Is It Safe to Use Tung Oil on Cedar? (How Do You Apply?)

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Cedar, known for its rich luster and aromatic presence, is a favorite among woodworkers and DIY enthusiasts. The choice of finish can significantly enhance cedar’s natural beauty and durability.

Tung oil, revered for its protective qualities and eco-friendly nature, stands out as a premier choice.

tung oil on cedar
tung oil on cedar

This guide delves into the world of tung oil, unraveling its secrets for creating stunning cedar pieces.

Why Choose Tung Oil for Cedar?

Tung oil, derived from the seeds of the tung tree, is celebrated for its unique characteristics that make it an ideal finish for cedar wood.

Unlike synthetic finishes, tung oil penetrates deep into the wood fibers, enhancing the cedar’s natural color and texture while forming a protective barrier.

It’s not just about aesthetics; tung oil also offers substantial protection against environmentalelements, making it suitable for both indoor and outdoor cedar projects.

Types of Tung Oil: Pure vs. Dark

When selecting tung oil for your cedar project, you’re faced with two primary choices: pure and dark tung oil.

Pure tung oil maintains cedar’s natural hue, imparting a subtle, light yellow tint, while dark tung oil enriches the wood with a deeper, more pronounced tone. Your choice depends on the desired aesthetic effect on your cedar piece.

Preparing Cedar for Tung Oil Application

Preparing Cedar for Tung Oil Application
Preparing Cedar for Tung Oil Application

Necessary Supplies:

  • Tung oil (Pure or Dark)
  • Mineral spirit
  • Sandpapers (120, 150, 220 grit)
  • Abrasive finishing pads
  • Plastic cup or glass jar
  • Tack cloth
  • Rags
  • A bristle brush, sponge brush, or lint-free rag
  • Latex gloves

Steps for Preparation:

  1. Inspect for Existing Finishes: If there’s an existing finish on the cedar, remove it completely using sandpaper.
  2. Cleaning: Use a tack cloth to clean the surface of dust, debris, and contaminants.
  3. Sanding: Start with 120-grit sandpaper, progressing to 150 and 220 grits for a smooth finish.
  4. Raising the Grain: Dampen the wood to raise the grain, then resand with 220 grit.
  5. Final Cleaning: Remove all residues with a damp cloth or vacuum to prepare for oil application.

Step-by-Step Guide to Applying Tung Oil

Step by Step Guide to Applying Tung Oil
Step by Step Guide to Applying Tung Oil

Application Process:

  1. Thin the Oil: Mix tung oil with an equal amount of mineral spirit in a plastic cup or glass jar. This aids in deeper penetration and easier application.
  2. First Coat: Apply tung oil using a brush, sponge, or rag, ensuring an even and generous application along the wood grain.
  3. Drying and Sanding: Allow the first coat to dry for about 6 hours, then lightly sand with an abrasive pad.
  4. Subsequent Coats: Apply additional coats (up to 5-8 for optimal finish), sanding lightly between each. The final two coats may not require wet sanding.
  5. Curing: Allow the final coat to cure for approximately 14 days for a hard, durable finish.

Expert Tips for a Flawless Finish

  • Wipe Off Excess Oil: After each coat, wipe off unabsorbed oil to prevent a thick, uneven layer.
  • Address Dull Areas: If certain areas absorb oil differently, apply additional coats until the finish is even.
  • Patience is Key: Allow sufficient drying time between coats for the best results.

The Benefits of Tung Oil on Cedar

  • Non-Toxic and Food Safe: Ideal for kitchen utensils and children’s toys.
  • Waterproof and Durable: Creates a barrier that is water and element resistant.
  • Enhances Wood Beauty: Brings out cedar’s natural color and grain.
  • Eco-Friendly: A natural, sustainable choice for wood finishing.

Maintaining Tung Oil-Finished Cedar

Regular maintenance of tung oil-finished cedar involves cleaning with mild soap, periodic checks for wear, and reapplication of oil every 1-2 years.

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FAQs on Tung Oil and Cedar

How long does it take for tung oil to dry on cedar wood?

Generally, it takes about 24-48 hours for tung oil to dry between coats, depending on environmental factors like temperature and humidity.

Does tung oil darken cedar wood?

Tung oil can slightly darken cedar wood, enhancing its natural color and grain for a rich, matte finish.

Can tung oil prevent cedar wood from graying?

While tung oil offers some protection against UV light, it cannot entirely prevent cedar from the natural aging process.

Is tung oil safe for food-preparation surfaces?

Yes, once fully cured, pure tung oil is safe for cedar surfaces used in food preparation.

What is the difference between tung oil and Danish oil for cedar wood?

Tung oil provides a more durable, water-resistant finish compared to Danish oil, which offers a softer finish but is easier to apply.

How should I maintain cedar wood finished with tung oil?

Clean regularly with a mild soap solution and reapply tung oil as needed, typically once every 1-2 years.


Using tung oil on cedar not only enhances its natural beauty but also provides robust, water-resistant protection.

By following the outlined steps and tips, you can achieve a perfect finish, whether for indoor or outdoor cedar projects.

Remember, patience and attention to detail are key to mastering the art of tung oil application on cedar.