Troubleshooting a Blotchy Tung-Oil-and-Wax Finish

Finishers try to figure out why a customer-applied oil-and-wax finish ended up looking like the aftermath of a bad sunburn. June 30, 2007

I installed this job last April and gave the homeowner some of the oil finish that I used when I built it. The homeowner applied the finish on the drawer fronts only in February and the result was the blotches in the pictures. This job is not right around the corner, so I hesitate to run down and fix it (6 hours). The finish is Land Ark, which is linseed oil, tung oil, beeswax, and pine rosin in an orange oil base. My customer said he wiped it on with a rag and waited 20 minutes and wiped it off. It looks to me like it's dry and maybe needs a recoat and buffing. Any ideas?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor I:
I had that problem come up once with a teak job where I had oiled the cabinets prior to delivery. Then I came back a few months later to take some photos as I delivered a few more teak items. To make all of the items look uniform, I re-oiled the original cabinets, took the pictures, and left. I got a call the next week saying the cabinets I re-oiled were turning a funny color.

I went to look at them and it came up in conversation that the client's wife had waxed the cabinets between my oilings. With that info, they decided to try stripping the wax on one of them and re-oiling to see if that helped and that did the trick. So maybe it is something with the oil and the beeswax.

From contributor C:
Looks like mold to me. How did he store them? Have him wipe more oil on and call it a day. Why in the world would you make a mess of a finish by making a mix of all the different ingredients?

From contributor P:

It looks like the wax went nuts in the finish. I think it's separated or something and went on unevenly. Personally, I'd not re-oil a piece. If it's done well when it's built, all you ever need to add is wax maybe once a year or two. Maybe have him wipe it with acetone and see if it clears up. Then a light coat of colored wax gently buffed.

From contributor B:
Wipe it down with mineral spirits and wax only, is my idea.

From contributor J:
This finish you describe would have to be put on very thinly over previously finished wood. Tung oil frosts (turns a whitish appearance) if applied too thick, or in a manner similar to a building type finish (wiping varnish). You should be able to have the customer wipe/scrub off the whitish look with mineral spirits or naphtha.

From the original questioner:
The Land Ark finish is from a company in South Carolina of the same name, used primarily on timber frames to keep them from checking. I started using it on pieces that required oil a while ago and have had good luck. My guess is the finish wasn't properly mixed or buffed out afterward. I like the idea of removing the wax and re-oiling, or using colored wax.