If you have wooden furniture or floors, you will need to treat the wood to protect it from moisture and other threats. A proper finish also enhances the appearance of the wood and extends its life. While finishes such as Varnish or Polyurethane are common for floors and exterior wood, natural oils are a popular choice for furniture, cabinets and decorative objects. There are a number of different oils for wood finishing available on the market, with Danish oil and Tung oil being among the most common finishes.
In this article, we will introduce the effects of oil finishes on wood and explain the respective advantages and disadvantages of Danish oil and Tung oil.
- Why Does Wood Need Treating?
- Types of Treatment
- What is Danish Oil?
- What is Tung Oil?
- Tung Oil vs Danish Oil – The Differences
Why Does Wood Need Treating?
Wood is a great material for furniture, flooring, and a range of other things. However, as a natural material, it is subject to wear and deterioration over time. Thus, it requires a certain treatment to prolong its life and retain its look and appearance over the years.
The reason is that wood consists mainly of water and cellulose combined with various other organic compounds like resins and natural oils. Therefore, there are three main threats that affect wood:
- Rotting and Fungus – This causes the wood to turn black, break down and start to fall apart. It usually happens in areas with high humidity and occurs when the wood contains too much moisture and therefore becomes an ideal environment for fungus to grow.
- Insect Infestation – Wood is a natural food source for insects like termites and woodworms. They eat the wood and burrow deep into it, which weakens the structural stability and can cause it to break.
- Natural Degradation – Wood wears down naturally when exposed to the environment. UV light radiation, the climate and humidity as well as air pollution can cause the wood to darken and begin to split over time.
The purpose of treating wood is to protect it from these processes an make it last much longer. There are some types of wood that are more durable and resilient than others. But even if the wood does not rot, it will be vulnerable to other potential problems. Therefore, treating wood with oil or another type of finish is always recommended, no matter what type of wood you are using.
Types of Treatment
There is a wide range of different products that are available to treat wood. You will find articles and comparisons of the different treatments in our section on wood finishing. They can be categorized into two main groups:
Designed for use on types of wood with rather less natural resistance or exposure to heavy use, preservative treatment involves pressure-treating or core-treating the wood to protect it against insects and fungus. It is applied using dipping, injection or steaming, but it will not prevent the wood from darkening over time. This procedure is not uncommon in industrial woodworking while DIYers usually go for a protective treatment instead.
These types of treatment are applied to the surface of the wood, from where they may also soak into the outer layers of a wooden piece. These finishes add a protective coat around the wood which can make it water-resistant and protect it from moisture, insects, and color changes caused by UV radiation. Most wood treatments and finishes used by DIYers fall into this category. This holds true for polyurethane, lacquer, varnishes, paint and oils.
Many people prefer using oil to treat wood. This is because they are natural products and, while protecting the wood, enhance its natural grain and let the wood appear in a warm hue.
What is Danish Oil?
The use of Danish oil is said to be caused by the widespread sale of Scandinavian furniture around the world. Danish oil is a low-sheen finish that consists of c. 50% pure Tung oil mixed with various additives to improve its effectiveness. It is fast-drying (usually within 6 hours) and comparatively easy to apply.
The Danish oil pros and cons, on the other hand, are as follows:
Danish Oil – Pros and Cons
- Easy to apply with a cloth or a brush
- Dries within 6 hours
- Non-toxic, so it can be used for furniture in areas where children are playing (check the back of the can to learn which additives have been used for the individual product)
- Appealing low sheen finish
- Not much smell when it is drying, and it is odorless once the process is completed
- Prevents the wood from rodding, cracking and peeling
- Protects from dirt and prevents the wood from being stained by liquids like coffee or wine
- While it is waterproof, it still allows the wood to breathe
- Danish oil can be tricky to apply to porous woods because it is instantly absorbed by the open pores and cracks. It is possible though but requires special care
- It is not as protective as other finishes such as paint or polyurethane and varnish which could be a better choice for objects subject to intense use and tear, e.g. floors
- The hue of the oil applied on wood is not easy to predict given that the manufacturers use different additives with different effects. If a certain color shade is desired, you will need to test it first to ensure you will get the required finish
What is Tung Oil?
Tung oil has been used for hundreds of years in China to protect wood constructions and hulls of ships. This oil is produced by pressing the nuts of the Tung tree, so it is a 100% natural product.
One of the resulting benefits of Tung oil is that it is non-toxic. It can be used on all kinds of woods, it is easy to apply, and it produces a durable and easily maintained finish.
Many people appreciate the satin or slightly wet look of Tung oil-treated wood which however can turn into a “plastic-like” appearance when too much oil is applied.
Read more about the pros and cons of Tung oil in this article:
Tung Oil vs Danish Oil – The Differences
Comparison Table: Danish Oil vs Tung Oil
This table discusses the differences between Tung oil and Danish oil with respect to the appearance, drying time, characteristics and typical uses.
|Danish Oil||Tung Oil|
|Appearance||Satin finish; |
Dark shade possible, depending on the individual product
Satin or wet look;
Can have a plastic-like look after application in (too) many coats
|Usual drying time & Application||< 6 hours up to 1 day;|
Application in several coats (2-5 coats, depending on the desired look) with sanding between the first couple of coats
|1 day or more days; |
Applied in several coats (3 – 5 as a rule of thumb), incl. sanding between coats
|Components||Usually, 50% or more Tung oil, enhanced with various additives (varies among the different products)||Pressed seed from nuts of Chinese Tung trees (basically a natural product, but some manufacturer add certain additives to enhance drying time and ease of application)|
|Characteristics||Non-toxic (check the back of the can whether toxic additives have been used); |
Hard-drying curing characteristics (polymerization);
| Usually non-toxic in its natural form (check the back of the can whether toxic additives have been used); |
Hardens upon curing;
|Typical use (Examples)||Indoor furniture; |
Often used for oak;
Other wooden objects;
|Find Danish Oil on Amazon||Find Tung Oil on Amazon|
If you consider other oils as well, make sure you read this comprehensive overview of the different types of oil as wood finishes.
Which Oil Is the Better Wood Finish – Danish Oil or Tung Oil?
Some DIYers prefer Tung oil over Danish oil because of the look of the finish that it produces. In addition, Tung oil is usually a completely natural product whereas Danish oil is a mixture of different ingredients (including Tung oil) which means that Tung oil is the best choice if you are looking for a natural treatment.
Danish oil, on the other hand, is easier to apply and produces an appealing satin finish. Thanks to its faster drying time, a piece of wooden furniture can be (re)finished with Danish oil within one day.
Both oils are usually non-toxic (check the manufacturer’s specifications to be on the safe side), so your decision will likely come down to the intended look of your finish and the ease of its application.
Do you need to calculate the amount of oil needed for your project? Use our free oil finish calculator.
Wood is a great material to work with, thanks to its versatility its beautiful appearance. However, you will need to treat it properly to keep moisture and insects away. For furniture and other wooden objects, both oils are good choices to create a protective coat while retaining and even enhancing the natural appearance.
When choosing between Danish oil vs Tung oil, there are mainly two criteria:
- the drying and application time (Danish oil dries usually within 6 hours while Tung oil needs a day) and
- the appearance (satin and darker vs. transparent and with a light wet-look).
Irrespectively of these criteria, some people might prefer Tung oil just because it is a 100% natural product, normally without any additives or synthetic ingredients.
Read more in our overview of the different types of oils for wood finishing where we compare Danish and Tung oil with Teak oil, Hemp oil, Tung oil, Linseed, and Boiled Linseed oil.
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