Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why You Should Be Using Tru-Oil


When asked what may favorite finish is, I usually respond "shellac".

But that's not entirely true. While shellac is my favorite finishing material, due to its endless list of pluses, my absolute favorite finish to apply and touch is Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil.

I've been using the stuff for about twelve years now, and I consider it one of the absolute best finishes you can use, for nearly anything. I know that sounds like a lot of fluff, but it really is the case.


If you like French polish, but don't like some of the quirks of the finish (keep that pad moving now!) then you should try Tru-Oil. It's sort of the French polish for the lazy. So maybe we should call it.....well, French polish.

Anyway. Here's a quick rundown of my sequence.

If you don't sand, polish the wood surface with your finest smoothing plane until it gleams in the sunlight. If you can't plane, sharpen a card scraper to perfection and made the surface as smooth as you can. If you (can) sand, work progressively through the grits until you reach 1000. Yes, 1000. Then go over the entire surface with 0000 steel wool. Liberon brand. Wipe it down with a rag soaked in mineral spirits to get all the dust off.

Cut a square out of an old t-shirt about the size of a playing card, then ball that up inside another piece of the same size (like making a small French polish pad) dribble a dime size puddle of Tru-Oil onto the pad, tap it off onto a scrap of wood to distribute the finish, then in smooth, even strokes wipe the finish onto the wood. The goal is to get as thin a coat on as possible. Do not leave any sags or runs, or pools. Thin coats is the key.


Let that coat dry for a couple three hours. If its humid it might take longer. Feel the surface. If there are any rough spots, carefully and lightly sand with 1000 grit. Repeat the application described above. With thin coats like this, you can apply three coats a day unless you shop is humid. One first thing in the am, one after lunch, and one before bed.

When I finish furniture with this method, I usually do six coats (so, two days or so) then sand back with 1000 grit a bit more aggressively  (use a lubricant like mineral spirits) to level the finish. Even though you put it on super thin, there are always a few areas that will be heavier. Then I'll do six more coats or until I'm satisfied with the evenness and sheen level. The final coats will have a semi-gloss to gloss sheen.

With open pore woods, like walnut, the pores will remain open using the thin coats technique, but without a built-up area around each pore like you would get with a brushed finish.


If you keep the coats thin, you can control sheen by simply stopping when you achieve what you're after. The more coats, the shinier it will get. Designed for finishing gun stocks, this is a very durable finish that will last under fairly hard use. It's a favorite finish for guitar makers as well, and those see some pretty hard use.

The very last step is to let the finish cure for about a week. If I want to knock back the sheen a little I rub with 0000 steel wool, very lightly, then apply a tiny bit of lemon oil and burnish with a piece of burlap or coarse fabric. The resultant finish has beautiful clarity, which allows the luster of the wood to shine, and if feels like silk to the touch.

Right now I'm letting the last coat of Tru-Oil cure on the lid of my case for sharp tools. This is by far the most difficult part of finishing for me. That seemingly endless wait before you get to see the finished piece assembled for the first time.

Give Tru-Oil a try. I think it might become your new favorite finish that doesn't rhyme with shellac.


18 comments:

  1. Beautiful Jameel! All I can say is that his "inside"better be A+++ to come close to your lid.
    So talented.

    Michael

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  2. How is Tru-oil better that Danish oil, or tung oil? I,m about to make some walnut tables, and I was thinking of using one of those.

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  3. It builds much faster and dries much faster than Danish. It's also more pleasing to apply than tung. Buy a small bottle and do some tests. You'll love it.

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  4. Sounds very similar to Sutherland Wells Polymerized Tung Oil. That's about $120/gallon. I'll have to look into this! Sounds lovely!

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    1. I just re-read an article on wipe-on finishes by Bob Flexner (PW-Feb 2013) and he specifically states that Tru-Oil is the same type of finish as Southerland Welles.

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  5. Would you recommend this finish for Cherry, any benefits in terms of blotching? Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Absolutely. It's ideal for cherry. The second pic is a of a lute in cherry.

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  6. Jameel in your experience what produces a better finish with the Tru-Oil: leaving your final surface from the smooth plane or sanding up to 1,000 grit/0000 steel wool? I am going to use this on a Sapele tool chest I'm building and would really like to achieve the best surface possible. Thank you for your time!

    Luke

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    1. If you can get a flawless polish off your smooth plane, that's ready for finish. Only sand if you can't slice. My experience with Sapele, you'll likely have to scrape and sand.

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    2. Sounds good, thank you for the response Jameel.

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  7. Hi, just wondering if you would thin the first few coats with spirits? I have been taught to apply the first couple at a 50/50 ratio but it would be good to hear from another source. Thanks a lot, looking forward to trying some out. Rob

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    1. I have used the BC sealer once on walnut. It was okay. Helped build the sheen faster. But it's not necessary. TU has enough body that it builds plenty fast enough, even with thin coats.

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  8. how do you feel about tru oil on softwoods? i used tru oil to finish my first guitar on the honduran mahogany back and sides, but used shellac on the WRC top. it's holding up nicely but the tru oil was much easier to apply.

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    1. I've never used it on soundboards (I left mine unfinished) or any other softwood. But if I were, I'd prep the wood the same way. Basically polish it up as smooth as possible, then pad on super thin coats. Do some tests and you'll have a better answer than I can give.

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  9. Jameel-since your go-to finish is shellac, have you tried a new product from Vijay at ShellacFinishes.com called Royal-Lac? It is a shellac/resin finish that he claims to be more resistant to water and alcohol; a true lazy worker's French polish. It's pricey ($22/pint) but does seem harder than plain shellac. By the way, I just got some of the TO and am using it on some old (40+ years) kitchen knife handles and an old backsaw handle. Nice appearance and feel but I am concerned about the durability in a kitchen environment. (No, not the backsaw.) May need to add some of the Royal-Lac blonde as a topcoat.

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    1. I have not. Sounds interesting. The TO is tough. Many toolmakers use it on tool handles, and those see probably the worst abuse.

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  10. Hello, I am working on a cedar chest that was my great-grandmothers and have stripped off the original finish and just loved the color of the raw cedar, I was wondering if I used the tru oil would I still have that same color? I have already put on a polycrylic and was so upset because the first coat turned the chest the same color as the original. So after all that prep, I am going to have to sand it down again. Please tell me, is there anything that I can use that will give me same color as the raw wood?
    Thank you Lorrie

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    1. No, the Tru-oil will darken the cedar. If you want a finish that won't change the color much, try just wax. But even that will darken it somewhat. There really is no finish that won't impart some darkening to the wood, especially cedar since its so absorbent.

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