Using Danish Oil on Walnut

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Forum topic by Doug posted 09-19-2014 10:25 AM 4061 views 2 times favorited 25 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Doug's profile


18 posts in 1169 days

09-19-2014 10:25 AM

Topic tags/keywords: walnut finish watco danish oil


Just finished a colonial style bench made of local black walnut (Northeastern Pennsylvania) and after reading the many articles on How To finish walnut decided to use Danish Oil.

This is my first experience with black walnut, and I am a novice with no training, just love to make benches.

The walnut was given to me a few years back by a neighbor and at that time was about 12 years old, air dried and in an outside building. Lumber was dry, although checked was able to salvage enough for a few projects.

I did a final fine sand on the bench, cleaned it thoroughly and applied two coats of Danish Oil per instructions on can.

I used Watco Medium Walnut, now I am pleased with the color, but it looks dull, I was going to use Minwax on it, is that the best, or are there other options to achieve a nice sheen finish?

I build and finish these, mostly pine, cherry and oak to already appear old, so not looking for a museum finish, but do want a nice sheen while still being able to feel the wood.

Any suggestions, or advice would be appreciated.


-- Doug

25 replies so far

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 1783 days

#1 posted 09-19-2014 10:32 AM

The oil was a waste of time. Buy a can of Arm-R-Seal and apply a couple coats, following directions on can.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View Doug's profile


18 posts in 1169 days

#2 posted 09-19-2014 10:46 AM

Appreciate the fast reply.

Since the product is a Urethane based does it result in a plastic type hard finish, or can you still feel the grain of the wood?


-- Doug

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2263 posts in 1791 days

#3 posted 09-19-2014 12:08 PM

I agree with Clint. The only time I use danish oil anymore is to give a slightly different color. I ran into a bind on one project with walnut and ended up using some scrap that was slightly lighter-colored. Some dark walnut danish oil on those pieces darkened it just enough to match.

I did some test pieces on walnut, using BLO followed by arm-r-seal on one, and just arm-r-seal on the other. I wanted to see the difference in how the grain looked with them. They looked the same.

If you put on a lot of arm-r-seal, like anything else, you’ll build up a plastic-like layer. My go-to method is to fold a blue shop paper towel into a square, dip it in arm-r-seal, and wipe it on. You don’t use a lot, one of the analogies I read is to apply it like the kid wiping the table at Denny’s. I usually do 4 or 5 coats. Sand lightly with 400 after 2 coats just to knock down any dust nibs. Then after the 4th coat, I rub some paste wax on some 0000 steel wool and just lightly rub out the surface. Once the wax sets, I buff it off. This leaves a very smooth, thin coat that has a satin to semi-gloss appearance, and you can still feel the grain of the wood.

Part of the reason I love this approach is because it’s really hard to mess it up, and it gives consistently great results.

If you do this, just pour some arm-r-seal into another container. You don’t want to keep dipping the towel in the can.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View Doug's profile


18 posts in 1169 days

#4 posted 09-19-2014 12:25 PM

Appreciate that much, makes much sense. The walnut I used had a few streaks of light going through it and since I wanted to tone it done a bit the Medium Walnut oil did accomplish that, so do not feel it was a complete waste.

Thanks again for the tips as getting too old to learn everything by trial and error.


-- Doug

View Matt Rogers's profile

Matt Rogers

69 posts in 1392 days

#5 posted 09-19-2014 12:43 PM

My thoughts.

First I never apply any finish with a color, especially one that lists a wood species in its name, to walnut or cherry. I have seen too many projects ruined by people that have applied a “cherry” stain to cherry. Why would you try to make cherry look more like cherry by applying a stain that was supposed to approximate cherry? Same with walnut. Walnut colored stain is only going to make walnut look like “almost-walnut” or less than it was originally. I leave staining woods to basic species like pine, poplar, maybe birch, but I find it usually less expensive to just use a wood of the color that you are looking for from the first place. It would cost less to build something out of walnut, then to try to get a good looking and consistent walnut colored stain on a piece or cheap wood.

Sanding is also a number one priority if trying to make it look super nice. For an oil finish, I say at least 320 grit and well sanded at that, not just a quick run through the grits, but check to see that all the previous scratches are gone before moving up in grit.

Secondly, oil finishes are great, but why not use one that is all oil and non-toxic without the chemical dryers, solvents, and harmful products like a Watco oil. I have no connections to the company, but I use Tried and True oils all the time. They are only natural in color, are completely food safe so you can use them on any project including cutting boards, have no chemicals that are harmful or cancerous so you can just wipe the oil on with a rag in your bare hands if you don’t feel like getting a glove, and give a great color and shine to the wood. Multiple coats and lots of rubbing are required to build up a really nice shiny or satin finish just like any real oil finish, but they are so super easy to apply to smaller projects.

-- Matt Rogers, and

View mds2's profile


308 posts in 1366 days

#6 posted 09-19-2014 12:43 PM

Here are some pics of a hope chest I made out of walnut and finished with danish oil, to give you an idea.

before finish:


edit: this is “natural” color finish, no tint.

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1720 posts in 1391 days

#7 posted 09-19-2014 01:16 PM

Hi Doug,

Danish oil is probably my favorite finish. You can feel the wood nicely after you apply it. If you are looking for a little more gloss, wait for five days so it fully cures and then add some semi-gloss or gloss polyureathane. Maybe just a coat so it doesn’t build too much. What I do is use the Danish oil, then buff it with a brown paper bag and it comes out nice

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

8101 posts in 2850 days

#8 posted 09-19-2014 01:32 PM

I love Watco!
So forgiving and so versitile.
A coat to color, if needed. If not needed, a coat of natural followed by a 50/50 mixture of Watco and poly for 3 or more coats.
Like ed, I finish it off with JPW applied with 0000 steel wool.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View CharlesA's profile


2974 posts in 1219 days

#9 posted 09-19-2014 02:26 PM

I love Danish Oil for some applications. Using both original and red mahogany on mahogany is stunning, just stunning. That’s one of the few times I like using a coloring agent.

On the other hand, I think Arm-R-Seal is the greatest thing since sliced bread. On Cherry, I always use straight Arm-R-Seal and let it darken over time.

As for Walnut, I think that one is a bit more complicated b/c of how you want to deal with any sapwood and because we often associate long-aged/used walnut with the color we expect, when it is much lighter in its original form. On a recent project I wanted the walnut to be dark, so I used a dye to darken it. I’ve become a big fan of dyes when you really want to change the color of the wood.

I usually find the Danish Oil gives a really nice look, so I’m surprised you find it dull. You can use wax over it (I’ve done that), but you won’t have a durable finish. Arm-R-Seal is always a good thing to try in that case.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View RobS888's profile


1981 posts in 1267 days

#10 posted 09-19-2014 02:32 PM

I think Watco medium Walnut on white oak is about the nicest thing I have ever seen and use it all the time. Never used it on walnut, but I have a few suggestions on getting a nice finish from it.

I found that the instructions on the can aren’t the best to follow, I keep some foam brushes in a plastic container filled with Watco medium walnut. Pull them out and lightly flood the surface working it into the full surface. About 5 minutes later I use a shop paper towel to wipe off the remaining oil, I keep working it in with the paper towel until it starts to shine.

Although I don’t start with a paper bag like Kaleb, I end up with what looks like one.

For oak faced plywood it is basically on then off with the buffing.

For heavy wear I put satin arm-r-seal over the Danish oil.

-- I always suspected many gun nuts were afraid of something, just never thought popcorn was on the list.

View Doug's profile


18 posts in 1169 days

#11 posted 09-19-2014 03:10 PM

This is an answer to all who contributed, I really appreciate all the advice, now I need to digest it, and come to a decision on how to proceed.

Since when I started to build my benches, and tables I had little skill and a few hand me down tools, so I thought, what if it was the 17th or 18th century, how would a common farmer or tradesman make a bench for his wife, so I began by using just plain wood I could find cheap, no nails, screws, brackets, just made wood pegs and of course glue, and finished them with just a few coats of shellac, then some wax.

So I am inclined to keep it free of 20th century products and may see if additional coats of oil, dried and buffed can produce the sheen I would like, and then a light coat of wax.

I have used polyurethane on an outdoors oak swing and on a garden bench, but this one will remain indoors.

Much thanks again, I view some of your projects and admire the skill and creativity of the work you do.


-- Doug

View BigMig's profile


380 posts in 2035 days

#12 posted 09-19-2014 04:04 PM

Doug – please post photos so the rest of us will learn too. Thanks for posting the topic.

Lastly – Kaleb – “buff with a brown paper bag?” That’s interesting to me.

-- Mike from Lansdowne, PA

View CharlesA's profile


2974 posts in 1219 days

#13 posted 09-19-2014 04:14 PM

Doug, a couple of further notes. I hate Poly. I’ve used brush on poly and I hate it—I hate the way it looks and I can never get it to go on well. That’s one of the reasons I started using danish oil to begin with. I hated the artificial look of brush on poly

A wiping varnish like arm-r-seal seal is a completely different animal. Try it, you’ll like it.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View Loren's profile


8164 posts in 3070 days

#14 posted 09-19-2014 04:21 PM

I use oil for client work sometimes because it’s fast
and forgiving for me and I can “sell” the idea of
how easy it is to repair a ding.

I’ve been experimenting with staining walnut using
roofing tar dissolved in mineral spirits. I started doing
this because the walnut I can get is kiln dried
and there can be some weird color things going
on that weren’t a problem when I first got into
working with walnut. Folks say the quality is
going down. In any case, they steam it to
shift pigments from the heartwood to the pale
sapwood and this affects the color quality of the
heartwood too. It can cause a weird purple
shift that can be jarring in some situations too.

The asphalt stain can be selectively applied almost
like dry brushing and with care a very even dark
color can be achieved. Since many people have this
idea that they like “dark” wood, darkening walnut
is not so likely to evoke protest. Areas that are
too dark one can remove stain with a rag moistened
with mineral spirits. I don’t recommend putting
another mineral spirits thinned finish directly over
the stain. I’m using oil-modified waterborne
poly from Minwax and it goes one and dries as
quick and easy as shellac. I have not done it
yet but I plan to try orange shellac as a barrier
coat to shift the color towards amber since
the poly lacks that warmth.

I have found in working for clients that Watco is
seldom “dark enough” for their tastes. I add
black and red fresco pigments to it and that
can make it as dark as I want.

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1720 posts in 1391 days

#15 posted 09-19-2014 04:27 PM

Yeah Mike it may sound strange but I heard somebody say it and gave it a shot. It came out nice. It’s like a high grit sandpaper that removes the dust nibs in the oil. Requires some elbow grease but it works nice.

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

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