Oil-Based Finish Basics

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Blog entry by thewoodwhisperer posted 12-02-2009 06:54 AM 3581 reads 12 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Oil-based finishes are typically the first type of finish we confront as woodworkers, be it straight oil or a can polyurethane. Although they are all derived from oil, these finishes can vary widely in terms of application method, durability, and maintenance. The key to understanding these finishes is to understand their ingredients. With that foundation in your tool belt, you can start looking at ingredients lists instead of brand names and labels, and you’ll know exactly what to expect from the finish. Since this is a live session, we have a bunch of viewer questions in the video as well.

Topics include:
What is oil?
What is varnish?
What is the relationship between varnish and polyurethane?
The relative durability of oils, varnishes, and oil/varnish blends.
How to see past marketing jargon.
Why I like Arm-R-Seal.

Products discussed in the video:
General Finishes Arm-R-Seal
Rockler's Tung Oil
Timbermate Wood Filler

-- For free video tutorials and other cool woodworking stuff, check out

8 comments so far

View rozzi's profile


323 posts in 3319 days

#1 posted 12-02-2009 02:17 PM

Marc, Another good one. Keep them coming.

-- Duane, Iowa

View Bob A in NJ's profile

Bob A in NJ

1229 posts in 3996 days

#2 posted 12-02-2009 02:46 PM

I agree, another excellent video, very informative. Thanks!


-- Bob A in NJ

View dustyal's profile


1294 posts in 3473 days

#3 posted 12-02-2009 04:11 PM

Just what I needed, a very basic, factual explanation. Thank you.

-- Al H. - small shop, small projects...

View Rob200's profile


313 posts in 3167 days

#4 posted 12-02-2009 04:12 PM

like the new shop and the video was good I learnd a lot

-- Robert Laddusaw and no I am not smarter then a fifth grader ( and no I canot spell so if it is a problem don't read it ))

View woodworm's profile


14468 posts in 3588 days

#5 posted 12-02-2009 04:18 PM

Great info.
Thanks fo sharing.

-- masrol, kuala lumpur, MY.

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3819 days

#6 posted 12-02-2009 04:41 PM

Marc, this was an excellent video that addresses a lot of confusion that exists over oil base finishes. For anyone who would like more information on this I would recommend Bob Flexner’s book, Understanding Wood Finishing.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18269 posts in 3673 days

#7 posted 12-08-2009 11:54 AM

Great video Marc. My wife says the drawers of our bedrom set leave a wood smell in her clothes. I’m not sure what kind of wood. It’s an oak set and I suspect popular, but not sure. She wants to seal them with Varathane. Will that work or should we get some shellac?

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View thewoodwhisperer's profile


604 posts in 4181 days

#8 posted 12-08-2009 05:28 PM

Well Varathane can be oil or water-based, so it depends on which product you are using. I would say no to oil-based, and yes to water-based. But shellac is a great option too. Probably the least likely to retain an odor at all.

-- For free video tutorials and other cool woodworking stuff, check out

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