The Basics on Hand-Rubbed Finishes

Follow these tips on applying hand-rubbed finishes to wood.

Related To:

  1. Furniture
  2. Refinishing

The only way to duplicate the look of an antique is with a hand-rubbed, penetrating oil finish. One product that’s often recommended is linseed oil – but the problem with linseed oil is that it never completely dries, so it’s always a little sticky. The problem gets especially bad in hot weather.

applying hand rubbed finishes to wood

Instead consider tung oil, which gives a harder finish. The best way to apply tung oil is actually with 400-grit sandpaper.

- Sand the surface and wipe away all the sawdust with a tack cloth.
- Pour a generous amount of tung oil directly onto the surface.
- Use the sandpaper to rub the oil all over the wood. It will create a fine sawdust, which will fill in the wood’s pores for a smooth finish.
- Use a rag to wipe off the excess oil. The oil will harden inside the wood.
- You may have to repeat this process two or three times, but it will be worth it.

An antique’s finish can be refreshed with tung oil. Apply with a rag or (if the wood feels rough) a piece of 400-grit sandpaper.

More advice for the DIYer:
- Never throw anything away – even rusty nails. Save them in case you ever have to repair an old piece of furniture and need nails that blend in. Or, place them in a jar and add ordinary household vinegar. The chemical reaction between the vinegar and the nail will produce a great water-based stain. The silver-gray color will look especially good on oak.

- The rule of thumb is that if you have a white or gray mark, it means moisture is trapped beneath the finish. A black mark means the moisture has penetrated all the way into the wood – that’s the more difficult kind of mark to remove. To remove the gray mark, use 400-grit sandpaper, wet with lemon oil or mineral oil, and give the table a light sanding. Keep the sandpaper saturated with oil so it doesn’t mar the table, and you should be able to buff the mark out of the wood.

- Hard maple is best for a beginner trying his or her hand at wood turning – it has a good grain and won’t chip.

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