Hand Rubbed Danish Oil Finish

Our students often ask how to finish their projects, be it a rocking chair or table. Often times we have just enough time to complete the piece, and don’t have time to apply a finish. Although applying the finish is not hard it requires a step by step methodic approach which I have outlined here in this article on how to apply a Danish oil Finish.

Supplies Needed for Applying the Finish

First you will need to obtain a few supplies shown in the picture below. We use Danish oil made by Deft (read the caution label on the can prior to using). It is somewhat hard to find but can be found through different online sources, it is also available here at our Homestead General Store. You will also need some rubber gloves and cotton rags. You will  need some 320 grit sandpaper and 0000 steel wool to buff between coats.

Smoothing the surface before applying the Danish Oil

The first step to obtaining a good finish is to smooth the surface well, prior to applying the Danish oil finish. Start by scraping it with a cabinet scraper and then finishing with a card scraper.

Next sand with the grain using 220 and 320 grit sandpaper. At this point you can buff it out with 0000 steel wool if you like. Sometimes I skip this step and other times I have even used leather to buff it out prior to finishing. You will find that some woods finish better than others. It really depends on the grain of the wood, I have found that cherry finishes much better than walnut because of its closed grain, walnut has more of an open grain, thus taking more time to build a finish.

Applying the first coat of Danish Oil

Once you have scraped and sanded, it is now time to apply the first coat of finish. Apply the oil liberally and let it soak in. Within the first 5 minutes, the oil will soak into the grain quickly. Keep the surface wet, by applying another coat. Let it sit on the surface for about 20 to 30 minutes and then wipe off the excess with a clean cotton cloth. Set it aside to dry for about 24 to 48 hours. The drying time depends on the humidity and temperature. If it is cold out, you will want it to sit for a longer time.

Applying the second coat

The first step BEFORE applying the second coat of Danish oil is to sand the surface with 320 grit sandpaper, to remove any rough spots and to smooth any raised grain.  If the sandpaper gums up while sanding, the finish is not dry enough and should sit longer. Depending on how smooth the surface is, you can skip the sanding and simply buff the surface with 0000 steel wool prior to applying any oil.

Now wipe on a liberal amount of oil. This second coat will not soak in like the first coat but will start building up the finish. You will be able to tell a noticeable difference to the finish at this point.

Let this coat of oil sit for about 20 minutes or until it starts getting a LITTLE tacky. You don’t want it to get too sticky because it will be a nightmare trying to remove the excess! At this point you want to remove the excess with a clean rag. Make sure that all the excess is wiped away. Let it dry for another 24 to 48 hours. The longer it dries the better.

Applying the third coat

Applying the third coat is much like applying the second coat, except that I don’t usually sand or steel wool between coats at this point. It won’t hurt it, it’s just not necessary unless the finish feels a bit rough. Apply the third coat of oil and let it sit for about 20 minutes, then wipe off all the excess. Let it dry well. You can apply as many coats as you like but I have found that 3 to 4 coats works just fine.

The oil finish works very well on most hard woods. I don’t usually use it on soft wood such as pine. I like to use the Deft spray lacquer or shellac for soft woods and smaller projects.

The oil finish process is quick and easy and does not require a dust free environment which makes it a user friendly finish.

One word of caution, MAKE SURE TO LAY OUT YOUR RAGS FLAT TO DRY IMMEDIATELY AFTER OILING or else they will spontaneously combust if they are bunched together. Many a shop, house, and truck has burnt to the ground because rags were left bunched up and thrown into a corner. Even if there is a little oil residue on the rag, lay it flat and set it aside to dry, after it is hard and dry then dispose of it.

Here is the finished chair after 3 coats of oil. Happy finishing!

Note to readers: Several years after the writing of this article Deft discontinued making Danish oil. Unfortunately there aren’t many other products we can recommend. Watco Danish oil from a local hardware store works fine, it’s a thinner oil so we usually put on at least one more coat to help build the finish on the wood. The information in this blog post applies to all oil finishes. Tried and true oil, is a good choice for a project you want food safe. 

9 Responses to Hand Rubbed Danish Oil Finish

  1. Kenton Willems April 6, 2011 at 10:13 PM #

    I was wondering if you can just apply the finish after planing and scraping without sanding?

    • admin April 14, 2011 at 5:16 PM #

      Hello Kenton,
      I have found that the surface must really be very smooth before applying any oil, that is the reason for sanding and steel-wooling or even buffing the surface before oiling. I don’t think you will be as happy if you go straight from the scraper to the oil, on the other hand if you want to give it a go, try buffing the surface with your scraper shavings, it will provide a lovely smooth surface and then apply the oil. There are other finishes that would be better if you were going to go straight from the scraper to finishing. I would use the oil after the scraper and then finish with a french polished shellac, and you should have a very smooth surface. This is because the shellac is more of a top coat as opposed to the oil which is more of a natural wood feel with the oil finish.
      Hope this helps.


  2. Laura Barmack August 17, 2011 at 10:00 PM #

    What a wonderful series of presentations! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I really appreciate your craft, skill, and generosity.

    This kind of work seems to restore and rebuild the people who practice it. In contrast, most modern work seems to hammer people down with boredom and endless repetition and leaves them with little new to learn or to challenge them and not very much to be proud of. Thank you for providing a wonderful example of a very unique alternative.

  3. Gary August 30, 2011 at 9:45 PM #

    What are the advantages of Deft over Watco or other types of oils such as linseed oil or tung oils?

    • Frank Strazza September 21, 2011 at 12:50 PM #

      Gary, I have used both the Watco and the Deft. The biggest difference between them is that Watco is Linseed oil based and Deft is Tung oil based. The Watco in my opinion just does not build up as nice a finish as the Deft. The linseed oil by itself takes longer to dry than the tung oil. The straight oils like linseed and tung, don’t have the urethanes in them like the Watco and Deft which help build a more durable finish. Hope this helps. I just speak out of using the Deft oil for many years, and having tried the Watco, there is no comparison, I think Deft rules!

  4. Pat Dugdale January 7, 2012 at 6:33 PM #

    I have been using Deft products for over 30 years with the same great results. I use a different approach then you. I usually go no higher than a 240 grit dry sanding and finish off with wet sanding using Danish oil during the first soak. I am able to remove all machine sanding marks, glue and any surface defects. Wipe dry and after 24+ hours a second soak and 300 grit paper. The slurry generated by the sanding helps seal the pores of the wood resulting in a really fine surface. The 3rd and last coat of oil requires no sanding. Because the oil itself is not made to build up to a hard surface I will usually finish off this surface with a hard wax for a natural finish or 3 coats of Deft clear wood finish, semi-gloss.

  5. jen April 8, 2012 at 7:53 PM #

    Hello, I’m from Australia. Is Danish oil alright to use on a jarrah deck? The wood is raw and unseasoned. I want a natural oil that doesn’t turn the wood a yellow colour. I want the natural beautiful jarrah colour to stand out. Thanks.

  6. Frank Strazza April 9, 2012 at 3:49 PM #

    Hi Jen,

    I have found that the Danish oil does not do as well on outdoor furnishings. It can be used on wood floors and it will certainly bring the color and beauty out of the jarrah wood, but it will not work as a long-term finish for outdoors. On the other hand, if the deck is inside away from the elements, it should work just fine. If the deck is exposed to the elements you could put the oil on to bring out the color of the wood and then come back with a top coat floor sealer to protect the wood from the elements. On a side note Deft does have an exterior Danish oil. I will say that I am not particulary fond of that product.
    I hope this helps. Thanks for reading and for the comment!

  7. Joe August 21, 2013 at 1:12 PM #

    I’m a little late to the party, but a scraper that is properly sharpened will prepare a surface similar to what one would get with 2000 grit sandpaper. Sanding after scraping is beyond pointless, it’s detrimental.