Have you ever wondered why people use linseed oil on wood instead of sealing it with polyurethane? See what it looks like on my bench and learn why I used it.
I’d like to say that I picked boiled linseed oil for my bench after a lot of deliberation, however, I used it because I had some sitting on the shelf! A long, long time ago, the amish picked up our house and moved it down the road for us! After that, we gutted it and added new plumbing, electrical, HVAC, insulation, windows, pretty much everything but the wood floors and trim. You can get a tour where I talk about it HERE.
When we worked on restoring all of the wood trim in the 100 year old craftsman bungalow my mom made some concoction using linseed oil and turpentine and maybe shellac? When I saw how this worked on our old trim, I continued to buy some and keep it stocked on my shelf. That way I always had some on hand for pieces I brought home.
Obviously as a dealer and picker I deal with old stuff that has been sitting in dirty barns for years. Because these pieces have been sitting in barns for years you find a lot of dried out pieces. When I would bring pieces home I had to decide what I wanted to use to refurbish them. I would always pick something to use on a wood piece depending on what that item was and its condition. Sometimes that is polyurethane , sometimes that is wax, sometimes that is orange glow, and sometimes that is boiled linseed oil.
When should you use linseed oil?
You should use boiled linseed oil on pieces of wood that have already been oiled or when you want to protect bare wood.
My bench had many layers of paint on it that needed to be removed. I was hoping to get the bench completely stripped back to raw wood, however that didn’t happen. I started working on this bench, after I had worked on a red dresser that I also wanted to strip back to raw wood. Sadly, that dresser was a nightmare to work on. By the time I started working on this bench I had lost most of my patience! That being sad, I know that I could have removed all of the paint with a little more elbow grease.
Even though I didn’t get all of the paint off of this bench, I am still very happy with the look, especially because the remaining paint will go perfectly on my porch mixed with some fall mums! A little yellow and orange is always a good fall combination!
Getting the Bench Down to Raw Wood
Stripping with the Heat Gun
For my first attempt at removing paint on this piece I used a scrapper and the heat gun. Above is a picture of my first pass with the scrapper. I thought it was very promising first pass because most of the paint bubbled up and scraped off easily. On the other hand, come to find out, the creamy paint underneath had definitely penetrated the wood on the bench. It was old paint that had soaked in, which made it bery difficult to remove. You can see that the cream paint was the first coat of paint on this bench and then someone did a pretty yellow and turquoise, followed by a purplish color. When the bench was purple it seemed to be used as a work bench and has a lot of different colors of overspray from other projects. Clearly looking at the big gash marks, someone had also cut something on top of this bench too!
Because of all of these paint layers, this project was not going to go exactly as planned!
Stripping Paint Using the Electric Sander
Next up I used the electric sander. The sander did get some additional paint off of the piece. Obviously I could have made numerous attempts at sanding the rest of the paint off, but I was already frustrated after the last project and I just wanted to be done! So this is after one attempt with rough grit sand paper. This piece was going to be outside anyway, so spending a ton of additional time on it, just didn’t seem necessary.
Here you can see the difference that sanding made:
Cleaning Off the Dust
I used a brush and rag to remove as much dust as possible. Then I used my shop vac to remove even more dust particles. After using the shop vac, I took it out to the front porch to apply the boiled linseed oil.
You do want to have a clean surface to apply the linseed oil. Although I didn’t get all of the old paint removed, I did remove enough that I thought the linseed oil would still do it’s job. You can see in the pictures that when you apply the linseed oil, it makes the wood look wet. This makes it very easy to see where you have applied the linseed oil.
I applied the linseed oil with a rag, also known as an old t-shirt I cut up. You don’t have to worry about going with the grain, you just simply rub it in with the rag. You want to apply liberally, but there shouldn’t be any puddles of oil on your piece.
Depending on the weather and humidity, it can take a few days for the oil to soak in or dry. Once it does, you can add a second and third coat of linseed oil.
Why Use Boiled Linseed Oil on Wood?
Linseed oil will penetrate the wood to hydrate and protect it where other sealers like polyurethane just add a coating to the top of the wood. The best feature of linseed oil on wood is that it waterproofs it AND helps protect it from the sun. We are using this bench as a coffee table on the front porch. Something that we can put our feet on when we are sitting in our new porch chairs, or we can sit our beverages on it when we are porch sitting.
When you strip a wood piece down often times it’s obvious how dehydrated the wood is. Boiled linseed oil penetrates the wood, and helps keep it hydrated. This can take a few days or more, but it offers a lot of protection to the piece.
Because our bench is outside, even though the porch is covered and somewhat protected, the bench will be exposed to the elements and waterproofing and sun protection sound like good reasons to use boiled linseed oil. My experience with polyurethaned pieces outside is that eventually the polyurethane starts to flake off. And then you are left with an unattractive piece that needs attention before it looks good again. That attention includes removing the polyurethane and then reapplying it.
If the bench starts looking dry or is showing water marks after applying the boiled linseed oil, you can just reapply. Adding a few more coats of boiled linseed oil and no sanding seems like an advantage.
Creating the Raw Wood Look
I guess it’s not a look, when a piece is actually raw wood, but even raw wood needs protection although the trending style is to make it look like a wood piece has no protection! It’s definitely a hard look to achieve. Linseed oil will darken the wood piece some and it will also bring out the grain of the piece, but I still think it gives you the “look,” while offering protection.
So, if you are trying to achieve the raw wood look, but you need protection on a piece like a table or something that could get wet and have watermarks, then this is a great option! It looks natural to give you the appearance you desire. It also offers a lot of protection, so the piece can also be functional.
Check Out How I Create the Look of Chippy Paint
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6 thoughts on “Using Linseed Oil on Wood”
Love the finished bench Brooke!! Do you think I could put linseed on something I just want to darken some? I have a wooden barrel of some sort with wire bands (not straps) around it that looks new.
Hmmm…I’ve only applied it with a rag and I think of barrel’s as being very textured. I would guess it would work ok! I might suggest just spraying on orange glow!! You don’t have to rub it or anything, it will soak in to the wood and darken it! Sorry I am just now replying, I’m just now seeing your comment!
Could the boiled linseed be used to preserve driftwood, or am I better to use wax, and if so what wax, I don’t want to change the colour if I can help it, thank you in advance
You could use it on driftwood. And any wax would work, but if there are little spaces in the wood, the wax would be hard to rub in, so I’d lean towards oil. No matter what you use, it will change the color. So if you don’t want that, I would leave the drift wood as is. Anything you add is hydrating the wood and would darken it!
There are very few things that I like more than an old, weathered, small bench! That one is so adorable. I love the little bit of paint left on it and the oil gave it a rich deep color.
Thank you! It moved inside for the winter and has been a coffee table in our basement living room!