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Danish Oil vs. Tung Oil Finish vs. Tru-Oil: A neck finish report

Discussion in 'Finely Finished' started by dilbone, Jun 30, 2011.

  1. dilbone

    dilbone Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 4, 2008
    Bowling Green, Ohio
    Well I've been trying to find the best neck finish over the past year. I had used deft lacquer before on a neck and hated it so I was out to find a nice finish that wouldn't have that "sicky" feel to it. I've read a lot of info about each of these finishes, but couldn't really find any one source that had a comprehensive comparison of all three. Here goes...
    Last June I built my first neck, so it was time to experiment. I had read several threads about the three finishes I mentioned above and decided that Danish Oil sounded the best for me to give me a finish but still maintain the raw wood's satin feel.

    Danish Oil: can be applied with a little patch of cloth. I applied it so the wood looked wet, let it hang for 10 or 15 minutes, then wiped it off and let it dry. I repeated a couple of times a day for a few days. It never really built much of a finish...and it's not supposed to. They say it is absorbed into the wood and hardens while there.
    Impressions-I really liked the way it felt, but leaves the neck feeling very "raw" like with almost no finish similar to some of the Squier necks I've played... so if you like that go with Danish Oil.

    My next neck I did for the 2011 Build Challenge. Although I liked the Danish Oil on my first neck I was looking for something that would give me a bit more of a film finish. After much more reading here on the forum it sounded like the other 2 finishes would server that purpose. I wanted Tru-Oil but couldn't find it locally so I picked up Minwax Tung Oil Finish by default.

    MW Tung Oil Finish: I applied the same as Danish Oil, but found that it would get sticky and gummy very quickly after applied. If your application cloth isn't sopping wet you can simply wipe down the entire neck so it looks wet and leave it to dry. If your application is much "wetter" you will have to wipe it down right after you apply it. The can says to wait 5 minutes before wipe down, but I found that to be way too long. In most cases by the time you've applied the entire coat the place you started is already too gummy to wipe down. Be prepared to go through some trial and error to figure out a process that works for you. My goal was to get a finish that was nice enough when done that it would require no sanding or polishing in the end. That is what I got...a less than careful application will require some scuffing/buffing most likely.
    Impressions-The finish is a very nice. Definitely a film finish unlike the Danish Oil. I applied 5 coats over a couple of days and it appears almost like a semi-gloss lacquer. The final film thickness is so thin you can still see a bit of grain holding it up to the light. I stopped after 5 coats because it was getting more glossy after each coat. It feels very similar to a neck I finished with rattle can Satin Deft...but it's a hard durable finish. My favorite neck finish at this point.

    Last week I decided to take some more wood off of my first neck(the Danish Oil neck)which was very fat...
    I was in our local sporting goods store that I had previously called to find Tru-Oil but they told me they didn't have it at that time...well low and behold they had 2 of the 3oz. bottles hanging there...I picked one up.

    Tru-Oil: First thing I noticed is that it was much thicker than the Tung Oil Finish and got gummy very quickly. I actually had to strip it once with lacquer thinner it was so bad at first. I ended up taking the advice of several on the forum and just used my fingers to apply it in very thin coats. Despite my attempts to apply in very thin coats it seemed to keep my finger print ridges as it dried especially across the fretboard. It just seemed like it wouldn't flow out and finish smoothly. I put on 5 coats over 2 days and used synthetic steel wool to knock down the gloss and smooth things out. It looked great everywhere but the fretboard. I'm not a fan of trying to level a finish on the fretboard because I guess I just don't have a solid technique or process for it. It proved to be difficult for me to get that done. I ended up using a bit of rubbing compound on it to buff it out some on the back of the neck and it ended up very nice. However, I stripped the Tru-Oil off of the fretboard and started using the Tung Oil to finish it up there.
    Impressions- I just didn't like the wasn't any more difficult to apply than either of the other finishes, but it wasn't a very good "put it on and be done with it" type of finish like the other 2. I probably won't use it again, but if you are looking for an alternative to spraying lacquer this could be it. Building enough coats can easily yield a high gloss finish after buffing it out if that's what you're after.

    Overall: I like Danish Oil, but I would rather have a bit of a film to the finish. Tung Oil Finish seems to accomplish that...very satiny smooth yet protective. In my estimation it is the easiest to deal with if you don't want a high gloss finish on a neck. It looks good with no scuffing or far the easiest finish I've used. It will be my go to neck finish hands down. Tru-Oil builds a film much faster than either of the other 2 and can behave very similarly to lacquer without the spraying IMO. I just have no patience for the tedious job of dealing with the fretboard. Maybe as I've done on this neck Tru-Oil can be used everywhere but the fretboard and then finished out with the Tung-Oil Finish on the FB. Could be another option I suppose.

    I hope my less than technical reviews will be of some use to those wondering which "oil" finish they should choose.
    twowolves likes this.

  2. guitarbuilder

    guitarbuilder Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Mar 30, 2003
    Ontario County
    I used Watco danish oil a lot in the 80's on my pointy peghead necks. Multiple coats will build some as you say, as it has varnish in it, but not as much as like a filmy finish like lacquer. I guess they are like apples and oranges. I think you are the first one I've heard of that didn't like the tru oil.

  3. dilbone

    dilbone Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 4, 2008
    Bowling Green, Ohio
    I know...I was hoping I wouldn't get slammed for it...
    I'm just lazy when it comes to finishes for guitars and have absolutely no patience for working around frets.

    The more I've been thinking about it...I'd like to try Tru-Oil again only cut it some with mineral spirits so it applies more like the Tung Oil Finish...thinner coats/better flow out and therefore less work in the end to clean up the fretboard...
    That just might work...where's that bottle again...

  4. axedaddy

    axedaddy Tele-Afflicted

    Feb 7, 2011
    Winter Haven, FL
    I found that with Tru Oil the best way to get a nice finish for me was to rub it out with 0000 steel wool and the Tru Oil wax. It is combo of mineral spirits and wax that left a very nice finish on my 2011 Build Challenge guitar.

  5. dilbone

    dilbone Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 4, 2008
    Bowling Green, Ohio
    rubbing it out with steel wool or synthetic wool I still have issues around the frets getting a uniform matte finish...

    I did just try one more thing with Tru-Oil to make sure I give it a fair shake...
    I took a small scrap of t-shirt and got it wet with mineral spirits first, then I added a little dab of TO and wiped it across the fretboard. I then wiped it off so as to produce an even thinner coat similar to the Tung Oil Finish. While I was at it I went ahead and wiped down the rest of the neck too. It looks like this might be the best way to apply Tru-Oil for me. That way I don't have to actually cut it in the container.

  6. John Lipfert

    John Lipfert Tele-Meister

    Jun 23, 2005
    I did a neck in tru-oil and also had a very hard time around the frets. It built up super fast in the corner where the fret meets the fretboard and wasn't easy to get flat again. Someone suggested at the time trying the aerosol spray tru-oil instead on the fretboard.

  7. Vizcaster

    Vizcaster Friend of Leo's

    Sep 15, 2007
    Glen Head, NY
    Be careful about cans that say "tung oil." The biggest words on the label are usually the least important thing to know about the type of finish, and Minwax is one of the biggest offenders (incidentally they bought out Watco, discontinued their line of danish oil finish, and re-introduced their own using the name they'd just bought). While it is possible to get pure tung oil, or a tung oil based oil finish, it's more than likely that they're hyping this one ingredient just to distinguish it from less expensive products that use linseed oil. However, it doesn't tell you enough to know if it's a danish oil type wiping finish with little or no resins added, or whether it's a thinned down varnish meant for wiping, or whether it's a varnish which would contain solvent, oil, resin, and additives such as dryers and uv protection. My suspicion is that you were testing three very, very similar wiping varnish preparations. Incidentally I see that the description for Tru-Oil in woodworking catalogs no longer emphasizes the polymerized tung oil ingredient they build their reputation on, and now refers to plain old linseed oil.

  8. bigp7099

    bigp7099 Tele-Holic

    Oct 1, 2010
    Brampton, ON
    I've used Minwax oil based stain on a couple of necks (not the fretboard just the neck) and been very happy with the result. not sticky and not overly slick either, a nice satin finish.

  9. dilbone

    dilbone Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 4, 2008
    Bowling Green, Ohio
    Yes they are very similar...and yes the Tung Oil Finish from Minwax contains NO Tung Oil...

    I believe all three of those finishes I used were some combination of mineral spirits and boiled linseed oil as the main 2 ingredients...however the amount of mineral spirits makes all the difference in my opinion. The ease of application, ability to build coats, and the smoothness of the coats as they build are directly related to the percentage of those 2 ingredients. What you're after in a final product will be determined by those ratios.
    There are others on here much more knowledgable on the ins and outs of the make-up of these three finishes, but I had yet to see one person talk about the advantages/disadvantages of all three...that's why I posted my experiences with them.

  10. JCBurke59

    JCBurke59 Tele-Holic

    Jan 7, 2009
    Long Island, NY
    I really like Tru-Oil and have found that 'technique' has a lot to do with how well things turn out (like most everything, I guess).

    My suggestion to getting 'thin' coats is to apply a very small amount with your finger tips. I put a couple of drops in a clean (duh) ashtray and just wet the tips of my fingers. Spread it around a small area of the neck - a few square inches or so - and keep rubbing as if you're trying to take it back off again. Ask yourself, 'could this coat be any thinner?', and if the answer is 'yes', keep rubbing. You should feel a little heat building from the friction of the process.

    The objective is not to use your fingers to even out a slightly wet coat, but rather to keep spreading the finish until it can't be moved around any more - it will feel slightly tacky or almost dry. When applied this way, it dries quickly and there isn't enough Tru-Oil on there to get gummy or build up unevenly. After a few of these ultra thin coats, a gloss will begin to develop and you can manage your matte/satin/gloss finish from there.

    On maple fingerboards I use the same basic technique, except I use a paper coffee filter to apply the finish and get right up against the frets to eliminate any 'pooling' of the Tru-Oil. This technique was recommended by a member of the ReRanch forum and worked very well for me.

    I know others have their own variations on how to apply it, but this has worked well for me. It seems that there are several ways to a successful result, it's just a matter of finding what works for you. For me, it was the ultra-thin coat thing.

  11. R. Stratenstein

    R. Stratenstein Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Aug 3, 2010
    Loganville, Ga.
    I know some think it's lousy technique, but using real Q-Tip brand q-tips, (*the cotton is better stuck to the stick and doesn't seem to pull off like cheap swabs.) I pick up just a tiny amount of Tru Oil on the cotton end, and carefully paint it between frets to avoid flowing it into the slots. I then immediately wipe off excess with a blue Scott Towel shop towel (the ones that come on a roll) being careful to use a new section of the towel each time. About 3 coats is all it takes, and to everyone's surprise, including mine, I have not found any fugitive cotton fibers or other crud in the finish.

    BTW, I recall reading quite a while ago, when I first used Tru-Oil, that using the fingers to apply, and rubbing briskly to generate heat, is a throw-back to the use of boiled linseed oil, which can benefit (faster drying) from a little heat. Tru-Oil has metallic hardeners added, and as dilbone notes, dries plenty fast on its own, in almost every condition. Nothing wrong with finger application, or rubbing briskly, for that matter, but it isn't necessary to enhance drying. I started out using my fingers, but found TO was hard to remove, even with Goop, Fast Orange, and a variety of other hand cleaners. I started using gun patches because they were the right size and handy (along with a nitrile glove), and that still works well for me. I do know a lot of guys whose craftsmanship I admire (Colt W. Knight, for instance) do use their fingers--to each his own. And usually, your fingers won't spontaneously combust like an old oily rag will.
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2011

  12. R. Stratenstein

    R. Stratenstein Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

    Aug 3, 2010
    Loganville, Ga.
    Sorry, eliminate duplicate post.

  13. dilbone

    dilbone Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 4, 2008
    Bowling Green, Ohio
    To add a little info to my initial post.

    It looks like applying some thinned Tru-Oil(with mineral spirits)as I mentioned above is producing a very nice result that needs no attention once dry. Easy to apply and no additional work necessary unless you want either high gloss or matte finish. As it is now, the Tru-Oil is definitely more glossy than the Minwax Tung Oil Finish.

    So the order of the finishes in terms of both film thickness and gloss from low to high are: Watco Danish Oil, Minwax Tung Oil Finish, Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil.

  14. Vizcaster

    Vizcaster Friend of Leo's

    Sep 15, 2007
    Glen Head, NY
    I'm glad you did.

  15. Colt W. Knight

    Colt W. Knight Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Jan 21, 2007
    Tucson, AZ
    You only have lousy technique if you get lousy results.

    If it works, it works!

  16. trev333

    trev333 Telefied Ad Free Member

    I use the danish oil ...

    I hang the neck and pour a tablespoon or more of oil into my palm like liquid soap and massage it into the wood with both hands from top to bottom smoothing as you go.. a couple of times if need be, to get even coverage and sheen.
    the curve between thumb and forefinger slides nicely down the back of the neck without leaving any drag marks.. holding the base with the other finger tips for resistance...

    let it sit in the sun for half to an hour,or overnight, and lightly buff/wipe it down with a lint free cloth... to get a shine...
    do that for a few days and build up thin coats... beautiful...

    stuff the rags and q tips for application... get your hands into it.. best tools you have... lint free too...

  17. crazydave911

    crazydave911 Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 23, 2010
    East Tennessee
    As you are finding out, what you use, and where you use it depends heavily on what materials (wood species) your using as well as what your going for (satin, matte, or gloss) and who your building it for :)
    I'll give you an example, in my 2011 challenge build I used a Paduak fretboard and a very ordinary straight-grained maple for the neck. Now if I had been doing this purely for me, I'd have used lemon oil on the fretboard (Paduak is naturally oily on it's own and ages over time to a dark brown patina), but since I was building it for me and a judging audience, I rubbed in Natural tint Danish oil (Watco) to darken it quickly and lightly buffed it to a satin finish.
    Same goes for the neck, left to what I really like to play, I'd have used Tru Oil thinned to get a smooth satin finish. Once again, what I like was just one consideration, and I was using a very ordinary piece of maple. In this case I used Tru Oil uncut and with heavy buffing after the 3rd coat to get a smooth glossy finish. Let's face it, these things take better pictures :).
    Change the situation, then you change what you'd use. Let's say I was building (for me) a Les Paul Jr., mahogany set neck, mahogany body. I'd use a rosewood fretboard (lemon oil only), on the neck, one coat of medium walnut Watco Danish oil for tint, then thinned Tru Oil buffed to a smooth satin finish. On the body I'd use red aniline dye to get a red tinge then finish off with uncut Tru Oil and buffed for a semi-gloss finish.
    As you can see, it can be as simple or as complicated as you'd like, just depending what your after and who it's for :lol:. Sorry so long but I'm kinda long winded :lol: Have a good one my friend!


  18. dilbone

    dilbone Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 4, 2008
    Bowling Green, Ohio
    Hey Dave,

    That's what I was hoping to show through this process is that these 3 different finishes are VERY different and can achieve very different results. Much of what I've heard about these three finishes is that they're all "just varnish and oil mixes"....but they have specific characteristics based on their compositions.

  19. SixShooter

    SixShooter Friend of Leo's

    Sep 20, 2008
    Thanks for posting this study. This is good information.

    Do the directions call for wiping it off after a few minutes? Seems like this technique could be the reason the finish didn't build up much.

  20. OpenG Capo4

    OpenG Capo4 Friend of Leo's

    Aug 4, 2010
    Athens, GA
    One thing about Danish that helps is to rub it into the pores of the wood with 600 grit sandpaper. The wood will literally drink it up.

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