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Thirty years ago I built two bookcases from an unknown tropical hardwood. I was in a tropical environment, but knew the cases would end their lives in the Midwest. Given that, I chose to finish the cases in multiple coats of linseed oil as it seemed the most forgiving of travel and environment.

Thirty years on, this wood really needs some attention. I'm looking for advice on how to proceed. Could I polish it with more linseed oil, or would you advise I use something else to bring back that subtle sheen?

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  • Hi, welcome to StackExchange. Cleaning and refreshing a piece's finish are really two separate queries and should be asked individually, although we have previous Q&As that cover standard cleaning methods for furniture. "May I polish it with more linseed oil..." I asked everyone and yes, we give you permission :-) Seriously though, you should try just applying more linseed (although you'll likely want to do some light sanding or scuffing first after cleaning) and seeing how it looks, then go from there.
    – Graphus
    Commented Jan 22 at 8:00

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Could I polish it with more linseed oil

Yes, that's very much one of the options.

Do bear in mind that how to finish items is largely a matter of personal preference, and once you get past any true requirements for looks and/or protection it becomes entirely subjective — a dozen different woodworkers might finish the same project in perhaps five different ways (not counting painting).

or should I use something else to bring back that subtle sheen?

Personally I would be inclined to1, however, given the linseed finish stood up well enough for 30 years that you're only now feeling the need to do anything about refreshing it I think that argues strongly that it was good enough for what it needed to do!


1 Because I've moved away from finishing things just in linseed oil. I've tended towards wiping on polyurethane because the application procedure can be essentially identical, you build sheen much faster with far less elbow grease, and the protection afforded is vastly superior (even with a scant 3-4 dilute coats).

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