Linseed Oil Advantages and Disadvantages

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Selecting the perfect wood finish can be quite challenging, as it involves weighing several factors, such as how easy it is to apply and the overall look it imparts to your woodwork. One commonly used option in the world of wood finishing is linseed oil, but does it align with your specific woodworking projects?

In this informative guide, let me break down the benefits and drawbacks of linseed oil. By the end, you’ll have the insights you need to determine whether it’s the right fit for your needs.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Linseed Oil at a Glance

Linseed oil is an edible and industrial oil naturally derived from the seeds of a flax plant.

Today, it is among the most commonly used wood oil finishes worldwide—one that people can use on most woodworking projects and pieces. As it came from flax seeds, this oil is undoubtedly eco-friendly and non-toxic to humans.

This natural oil has been around for hundreds of years and is mainly used to maintain and protect exterior and interior wood.

linseed oil

With its many properties and wide availability, it is without a doubt that linseed oil is a finishing product that you need to try out or rediscover.

Impregnating the wooden piece to saturation, the oil can provide a golden hue which will turn to amber eventually. This particular trait is sought after by many but is actively avoided by some.

Now, knowing all this, it will be enough to make you wonder about the other significant benefits and flaws of linseed oil. Here is a grand overview:

Pros of Linseed Oil

Cons of Linseed Oil

9 Linseed Oil Advantages

There are various benefits to using linseed oil, which mainly contributes to why wood makers and artisans have been using this finishing product for centuries.

linseed oil pros and cons

Here are the most vital ones:

1. Enhance the Wood’s Appearance

If you’re a wood maker looking for a finishing oil that can give your woodwork a deeper natural look with a hint of color, among the most appropriate choice would be a boiled linseed oil-based finish. 

Applying this specific type of wood finish can make the woodwork’s natural golden color pop out. Additionally, it can help accentuate the luxury-rich grains of pretty amber shades.

Linseed oil [1] can help improve and further enhance a wood project’s color. It naturally brings out the wood’s depth and texture. Additionally, it even adds a sense of uniqueness to its appearance. 

The golden hue is temporary, as it will eventually become an appealing amber color after some time. Compared with other wood oil finishes, concentrated linseed oil is well-known for highlighting a wood project’s natural beauty.

Instead of overpowering or overlapping the natural color of the wood, like what other wood oil does, linseed oil tends to enhance what is already there and covers up most imperfections.

enhance the wood appearance

2. Hide Flaws

Aside from being known for its highlighting skills, linseed oil also works as a famous polyphenol, which can aid in removing stains, cracks, dents, watermarks, and minor scratches on a wood’s surface. 

This particular attribute of linseed oil makes it a practical option for wood flooring, especially considering the constant wear and tear it experiences from foot traffic and potential scratches caused by pets.

Thus, it helps creating a protective barrier that helps to prevent damage from everyday use.  If your flooring uses softwood material, you might need linseed oil to help you out. It only means your floor is more prone to damage and dents than hardwood. 

Rubbing linseed oil on your floor or another wood surface can help remove all these unpleasant marks and issues. At the same time, it adds more protection to prevent it from getting as bad in the future. 

When water fills a crack in the wood, the oil’s water-repellent properties will actively stop the water from seeping in, thus, preventing the wood from accumulating more damage.

hide flaws of the wood

3. Usable as Wood Conditioner

If your wooden furniture is a bit drab or boring, you can give it an instant makeover using linseed oil. Not only is this oil an excellent finishing product, but it can also do a stellar job as a wood conditioner.

Before painting or staining your woodwork, you can apply linseed oil first. Doing so will make the wooden surface more saturated, which will help prevent any staining mistakes like streaks or blotches. 

It can be a useful conditioner as it works well with many wood types. It can even cover up wood types notoriously known for being difficult to finish and stain, like Birch, Pine, or Poplar.

Commercial wood conditioners are usually expensive and require a unique application method to apply correctly. I suggest using a cheaper alternative by mixing linseed oil with turpentine. 

If you’re using this oil as a conditioner, wait at least 24 hours for it to dry completely before applying the wood stain.

Applying wood conditioner

4. Food-Safe Oil

Among the best benefits of linseed oil is that you can use it on surfaces that come into contact with food. You can apply it on kitchen countertops, cutting boards, tables, butcher blocks, bowls, and utensils. 

Though, before you go along with it, there is one key detail that you need to especially take note of—raw linseed oil is food grade, therefore, safe for human consumption, while boiled linseed oil is not. 

Knowing that you must keep boiled linseed oil out of your kitchen. To be safe, have a habit of checking the label or instructions that come with the linseed oil bottle. Many synthetic oils have chemicals in their ingredients list, so be extra cautious. 

If you do choose to apply it, you can expect an attractive and sophisticated look to grace your wooden kitchen furniture and surfaces.

oil stain

5. Non-Toxic

Due to its natural origin, you can trust that linseed oils are non-toxic products that do not contain any VOCs or artificial chemicals that can be harmful to the body. 

Since it came from crushing flaxseeds, this oil is all organic and natural. That means it is safe and can be used on almost any wooden surface, even on children’s toys and kitchen utensils.

Just ensure that you cure and dry it properly. Linseed oil requires a long time to harden, so be ready to allot patience and effort. Given the results, you can at least expect it to deliver and exceed expectations.

It is also not harmful or hazardous to animals and plants, making it a viable choice to use on animal cages, birdhouses, and garden beds. Moreover, it also has a good enough resistance to pests, insects, and fungi attacks.

staining kitchen counter top with HOPE'S 100% Pure Tung Oil

6. Ease of Application

Another fun factor of linseed oil is its easy application. Using either a lint-free cloth or a bristle brush, apply the oil on just about any wooden surface to attain a remarkable finish. 

Applying linseed oil does not require any fancy equipment or tool. You can use it just like any other furniture polish out there. 

If you prefer using the boiled variant, apply at least three coats to achieve a good result. Although, that could change depending on the wood type. Let the surface dry for at least 3-4 days after every coat.

While it might seem a bit much, it is vital to wait that long to ensure it is correctly curing. 

spreading oil on red oak cutting board

Here is a simple guide you can follow on applying linseed oil:

  1. Wear a safety or respiratory mask before you start sanding to limit the chance of inhaling dust. 
  2. Sand down the wood surface using 60-grit sandpaper. As you do, try working the sandpaper along the wood’s grain to make it smoother. 
  3. Repeat the sanding process using 80-grit paper. If the smoothness is still not up to your standards, sand again with 100-grit sandpaper. 
  4. Using a rag soaked with mineral spirits, rub along the surface to rid it of any dirt and grime. Dry the wood off using a clean cloth.
  5. Consider using a pair of gloves for your protection. 
  6. Pour the oil into a section of the wood, then rub it in circular motions using a clean cloth. Spread the oil on the surface and ensure that everything is fully covered. Try to follow the grain. 
  7. Wait at least 15 minutes for the wood to soak up the oil. Wipe off the excess linseed oil using a rag. 
  8. Wait for 1-2 days for it to dry entirely. Check after the first 24-hour mark to see if it’s dry. If the surface is still damp, give the wood more time to dry. 
  9. Brush off any dust or dirt from the surface and apply the second coat of oil. Just repeat the earlier steps until you accomplish your desired number of coats.

7. Eco-Friendly

If you’re environment-conscious, you’ll probably be happy to know that this oil is biodegradable, which means it is eco-friendly and sustainable. This organic oil does not contain any harmful or hazardous chemicals or ingredients.

It is safe to say that it won’t cause the environment any problems or issues, unlike most finishing oils in the market. Most tend to contain heavy metals, cobalt-manganese, and lead acetate chemicals that are unsafe for our environment.

Drying agents usually help finishing oils dry faster and quicker. While the intention is good, it cannot erase the fact that these chemicals are dangerous to the community.

tung oil waterproofing

Fortunately, boiled and raw linseed oil are free from any drying agents. It is the absence of these agents that make the drying process of linseed oil excruciatingly long. 

That seems like a small price to pay, though, since it does not contribute to any more harm to the planet.

8. Elastic

When talking about stretchability or elasticity, it mainly pertains to its ability to expand and contract as it shrinks and swells because of humidity changes in the air.

Unfortunately, not many wood finishes are elastic. If the wood contracts or expands, there is a good chance that the wood finish will peel off or crack.

Linseed oil, fortunately, is an excellent choice to apply on elastic or stretchable wood. It has a polymerized flexible behavior that can adapt quickly to changes in the wood.

Using tung oil

The oil forms a good connection with the wood’s fibers and will adjust accordingly to the shape of the wood. Even if it hardens, it won’t lose its stability. 

With flexibility and compatibility with woodwork, the oil can resist cracking or peeling. Moreover, it can tolerate wearing and even shear forces.

9. Water-Resistant

Linseed oil is hydrophobic, which means that it can repel water. This finishing oil has a natural waterproofing property that offers resistance to water and moisture particles. 

Just keep in mind that it is not waterproof. It can protect against water damage but would not likely withstand extreme moisture or water content. As such, it might break under high moisture situations.

Linseed oil serves as a good choice for interior furniture. It would go well with wooden surfaces in the kitchen or bathroom as it can prevent moisture from seeping through the wood. 

deck painted with Rain Guard Water Sealers

If you use it for exterior furniture, ensure it is under shade or out of the sun. Alternatively, have a tarp to cover it during rain or storms. Leaving it there without any protection will eventually lead to decay.

6 Linseed Oil Disadvantages

Next to linseed oil’s advantages are disadvantages that you need to keep in mind. Here are a few notable ones:

1. Requires Regular Maintenance

Linseed oil causes wood to turn yellow over time — a fact that wood makers can either love or hate. Due to it, you will need to frequently maintain it, though it mostly depends on how often you use the furniture. 

There is no permanent nature to linseed oil, and it doesn’t last long, either. If you want the wood to maintain its shine and gloss, you will have to apply at least two coats every 2-3 years.

Most people think they can apply a new coat over the last linseed oil layers. That is, unfortunately, not true. You need to start fresh to maintain its attractive appearance and provide ample protection.

Professional Chalk and Wax Paint Brush Infiniti Elementz on wooden surface

2. Time-Consuming

To achieve a desirable result with linseed oil, you must apply at least three coats. While that might not sound like a lot, it is time-consuming, given how much time goes into the drying and curing process.

Linseed oil slowly seeps into the wood’s fibers. After applying a coat, wait at least a day for it to dry off before applying another coat. 

Most of the time, it takes a day or two to dry though there are instances it takes almost three days for it to dry completely. The environmental humidity and the wood type often influence the oil’s drying time.

3. Non-UV-Resistance

You must remember that linseed oil is an oil-based product. It does not offer UV protection and resistance properties due to the absence of UV pigments or UV filters.

pine wood dining tale

These can prevent the harmful rays of the sun from seeping through the wood’s surface. 

Without resistance to UV light, there is a chance that insects and bugs might accumulate within the cracks and splinters on linseed oil-coated wood. Mildew and fungus are also a worry.

4. Prone to Yellowing

Linseed oil becomes yellowish due to temperature changes or variations, lighting, chemical exposure, dampness, pigments, and sun exposure. It is not that far off to expect wood furniture to turn yellow quicker if placed outside or under the sun.

Linseed oil from reputable manufacturers is recommended since they are less prone to turn yellow or takes more time to change color. 

If it is already yellow, fix it by sanding off the old coating and applying a new coat directly on top. To minimize the yellowing, place it under a covered space and out of the sun. Alternatively, you can use an applied sealer, stain, or wax to prevent further yellowing. 

Ash grain wood pattern

5. Prone to Mildew Growth

Linseed oil, unfortunately, can aid in the growth of fungus, mildew, and molds on woodwork. That is why, if possible, keep the linseed oil-covered furniture in a dry place with excellent air circulation.

Applying thin coats and layers can also prevent the growth of mildew. Accordingly, you must wipe off any excess oil instantly to avoid it from drying on the wood surface.

If there is already mildew accumulation, you can use a premium stain and apply it on the surface. Don’t let it settle since mildew also causes discoloration. It can also give off an unpleasant and disgusting appearance. 

6. Water Rings Susceptibility

While linseed oil is water-repellent, it is not waterproof and robust. Thus, it can be easily damaged by high moisture and water exposure. 

water resistant wood

If you place a bottle or glass on the surface of a linseed oil-coated furniture, watermarks that form would be challenging to remove. The easiest way to avoid this issue is by using coasters or mats under them to protect the finish.

What’s Linseed Oil Used For?

Aside from linseed oil’s advantages and disadvantages, you must also know about its various uses. Linseed oil works as a multi-purpose natural oil that you can use in most woodworking projects. 

Here are its most common uses:

People tend to be confused between linseed and flaxseed oils. Both oils are extracted from the same source but are processed differently.

cabinet drawers

Linseed oil undergoes a refinement process and is utilized mainly for industrial uses, whereas flaxseed oil is pure and primarily suitable for human consumption. The latter can be used as a supplement since it can offer several health benefits.

While linseed oil is sometimes called flaxseed oil, don’t interchange them loosely. Not all linseed oil is safe for human consumption.

How Many Coats of Linseed Oil To Apply on Wood

When using linseed oil, it is recommended to apply a minimum of three coats. The number of coats will primarily depend on the application type, wood type, and protection type you want. 

Ensure that you apply a thin layer of concentrated linseed oil. Thick coats tend to dry slower. They also invite more pests and insects. 

applying Minwax 25555 Clear Protective Finish

After applying the first coat, you must wait for it to dry before you move on to the second coat. The waiting time can vary from 1-3 days, so pack enough patience. 

Can You Use Linseed Oil Over Stain?

While it is possible to apply or use linseed oil atop the stain, it’s not advisable to do. Linseed oil tends to work better on raw or oiled wood. 

This oil works by penetrating through the fibers of the wood, making them saturated for better protection and aesthetic coating. Applying it over the stain would defeat that purpose. 

The oil would have a more challenging time penetrating the wood because of the stain coating. That means it won’t hold well. Remove the stain coat before applying the linseed oil above the wood surface.

Start staining

Can You Put Wax Over Linseed Oil?

You may apply wax over the linseed oil-coated wood surface. Although, you can’t do it instantly. You must wait at least 2-3 days until the linseed oil is completely dried.

Applying wax can add an extra layer of protection to the wood. It works mainly to combat aging and rotting. Also, wax can aid in protecting the wood surface from extreme weather and improve durability.

Can You Use Boiled Linseed Oil on Oak Wood?

Most of the time, you can utilize boiled linseed oil on oak. It can improve the overall appearance of the wood and can also provide an excellent protective coating.

You can apply the linseed oil over sanded oak wood along the direction of the grain using a bristle brush or lint-free rag. Make sure that you apply, dry, and cure it properly.

Better check carefully if the linseed oil will work well with oak. Certain linseed oil products are not suitable for exterior oak. 

red oak wood

Can You Paint Over Linseed Oil?

Yes, you may paint over linseed oil easily. Although to achieve the best results, you will need to use oil-based paint. For that, you must prepare the linseed oil-coated surface well and thoroughly. 

Wash it using soapy water and let it dry. Then, sand before applying a prime coat to seal the wooden surface. Only after that can you start painting. 

Can You Use Linseed Oil to Wet Wood?

It is highly advisable that you do not. Never apply linseed oil over wet wood. It is likely that it would not hold well or at all. Wait for the wood to dry completely before applying the linseed oil. It ensures that you achieve the best possible result.

Remember, using the oil over wet wood can leave behind blotches and bubbles, ultimately ruining the appearance.

varieties of cedar wood

Why can't you use boiled linseed oil on oak?

Certain boiled linseed oils are not recommended for one exterior oak. This wood type is porous. That means the boiled linseed oil will soak deep into the wood, undoubtedly taking a long time to dry completely. 

If the exterior oak is wet or damped, this can even increase the drying time further, which is not ideal since it allows more window time for mold to develop. 

Conclusion

In the world of woodworking, linseed oil stands out as a fantastic choice for finishing wood surfaces. It’s a simple, eco-friendly, and non-toxic option that offers several benefits. Linseed oil is a breeze to apply, offers water resistance, and provides a natural touch to your woodwork.

However, like any product, it’s not without its drawbacks. But fear not, with the right techniques and proper maintenance, linseed oil can be your project’s guardian for many years. By weighing the pros and cons of linseed oil, you can now confidently make an educated choice as you consider it for your upcoming woodworking masterpiece.

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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