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I am getting close to completing a desk I am building. This has been a very ambitious project for me as this is the first time I have ever built any furniture (shelving not counted) and this is a height-adjustable sit/stand desk.

I am at a point where I want to start finishing the wood (which is Maple). I have access to a ton of Tung oil my dad picked up for dirt cheap. I also have some polyurethane. I want to seal the wood from water and give it a nice finish. My thoughts were I would use a few layers of Tung oil and then a layer or two of polyurethane.

I was talking to my dad today and he suggested that I use one or the other, but not both because tung oil is actually a finishing product and will seal the wood for me.

Is this true? Or does my original plan make sense? I am also open to suggestions. I believe he said he even had a bunch of linseed oil I could use.

  • Have to check, was this tung oil or "Tung Oil FInish" because they're very different things? – Graphus Nov 16 '17 at 7:45
  • The exact type of tung finish aside, if you want protection from water my advice is always to go with varnish instead of oil (even tung oil which is supposedly much more waterproof than BLO and other finishing oils). Varnishes are harder, tougher, provide much greater wear- and water-resistance, and, not a minor point, they work faster. – Graphus Nov 16 '17 at 7:47
  • It is tung finish oil. Just looked at the can. – Patrick Nov 18 '17 at 6:56
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As clarified in the Comments above, you appear to have "Tung Oil Finish" which is not tung oil but a commercial blended finish*. As your dad indicated it is intended to be a standalone finish and provides decent protection, certainly enough for what I'd expect a desk of this sort to need (not like a coffee table for example) in a hard wood like maple.

But you can add further protection to the working surface by applying some polyurethane on top should you want to. The two finishes should be entirely compatible so there are no problems layering them this way.

Straight polyurethane will add a scratch-resistant surface coating that is significantly more water-resistant, especially to things like hot coffee.


*Which probably contains zero tung oil, how's that for misleading labelling?!

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  • Fun, that doesn't surprise me. So does adding multiple layers of the tung oil finish change the appearance? – Patrick Nov 18 '17 at 12:59
  • Yes. If you look inside the tin you'll see its colour is amberish or something like honey, and like any finish that isn't 'water white' it will make the maple more yellow. If you look online you'll easily find examples of the colouring difference from one finish to another on maple, it's a big deal to the guys who use it so well covered my the mags, blogs etc! – Graphus Nov 19 '17 at 6:39
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New member to the forum here. Good advice from pervious posters. 1) My limited experience with maple indicates that it tends to blotch. If that bothers you, use a pre stain conditioner before applying the oil. 2) Regular Tung oil takes very long to dry and cure. Don’t apply polyurethane before waiting for a few days (week?)

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  • Does the conditioner change the look of the wood at all? – Patrick Nov 20 '17 at 20:47
  • @pthurmond don't worry about "conditioner" here, it's not relevant to what you're doing (you're not staining). – Graphus Nov 21 '17 at 6:07
  • Using Tung oil on maple is like staining. Even applying dyes is the same. If the OP doesn’t want blotching, he needs to treat the wood before. – Mikeber Nov 21 '17 at 22:36
  • Conditioner, even a coat of Shellac, could make Maple wood yellow/Amber. – Mikeber Nov 21 '17 at 22:41

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