what is the best oil for treating wood?

I thought it might be an idea to put a few blog posts which answer frequently asked questions and what is the best oil for treating wood? has to be one of the most frequent.

Dry wood is like blotting paper and would soak up whatever you put on or in it. A breakfast bowl would soak up the milk which would then go rancid, not nice. We treat wood to seal the surface and make it less absorbent so that it can be used for food and washed afterwords.

You can treat wood with oils or waxes, waxes tend to sit on the surface whereas oils tend to penetrate deeper. Oils can be separated into those which cure or set and those which always stay liquid. The ones which set are best partly because a cured oil protects the wood better, waterproofing the surface and not washing out, but also because an oil that always stays liquid like olive for instance can go rancid.

The three most common oils which set on their own are linseed, walnut and tung oil. Linseed and walnut have both been used as the carrier oil in oil paintings from the middle ages and it is the oil curing which sets the paint. Tung oil, made from a tropical nut, is commonly used in commercial finished like danish oil which is basically a mix of tung oil (expensive) with white spirit (cheap) the white spirit makes the oil thinner and helps it penetrate the wood. Warming the oil has the same effect but without adding unpleasant chemicals.

Since I know what a field of linseed or a walnut plantation look like and they are traditional in Europe these are may favourite oils. I advise folk who just want to treat a bowl at home to use walnut, it is sold everywhere you buy olive oil and makes a nice salad dressing too. The oil comes in a glass bottle and I suggest standing this bottle in hot water for a few minutes to warm the oil, pour it onto the wood and wipe around with a piece of kitchen paper, allow it to soak in for a minute or two then wipe off any excess with clean kitchen paper.

Unfortunately I can not use it commercially due to nut allergy so I use linseed. DIY shops sell raw and boiled linseed, boiled has metal drying agents added which are poisonous (a bit like old lead based paints) it is fine for cricket bats or window frames but not for food use. The drying agents mean that it sets in a couple of days rather than weeks.

So raw linseed is the stuff and liking to source things locally and organically I would ideally like to find a UK farm or oil mill where I could buy cold pressed organic oil. So far I have not found this so I use a really nice linseed which a friend buys for me in Sweden. Over there linseed is sold like olive oil here, there are so many different choices available. I like my oil because it is almost colourless where many linseed oils are very yellow. It costs more than a good extra virgin olive oil even buying it 20 litres at a time but it is worth it.

All my woodware is treated with this oil, the dry wood soaks it up and with time it sets in the wood and no further treatment is necessary. At home we never re oil any of our plates and bowl, just use them wash them in hot water with detergent and let them dry. If you want to keep your bowls looking bright and fresh then an occasional wipe with walnut oil will do the job.

One last comment, many commercial oils such as IKEAs chopping board oil are based on “mineral oil” or liquid paraffin oil. This is an inert oil so it never goes rancid but it never sets either. It is also a by product of the petrochemical industry, I prefer a natural vegetable based oil.

Hope this is helpful. Any other questions feel free to ask and I’ll try to answer them here.

Now you know what to treat woodware with you might like to see the wooden bowls and plates that I make for everyday use.

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98 Responses to what is the best oil for treating wood?

  1. Lai April 28, 2014 at 4:44 am #

    I just set up my IKEA kitchen and am treating the Solid wood worktops. As the wood treatment oil has been discontinued in the local IKEA store here and I had to buy a pricey one from ACE hardware.

    The treatment oil is blended with lemon oil however still mixed with Hydrocarbon (Petroleum Derived Compound) which I don’t like it. This is my first time DIY using treatment oil on wood and have no idea how proper I would have treated the new woods and how well I can preserve them although they are guaranteed for 25 years.

    Did you mean that any kind of natural oils can be used for wood treatment let’s don’t talk about the price of the oils. I have been using a number of essential oils for aroma therapies and topical use and therefore curious to ask if I can use these PURE oils to treat the woods. (As some of them are very affordable and I would prefer to use natural stuffs than those are commercially produced)

    And I purchased these oils (whether it is essential or carrier such as sweet almond, macadamia, walnut, avocado) at an affordable price from an online store at USA named iherb. If I can confirm this, then I will switch to natural oils instead.

    Need your advice. Thanks and have good day.

    • Robin Wood April 28, 2014 at 7:48 am #

      Hi Lai, did you read the article? Most pure oils will remain liquid and can go rancid over time. I would advise walnut or linseed or if you wish to continue using an oil similar to the ikea oil then it is mineral oil which is sold in pharmacies as a laxative, you can add essential oil to it if you like but it will have no long term effect.

  2. Lai April 29, 2014 at 2:58 am #

    Robin. Heap of thanks for your article and prompt reply!

    I completed the treatment by applying the 3rd coat as recommended in IKEA’s manual. The next will be sanding using coarse sand paper (also an instruction from IKEA’s manual). I am going to proceed with this final touch up within 12 hours.

    However, after reading some of the discussion and advice posted here I am doubtful now whether I should follow the IKEA manual for the last step.

    I like natural wood’s colour and texture but I am a novice and completely new for taking care of natural woods. And worrying If I had treated the fresh woods appropriately, worse if I had done it wrongly then it could have caused harm to the durability of the worktops and ultimately it may not serve its purpose in good condition over long term.

    Thanks Robin.

  3. lynda May 5, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

    Very interesting article.
    I have made my own wood polish for years now.
    I mix 1 part pure beeswax to 4 parts pure coconut oil.
    (I substituted Olive oil with coconut after my dogs started licking the wood.They don’t appear to be as interested in the coconut.)
    Applying every 8 weeks.let soak for at least 4 hours then buff
    With a cotton cloth. Only need to wipe over weekly in between applications.
    Lovely shine.shows grain well. No problems with rancidity to date.
    However I mix well including mixing twice when setting in the first two hours. This seems to help cohesion.

  4. Paul Cowburn May 30, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    I was interested to learn what the difference between boiled and raw linseed oil might be in terms of wood preservation and your article answered that thank you. The reason being, Taylor Guitars recommend the boiled LO to treat the fingerboard now and again, usually when strings are changed. Its easy to see why now.

  5. Rob Drury June 19, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

    Excellent article. A model article for the conveyance of information in general.

  6. Glen July 28, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    Hi Robin,
    I am thinking about making a wooden cake stand for my wedding but am unsure about how to ensure it is food safe, I know you have said that you use linseed oil, but would beeswax be ok to use as well?

  7. Kirk August 10, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    Hello – I’ve enjoyed your blog! I’ve been using either hemp or coconut oil in my spoons. I’m also interested in trying the organic raw linseed oil. With the hemp or coconut oils I normally apply a generous coat and then place the spoon in the oven at 350 degrees for about 3-4 min, this process literally sucks the oil into the wood. In researching linseed oil it sounds like it may be more sensitive to heat than hemp or coconut, have you had any experience heating bowls or spoons after applying linseed oil?

  8. Douglas Jones August 11, 2014 at 12:55 am #

    As usual a model of information! I am interested in making a couple of quaichs to share a good whiskey with. I typically use Mahoney’s Walnut or Walnut Oil and wax on anything that will touch food. Using a modern lathe I can build the heat so to speed polymerization.

    You use raw linseed oil exclusively. I have no issues with your choice of finish. I am more interested how raw linseed oil, after drying, stands up to the alcohol in good whiskey? Does the linseed oil dissolve in the alcohol (nasty) or once polymerized, is the oil finish impervious to the alcohol?

    Another possibility is you use do not use a finish in your quaichs. In which case what wood in North America would be of tight enough grain and neutral enough taste to work in a quaich?

    Douglas R Jones

    • Robin Wood August 20, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

      I use a hot dip in pure beeswax for my quaichs, alcohol dissolves cured oils. We don’t use walnut in the UK because of the nut allergy thing, it surprises me that people do not feel it is an issue in the US.

  9. Christine Philips September 6, 2014 at 8:29 am #

    My daughter has just treated her 3 month old babies cot with cedar oil. I cant seem to find out whether it is safe for babies or for furniture. My grandson is now sleeping in the cot but I am concerned whether there may be long term effects on either the baby or the wood. (baby being most important of course).

    • Jen September 21, 2014 at 7:40 am #

      Hi Christine and hi Robin…

      Just hijacking your post Christine because I’m interested to hear Robin’s answer, and to ask my own question.

      We have a new cot, just made from untreated pine, so nothing fancy but I do want it to last as long as possible. Last night I gave it one coat of raw linseed oil, applied liberally and wiped off with a cloth. Today it feels dry to the touch already, though I know it needs longer to cure. I came online to find out more about what to do now and I’m now worried I may have done the wrong thing! I don’t want it to go rancid…

      Also, I want to know baby will be safe being in contact with it with their mouth and hands and that the cot and baby will continue to be safe should there be any ‘accidents’ further down the line!

      Thanks Robin. Having discovered your blog I’m now off to browse your shop :)

      • Robin Wood September 21, 2014 at 9:24 am #

        Hi Jen,
        Realistically oiling will not alter the lifespan of furniture kept indoors. When indoor furniture dies it is generally because the joints become loose and wobbly after years of use and abuse. If the joints are well made int eh first place it should last years. A dry wood surface however is like blotting paper and will attract stains and dirt much more easily than an oiled surface. A cured oiled surface can be wiped clean easily. Raw linseed is used as a food product in Sweden, it does not go rancid in the way that other veg oils do instead it cures when exposed to oxygen. I am 100% sure cot and baby will both be fine.

        • Jen September 21, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

          Thanks Robin, I appreciate your advice. I’ll look into giving it another coat in a few days perhaps.
          Best wishes

    • Robin Wood September 21, 2014 at 9:19 am #

      Hi Christine I am afraid cedar oil is one I do not know about.

  10. The Linseed Farm October 14, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

    If you’re looking for Linseed Oil, whether it is fresh and for you to consume or you require some for your wood. We can help! http://www.thelinseedfarm.co.uk

  11. Prabighya November 10, 2014 at 3:30 pm #


    I wanted to know if it is okay to use mustard oil or almond oil? We find lots of this oil in Nepal and wanted an opinion on this.

    Thank you

    • Robin Wood November 15, 2014 at 9:02 am #

      Sorry I do not know about mustard oil I am 99% sure almond oil does not set or cure so I would not use that.

      • Agustin December 9, 2014 at 8:33 pm #

        Hello, Do you think that olive oil virgin extra is the best for wooden treatment?

  12. Boaz November 30, 2014 at 10:25 am #

    Hi Robin,
    I am buying a japanese wooden practice sword (bokken). The makers recommend leaving it unvarnished and then treating it with tea oil (camellia japonica). I live in Israel and would rather use something local and less expensive. Do you have any suggestions? I guess oil would go rancid, but then tea oil doesn’t seem to set either and they recommend it.


  13. Boaz November 30, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    Hi, just wanted to add to the last question – the bokken is made from Japanese white oak.

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  15. fjstjohn December 10, 2014 at 4:15 am #

    We have a wonderful bare wood cabinet. Not sure of the wood. We purchased it in Florida and then moved to Wisconsin. The big difference is the average humidity. Over the last several years we have noticed small movement and minor warping in some parts of the piece. I have just now realized that it might be a good idea to see what I can do about this. A called to the original retailer who provided the recommendation of a high quality wax. After reading how a wax would seal the surface, I realized this is not really what I want. But I’m thinking that based on this article, the very dry wood should quickly soak up an oil. Would continued use of a non curing oil like olive oil “rehydrate” the wood? Could I then following this with treatments of a curing oil such as walnut or tung? Lastly, If such a treatment course helped to rehydrate the wood and reduce or reverse some of the warping that we see, could I then apply a wax to lock in the oils? Or should I just keep using oils?


  16. Joy Irving December 13, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    I’ve just coated a new oak floor with four coats of warmed raw linseed oil, and have waited a week between each coat, so as to make sure that the floor was dry before applying the next coat. At the moment the floor is matt. I’ve tried buffing it with a cloth and a green pad, but it still remains matt. Is there anything I can do to give it a slight shine. I thought linseed oil would buff up, but it doesn’t seem to. Any suggestions? Have I done anything wrong?

  17. Betsie Ackerman January 12, 2015 at 11:13 am #

    good day to you. I’ve acquired a dining room set made out of a hardwood tree trunk. The wood was extremely dry, so I’ve treated it with raw linseed oil. I know want to polish it to a high gloss shine without varnishing it. Any ideas on how to get the natural wood to a perfect shine please? I’m also finding that the linseed oil does not buff up, no matter how hard you rub?

    • Robin Wood January 12, 2015 at 11:18 am #

      Betsie high gloss shine is not something that I do but if that is what you want then it is all about surface preparation before you oil. The wood needs to be sanded properly to a very fine finish then the oil needs to be rubbed in with very fine abrasive. Commercial tree trunk furniture of the type you describe is generally sanded to maybe 120 grit and it needs doing with 240 grit then 40o then 600 before you get anything like a shine.

  18. Paul January 12, 2015 at 11:03 pm #

    Just ruined a beautiful homemade table top I made by treating it with the walnut oil recommended on this site. After 4 weeks, it still hasn’t set, and anything made of paper left on the table for more than 10 minutes will start to absorb the oil back out. Warning.

    • Robin Wood January 13, 2015 at 10:38 am #

      Paul your table is not ruined, the oil will cure but it can take weeks as mentioned clearly in the post. How long varies with the oil, I have used some that goes off in days and others that take a couple of months. For a tabletop you could have considered the option of using an oil with drying agents added eg boiled linseed since it does not come into contact with food.

  19. Jason January 13, 2015 at 8:10 am #

    Hi Robin,

    Im looking for an oil to put on an old oak beam that im using as a mantle.

    Its splitting a bit too quickly and id like to find some kind of treatment to ‘moisturise’ it and slow the splitting down (I expect some splitting over time – especially as its over the fire). I came across your blog post and wondered if Walnut Oil might be the answer.

    Do you think it would be appropriate for this use? Would it make the wood significantly darker?

    Or any other ideas would be welcome.


    • Robin Wood January 13, 2015 at 10:32 am #

      HI Jason,
      To be honest if the beam is thick say 8″x 8″ then any surface treatment will do little to slow splitting. If it is an old beam then it should be 100% dry through to the centre so any movement going on now is just settling down to where it was when it was last in a house/barn rather than being equivalent to the seasoning of green wood. I would be inclined to not worry too much, let it do it’s thing for a couple of months then once it has settled down retouch the plasterwork/decoration up against it and think about any surface treatment you want to do if any. Oil would make it darker, if you want to see what it would look like paint some water on it, that is how much darker it would appear when oiled.

  20. Jason January 13, 2015 at 2:04 pm #

    Hi Robin,

    Thanks for responding so quickly.

    Its not the wall and plaster work im worried about so much as the beam itself. It looks very old and is already split and cracked a fair bit as would be expected. Its been in place about a year and seems to have cracked a lot more in that relatively short time. Im guessing its getting very hot above the fire and cracking as a result.

    I expect this to happen, but maybe not as quickly, im worried it will fall apart in a couple of years, then again maybe im worrying too much…?

    I was just in Homebase seeing what they might have and found Teak Oil, it says on the tin it nourishes and helps protect against warping and cracking. Do you have any thoughts on using Teak Oil?

    Thanks again

    • Robin Wood January 13, 2015 at 2:20 pm #

      If it was old in the first place and has been over a fire for a year I would expect it has done the vast majority of the movement that it is going to do and I would not worry about it. Send me a photo by email if you want.

      • Jason January 15, 2015 at 11:45 am #

        Thanks Robin,

        I just emailed you a photo, what do you think?


  21. dave February 10, 2015 at 2:20 am #

    Hemp oil is my favourite

  22. Magda February 23, 2015 at 3:01 pm #

    I have a dining and living room set purchased 20 years ago in Africa. It’s solid black and yellow wood. Throughout the years I have been treating it with ‘Old English Oil’. The colour of the wood is starting to fade; can we use raw linseed oil? If not, which do you recommend? Also, is there a way for us to seal the wood so that it no longer requires continuous oiling?

    • Robin Wood February 25, 2015 at 8:52 am #

      yes linseed is the oil I would use, they say for furniture once a day for a week, once a week for a year once a year for a lifetime. I have no idea what your “Old English Oil” is, most likely a mix of a drying oil like linseed or tung with chemical drying agent to speed drying and some thinners.

  23. Alex March 9, 2015 at 7:04 am #

    Hi Robin,

    I am wondering what product I could use to remove walnut oil from wood?

    Both cured and uncured states.

  24. Chris March 14, 2015 at 7:16 pm #


    Would the brand Naissance organic cold pressed linseed/flaxseed oil work? It’s the only one I have found on amazon that is both reasonably priced and organic.

    I’m looking to oil a handmade walking stick.

    Thank you,

    • Robin Wood March 16, 2015 at 5:31 pm #

      Not a brand I know. All linseed/flax sets but it varies in the time it takes. Most stickmakers would use a boiled linseed which has drying agents added to make it set quicker. My comments here are primarily aimed at treating woodware for food use so I don’t want drying agents.

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