Wood finishes don’t have to contain chemicals and petroleum products. You can use natural-based finishes for woodworking projects instead.
A few months ago I wrote an article about staining wood naturally. Several people asked if there were wood finishes with no chemicals or petroleum. I’m happy to say there are! And just like learning how to make soap is a great skill, making your own natural stains is another.
Wood Finishes: Several Natural Solutions
There are several ways you can protect your wood projects naturally. Some will set right away, while some need to dry for a few days.
Tung oil comes from the seed or nut of the tung tree. It coats the wood, soaking in and then hardening upon exposure to the air. People have been using it for centuries, dating back to the time of Confucius. “Danish oil is one commercial product that uses tung oil. Tung oil contains no volatile compounds and dries quickly. You can clean it up with citrus-based solvents.
People have been using beeswax as a natural wood finish and protector for years as well. Once you melt it, you can apply it to the wood directly. Simply wipe on, then buff off. Beeswax cools quickly, so the preferred method is to mix it with oil. Tung oil is the most common, often with a bit of lemon essential oil added for the scent. The lemon essential oil has antibacterial properties, which help to preserve the wood you apply it to.
You can use soy wax in the same manner as beeswax. It is softer and uses less oil to make it pliant.
Linseed oil is another penetrating oil that protects wood making it great as a natural wood finish.
They make shellac from the Lac bug. It provides a shiny, hard coating that is very durable. You can also tint it to nearly any color.
Walnut oil is another natural oil that can be used as a natural wood finish. It also provides a fairly durable finish. Be aware, however, that this oil, like many other nut oils, can cause problems for those who are allergic to them.
Jojoba oil contains waxes that help keep it from degrading, which protects the wood you apply it to.
Sunflower oil contains high amounts of Vitamin E, and when you use it as a wood finish it helps preserve the wood.
Carnauba wax is a wax obtained from the leaves of a palm tree that only grows in Brazil. It is used to wax cars and surfboards because it’s extremely durable. Unlike other waxes, the finish will dull over time, rather than peeling or flaking.
Mineral oil is not a natural oil, as some people assume from the name. It is distilled from petroleum products.
Natural Oils Not Suited for Wood
Some oils should not be used as a wood finish or wood protector. These oils are primarily vegetable-based and can go rancid within a few months of application. Some of them include:
- Almond Oil
- Sesame Oil
- Canola Oil
- Hemp Oil
- Flax Seed Oil (except as linseed oil)
- Olive Oil
- Peanut Oil
- Corn Oil
These oils (and many others) never really dry out and will always be oily, attracting dust, dirt, and hair.
Preparing the Wood to be Finished
- Before applying a finish, you need to prepare your wood.
- Remove any old finish.
- Sand the wood if necessary for a smooth finish.
- Apply any stain that you may want to color the wood. See this article for some natural wood stain ideas: Learn How to Make Your Own Natural Wood Stains.
- Dry the wood very well. You may need to wait for a few days to be sure the wood is thoroughly dry. Once it is dry, you can apply the finish.
Applying the Wood Finish
With most waxes, they are made into a paste that can be applied easily – rub on and buff off the excess. You can repeat the process if you want more protection. When applying an oil finish, apply with a paintbrush, foam brush, or a soft cloth (like a piece of flannel). Apply evenly, wiping up any drips that may occur. The oil will penetrate the wood and soak into the surface.
Make your Own Paste Wax
You can make your own wood finish paste wax very easily. It is basically the same procedure as making a salve.
- To make this wood finish, melt the wax and coconut oil together in a short glass jar.
- Allow to cool and add the lemon essential oil. Stir thoroughly to combine.
- Cool completely and test the consistency. It should be like a paste. If it is too soft, melt it down and add more beeswax. If it is too hard, add more coconut oil.
Note: This recipe can vary as all beeswax is different and contains different moisture levels. It is very easy to adjust to your liking. Just melt it down and adjust it to your preferences.
Have you used a natural wood finish for your woodworking projects? Let us know how it worked out!