i was hoping to gift this to a friend, but I don't want to give something that has a substance that could potentially be toxic! Why is it greasy when it's just wood, and is the oil toxic?enter image description here

  • 1
    The top and bottom of your music box are made of some sort of fast growing, cheap softwood. It looks to me like the body is made of non-wood, perhaps the horn of a large animal, likely a bovine of some sort.
    – Ast Pace
    Jun 21, 2017 at 3:48
  • I hate to say it but this is really awfully made! The reason I mention it is that based on this I wouldn't ascribe too high a value to the music box.
    – Graphus
    Jun 21, 2017 at 7:24
  • Might be excess oil on the mechanism leaking out.
    – Ecnerwal
    Jun 22, 2017 at 3:58

2 Answers 2


There are a few likely contenders for the oil used on this but given the construction my money would be on it being a non-drying oil, specifically mineral oil or liquid paraffin (very similar to the base for baby oil, just a little thicker).

If it's finished in a known wood-finishing oil (e.g. linseed oil or tung oil) it's unlikely it would be weeping like this after only a couple of days post-application except in unusual circumstances.

But there are a few rule-in, rule-out things you can look at to try to narrow it down.

A good starting point is the smell. If it's mineral oil there could be no odour from the oil at all and if it has a characteristic smell it's likely something else. Both linseed or tung oils have a smell but they're impossible to describe really (in chemical circles they're said to have a "characteristic" odour, which means you know it when you know it!) but very broadly linseed oil has a sort of 'nutty' odour. Tung oil is sometimes said to have an unpleasant or disagreeable odour (this fades upon drying) but that's also said of linseed oil which many people including me really like the smell of!

Another thing is the colour of the oil, mineral oil being clear as water while almost all oils of vegetable origin are some type of yellow or orange. Linseed oil can be particularly dark (orange-brown) and tung oil is a lighter version of the same sort of colour.

  • It doesn't have a smell, and from what I can tell by the brown paper bag, it's probably a clear oil. So it's the mineral oil / liquid paraffin. Does that mean it's still safe? And yeah, it wasn't the most expensive thing I ever bought because it was from a market vendor, but if it's not safe to give to someone, then I'm going to throw it away or something. Thanks for your feedback!
    – ash1
    Jun 21, 2017 at 10:56
  • Oh sorry I thought the baby oil reference would be enough context. Mineral oil is completely safe, it's commonly used these days to dress cutting boards and it's actually safe to ingest directly (people take it as a laxative).
    – Graphus
    Jun 21, 2017 at 18:02

Pretty much impossible to tell for sure without some form of spectrographic testing, but 99.9999% likely that it's safe.

It is probably either mineral oil (ie baby oil), or tung oil or danish oil. These are put on wooden items to provide a (small) level of protection and to bring out (or 'pop') the grain to make it look visually more attractive.

That said, normally the oil should fully penetrate, and if it's a drying oil (like eg tung) it should, well, dry.

Probably this is mineral oil, and the maker may have not have bothered wiping off the excess. I would suggest wiping off as much as you can (you could even use acetone here to help), and leaving it for a day or so and seeing if that helps.

Also, I can't identify the wood from the photo, but some woods such as cocobolo or teak are naturally very oily - it's possible it is just natural oil from the wood.

  • Woodworkers don't normally use toxic materials to oil their artwork, do they? If it's mineral oil / paraffin, does that mean it's safe? It was around 16€ in Salzburg, so I don't imagine it being made to the highest-quality possible. Is there some sort of coating, i.e. nail polish, that I can put on it so it stops greasing everything? Or should the acetone (is that nail polish remover) help? Thanks so much!
    – ash1
    Jun 21, 2017 at 10:58
  • @ash1 If it was mineral oil (which would be my bet, given the description), Use a dry cloth to rub out the excess. I've finished pieces using mineral oil before, and even when I thought I got all the excess off, putting it in contact with paper still resulted in the paper getting oily. Jun 21, 2017 at 12:17
  • Mineral oil, by the way, is completely safe. In fact, you can fine it in the digestive aisle in drug stores as it can be used as a mild laxative when consumed. I often use it for finishing things simply due to price and availability compared to "real" finishes like boiled linseed oil or Danish oil Jun 21, 2017 at 12:18
  • @Scribblemacher Mineral oil is no kind of finish for wood, if you're interested I can suggest some vegetable oils not sold as wood finishes (and hence relatively cheap) that would make better alternatives.
    – Graphus
    Jun 21, 2017 at 19:14
  • @graphus - i 100% disagree. Mineral oil is perfectly fine depending on the intended application. imo it's pretty much the only finish you can safely use on chopping boards, salad spoons etc - i believe this is fairly standard. Certainly vegetable oils should't generally be used due to the strong likelihood of them eventually going rancid. Jun 22, 2017 at 2:45

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