’d have to investigate each one individually to find out what’s actually in the can.

      These stains and finishes might be ok for outdoor furniture but I actually don’t have much experience with them. I tend to focus specifically on finishes made for furniture. So I’m not all that familiar with deck/siding/fence stains and finishes.

  64. Jack O December 28, 2013


    Thanks for your excellent video #107, if I had seen this video before I tried to apply a finish to my dining room table top I could have saved a month worth of effort and a lot of cost associated with finish and sanding supplies.

    I have been finishing a Brazilian Rosewood table top 46″ x 72″ and after sealing with super blonde shellac, I applied General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Oil & Urethane Topcoat (over and over).

    I first sanded through the shellac layer in places leaving a surface that would not cure. The biggest mistake that I have made is thinking that the layers of varnish would blend into each other. I have been chasing a smooth layer to the point that I have used two quarts of the varnish trying to get the perfect layer.

    I think that I am almost to the point of starting over and making sure that the shellac layer is sound before applying varnish.

    Thanks for the information.


    • Jack O December 29, 2013

      Update, Woke up this morning and looked at the table top from a low angle and noticed that the wavy swirls seem to increase with every later so, Out comes the Festool sander and I brought it back to the wood surface. Just finished applying the second coat of super blonde shellac (very this cut).

      More on this adventure as I go.



      You might try letting the finish cure for a couple weeks and then buffing it out. Might be better than a complete do-over.

      • Jack O January 1, 2014

        Marc, I had to go back to the raw wood since the uneven layers looked wicked bad. I have a question for you about the Arm-R-Seal product. I was reading on different blogs today and I noticed some chat on the WoodTalk Forum from early 2012 that General Finishes would no longer ship Arm-R-Seal to California. Since I have been buying General Finishes Arm-R-Seal “Oil & Urethane Topcoat” from my local Bay Area Woodcraft store, am I buying the same product that has such great reviews or am I getting a reformulated product?

        I have already gone through 2 quarts of this product to finish a 24 square foot table top that never looked very good with this product.

        I am finishing Brazilian Rosewood and the shellac layers go on very well but, then the wipe on varnish never seems “right”. I have been heating my shop to keep it around 60 to 64 degrees with a Relative Humidity of around 60%.

        Any clues on how to proceed would be greatly appreciated since this wood is so rare I want it to look perfect.


        Jack O’Connor


          That should be the same product.

          As for general advice, you are doing what I would typically do. Unless the Arm R Seal isn’t curing, standard wiping methods should work. If you still don ‘t get good results, consider dewaxed shellac as your primary topcoat or perhaps use lacquer.

  65. Steve Kreins January 22, 2014

    Marc, I just watched your video on finishes and it was extremely helpful for me as a beginner. Not having a face to face teacher it’s a blessing to have you. Thank you for all that you do!
    Blessings, Pastor Steve Kreins
    Waco, TX

  66. Ryan January 22, 2014


    Thanks for te video. Just what I needed to clear up some confision I’ve had lately. Two questions:
    1. What, if any, is the difference between Danish oil and Teak oil? I’ve noticed Watco offers both on the shelves at my local Home Depot.
    2. What finish do you think is best for handling direct heat? I’m going to finish a dining table and want it protected from hot plates, pans, coffee mugs, etc.

    Thanks so much again for the video.



      Hey Ryan. From what I’ve seen, Danish Oil and Teak Oil are VERY similar. The big difference is that Teak Oil has been formulated for outdoor use. I can’t be sure if they use a different resin to oil ratio or even different types of resin, but they do include UV protection. But in your hands in the shop, both finishes will behave pretty much the same.

      An oil-based poly is probably the best choice for something that will have to endure heat. Well, at least in terms of stuff you and I have access to. Not finish will endure high heat forever, so there are limits. Coasters and trivets are essential to maintaining a good finish.

  67. Hi Marc,

    Great site! I found this recently when browsing for information on BLO finishes, and I’m eager to look at the rest of the site. Meanwhile, I thought I’d share some insights into my recent experience applying BLO to some solid fir interior doors.

    I was attracted to BLO due to the fact that it was supposedly easy, and plus I already had a quart in the basement. To prep the doors, I sanded with 220, and then again with 400 grit sandpaper. Then I liberally applied BLO with a brush, left it to sit for about a half hour, then wiped up the excess. It’s fairly cool in my basement this time of year, so that’s why I gave it more than the typical 15-20 min. I’m doing two doors now, but there are about 6 more behind. The doors have been in use for more than 10 years unfinished.

    1) Applying BLO is easy, but I’m not sure that the job wouldn’t be easier with varnish. Why? I’ve got to apply MANY coats of BLO, which in the end seems to make more work, especially with the whole wait-and-wipe sequence. I did the downstairs doors with varnish to match the existing woodwork, and after two coats I was done.

    2) Varnish hardens the surface of soft wood. The reason this is relevant is that I now have many splinters in my fingers from the post-BLO wiping operation. (This despite the wood being sanded VERY smooth; it was the edges that got me.) Splinters passed through my rags like butter, and plunged with equal abandon into my fingertips. All those loose fibers are in no way pasted down with BLO as they would have been with varnish.

    3) While I’m happy with how the doors look (mostly), they are a bit blotchy as the wood absorbed the BLO somewhat unevenly. I’m thinking/hoping this may diminish with time as the oil seeps deeper in the more absorbent spots, but it’s worth thinking about. Especially for non-quarter sawn lumber (which is most) you essentially get something very much like endgrain in the middle of the board, and this will soak up more BLO and be darker as a result.

    4) BLO will smell far longer than varnish. I don’t particularly dislike the smell, but if it bothers you, that’s something to consider.

    Anyway, I hope these observations are helpful to someone out there.

    Again, great site, and I admire your ability to turn your passion into what looks like a successful business too. Kudos!

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we’re thinking about trying to build a stereo cabinet next.

  68. Will February 15, 2014

    Thank you for all that you do. I recently discovered your site – you are a true master of the art of woodworking. I’m fairly new to woodworking, and I’ve found finishes to be one of the tougher aspects of the craft. At least tougher to decide on. I’m building a custom built in cabinet for my dining room and I’ve chosen a beautiful mahogany for the countertop. I want to keep it pretty natural looking. Is it common to apply any stain to mahogany? And what is your opinion of old school furniture wax (often used on antiques) as opposed to a varnish or lacquer? In the excellent video above you said recommending a finish is like recommending a car. In this case I consider you a parallel to the guys from the popular BBC show Top Gear, and if I had the opportunity, I’d ask them to pick out their favorite car for me. What is your favorite finish for a mahogany countertop? Thanks again, Will.

  69. Andry West March 11, 2014

    Hello, love the site. The question I have is. I make shadow boxes for my military friends and use cherry wood and walnut exclusively. I use a butcher block oil or beeswax to darken the cherry before applying a spray can based shellac sealer and then end with a spray can polyurethane (gloss). I just purchased 4 hvlp spray guns, and a very good compressor for completing these boxes. What kind of sealer can you recommend I purchase for the guns and do you recommend a lacquer/varnish finish for the top coat instead of the poly? I will be completing all steps by the guns. I like a finish that looks natural with a little gloss but not plastic.

  70. Pat March 23, 2014

    My husband made a hope (Blanket) chest out of ash and oak. I stained it inside and out with Zar oil base stain. I used a wipe on poly on the outside, but he doesn’t want that used on the inside because of a strong odor concern which happened on a different chest which we used wipe on poly on the inside. I was nervous about using shellac on the inside because I have never used it before, so I tested it on the bottom of the chest and sure enough it dried so fast and was blotchy. I haven’t put a finish on the inside yet. What would you suggest that doesn’t have a strong, lasting odor and is easy to apply?


      You have a few choices: lacquer, water-based poly, or shellac. Lacquer does retain some odor but if you give it a few days to air out, it shouldn’t retain much odor in the long run. Water-base poly and shellac are similar but I find they have even less odor at the outset. But all three are viable options and are much better than the odor from oil-based products. You can buy water-based poly, lacquer, and shellac in spray cans. that might be your best bet for ease of application.

  71. Mike McCloskey May 2, 2014

    Marc, I am in the middle of refinishing a very large (12 seat) oak dining table with a dark walnut stain. I have stripped the finish off with Formby’s. I am wondering what kind of finish might be best. In the past on new pieces I have always used oil based poly, brushing it on with mixed results. Lately I have taken to wiping on the same cut 50% with mineral spirits. I have also tried my hand at spraying (I don’t have HVLP, just a standard air compressor powered sprayer) but again, with mixed results. What would you recommend? Based on my experience, I am planning to do the wipe on finish I have done in the past, but this is a very valuable piece to me and don’t want to screw it up.
    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    Love the site BTW, keep up the good work!

  72. Nancy Wilson May 21, 2014

    I wanted to finish cherry butcher block counters for my kitchen. I was originally looking into Waterlox and then the Arm R Seal was recommended. Are either of these finishes safe for food prep? After viewing your video I question using the Arm R Seal because of the difficultly in repairing a varnished surface and Waterlox claims to be easy to repair. What would be your recommendation for finish for this project?

  73. Shane Monaski October 1, 2014

    Hey Marc . New to woodworking and these type of forums. I just built my first project which was a hallway table. I primed it and painted it white with a latex paint for wood. It came out great but when I used minwax gloss polyurethane to finish it got some yellow tint to it. What should I have used to give it a nice clear glossy finish? I am so frustrated!


      You would have been much happier with a water-based poly. Oil, unfortunately, is known to do exactly what you are seeing when put over latex paint.

      • Shane Monaski October 2, 2014

        Thank you so much Marc! I really appreciate it just got in to woodworking love it love all your videos I will be watching! Thanks so much for taking the time. I guess I’ll have to sand it all down and start over. Live and learn.

  74. andrea November 16, 2014

    I just oiled up my first piece that I stripped down.
    However, as I was wiping up the extra oil, my cloth was picking up tons of slivers.
    Is this because I sanded the table too much? My guess is that the veneer is too thin and breaking away. When you look closely at the table, there are tons of small spaces in the wood.

    What should I do now? Would a layer of varnish or rub off varnish take care of this, or do I need to do a wood filler?

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