Achieving a High-Gloss Finish with Tung Oil

Pure tung oil can't provide high gloss, but modified tung oils or a topcoat over tung oil are options worth considering. December 1, 2005

I am building an occasional table and am looking to use pure tung oil. I would like to know how many coats are appropriate and if I need to do anything before or after I apply it? I am also building a TV lift cabinet that has crotch mahogany veneers. I would like to use the tung oil because of the color and depth it has. The customer wants it to have a gloss appearance after it is done. Can I achieve this with tung oil? Suggestions for a finish for the lift are appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor P:
I can't tell you how many coats of tung oil to put on exactly. That will depend on the look you have after, but pure tung oil is not going to gain much in the way of toughness after 3 or 4 coats anyway. Drying time will be significant between coats.

I would expect 24-48 hours in a reasonably warm environment. Polymerized tung oil is completely different. It will dry faster and build to a higher gloss than pure tung oil. Plus it will be considerably tougher. If you want anything over a satin sheen, I would recommend either polymerized tung oil, or building shellac over one coat of the pure tung oil.

From contributor F:
I would expect to apply 2 coats of a quality tung oil, such as Waterlox, on an item like an occasional table. Tung oil is usually sold in satin, gloss or high gloss varieties. Follow the directions on the can. High gloss is possible with pure tung oil. The more coats you use the higher a sheen you will be able to achieve.

I rub thoroughly between coats with 0000 steel wool when looking for high gloss. I have done up to 8 coats on a piece. The last couple of coats may be thinned with mineral spirits. You could also wax polish on top of the tung oil to achieve the sheen you want. Both will be hard work with lots of rubbing and time between coats. Patience will help.

From contributor P:

Just to clarify, Waterlox is not pure tung oil, so I was specifically answering the question with regards to pure tung oil. Yes Waterlox will build to gloss, but pure tung oil won't - not in this lifetime, unless, like I mentioned, you use polymerized.

From contributor F:
Any "natural" oil finish is not the best choice for a high gloss finish. It takes a lot of rubbing and a lot of coats and a lot of patience but it can and has been done by yours truly. Polymerized oils, such as Waterlox will of course produce a higher gloss with less work. Boiled linseed oil, teak oil, pure tung oil, etc. all work in similar ways. I use them when my customer wants them and I charge them accordingly.

From the original questioner:
For the occasional table I am going to put 2 coats of pure tung oil because I do not especially like the gloss on anything. In fact if I could have a natural wood appearance it would be favorable although I know it doesn't work that way. I chose the tung oil because of the effect it has on the woods color.

For the lift, you're saying a waterlox tung oil is the way to go sanding with 0000 steel wool between coats? Is this going to take days to get the gloss my customer wants? What other wipe on finishes are available that are faster, will bring out the color and grain of the wood, and give a gloss appearance?

One of the problems is that the customer is an idiot and thinks that a high gloss means a professional furniture finish. I have thought of just spraying it with a water-based high gloss polyurethane but a lot of people will be seeing it so I kind of want the best and easiest solution.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
Tung oil is a poor choice given that you want depth, gloss, and are using crotch veneer. Lacquer or shellac would be a better choice.

From contributor T:
You could try using 2 coats of tung oil, seal it with Vinyl and top coat it with Gloss Pre-Cat lacquer.

From contributor D:
I agree with Contributor T. One or two coats of tung oil will give you a very nice look, but for durability you really should finish with a top coat. I have done this for years and have had a real nice finish without a ton of work.