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What is Tung Oil?

By Harriette Halepis
Updated May 17, 2024
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Tung oil is a type of wood finishing product that is derived from the pressed nut of the tung tree. Tung oil is drying oil that is similar to linseed, safflower, poppy, and soybean oil. Drying oils are perfect for wooden objects, since the oil dries to a clear film once it has made contact with the air. Pure tung oil and tung oil finishes are two distinct products that should not be confused with one another.

Pure tung oil was brought to the Western world from China around the year 1900. This oil in pure form creates a solid high-resistant finish once it has been applied to a wooden object. While pure oil will darken slightly with age, it does not darken as much as other oils. Pure oil is popular in China, and it has been used in China for thousands of years to finish a number of wooden objects. Pure oil can even be applied to seaworthy vessels in order to effectively seal outer wood.

In contrast, an oil finish has very little to do with pure oil. Tung oil finish is a popular term, though it does not necessarily relate to tung oil at all. Since oil manufacturers were originally confused by this oil's origin, they began to use the word tung loosely. Many manufacturers still use this term in order to describe the wet look of a finish. Often, tung oil finish does not contain any amount of oil from the tung tree. Oil finish is often applied to guitars, woodwork, frames, kitchen items, and even to some forms of masonry.

Since this type of oil is derived from a nut, it is important to point out that some people may be allergic to it. This oil is often applied to wooden bowls, spoons, cutting boards, and other food-related objects, which can pose a serious threat to those people with nut-related allergies.

In addition, some contractors may use oil from the tung tree to help marble and granite kitchen counters shine. As with any wooden bowl or spoon, the addition of this oil to a kitchen counter top could spark nut allergies. Thus, it is important to relate any allergies to contractors prior to beginning home renovation work.

Applying oil from the tung tree to any object can be difficult. This type of oil must be sanded after every application, and each application will take around seven hours to dry. Still, this oil proves to be extremely popular with craftsmen around the globe for its sheen, durability, and absorption qualities.

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