Tung Oil On Red Oak – Pros And Cons

Tung oil is a common wood finish applied on a wide range of furniture. Professional woodworkers, hobbyists, and enthusiasts like tung oil because it gives the wood a beautiful aesthetic.

What are the pros and cons of tung oil on red oak? The pros of using tung oil on red oak include the following;

  • Water resistance
  • Enhances color and grain pattern
  • Flexibility
  • Easy to apply and maintain
  • Doesn’t turn yellow

Cons include;

  • Takes a long to cure
  • Expensive
  • Unpleasant smell

Keep reading to learn more about how to apply tung oil on red oak, its pros and cons, and some tips to maintain the finish.

Pros And Cons Of Tung Oil On Red Oak

Pros And Cons Of Tung Oil On Red Oak

Tung oil is a natural drying oil extracted from the tung tree’s seeds (Vernicia fordii). It is widely used to finish wood surfaces because it protects the wood while enhancing the aesthetic appeal. Tung oil offers several advantages and disadvantages when used on red oak, as shown below.

Advantages of tung oil on red oak

  • Waterproof 

Since tung oil is waterproof, it helps keep water from penetrating the red oak as long as you apply it without missing a spot. This water resistance is great because it protects kitchen and bathroom furniture from warping or rotting.

  • Tung oil doesn’t have toxins

Tung oil is a natural product that is extracted from tung tree seeds. Since tung oil has no additives, it is non-toxic and food-safe, meaning you can apply it on surfaces that regularly come into contact with food.

Advantages of tung oil on red oak
  • Easy application

There are several ways to apply tung oil on red oak, including using a rag, a brush, or spraying it on. Remember to apply at least five coats of tung oil and avoid leaving excess oil on the surface when it’s curing.

  • Enhances the look of the red oak

Applying tung oil to red oak improves the wood’s natural aesthetic by enhancing its color and grain patterns. Unlike plastic coatings, which may give wood a glossy, unnatural look, tung oil gives red oak a beautiful, warm, natural finish.

  • Acid and alcohol-resistant

Aside from being water resistant, tung oil is alcohol and acid-resistant. This resistance protects red oak countertops and surfaces from damage caused by vegetable acids like citric acid, alcohol, or acetone spills. 

  • Flexibility

A tung oil finish retains flexibility and elasticity even after drying. Because of this elasticity, tung oil adapts to changes in the shape and volume of the red oak without cracking.

  • Easy to maintain

Red oak surfaces coated with tung oil are easy to keep in good condition by cleaning with a dry cotton cloth or microfiber rag. If the oil coating is damaged, sand it lightly and apply a new tung oil layer to restore its properties.

  • Doesn’t yellow over time

Most wood finishing oils, such as varnish and linseed oil, slowly turn yellow with time due to oxidation. On the other hand, your red oak will keep its color and look fresh for a long time since pure tung oil hardly turns yellow.

Disadvantages of Tung oil on red oak

  • Unpleasant smell when wet

Tung oil releases an unpleasant smell that disappears after the finish dries and cures. Since tung oil can cause eye irritation and respiratory issues, you should wear protective gear when applying it to red oak. 

  • Slow penetration

Since tung oil’s penetration into red oak is slow, it takes a lot of time before you can complete the process. For maximum penetration, you must let the red oak sit for about half an hour after applying a fresh coat of tung oil.

Disadvantages of Tung oil on red oak
  • High price

Tung oil is one of the most expensive finishing oils available, so if you intend to save costs, consider buying it in bulk.

  • Takes a long time to cure

A tung oil finish usually takes between 15 and 30 days to cure properly. During this curing period, you must avoid exposing the red oak wood to direct sunlight or placing heavy objects on top of it. 

  • Requires proper storage

Tung oil can last for years when stored correctly, but if any mistakes occur during storage, it usually goes bad within three months. Proper tung oil storage includes keeping it away from direct sunlight and any heat source.

How Do You Apply Tung Oil On Red Oak?

Here’s a guide on how to apply tung oil on red oak properly;

How Do You Apply Tung Oil On Red Oak

1. Prepare the red oak surface

Clean and dry the red oak’s surface by removing debris and dust. You may also sand the surface with 220-grit sandpaper to make it smooth. 

2. Apply the tung oil

When you apply the tung oil on the red oak surface, cover it all without missing a spot. There are two ways you can apply tung oil to red oak;

  • Wiping – This method involves using a cotton cloth or lint-free rag. Dip the cloth into the tung oil and wipe it onto the red oak in the direction of the grain.
  • Brushing – Dip your brush into the tung oil and apply the tung oil onto the red oak by making strokes in the direction of the grain.

3. Remove excess tung oil

After applying the oil onto the red oak’s surface and letting it sit for about 20 minutes, use a clean cloth to wipe off all the unabsorbed oil.

4. Let it dry

Let the red oak sit for several hours to dry the tung oil coating. Once dry, use fine sandpaper (more than 320 grit) to smoothen the surface and remove imperfections. Use a tack cloth to remove the sanding residue.

5. Apply more coats

Repeat the steps above to apply as many tung oil coats to the red oak as needed to achieve the desired finish. 

6. Curing

After applying the final coat, let the red oak sit and cure for about 30 days. While curing, keep the red oak away from direct sunlight, high heat, and moisture.

The following video illustrates how to apply tung oil to wood.

Maintenance Tips For Tung Oil-Finished Red Oak

It is important to maintain a tung-oil-finished red oak wood surface regularly to preserve its beautiful look and protect the wood. Here are a few tips that will help you maintain the finish;

  • Clean the red oak surface regularly using a lint-free cloth, cotton rag, or a microfiber duster to clear any debris or dust that may have accumulated.
  • If you must use water to clean the wood surface, use a damp cloth to avoid spilling excess water. 
  • Clean any spills immediately to avoid staining.
  • When you notice the tung oil finish wearing off, reapply it to the affected areas to rejuvenate the finish. 
Maintenance Tips For Tung Oil-Finished Red Oak
If you’re exploring the application of tung oil on red oak and seeking insights, our article on how long does Bondo take to dry might offer valuable tips for understanding drying times. Moreover, if you’re deciding between walnut and mahogany wood for your project and need guidance, our comparison guide on walnut vs mahogany could help you make an informed choice. We understand the importance of achieving the best finishes and addressing specific application techniques, and our comprehensive resources are designed to help you navigate and make informed choices for your woodworking projects.


Here are some answers to common questions about using tung oil on red oak.

Q: Can I paint over tung oil on red oak?

Yes, you can paint over tung oil on red oak. However, before painting, you must clean and lightly sand the surface to ensure the paint adheres properly. Though it is not necessary, you can also apply a primer before painting if you want.

Q: Can I apply tung oil over another finishing oil?

No, tung oil should only be applied to bare red oak wood surfaces or over a previous tung oil finish. If you want to switch to tung oil, remove the existing finish by sanding and cleaning the surface to reveal the bare wood before applying it.

Q: Does tung oil make red oak darker?

No, tung oil does not make red oak darker. However, a tung oil finish enhances the wood’s natural colors and makes the grain patterns more visible, which can make it seem darker.


Using tung oil on red oak offers many advantages, including water, alcohol, and acid resistance, flexibility, enhancing color, and ease of application. Similarly, tung oil has several drawbacks, such as slow penetration, high price, and an unpleasant smell when wet.

Ensure you apply tung oil using the correct procedure for the best results. The surface must be clean, and you should spread the oil to cover every inch of the surface. Regular cleaning and maintenance are crucial if you want your tung oil finish to last a long time.