Teak Oil vs Tung Oil: Understanding the Differences for Wood Finishing

With near-endless varieties of wood finishing oils out there, it can be pretty confusing when trying to choose the right one for your project.

Even worse, picking the wrong one could have permanent, negative effects!

If you’re in this tricky situation, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll discuss two of the most popular types of wood finishing oils: Teak oil and tung oil. 

Specifically, we’ll cover:

  • What teak and tung oil is
  • How they compare
  • When you should use each type of oil. 

Let’s get straight into it!

What is Tung Oil?

Sometimes known as China Wood oil, this oil has been used in finishing for thousands of years. 

Tung oil is derived from the seed of tung tree nuts. Pure tung oil is completely natural, with no artificial additives or extras. This makes it extra appealing if you want a non-toxic option for sealing your wood.

Unlike many other oils, tung oil doesn’t penetrate deeply into the wood grains. Instead, it sits on top, forming a hard shell over the surface.

What is Teak Oil?

Apply teak oil on the boards of a wooden table to protect it fro

Teak oil isn’t quite as straightforward.

Instead of being a derivative of a single source, it’s a combination of many different substances. Generally, it contains linseed oil, tung oil, mineral spirits, petroleum, and varnish.

This ingredient list can vary greatly depending on the manufacturer.

All of these additives are there to impact the finish in some way. They create an incredibly strong, durable finish that forms an extremely hard shell around the wood.

Which is Better and Why: Teak Oil or Tung Oil?

Water resistant Tung oil
Teak OilTung Oil
CompositionMix of linseed oil, tung oil, mineral spirits, petroleum, and varnishDerived from the seed of tung tree nuts; completely natural
Protective QualityStronger, provides UV and water protectionLess durable, more flexible in high humidity
VersatilityWorks well with a variety of woods, has problems with non-porous woodHighly versatile, food safe, works on almost any wood density
DiscolorationTends to yellow or darken over time, permanent impact on wood colorCreates a clear finish, doesn’t change color with age, can be sanded off
Drying TimeFaster drying (5 hours to touch, 12 hours to cure)Slower drying (24 hours to touch, 3 days to cure)
StorageLonger storage lifeForms a film and clumps in storage; shorter storage life
Ease of Use3-4 coats needed with 10-minute wait, easier to apply5-6 coats needed with 3-hour wait, longer process
ToxicityContains caustic chemicals, not food safeNon-toxic, food safe
Water-ResistanceLess water-resistant due to more gaps in compositionMore water-resistant, longer-lasting without recoating
Food SafetyNoYes
UV ProtectionYesNo
Suitable for Teak WoodYesYes
Best for Outdoor FurnitureYesNo
Coats Required2 to 45 to 6
WaterproofingMore water-resistant, but not completely waterproofProvides more water resistance, not completely waterproof

Let’s break down the features of these oils, and decide which wins in each category:

Price: Tie

This is an easy one: it’s a tie!

Both oils cost about the same. Generally, you can expect to pay about $20 for 16 ounces of teak and tung oil.

Protective Quality: Teak Oil

From here, we start getting into the really juicy details.

Both oils provide a level of protection – obviously, that’s why you apply a finish to wood. However, the protection provided isn’t equal.

Teak is an excellent choice for outdoor furniture because it provides both UV and water protection. It can easily withstand rain, snow, sun, or pretty much anything else mother nature can throw at it.

When it dries, teak oil forms an incredibly hard shell that keeps pretty much everything out. This is largely because of all those extra polymers and other additives that teak oil contains, rather than being a pure, natural oil.

On the other hand, tung oil is less durable. It doesn’t penetrate very far into the wood, instead forming a thin shell across the surface. This means it tends to be weaker and can be scratched more easily.

It’s especially vulnerable to heavy impacts or physical damage. Tung oil will still protect your wood from most external factors, but won’t last as long without a recoat and may struggle against very strong impacts. 

However, it should be noted that tung oil is more flexible. This makes it a better choice in high-humidity environments where wood tends to expand or flex. 

Unlike very brittle teak oil which cracks or splits when wood changes shape too much, tung oil will bend alongside it.

Versatility: Tung Oil

Thanks to its pure, natural qualities, tung is a very versatile finishing oil.

It’s food safe, so it can be used on any project without fear of being hazardous. It also works on almost any wood density. This is because it doesn’t have to penetrate into the wood grains to do its job.

On the other hand, teak oil is great for a variety of woods – though it has some issues with non-porous wood where it can’t penetrate into the wood fibers easily.

It can be used indoors, outdoors, and in high-traffic areas with no concerns for durability.

Discoloration: Tung Oil

The main disadvantage of teak oil is its tendency to discolor over time. After a while, you’ll notice a teak finish will gain a distinctly yellow hue. This can alter the overall hue of the wood, which can be a dealbreaker in some projects.

In some conditions, teak may become very dark – especially if mold or mildew gets into the oils within the finish. 

It should also be noted that because teak oil soaks very deeply into the wood, it cannot be completely removed. Its impact on the color of the wood is permanent, even if you sand off the surface finish.

On the other hand, tung oil creates a clear finish that shouldn’t impact the color of the wood in any significant way.

It tends to slightly darken the original color when first applied, emphasizing the grain, but once it cures it shouldn’t change color as it ages. 

Additionally, because it sits in a thin layer on the surface, tung oil can be completely removed from the wood by sanding.

Drying Time: Teak Oil

Teak oil dries much, much faster than tung oil. When you first apply teak, you can expect to wait about five hours for it to be dry to the touch, and about 12 before it’s completely cured.

In contrast, tung oil takes around 24 hours to be dry to the touch and 3 days or more to be completely cured. This can be a major pain if you’re trying to work quickly.

Storage: Teak Oil

Another major loss for tung oil: the ability to be stored.

If you leave tung oil in storage for an extended period, you may find it gets a film over its surface with thick, pasty clumps on the sides of the container. At this point, it’s ruined and won’t cure anymore.

In contrast, teak can be stored for a very long time before becoming unusable.

Ease of Use: Teak Oil

This one’s a closer battle, but ultimately teak comes out on top.

Both can be easily brushed on or applied with a lint-free rag – a simple and easy process even if you don’t have much experience.

However, teak wins when you reach the second coat. Teak oil will need around 3 or 4 coats to reach a good final finish. You only need to wait about ten minutes between each coat, so you can achieve this pretty quickly.

In contrast, tung oil requires 5 or 6 coats for the same level of finish. Plus, you have to wait around 3 hours between each coat – easily becoming an all-day process.

Toxicity: Tung Oil

Tung oil is pretty much non-toxic (though we don’t recommend ingesting it outright!).

It’s food safe once cured and can be used on objects like cutting boards or cooking spoons without any concerns. As you’re working with it, fumes are still a concern but they tend to be less severe than teak oil.

Teak oil can contain pretty caustic chemicals depending on its manufacturer. It’s not food safe, and can’t be used in kitchens.

Water-Resistance: Tung Oil

Because it’s a natural oil consisting only of one element, teak oil has very compact particles. This makes it hard for moisture to slip through and reach the wood underneath.

In contrast, teak oil is a mixture of many different types of particles. As such, it has more gaps. This means water is able to slip through and impact the wood more easily.

Both will do a fine enough job of protecting wood, but tung oil will have longer-lasting water resistance without needing another coat.

What is Tung Oil

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can You Use Tung Oil on Teak Furniture?

Yes! Tung oil is a commonly used option for teak wood, and it won’t negatively impact teak wood in any way if used properly.

Tung oil is an excellent option when you don’t want to impact the color of your furniture too much. This is because it won’t discolor the wood, instead creating a clear finish.

Is Tung Oil Food Safe?

Yes, tung oil is completely food safe as long as it has cured completely. Generally, this takes about 3 days from when it’s first applied.

Is Teak Oil Food Safe?

No, teak oil is not food safe and shouldn’t be used on any wood items that will come into contact with food. 

It contains toxic chemicals like turpentine and varnish that can leach into food.

How Long Does Tung Oil Last?

Tung oil should be reapplied around every six months if you want to keep your finished wood in good condition.

What is the Best Oil for Teak Wood?

For indoor teak furniture, Danish oil, tung oil, and linseed oil are the best options. They provide great protection against a variety of potentially damaging substances.

For outdoor teak furniture, tung or mineral oil may be a better option to protect against UV rays.

How Many Coats Should I Apply?

You should aim for two to four coats of teak oil to fully finish your wood surface. These can be applied every few minutes.

Tung oil will need five or six coats and requires several hours between each coat.

Is Linseed Oil Different Than Tung Oil?

Linseed oil and tung oil are fairly similar, as they’re both derived from seeds. However, they come from different plants.

In terms of use, they are highly interchangeable – and can even be mixed if you want!

Does Teak Oil Make Wood Waterproof?

Teak oil makes wood more water resistant than if it had no finish at all, but it isn’t completely waterproof. 

It provides some protection from water damage, but if you want to fully waterproof outdoor furniture then Tung or Danish oil may be better options.

Teak Oil vs Tung Oil Conclusion

In the end, the choice between teak or tung oil depends greatly on your specific project.

If you’re finishing a dense wood, tung oil may be better. On the other hand, teak oil works great with porous wood types.

Teak oil works great for outdoor furniture thanks to its UV protection. Plus, the hard finish helps protect against pretty much any weather condition.

Tung oil is a nice option for indoor furniture, where it’s less likely to get wet or damaged. It’s also excellent in humid environments where wood is likely to warp or expand – a situation that may crack a teak finish.

So, which is better? In the end, it depends on what you use it for!

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Barry Gray

Hi, I’m Barry. I’ve loved woodworking and bringing things back to life for more years than I care to remember. I hope my passion for tools comes across loud and clear in everything you read here on The Tool Square.