Can You Use Linseed Oil on Cedar Wood?

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The inherent allure and robustness of cedar wood have solidified its status as a favored material for both indoor and outdoor undertakings. Yet, preserving its aesthetic appeal and durability proves to be no small feat, often limiting your choices when it comes to finishing treatments.

In this space, I am to poised to divulge whether linseed oil is a viable option for cedar wood, delving into both its advantages and potential pitfalls. Additionally, let me give you practical advice to guarantee that your cedar-based projects maintain their prime condition over time.

What’s Linseed Oil?

Linseed oil, also known as flaxseed oil, is a renowned wood finish worldwide. This hand-rubbed oil permeates deep within the wood grain, safeguarding against abrasions and fluctuations in humidity.

Easy to apply and eco-friendly, linseed oil offers a beautiful satin finishing that enhances the wood’s grain, color, and texture. Although previously substituted with synthetic alkyd resins, woodworkers now favor linseed oil for its environmentally friendly as well as non-toxic properties. 

pouring linseed oil

In contrast with synthetic alkyds, it penetrates the wood grain for a more durable finish. There are three main kinds of linseed oil:

Raw Linseed Oil

The pure form of linseed oil is utilized in leather conditioning and dietary enhancements, as well as providing an exceptional wood finish when applied in slender coats. For optimal results, allow the project to cure for 2 to 10 weeks when using raw linseed oil.

Boiled Linseed Oil

A Boiled linseed oil finish incorporates petroleum-based compounds like di propylene glycol monomethyl, naphtha, and mineral spirits to expedite drying, sometimes with added metal additives like manganese and cobalt. 

However, boiled linseed oil is less food-safe due to the toxic nature of these additives and emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) while drying.

Polymerized Linseed Oil

Produced in an oxygen-deprived setting at approximately 572°F for many days, polymerized linseed oil is less thick and dries quickly. Free of VOCs, it is ideal for interior woodwork projects.

linseed oil

Linseed oil, including its use on cedar wood, offers excellent results for various wood surfaces when properly understood and applied.

When to Use Linseed Oil

Conditioning Wood Before Staining

Linseed oil is occasionally mixed with turpentine and applied to wood that struggles with even stain absorption. This blend helps even the pores and prevents a blotchy appearance in the finished project.

Speeding Up the Drying Time of Oil-Based Finishes

Boiled linseed oil expedites the drying time of oil-based stains and paints, allowing for faster project completion.

However, it’s essential to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and use the appropriate amount of boiled linseed oil to avoid any negative effects on the final result.

Polishing Some Types of Wood

Linseed oil is ideal for polishing softer woods like poplar, enriching the wood with a deeper hue while extending its lifespan.

Finishing Food Processing Surfaces

The food-safe characteristics of linseed oil render it an excellent choice for finishing wooden kitchen items such as table tops and chopping boards.

linseed oil

Waterproofing Wood

With its thin consistency, linseed oil penetrates deep into the wood and fills its pores, forming a protective coat film on the wood’s surface and shielding it from the inside out.

Is it Okay to Apply Linseed Oil Finishes On Cedar?

You can use linseed oil on cedar to enhance its appearance and protect against humidity, moisture, and sunlight. It penetrates and hardens, forming a barrier against water damage and discoloration. Suitable for exterior cedar, it’s non-toxic and eco-friendly.

How About on Exterior Cedar?

Linseed oil protects exterior cedar wood but may not suit severe weather conditions. Opt for lacquer, varnish [1], or other finishes in such cases. Regular maintenance and sheltered placement ensure lasting appeal.

Can You Use Boiled Linseed Oil on Outdoor Cedar?

You can use boiled linseed oil finishes to protect outdoor cedar. But, you can consider alternatives like polyurethane, varnish, or lacquer in harsh conditions. Proper maintenance and sheltered placement ensure longevity.

How to Prepare Cedar Furniture for Linseed Oil Application

Step #1: Put on Your Safety Clothing

Wear a respirator or safety mask to avoid dust inhalation. Buy them online or at stores. Use a fan for ventilation. 

protective gears

Step #2: Sand the Wood With 60-Grit Paper (or Disk)

Rub the wood with coarse sandpaper along the grain. Use a drum sander or floor polisher for huge areas. Begin with rougher paper, then switch to finer. Clear workspace; previously treated cedar doesn’t need sanding.

Step #3: Sand With 80- & 100-Grit Sandpaper

Sand using fine-grit sandpaper, following the wood grain with consistent strokes. Smooth with 100-grit paper as needed. For floor polishers, have various large sanding disks on hand.

Step #4: Soak a Rag in Ammonia (or Mineral Spirits)

Moisten a clean cloth with mineral spirits or a 2:8 ammonia-water mixture. Wring out an excess solution before cleaning the wood’s surface to avoid affecting the wood’s finish.

Step #5: Rub the Wood

Employ long, consistent strokes to clean cedar furniture, flooring, or additional fittings, concentrating on areas sanded or intended for oiling. Keep wiping until the entire desired surface is cleaned.

person holding cloth

Step #6: Clear Excess Sawdust

Utilize a pristine cloth to dry and buff the surface, employing circular movements to eradicate any residual ammonia or mineral spirits. 

For projects with a more substantial scope, I recommend opting for several rags or even a shop vacuum to secure a spotless and smooth outcome.

Applying Linseed Oil On Cedar: Step Guide

Supplies You’ll Need

Step #1: Prepare Your Wood Surface

tools for painting

Move cedar wood to a well-ventilated area for efficient drying and safety. Clean the surface thoroughly, removing dust and debris. 

Sand with 120-grit sandpaper, following the wood grain to ensure proper oil absorption. Wipe away sawdust with a clean rag, preparing the cedar for linseed oil application.

Step #2: Thin Your Linseed Oil

Thinning linseed oil is optional for cedar sealing but can improve adhesion, drying times, and absorption. To thin, mix equal parts linseed oil and mineral spirit. Usually, only the first coat is thinned for better adhesion and application.

Step #3: Apply the First Layer of Linseed

Using a clean, soft cloth, apply linseed oil to the cedar using tiny, circular movements along the grain. Focus on small sections, let the oil sit for 15-20 minutes, and avoid disturbing it throughout this period.

Step #4: Wipe Off Excess Oil

With a clean cloth, wipe the cedar area using long, even strokes to remove excess formula. Ensure all areas are wiped to avoid a tacky surface.

wiping excess linseed oil

Step #5: Let the Oil Dry Well

After the first linseed oil coat, wait 30 minutes before wiping off the excess for a glossy finish. Let it dry overnight; raw linseed oil takes 24 hours, but wait 48 hours for optimal results. 

Drying time depends on humidity and weather, with boiled linseed oil drying faster (12 hours). Proceed when fully dry.

Step #6: Do a Light sanding

Once the first linseed oil coat dries, lightly sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper or abrasive finishing pads. 

Use 220-grit or finer sandpaper, following the wood grain to prevent scratches. Apply even light pressure. Abrasive finishing pads are another option for removing dust nibs without clogging.

Step #7: Apply More Oil Layers As Needed

After a light sanding, clean the surface and apply linseed oil for the second time. No need to thin it; the first coat provides abrasion. This coat forms a layer to protect cedar wood. Use a paintbrush free of lint cloth for even application, and let it dry for 24 hours. 

linseed oil and brush

If needed, sand lightly and repeat for a third or fourth coat, but don’t exceed 3-4 coats. Application time is generally 10-15 minutes, depending on the area covered by the second linseed oil coat.

Step #8: Dispose of Your Oily Rags into a Plastic Bag or Metal Can

Correctly discard your oil-soaked lint-free rag to prevent ecological risks. Put used clothes in a water-filled metal can or plastic container, secure the lid, and dispose of them in the trash. Check with your waste management company for their hazardous material handling policies.

Step #9: Dry and Cure the Final Coat Properly

Allow each linseed oil coat to dry for 24-48 hours, with the final coat curing process for 5-6 days (raw) or 2-3 days (boiled linseed oils). Drying times may vary due to weather, temperature, and humidity. 

Thin coats dry faster, and the final coat polymerizes with atmospheric oxygen, forming a protective layer that guards against moisture, weather, temperature fluctuations, sunlight, and insect damage.

What’s the Ideal Number of Coats of Linseed Oil?

Maximum

A maximum of four layers of boiled linseed oil is advised, as additional coats may be challenging to manage and cause extended drying times or a sticky finish. 

rubbing linseed oil on wood

The first coat permeates the wood, while subsequent coats form the top and substrate layers. Four coats provide optimal results, with more being unnecessary unless used on porous hardwood.

Minimum

At least two linseed oil layers are needed for proper coverage and protection. The 1st coat penetrates the wood, and the second forms a protective film. One coat might be insufficient due to boiled linseed oil’s thin consistency, while raw linseed oil may require only one. 

To determine if additional coats are necessary, assess the wood’s texture, conduct a water test, and consult manufacturer guidelines for optimal results.

How Long Will Linseed Oil Last On Cedar Wood?

Linseed oil on cedar lasts 2-3 years, with exterior cedar pieces closer to two. Annual maintenance and reapplication can extend its life. 

drying linseed oil

Sunlight, humidity, and weather may cause fading, peeling, or yellowing. Regular inspection helps determine if cleaning or reapplication is needed.

Other Ideal Oils To Use On Cedar Wood

Consider these top commercial oil hand-rubbed oil finishes for cedar:

Why is Linseed the Best Oil for Cedar?

You can use linseed oil on cedar, and it’s the best oil because it boasts eco-friendliness and lacks VOCs, outperforming traditional finishes like lacquer, polyurethane, and varnish. 

refined linseed oil

Other finishes may degrade in harsh weather conditions, causing bleeding or yellowing. In contrast, the use of linseed oil lasts years with minimal maintenance.

Linseed Oil vs Other Finishes

Linseed OilOther Wood Finishing Coat Products
The oil accentuates the richness of color and texture in the wood grain, transforming a previously dull and aged piece of wood into a vibrant and appealing surface.Many conventional finishes necessitate periodic reapplication to preserve the protective layer, as it tends to deteriorate over time.
After applying linseed oil, you can still eliminate scratches and dents using sandpaper with appropriate grit.Susceptible to water rings, they can become yellowish due to fluctuations in weather conditions.
It is free of harmful chemicals and environmentally friendly. Additionally, it does not turn yellow or peel over time.Fluctuations in temperature or humidity can lead to the wood “leaking” oil.
Efficiently guards against variations in humidity and penetrates deep in the grain, thanks to its lower viscosity, allowing for greater saturation compared to other wood products.Wood becomes more susceptible to staining when colored liquids seep into it.

Will Linseed Stop Cedar From Turning Grey?

When you apply Linseed oil, it preserves Cedar’s color, preventing greying and slowing aging. Yearly reapplication is advised, otherwise, prolonged exposure to moisture and sunlight may cause Cedar to turn grey. 

sanding wood with linseed oil

Drying Time of Linseed Oil on Cedar

The drying period for linseed oil is contingent upon its variety: raw linseed oil typically requires a span of 5-6 days to dry, whereas boiled linseed oil tends to dry within a brisk 2-3 days. 

It’s crucial to note that boiled linseed oil formulations include drying accelerators which expedite the curing process. 

However, this convenience comes at a cost as these agents introduce an element of toxicity and contribute to VOC emissions, predominantly stemming from petroleum-derived substances.

Pros of Using Linseed On Cedar Wood

Improves Cedar Wood’s Appearance

Linseed oil emphasizes Cedar’s natural texture and color, giving wood projects a unique aesthetic. Ideal for exterior and interior use, it offers a lasting wet look with proper care. 

Oil imparts a beautiful golden tone that gradually shifts to an appealing amber hue in the wood’s appearance over time.

Non-Toxic

Linseed oil, derived naturally from flaxseeds, is free of VOCs and synthetic chemicals. It oxidizes safely without harmful heat, making it eco-friendly and safe for people, animals, and indoor applications like Cedar furnishings, kitchenware, and children’s toys.

Food Safe

Linseed oil, sourced from flaxseed, is a natural, chemical-free substance ideal for chopping boards, countertops, and butcher blocks. Note that raw linseed oil is safe for food, while boiled linseed oil isn’t. Always review the product label before buying or using it.

Cedar cutting board

Hide Dents & Scratches

Linseed oil masks dents and scratches on wooden floors, making it ideal for softwoods like Cedar and Pine. Gently rubbing the oil erases imperfections and fills small scratches, preventing moisture penetration. 

This helps maintain the appearance of bathroom furniture and kitchen utensils in damp environments.

Water-Resistant

Linseed oil is water-repellent, providing good moisture resistance for damp indoor spaces. However, it isn’t waterproof, so regularly check out exterior Cedar pieces and shield them from heavy rainfall. 

To prevent rot from water penetration, apply sealer or wax over the oil layering for added protection since it has no natural resistance, and use a clean rag to wipe.

Eco-Friendly

Linseed oil is environmentally friendly, biodegradable, and sustainable, with no harmful toxins/chemicals or heavy metals. It’s an ideal choice for eco-conscious woodworkers. 

linseed oil application

Although it takes longer to dry than other oils with drying additives, when you use linseed oil, it ensures a safer option for Cedar projects.

Easy to Apply

Applying linseed oil on cedar surfaces is effortless by using a lint-free cloth or bristle brush. Apply linseed oil coats following the grain for the best penetration, add multiple coats, and let each dry before applying the next. Allow 1 to 3 days for the curing process before regular use.

Elastic

Linseed oil’s exceptional flexibility and elasticity enable it to adapt to Cedar’s expansion or contraction, providing stability under extreme conditions. This helps Cedar workpieces resist peeling, cracking, tear and wear while maintaining integrity.

Cons of Using Linseed Oil on Cedar Wood

Yellows Over Time

Linseed oil can turn yellow in the future, especially with sunlight exposure and other factors. To minimize this, choose reputable manufacturers, store treated items indoors or shaded, and apply stain, sealer, or wax to maintain the wood’s natural appearance.

Requires Regular Maintenance

Regular maintenance and care are crucial for linseed oil’s longevity. It requires 2 coats every 2 years, which involves sanding, cleaning, and reapplication. Linseed oil attracts dust, leading to a dull appearance, so clean surfaces regularly with a chamois cloth and reapply oil as needed.

applying linseed oil to wood

Susceptible to Mildew Growth

Linseed oil can unexpectedly encourage the growth of mildew on cedar, especially in high humidity. Bleaching agents can control it but may destroy the wood. Instead, consider painting or staining as alternatives.

Non-UV Resistant

Linseed oil, without UV light protection, can leave cedar vulnerable to sunlight damage, cracking, and mildew growth. It’s best used on indoor woodwork or shaded outdoor pieces.

Prone to Water Rings

Linseed oil provides limited water protection for cedar wood, making watermarks persistent if ignored. 

To preserve the appearance, refrain from placing cold glasses on the oiled surface and quickly remove watermarks. Persistent light rings may require sanding and oil reapplication. 

(More about the Linseed oil’s advantages and disadvantages here!)

FAQ

How can you restore old cedar pieces with linseed oil?

Sand with 120-grit paper, wipe dust, and apply a 50-50 linseed oil-turpentine mix. Remove excess, dry, and let cure for 24-48 hours. Add a second coat and, for outdoors, apply varnish or lacquer topcoat.

Should you use linseed oil or stain to rejuvenate cedar furniture?

Woodworkers prefer applying linseed oil over stains as it highlights the wood’s natural grain and texture. Cedar, naturally oil-rich, absorbs linseed oil well, rejuvenating its wood fibers. 

During restoration, linseed proves to be a quick, gentle, and eco-friendly alternative, unlike sanding stains, which may uncover hidden damage in linseed oils.

Conclusion

Linseed oil, brimming with its natural advantages, stands out as an excellent choice for the protection and upkeep of cedar wood. It not only amplifies the wood’s inherent charm but also offers resistance against moisture, all while being an environmentally responsible option.

That said, it’s imperative to pay close attention to proper maintenance practices and application methods. Doing so ensures that you achieve the best possible outcomes, effectively extending the lifespan of your cedar projects.

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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