If you’re the kind of person who loves to use their woodworking skills for something practical then you’ve probably put together some sort of cooking utensil or cutting board at some point. When you’re treating something that is used with food you need to use non-toxic and safe products. Here are two of the most well-known food-grade finishes for your wooden crafts: Mineral oil and linseed oil.
So, what differentiates these two oils from each other? They may seem to have a lot in common – food-safety, in particular – but when you compare them you see some differences: Linseed oil is more water-resistant but harder to apply while mineral oil is cheaper and retains the original color of the wood.
We’ll take a moment to go over all the information about both in detail and let you be the judge of which one is best.
What is Linseed Oil?
Linseed oil, or more specifically raw linseed oil, is a nondrying oil. Also known as flaxseed oil, it is used for treating wood, mixing with oil paints and even in food for its excellent nutritional values.
This oil comes from the flax plant. It’s extracted by pressing fully ripe flax seeds until the oil comes out of them. If you’ve ever seen a field full of those bright blue little flax flowers, that’s where this oil starts its life.
Variants of Linseed Oil
There are variants of linseed oil other than the raw kind, but in this article, we will be covering raw linseed oil, as there are some differences between them. One of the main differences is that raw linseed oil is a nondrying oil and the others, such as boiled linseed oil (source), are generally drying oils.
Read more about boiled linseed oil in this article where we also discuss its differences to raw linseed oil.
Linseed Oil and Food-Safety
Raw linseed oil is a big favorite among eco-conscious woodworkers. This is due to the fact that it is a 100 percent naturally sourced oil. The FDA has approved raw linseed oil as a food additive and it’s totally non-toxic (source). What this means is that you can safely use raw linseed oil to finish your chopping boards and wooden spoons alike.
Application of Linseed Oil
This is a really slow-drying oil, definitely not one we’d recommend if you’re in a hurry. Good things often take time and the finish you get from linseed oil is especially beautiful. The slow dry time allows the oil to smooth itself out and reduce the number of visible brush marks.
You can mix linseed oil with mineral oil to thin it down (source). This makes it a little easier to work with and allows it to penetrate the core of the wood more easily.
Remember to always check the product packaging before purchasing linseed oil. Some manufacturers mix linseed oil with chemicals that might affect its food safety. You want to ensure you are getting the right type.
What is Mineral Oil?
Mineral oil can actually refer to a few different oils, although they’re all very much alike. It’s a non-drying oil that is completely transparent, produces no smell and leaves behind no taste. It has a wide range of uses, from woodwork treatment to the production of makeup, it’s even used as a lubricating element in engineering.
The story of how mineral oil gets made is quite fascinating. It’s actually a byproduct of the petroleum refining industry.
Mineral Oil and Food Safety
Not to worry though, it’s completely non-toxic. The oil is taken through a strict distillation process (source) to ensure it’s totally food safe. Read more about its use with food in this article.
Application of Mineral Oil
Mineral oil might just be the easiest to use for wood treatment on the market. You don’t need to thin it down or add anything to it. You can apply it directly to whatever you’re making. Professionals and beginners alike will find the ease of use to be very convenient.
A lot of people like to use mineral oil to treat their woodwork due to the fact that it leaves a very natural look to the finished surface. Generally, mineral oil will not affect the color of the wood much at all.
One of the nicest things about mineral oil is that you can get your hands on it very easily, it’s very reasonably priced too. It’s also worth mentioning that mineral oil is non-toxic and produces a food-grade finish, meaning that there’s no danger in applying it to chopping boards or other kitchen tools.
Keep an eye out for the label before you buy any mineral oil. Typically, the one you want will be called “white mineral oil”. They’re not all food-safe, so it’s important to keep tabs on this.
Differences between Linseed Oil and Mineral Oil for Wood Finishing
When you’re choosing a finish for your woodwork you need to decide just exactly what you’re trying to achieve. Are you going for a traditional look or more of a contemporary one? Does it need to be done fast? Once you know these things you’re ready to choose the right oil.
Even though both of these oils behave quite differently, they’re both non-drying oils. That might sound a little confusing, but we’ll explain everything.
Mineral oil is great for creating a finish that shows off the natural beauty of the wood, but it is a little bit less durable than what you can achieve with linseed oil. One of the downsides of mineral oil is that you do need to go back and touch up the finish occasionally. Evaporation is a little bit of an issue for mineral oil-based finishes and they do just need that extra maintenance. Mineral oil doesn’t tend to do that well with liquids either, it’s not very waterproof. One of the advantages of a consistently maintained mineral oil treatment is that you’re replenishing moisture that helps stop any cracks from forming in the wood.
On the other hand, linseed oil is still a non-drying oil but it creates a radically different surface. You will absolutely need to build this up in thin layers if you want a strong coat, a thick layer of raw linseed oil can take forever to dry. You do get a much smoother and more refined-looking finish for your efforts though.
Both mineral oil and raw linseed oil are very easy to come by. Neither oil is especially expensive.
Mineral oil is generally considered to be the easier one to use of the two oils. It’s less picky about layers and doesn’t take forever to dry. Linseed oil may be a little tougher to use, but the results you get from it produce more richness in the finish of the wood.
Whether you choose mineral or linseed oil, at the end of the day it’s a balance between which appearance you prefer how much time you can spend on the application and if the surface needs to be water-resistant.
You don’t have to worry about food safety with either of these oils, they’re both non-toxic. That means that you can happily use them on any wooden bowls or utensils that you’ve got your eye on.
Whichever suits you best is still going to produce attractive results. Make sure you also check out this article where we compare mineral and linseed oil with other common types of oil.
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