Oil finishing furniture: 6 mistakes to avoid

Oil finishing is increasingly favored for enhancing wood furniture, offering protection and aesthetic appeal. This method not only safeguards wood from stains, water damage, and UV rays but also accentuates its natural beauty, particularly the grain patterns in woods like chestnut, oak, or walnut. However, achieving a flawless and lasting finish requires following certain practices and avoiding common errors.

oil wood

Skipping Sanding: A Fundamental Error

Wood’s porous nature makes it ideal for absorbing oil, but effective saturation requires a raw surface. If your furniture is painted, stained, or varnished, it needs to be sanded down first. Start with a coarse abrasive paper (around 60 or 80 grit) to remove most of the existing finish. Then, switch to a finer grit (120 or 150) to smooth the surface.

Brush Application? There’s a Better Way

After dusting off the sanded furniture, it’s time to apply the oil. Opt for a cloth over a brush to spread the oil along the wood grain. Allow it to penetrate for about twenty minutes before wiping off any excess with a soft, non-lint cloth. If the wood absorbs the oil quickly, don’t hesitate to apply a second coat in the same manner.

The Importance of Wiping Off Excess Oil

Wiping off excess oil is crucial for optimal drying and achieving a successful finish. Oil is meant to penetrate the wood, not leave a surface film. Overzealous application, or adding more layers once the wood is saturated, is unnecessary and can be counterproductive.

Patience in Drying

In warm and dry conditions (above 20°C), oil-treated wood will be dry to the touch in just over 24 hours but needs a week to dry thoroughly. Cold and humid conditions can hinder the drying process, so it’s best to avoid oil finishing in winter.

Disposing of the Oil-Soaked Cloth Safely

Before discarding your oil-soaked cloth, drench it in water. This prevents the risk of spontaneous combustion in your trash.

Expanding on the Essentials

While these tips cover the basics of oil finishing, there’s more to explore for achieving a professional and enduring result. Different oils offer varying levels of protection, durability, and aesthetics. Linseed and tung oil are popular choices, but each has its unique properties and drying times. Consider the specific needs of your furniture and the desired finish when selecting an oil.

Proper preparation of the wood surface is vital. Beyond sanding, ensure the wood is clean and free of any contaminants like dust or grease. This ensures even absorption and a uniform finish. The environment in which you apply the oil can significantly affect the outcome. Work in a well-ventilated area to ensure proper drying and to avoid dust settling on the wet surface. Also, be mindful of temperature and humidity levels.

Oil-finished furniture requires regular maintenance to preserve its beauty and protection. Periodically clean the surface with a mild detergent and reapply oil as needed to rejuvenate the finish and protect the wood.

Personal Safety and Environmental Considerations

When working with oils and solvents, personal safety is paramount. Use gloves and work in a well-ventilated area. Additionally, consider the environmental impact of the products you use and opt for eco-friendly, non-toxic options when available.


Oil finishing can significantly enhance the natural beauty and longevity of your wood furniture. By avoiding common mistakes and following best practices, you can achieve a professional, durable finish that highlights the unique characteristics of the wood. Remember, patience and attention to detail are key to a successful oil finish.