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Gerald Boggs

linseed oil

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Rather then claim to know what is fact, I thought I recount my experiences and what I've been taught about linseed oil, tung oil and varnishes.

My first experience with linseed oil was my grandfather showing me how he maintained his garden tools. Every Fall, he would coat the metal and wood before he put them away for the winter. He also used it to help prevent rust by coating the bed of his pickup. I don't know if he used raw or boiled, these lessons were before I was ten, and by the time I would have asked, he had passed on. Along with my grandfather's uses, my great uncle fed raw linseed oil to his livestock.

While I've used linseed oil most of my life, my first real learning experience with linseed oil and finishes was the years I worked on wooded sailing vessels. As one might image, we used a lot of linseed oil, various vanishes and every boat had it's secret formulas for deck oil, spar varnish, and rigging tar. Of course, they were really all the same, but folks like to feel as if they have special knowledge.

The boats left me with a good base of knowledge, and a healthy dose of skepticism. Beyond the boats, my own use of linseed oil is pretty basic, I use it the same as my grandfather, putting a coat on all my garden tools and I use it on any wood surface that I don't paint. All my craft show display boards and walls were finished with linseed oil. I like that dark yellow finish that you get with time. Light wood is a nice contrast with black iron but every scuff shows up, with the wood a little darker, not so noticeable. Most of the time, any furniture I refinish gets a linseed oil finish. The exception is when I don't want the wood to darken, then I'll use tung oil.

But the devil's in the details, just how to use linseed oil and what's all this other stuff on the shelves?

First off, one can not use linseed oil without thinning. It's simply too viscous to do much beyond sitting and turning into a sticky mess. If I want a nice finish on wood, I build up the finish in progressive layers. I start with linseed oil thinned out 1 to 4 ratio oil/thinner, finishing with a 4 to 1 ratio. I apply each and allow it to start to dry and then wipe off the excess. The first couple applications will not need this, as they're so thin as to almost appear not be there.  If I want a hard durable finish, I'll then apply a top coat of varnish.  Putting on linseed oil in this manner gives the finish a bit of depth. It also acts in the same manner for the varnish as does primer to paint. Having wrote that, most of the time, I just need/want a simple finish and will use linseed oil and thinner mixed in equal parts. Paint it on and after a few minutes wipe off the excess. I do this because it's easy. No prep work, no need to sand and if it gets scuffed up, I can reapply in the same manner.

For iron, I'll use the 50/50 mix and do the same as with wood, let it start to get sticky and wipe off the excess. Let it dry and reapply. If you keep the coats thin, they will dry in a few hours. I'll do this several times to get a bit of thickness to the finish. I can not over emphasize, you have to wipe off the oil.  If you don't, it will take a long time to dry.   But for the most part, I no longer use linseed oil on iron. It's not long term waterproof, so it's no good for outdoor finishes and clear paste wax works just fine for indoor finishes. I've got coat racks I waxed 12 years ago and even with all the wet chore clothes I've hung from them, the finish is still good.

I don't use tung oil very much, but just thin it out and put it on the same as linseed. Don't know if this is the correct method, but it appears to work.  I've also been told and my experience bears this out, Tung oil is heat resistant enough to use on fireplace screens.

Now about the other stuff.  When talking about drying oils, there is no other stuff, there is only premixed/thinned/dryers added oils and the marketing companies do to make their mix attractive. I sure there are other drying oils out there somewhere, but most of the time, the only oils you will find in any mix is linseed, tung, and modified soy oil.  Soy being the most used, as it's the least expensive. All will have a bit of linseed or tung oil to be able to make the claim. Formby Tung Oil Finish is an example of this, mostly soy with a bit of tung for the marketing claim.  Some are thinned versions of the oil and some are very thinned varnish. Danish oil being one of the thinned varnishes.  Bear in mind, I'm not knocking these products, they all work and some of them work quite well.   Look at Tru-Oil, it's 4% linseed oil, 10% soy oil and 86% thinners and solvents, yet people on this forum speak highly of it.

Penetrating oils, I've used them on floors but really don't have the experience nor knowledge to say anything about them.

Spar varnish, what is it? In it's simplest form, it's linseed oil with some type of resin. For ship use, spar varnish needed to be more flexible then the varnish you would use on furniture, so the ratio of oil to resin was higher. Now days, it's a generic term for any outdoor varnish.

I spend the last few weeks reading articles on the net. Lots of opinions, not much useful information. But one stuck in my mind. Here's a slice of it:

“Every now and then someone comes into my shop, and in the course of conversation volunteers to me that his (it’s always a him) family had a secret formula for a finish that had been passed down for generations. Of course he wasn’t going to share it with me because then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore.

So I would have to tell him what it was: 1/3 boiled linseed oil, 1/3 spar varnish (I never understood why it had to be spar varnish and not simply any varnish), and 1/3 turpentine. Now we might use mineral spirits (paint thinner) instead of turpentine, but this was an ancient formula, surely before there was mineral spirits.

Surprise on his face. How did I know?

Adding varnish into linseed oil is a way to make the linseed oil a little more protective and durable – not much, but a little. Doing this goes way back, at least well back into the 19th century.”

 


 


 

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I’ve had pretty good luck with boiled linseed oil as a varnish.  A small drop on a q tip will go a very long way.  It takes a day or so to fully dry.  But personally I like it.  Simply due to the fact you use very little and wood still comes out looking like you put a stain on it.  Technically you did but yea.  All I do is dip a q tip in and brush it on the handle. One go over does the trick.  I’ve done it a couple times I still have a full quart can.

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Posted (edited)

I agree with Gerald, except I do use boiled linseed oil without thinning.  Personal preference only, it makes no difference in the end.

So what is "boiled" linseed oil?  Originally it was literally boiled with a little lead carbonate, which is what allows it to dry.  Now it has been heated enough to polymerize, and the lead has been replaced with petroleum solvents and cobalt carbonate, AKA Japan dryer.  Still poisonous, but not as insidious as lead.

If you want to make your own, get a jug of flaxseed oil (guess what: it's raw linseed oil.  Linseed = linen seed, linen comes from the flax plant, marketers realized nobody wanted to be drinking what sounded like a wood finish) and some lead. Melt the lead in a reducing atmosphere and hold until it's a reddish powder.  You need about a tablespoon for every gallon of oil.  Heat the oil until it looks shimmery, add the lead carbonate and stir. Keep it simmering for an hour or so, then pour into an airtight container and let cool.  

Or just go buy some.;)

 

Edited by Alan Longmire
forgot how to make lead carbonate due to insufficient caffeine

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I had thought about mentioning the flaxseed oil was the same as raw linseed oil, but figured I was getting long winded. 

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Very good information there Gerald. Have you ever used linseed oil as a finish on steel? We have used it on bathroom fixtures (towel bars, TP holders, etc.) to keep them from rusting. Applied to warm/hot (black heat, no color) it has dried to a hard finish with some very nice gold and brown coloration. It has been years since we made those products, but the set we had in our own bathroom for 12 years never rusted or discolored at all.

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On 3/25/2019 at 3:23 AM, Gerald Boggs said:

   Look at Tru-Oil, it's 4% linseed oil, 10% soy oil and 86% thinners and solvents, yet people on this forum speak highly of it.

Thanks......been trying to get Tung oil, most likely never will.........good to know there's no magic bullet,  just good technique & knowledge

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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, Joshua States said:

Have you ever used linseed oil as a finish on steel?

I used to with good results, but only for indoors.  Now days I just do a clear wax finish and it appears to last.  If I had a job for bathroom fixtures, I would probably go with a clear urethane finish. 

I do have a test piece sitting outside with two thin coats of linseed oil.  Waiting to see how long it takes to start rusting.  It's a few weeks old and it's still looking good. A little while ago, I decide I need to see if what I thought was what, really was :-)

 

4 hours ago, Gerhard Gerber said:

been trying to get Tung oil, most likely never will

Don't bail on Tung oil, it's really good stuff, but it's big advantage is it doesn't darken over time, or at least not as much as linseed oil.  But does so at a higher price.  What are you doing with the finish?  What is the look?   All these finishes will give different looks.  If I was doing a small piece like a handle, I might go with a pre-mix product.  If I was doing furniture, I would mix my own, thinning out oils is easy and a lot less money.  There's also the "made my own finish" factor.  Sorry if that's a bit of ramble, finish can be as personal in taste as anything we do, there really isn't a right way or oil, it's all what do you like.

Edited by Gerald Boggs
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Posted (edited)

I'm a tung oil user, love the stuff, easy to apply.  Danish oil is another favorite of mine as it can always be buffed up if you don't but a sealer over it.  Never tired these on steel. 

My go to for steel is still the linseed bees wax mix for in door items and things I don't care for the color changing in time.  A little sticky for a few days if the work wasn't hot enough when applied.  On the flowers I've been making where I want to keep the color as it is, I've been using Johnson's paste wax. It seems to dry fast and clear, or clearer than the wax mix.  Kind of chalky to the touch until fully cured though. The third one is just good old rust-o-ilium paint for out door stuff, and things that I know will be used and abused. 

The best of the best that I have heard of using and have seen a few samples of, which would not work for knife makers due to the process, is powder coating.  I've been told its like sealing the big iron work in glass.

I've run into architectural guys that fight that rust by forging things out of 319 stainless (big things), one of the guys I met last year said he took on a project using core-10 which has some major draw backs other than the patina it is meant to have. 

 

 

Edited by Daniel W

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2 hours ago, Daniel W said:

The best of the best that I have heard of using and have seen a few samples of, which would not work for knife makers due to the process, is powder coating.  I've been told its like sealing the big iron work in glass. 

I used to have all my outdoor work powder coated.  It can be great but there are issues to deal with.  Due to the coating process, the coating will not do a good job of getting into tight spots and you can almost forget behind collars.  Some powder coating companies provide a good match spray paint that you can use to take care of that problem.   Another issue is that depending on the material, the ironwork can end up looking like you dipped it in liquid plastic.  Lastly, not all powder coating are equal in quality.  About 15 years ago, there was a big rush of powder coating companies starting up.   Not all of them knew what they were doing.  A smith showed me a railing that was suppose to be black, but had weird purple streaks in it, something about the acid wash used to prep.  Myself, I was lucky, the powder coating company just a few miles from my shop did excellent work and offered the matching paint. 

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@Gerald Boggs Thank you and everyone else for this info. Very cool stuff.

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Posted (edited)
On 3/26/2019 at 9:35 AM, Gerald Boggs said:

A little while ago, I decide I need to see if what I thought was what, really was :-)

Temperature was mid 40's and in the shade. 

Here's today's results:  Using boiled linseed oil from the big box store and diluted down to 1 to 4 ratio oil/mineral spirits*.  On the flat bar I brushed on a coat, waited until it was tacky and wiped off the excess. Came back an hour later and oil was dry to the touch.
2 by 4, first photo is one coat, same process as with the steel  After it had dried, I cut off the first inch to see if any penetration. Good penetration in some areas, not so good in others.  Second photo is after four coats.  A slight improvement, but would it be worth the effort on a big project? 

*Sculpt Nouveau's Metal Oil is diluted at much as 1 to 10 and it has a excellent reputation among jewelry makers and metal sculptors.  On a side note, I think they're now part of Birchwood Casey. 

Just thought: I should have sanded before the oil.  Board looked clean, but one never knows :-)

 

 

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Edited by Gerald Boggs

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Gerald (or anyone else for that matter), how would you guess this would hold up to a bit of abuse?  The pommels on my fencing swords tend to rust if I leave them in my truck (and blades, but not as bad and they get worked over more).  Would the linseed oil be a good coating for those do you think?  My experience with poly says that would be bad, as it will really start to chip and flake, and generally be bad.  

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I'd follow the same process that Sculpt Nouveau recommends for jewelry, oil first and then a wax finish.  One of the benefits to oil and wax, you don't need to prep to wipe on a new coat. 

I've no experience with poly.

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Posted (edited)
16 hours ago, Jerrod Miller said:

Gerald (or anyone else for that matter), how would you guess this would hold up to a bit of abuse?  The pommels on my fencing swords tend to rust if I leave them in my truck (and blades, but not as bad and they get worked over more).  Would the linseed oil be a good coating for those do you think?  My experience with poly says that would be bad, as it will really start to chip and flake, and generally be bad.  

I might have over thought this. When I get done using my woodworking tools, I just wipe them down with mineral oil. Don't see why it wouldn't work on a pommel.

Edited by Gerald Boggs

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I would think that would rub off in the back seat/floor board of my truck, and on my fencing gear.  I am hoping to eventually find something that is nice and clean, long lasting, and nice looking.  

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Lacquer?  The jewelry folks have some really good lacquers that prevent tarnishing, and I know some people making damascus jewelry use those to prevent rust. 

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When that starts chipping it looks bad (every time I have seen it).  And pommel strikes happen often enough that it will chip frequently.  Also, at that rate it starts getting expensive, as I think the right lacquers aren't nearly as cheap as linseed oils.  The real solution is probably to stop storing them in my truck, but when you need a sword, you need a sword.  So routine cleaning is probably what I should really be doing.  

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20 hours ago, Jerrod Miller said:

Gerald (or anyone else for that matter), how would you guess this would hold up to a bit of abuse?  The pommels on my fencing swords tend to rust if I leave them in my truck (and blades, but not as bad and they get worked over more).  Would the linseed oil be a good coating for those do you think?  My experience with poly says that would be bad, as it will really start to chip and flake, and generally be bad.  

Depending on the handle construction, you may be able to heat the handles with a propane torch and rub with a block of beeswax, the heat opens the pores enough that the metal absorbes the wax on the surface layer. Allow to cool, buff lightly with a soft cloth. I do this with pendants that I forge from steel, I have been wearing one for two years and there is no sign of rust even though it is against my skin all day every day. Again, it would only work with certain epoxy free  handle construction.

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My pommels are all steel, and at least on my long sword feder I can remove it to heat, but beeswax will not hold up to the abuse, and that process isn't very "quick and easy" to keep re-applying.  The ease of wiping on a little thinned linseed oil and setting it aside was the really appealing part of Gerald's process.  

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On 3/26/2019 at 1:02 PM, Gerald Boggs said:

I used to have all my outdoor work powder coated.  It can be great but there are issues to deal with.  Due to the coating process, the coating will not do a good job of getting into tight spots and you can almost forget behind collars.  Some powder coating companies provide a good match spray paint that you can use to take care of that problem.   Another issue is that depending on the material, the ironwork can end up looking like you dipped it in liquid plastic.  Lastly, not all powder coating are equal in quality.  About 15 years ago, there was a big rush of powder coating companies starting up.   Not all of them knew what they were doing.  A smith showed me a railing that was suppose to be black, but had weird purple streaks in it, something about the acid wash used to prep.  Myself, I was lucky, the powder coating company just a few miles from my shop did excellent work and offered the matching paint. 

I've been thinking about this process for some of my flower sculpts as my most recent complaint by the same nagging person that just seems to want to complain.  (She wants a flower cheap because 'it will always rust') I might try it on one if I sell a few things off to see if the process can apply.  

What intrigues me a little more is actual enameling, for what I may be able to do artistically.  I saw a demo by my flower instructor that made a bowl and gave it off to a jeweler that then enameled it. pretty cool. He was also a very strong advocate for lacquer on his finished work.   A strong reason why I havn't used lacquer is because of the fumes. 

 

 

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7 hours ago, Daniel W said:

She wants a flower cheap because 'it will always rust'

But that surely is your ‘rust price’ if they will always rust. Some people do seem to (almost professionally) complain for discount.

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It is pretty sad that all iron work eventually falls to rust without care or some form of prevention unless we are talking about making things form 400 series stainless which, that's not very likely.  For a knife maker yes, but no way am I making a flower out of stainless.  Aluminum maybe - but I hate that metal! Bronze and copper yes, materials are just a lot more than steel.   

23 hours ago, Charles du Preez said:

Some people do seem to (almost professionally) complain for discount.

Lol, yes, but I've lost my rear before on giving discounts.  Not anymore, a wise smith once told me, "The price is the price!" Those hecklers just want to get the cheaper deal, they get no enjoyment out of what their buying just the fact that they get it from you for less. 

 

I waiting to see here what happens when Gerald checks that piece of steel in about a week.  I did something similar with my three methods; linseed wax, paste wax, and rust-o-ilium.  The linseed wax out side held up as well as the rust-o-ilium, which surprised me.  But in my little test I did have a lot more scale on my work which might have through my results off. 

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Posted (edited)

I've got some results, but still playing with different approaches.  However as much as a bit of scale looks good on some ironwork, but it is the ban of long term outdoor finishes.  Unless the steel is completely clean, excellent clear coatings (permalite?) won't promise the otherwise promise of 10 years of protection with it. 

Edited by Gerald Boggs

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