Close up of carved teak table renewed with tung oil.

Reviving Wood: how to use teak oil

Before replacing worn-looking teak furniture, give refinishing it a try! Refinishing teak is easy and satisfying.

Teak was a popular wood in the late 20th century and was used for everything from furniture to cabinetry to decking. Sadly its popularity caused the species to become endangered, and the only times you will see new teak wood items to day is with reclaimed wood. So if you do have teak in your home, refinishing it rather then replacing it is the best option.

Refinishing might sound intimidating, but fear not! Teak is actually easy to refinish, which is one of the main reasons it was so popular. Whether your wood is faded and grey, has water stains or damaged areas from leaky plant pots, or an exuberant toddler has added some bespoke crayon details, you do not need to be a professional to refinish teak.

Choosing the right oil

As we discussed last week, there a number of different products for oiling teak. The primary oils used are tung and linseed. Linseed will be either raw or boiled. Avoid Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO), which has additives that can stain the wood.

Products labeled teak oil may be pure oils, or oils that are mixed with mineral spirits and/or varnishes.

Pure oils (tung or linseed) will take longer to cure, and so many mixed products have added drying agents. However, the pure oils can be preferable if you can wait for them to cure. If you have raw linseed oil, you can mix it with an equal part of mineral spirits to make your own “teak oil.”

Avoid using mixed products that include varnishes, since that can complicate future care and stain your wood.

4 easy steps to make your teak look new

1. Test

I cannot stress enough that if you have not used teak oil before test it on an inconspicuous area.

You do not need to test every single time you refinish, but if it is the first time you are refinishing a particular piece – especially if it is the first time you have ever used teak oil – then try it out first. The colour WILL be affected. Teak oil darkens and adds a bit of a shine.

2. Sand.

Always sand in the same direction as the grain.

  • Sand more on areas that are damaged, less on areas that are not.
  • If your wood just needs a refresh, sand gently.
  • For areas with crayon, gently but firmly sand until the crayon has disappeared. Take your time on damaged areas, starting out gently and adding more pressure as you get a feel for it.

3. Clean with tack cloth

This is a mildly sticky cheese cloth that can be purchased at a local hardware or paint store. Get the bulk of the dust from sanding off with a dry cloth, then use the tack cloth to get all the fine stubborn bits. Rub gently and dab into awkward crevices. Don’t scrub.

4. Read and follow the specific instructions on the can

Since there are different products for refinishing teak, the details of the steps can vary.

Generally the steps are:

  1. brush or rub on a liberal amount
  2. let it soak for about 15 or 20 minutes
  3. wipe off the excess with a clean dry cloth
  4. let dry overnight
  5. repeat until desired finish is attained

Since the details can vary depending of the brand and specific type of oil, it is really important that you know what your can says.

In my experience I’ve only needed two to three coats, depending on the absorption and damage.

Troubleshooting

  • You cannot stain or oil wood that has a clear coat of varnish on it. If your wood has a hard shiny finish you must remove it 100% before refinishing or whatever product you use will not absorb evenly. Often sanding is not enough and you will have to use a paint stripper product.
  • If your oil is not drying in the suggested time: humidity and temperature play a big part in the oil dry times, and if it is staying sticky, give it more time. I had a wood finishing project using a water based IKEA oil finish, I didn’t wipe enough of the product off and it took 5 extra days to dry. When I used teak oil on my Indian side tables the second coat took an extra day to dry.
  • You have put on one coat and as its drying it looks unevenly shiny. Don’t touch it – it may look uneven while it drys at different rates.
  • I touched it while it was still wet and now there is a mark. Once it is fully dry put on another coat – if it is really noticeable, lightly and carefully sand the area first. Resist the urge to “test” how dry it is before the time recommended for re-coating. Even if it says after a certain time it is “dry to the touch” let it sit overnight before moving it. In this scenario, patience is the name of the game.
  • It looks uneven after it has dried overnight. It just needs another coat. When it is dry and looks even, you are finished.
  • Pay attention to the whole piece – if you are refinishing a table top make sure you check that you are not dripping oil down the legs. Teak oil is very very forgiving, however it does change the colour and the shine of the wood so if that happens you may just need to oil the part that was dripped on.

Questions? Tips?

If you’ve got a question about reviving your teak, let us know. If you give it a try, show us your before and after pics!

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