I am new to woodworking and Youtube has been my guide so far. Most videos I have seen, I see them finish with oil but only on top/exposed surfaces.

For example, not on joints or under the table/benches.

So should all surfaces be coated?

  • Hi Raveron, welcome to SE. Too many queries in one! Here, each Question should be about one key thing so I'm going to edit this to be mainly about the subject of the title. Do feel free to ask additional Questions about other aspects of oil finishing but make sure to search the site first, as some or all aspects of this have been covered previously and unlike on most forums duplicate queries aren't allowed here. – Graphus Dec 19 '18 at 7:43
  • Hi Graphus, apologies for that. Will keep it in mind for future posts. – Raveron Dec 28 '18 at 9:37

Yes it's perfectly OK to finish just the exterior surfaces of something if using an oil or oil-based finish1. In fact it's the norm to do this for a couple of reasons.

One of the main reasons not to use an oil finish on e.g. the inside of a drawer is that oil finishes require free access to air to cure2 and since this takes weeks to a month or more after the last coat has been applied this extends the finishing schedule far beyond what is practical for most makers, professional and amateur alike. If not FULLY cured on the interior of an enclosed piece of furniture the smell of linseed oil and some other slow-curing finish components can linger for a nearly unbelievably long time (literally for years).

But the wood inside looks bare
It's actually quite traditional for the interior surfaces of a drawer or chest for example to remain unfinished, and knowing this can help get over the (fairly natural I have to say) feeling it doesn't look right. Obviously the wood does need to be prepared well so there are no rough edges etc.

If you want to take it one step further sanding the wood to a finer grit than you used on surfaces intended for finish, e.g. to 320 or a little higher, or scraping with a sharp fine scraper of some kind3, or post-sanding buffing can be used to refine the appearance. Any one of these, or some combination, can raise a natural sheen on wood and on interior surfaces this will be long-lasting.

If a more finished look than this is desired it's fairly common to restrict yourself to a fast-drying finish that doesn't have a strong odour, and a dilute coat of shellac is often chosen for this reason. Wax polish is also suitable. Both have nearly no smell in as little as 20-30 minutes and can be basically odourless in one day.

1 This includes straight oils like linseed oil and tung oil as well as products such as "Danish oil", "tung oil finish" and "teak oil" (which are all typically diluted mixtures of oil and varnish), and to a lesser extent straight varnishes.

2 See this previous question about the difference between drying and curing, What is the difference between "curing" and "drying"?

3 See What are the differences between sanding and scraping? for more on scraping.

  • Thanks a lot Graphus. That was well detailed and very helpful. My understanding so far was finishing being more protective than for looks. And my concern was if we don't cover all the surfaces, will the wood rot/deteriorate over time. It is tropical (humid) where I live and the wood tends to expand and crack. – Raveron Dec 28 '18 at 9:50
  • Finishing is both for protection and looks, one or the other often being weighted depending on what you choose and how much of the finish you apply, e.g. varnish is very protective but if you only apply one thin coat you add very little protection. "will the wood rot/deteriorate over time" Wood won't easily rot, even in very humid environments, depending on what the item is and where it's used (i.e. not outdoors exposed to weather, or in contact with soil). Although I was writing from a Western perspective in Asia it's also common practice for the interiors of cabinets not to be finished. – Graphus Dec 29 '18 at 9:27
  • Now that said if you want to finish the insides of things you make go right ahead, they're your pieces and your opinion is the only one that really counts! The current taste here is for pieces to look like they don't really have finish on them, it's applied very thinly and there's no real gloss built up. My taste is more traditional, I like a piece to look obviously finished and mostly prefer a semi-gloss or fully glossy sheen, so I apply much more finish than many others now do here (and to some degree in the US as well). – Graphus Dec 29 '18 at 9:33
  • Noted. Going to jump right in and learn as I go. Appreciate all the insight shared. Thanks. – Raveron Dec 31 '18 at 5:35

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