Thursday, April 7, 2016

Accentuate the Natural Beauty of the Wood

Formby's Low Gloss Tung Oil Finish

The project I'd (finally) completed was small, and I'd made an unusual choice of woods: half clean, yellow-blond poplar and the other half handsome, chocolaty walnut. The choice of woods – in particular the colors --  was the point of the piece, so when it came time for finishing I wanted something that would accentuate the wood's texture without overpowering its natural colors. My Dad liked tung oil for subtle finishes, so I followed his lead by choosing some Formby's Traditional Tung Oil Finish. Although Formby's is now a member of the MinWax family, Homer's bespectacled face still decorates the label and, according to MinWax, the formula is unchanged.

The low-gloss formula I used is 70% aliphatic hydrocarbons (i.e., mineral spirits), and the rest is a proprietary mixture of oils and resins of tung oil, pressed from the nuts of a tree native to east Asia. Formby's Tung Oil is intended for use as a hand-rubbed finish, applied with lint-free cloth in a circular motion, much like waxing a car. After the finish dries -- some twelve hours, unless the humidity is high -- you apply another coat. I prefer to soften the grain with a light application of steel wool between coats. Repeat until the finish is satisfactory.

Tung oil finishes like Formby's are considered penetrating finishes, combinations of varnish and oils that soak into the grain of the wood. The spirits evaporate, leaving the rest embedded in the wood's pores. The result’s a finish that hardens the upper layer of the wood instead of spreading over it. The soaking action raises the grain slightly, which is why I use the steel wool.

For my project, I applied five or six coats over four days, with steel wool between coats followed by a shot of compressed air to blow away any vagrant threads. The resulting matte finish slightly darkened both species of wood, leaving it with a slightly wet appearance. The end grain soaked up more oil, so it came out noticeably darker. The surface stayed nice and smooth, especially the walnut. If the surface dries out or gets scuffed, the label tells me I can apply a new coat over the original finish as needed.

Though it’s more expensive than brush-on stains and is definitely more labor-intensive, I highly recommend Formby's Traditional Tung Oil Finish to accent the hard work you've already put in on your project. 


Plus: a finish that accentuates the wood's quality instead of covering it
Minus: Raises grain a little; labor-intensive
What They’re Saying: When you've put a lot of work into a wood project, give it the finish it deserves: Formby's Traditional Tung Oil Finish.

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