I am often asked...why do you prefer oil finishes over polyurethane?
Well, because it is super easy to apply and there is no better finish for durability and touchups!
The ONLY time I use poly is to seal paint finishes...usually Minwax Polyurethane or Valspar clear spray to seal "chalk paint" or spray paint finishes. It's no secret that I am not a big wax fan. I never use poly on stained pieces.
Here I discuss the importance of using a "food safe" oil on butcher block or wood cutting boards. I usually use Watco's butcher block oil finish, even if I am only going to use the cutting board as a decorative item (which is always because I am just "weird" about using wood for cutting food!).
Here I discuss the difference, or rather the lack of difference, between different oil finishes. In a nutshell, the biggest difference is on the label. For me, I prefer Formby's Tung Oil finish...but I have tried Watco danish oil, teak oil finish and several other oil finishes. It is honestly a "personal preference."
And keep in mind, I am talking about oil FINISHES...not REAL tung oil. Real tung oil is a great wood finish, but not exactly something a DIYer really wants (or needs) to experiment with!
Here is why I prefer oil finishes on natural or stained wood...
1) Ease of application. Seriously, it is "idiot" proof! Once you have stripped all the old finish off (doesn't matter if you are stripping a small cutting board or a large table...see a tutorial here!) and applied a stain, the oil finish is super easy to apply! Rub the entire piece lightly with 0000 steel wool, TACK CLOTH THE ENTIRE PIECE (seriously, I can not stress how important it is to use tack cloth whether you are painting or oiling!), and then wipe the oil finish on with a "sponge applicator." (Here I show you how to make super cheap applicators!). I always apply 3-4 coats of oil finish...however many I need to get a nice even finish...rubbing with steel wool and tack cloth between coats!
Oil is a "penetrating" finish so you really want the wood to soak up those first few coats. I usually use a circular motion to apply...kind of like "waxing." Then I just wipe "with the grain."
If you notice a "drip" after a coat has dried, it is super easy to buff it out with steel wool...no biggy!
Seriously, this stuff is super easy to apply!
2) Durability. Oil finishes are super durable...in my opinion, just as durable as poly. To me, poly finishes look "plastic" and tend to mask the texture and depth of a beautiful wood grain!
3) Touch up. This is the real kicker. Oil finishes are super easy to touch up or "bring back to life." I usually re-oil my tables whenever they get scratches or begin to look a little dull.
The first thing I do is rub down the top with steel wool....
Then I wipe the entire piece down with tack cloth. Tack cloth picks up EVERYTHING and is honestly the trick to getting a smooth finish! (I did not stain this table...that is the "natural" color of white oak and walnut with an oil finish)
After that I just wipe on a fresh coat of tung oil finish with my homemade sponge applicator...and the piece looks like new!!
Here you can see the scratches caused by kitty nails....
After a little steel wool, tack cloth and a fresh coat of oil...gone!
Today I re-oiled the top of my Drexel coffee table. After a year of use it had a few scratches and was beginning to look a little dull! Now...just like "new."
This is not something you can do with polyurethane!
I usually let the oil dry overnight before I apply another coat or before use!
To clean or dust, I just wipe down with a damp rag...then follow with a dry one.
Poly has its place in your DIY arsenal...but for me, oil finishes are best on any natural or stained wood piece especially if they will need touch up from time to time!
Whether you apply a stain or leave the wood natural, there is no durable finish that allows the beauty of a wood grain to show through as well as oil!!!