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A few years ago, I finished some "butcherblock" (stave construction glue up countertop). I did 3 coats of BLO then used a homemade wiping varnish of gloss polyurethane mixed with MS. The exact product I used for the MS was labeled "paint thinner" and in the fine print it said "100% mineral spirits". I liked the results and want to do something similar.

However, now I can not find 100% mineral spirits. Instead I find a wide variety of products that call themselves mineral spirits or paint thinner, with words such as "odorless", "green", "fast to dissolve", etc. There is "odorless mineral spirits" and "odorless mineral spirits substitute". What was easy (buy 100% mineral spirits) is now impossible and there are so many choices my head is spinning. I have no idea which one I should buy.

A little bit of googling found some very poor reviews of these newer products compared to good old fashioned mineral spirits. But unfortunately I don't think I can get my hands on the old stuff.

Question: Can one of these products be used in exactly the same way as the 100% mineral spirits I had before, or how will I need to modify my approach? Which one(s) are most similar or otherwise recommended?

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  • It's not directly related to your Q and I couldn't figure out a way to shoehorn it into the Answer without it seeming awkward. While many of the substitutes cannot be used as a direct substitute for mineral spirits they are worth considering for cleaning brushes and general cleanup (as long as they're not exorbitantly priced). Not sure if it's the same there, but over here the "green" products found in the same section that can be used for cleanup but not for thinning/dilution clearly specify this on the labelling.
    – Graphus
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 8:11
  • The SE model doesn't allow for follow-up queries within the same Q. Something can be clarified afterwards in Comments, or if it's distinct it's totally OK to ask it as a separate Question (as long as it can't be answered by searching, which in this case it would be easy to). But I'll save you the trouble, you use all the solvents in this class in exactly the same amounts to reach equivalent dilution.
    – Graphus
    Commented Aug 17, 2023 at 3:52
  • It's unlikely you'll even run into this for the reason given in the Flexner quote, but for possible future reference the issue of solvent strength isn't about the amount that you need to use, it's about what isn't solved at all, i.e. what it will or won't dissolve. For example there are some simple varnishes (not used in normal woodworking) that are nothing more than a natural resin dissolved in solvent. OMS isn't strong enough to dissolve some of these resins, but regular MS usually is and where it isn't VM&P naphtha is (which is actually the original reason it exists as a separate entity).
    – Graphus
    Commented Aug 17, 2023 at 4:01
  • @FreeMan, indeed. I distinctly remember the first time we had a "Proposition XX" label foisted on us, in Europe. Like we give a ****? At least we can't blame only California for the loss of the best paint stripper that previously you could walk into any hardware store and get. Admittedly MC is dangerous, and deaths could occur.... but then there are guns.
    – Graphus
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 6:42
  • Gamsol is an OMS used in oil painting but it should work the same for woodworking purposes.
    – Kylie
    Commented Apr 19 at 19:05

1 Answer 1

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If you can still buy standard OMS ("odourless" mineral spirits) this should work for most purposes in wood finishing, despite its reduced solvent action. In addition to the greatly reduced odour it is actually materially safer, so for many it's worth using anyway despite the higher pricetag.

While users should bear in mind that it isn't as strong as other solvents in the same family, and there might be some future use where this becomes an issue, Bob Flexner noted in the past (my emphasis):

The mineral spirits left after the toluene and xylene are removed is sold as “odorless” mineral spirits. When understood this way, it’s obvious that odorless mineral spirits is a weaker solvent than regular mineral spirits. But I’ve never found this to be a problem. It still appears to be strong enough to thin all common oils, varnishes and oil paints.

Source: Popular Woodworking, December 2007


For anyone who can't get plain ol' mineral spirits any more I suspect you're almost certainly not going to be able to find any of the following either, but I'll list them for posterity anyway.

  • Stoddard solvent
  • paint thinner
  • VM&P Naphtha
  • naphtha (note: sometimes miss-spelled as naptha)
  • xylene (xylol)
  • toluene (toluol)

Note that this is roughly in ascending order of strength, but also of pungent odour, so please note if you're at all sensitive to solvent smells

More here from Bob Flexner on the sequence of petroleum-distillate solvents, Petroleum distillates.

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  • TY so much for your very useful answer. I can still find standard OMS, so it's very good to know I can use that successfully. I added a follow up question to my original post regarding what ratio I might need to reach the same consistency. Commented Aug 17, 2023 at 3:20
  • Where does odorless mineral spirits sit in that list?
    – MGM
    Commented Jun 6 at 14:48
  • @MGM, read this Answer.
    – Graphus
    Commented Jun 7 at 4:13

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