Oiled or varnished wooden table top? Learn the main differences.

by | Aug 23, 2020 | Design, Furniture, Tips

Wooden worktops have recently become increasingly popular. They tempt designers and future kitchen users with their warmth and naturalness. Wood always adds cosiness to interiors, is pleasant to the touch and natural. It is a universal material and can be used in various styles. But how does the use of such a table top look like in terms of functionality? What are the main differences in the use of oiled and varnished wood? In the following article we will try to answer that and share a little bit of our technical knowledge in this aspect.

Varnished wooden surfaces have accompanied us for years. We have become accustomed to glossy wood and the opinion that varnish is the most durable method of wood impregnation, which is not entirely true. Lacquer creates a hard coating on the surface and is more resistant to mechanical damage, but it is difficult to renew (it requires an intervention on the whole surface), peels off and is flammable.

Oil, on the other hand, is an ecological product made of natural resins and waxes, it extracts and emphasizes the individual characteristics of wood, absorbs into the wood, protecting it also deep inside, and copes well with high temperatures. Oiled surfaces such as wooden kitchen worktops or dining tables can be used intensively. However, you have to be patient at the beginning and maintain them more often, then you can be sure of full impregnation. The advantage of this technique is also the fact that if a scratch, stain or discolouration occurs during use, it can be repaired in spots and by yourself. All you need is a piece of sandpaper and oiling the tabletop again. Such a wooden worktop can serve in good condition for many years.

Oil vs varnish – technical aspects

Pure wood oils:

There are two types of oils – drying oils and non-drying oils. In my opinion, drying oils are the only valid finishing oils. They start out as liquids, but they harden into a solid film. For me, that’s the definition of a finish.

Non-drying oils are usually vegetable (peanut, olive, corn, coconut, rapeseed) or mineral oils obtained from petroleum. Orange and lemon oil, typically mineral oil with added citrus scent, also belong to this group.

These do not form a film, but remain moist for an indefinite period of time. They can get rid of anything that comes into contact with the oiled wood and they will soon be washed off with soap and water.

The application of vegetable or mineral oil to wood is therefore not a final treatment, but a wood treatment, and a temporary one.

Wood oil varnish

If oil contains only one ingredient, the varnish contains resin and solvent. For example, traditional spar varnish contains tung oil, phenolic resin and solvent spirit or naphtha. The most common varnish resins, alkyd and polyurethane, can be produced by chemical modification of linseed oil.

Despite their name, Danish oil and teak oil are not oils, but thin lacquers. Manufacturers call them “oil” because they are to be used just like oil. The truth is that you can apply any oil varnish in the same way as pure oil: Flood it, wipe it all off and repeat the process with one coat per day until you get the desired build.

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Wooden worktops have recently become increasingly popular. They tempt designers and future kitchen users with their warmth and naturalness. Wood always adds cosiness to interiors, is pleasant to the touch and natural. It is a universal material and can be used in various styles. But how does the use of such a table top look like in terms of functionality? What are the main differences in the use of oiled and varnished wood? In the following article we will try to answer that and share a little bit of our technical knowledge in this aspect.  Varnished wooden surfaces have accompanied us for years. We have become accustomed to glossy wood and the opinion that varnish is the most durable method of wood impregnation, which is not entirely true. Lacquer creates a hard coating on the surface and is more resistant to mechanical damage, but it is difficult to renew (it requires an intervention on the whole surface), peels off and is flammable.  Oil, on the other hand, is an ecological product made of natural resins and waxes, it extracts and emphasizes the individual characteristics of wood, absorbs into the wood, protecting it also deep inside, and copes well with high temperatures. Oiled surfaces such as wooden kitchen worktops or dining tables can be used intensively. However, you have to be patient at the beginning and maintain them more often, then you can be sure of full impregnation. The advantage of this technique is also the fact that if a scratch, stain or discolouration occurs during use, it can be repaired in spots and by yourself. All you need is a piece of sandpaper and oiling the tabletop again. Such a wooden worktop can serve in good condition for many years.      Oil vs varnish – technical aspects     Pure wood oils:  There are two types of oils - drying oils and non-drying oils. In my opinion, drying oils are the only valid finishing oils. They start out as liquids, but they harden into a solid film. For me, that's the definition of a finish.   Non-drying oils are usually vegetable (peanut, olive, corn, coconut, rapeseed) or mineral oils obtained from petroleum. Orange and lemon oil, typically mineral oil with added citrus scent, also belong to this group.  These do not form a film, but remain moist for an indefinite period of time. They can get rid of anything that comes into contact with the oiled wood and they will soon be washed off with soap and water.  The application of vegetable or mineral oil to wood is therefore not a final treatment, but a wood treatment, and a temporary one.   Wood oil varnish   If oil contains only one ingredient, the varnish contains resin and solvent. For example, traditional spar varnish contains tung oil, phenolic resin and solvent spirit or naphtha. The most common varnish resins, alkyd and polyurethane, can be produced by chemical modification of linseed oil.  Despite their name, Danish oil and teak oil are not oils, but thin lacquers. Manufacturers call them

2_Solid wood oak table

Pictures above: Hard Wax oil finish (clear matt) on Måne White Round Table

Pictures above: Structured spruce wood with light natural oil finish on Virkerå Coffee Table

olid wood oak table

olid wood oak table

Pictures above: Bleached solid oak table top with natural oil finish on Basic FEM Table

In case of any further questions do not hesitate to contact us.

Artur Bieńko
SFD Furniture Design

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