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Tried & True Varnish Oil

Planesaw's picture

Tried & True Varnish Oil (post #153662)

A number of months ago I ran across a 2001 FWW article by Chris Becksvort on Tried & True Varnish Oil.  Thought I would give it a try.  In the middle of testing it, I ran across a July/August 2005 article in FWW by Chris Minick, testing a number of finishes and he ranked Tried & True last of about 12 or more products.

I am not a full time, nor "professional" woodworker.  I do okay cutting, shaping, and assembling wood into decent looking objects.  Like so many others, knowing much about "finishing" is my weakest point.

I realize the answer is probably not an easy thing, nor simple.  Probably all depends on "what I like" etc.  I like the idea of a soft, satin finish.  But, how does one know what is good compared to what?  Is Minick's article a valid comparison of products?  Comparing polyurethane to oil may not be a fair comparison. 

How does one find some information that you can trust to put some reality (beyond all the sales and manufacturer hype) on types of finishes and brands and techniques?

Any wisdom?

Alan - planesaw

pcott's picture

I use it for everything, and (post #153662, reply #1 of 17)

I use it for everything, and love it. Apply it thinly.

Planesaw's picture

pcott, Sounds good.  Please (post #153662, reply #2 of 17)


Sounds good.  Please tell me more.  How do you apply it?  Do you heat it?  Do you add anything to it?  What are the various steps you use?


Alan - planesaw

SteveSchoene's picture

The T&T Varnish Oil is one (post #153662, reply #3 of 17)

The T&T Varnish Oil is one that has generated mixed opinions.  Quite a few folks can't find a way to get it applied thin enough to dry properly.  Others love it.  I think it is a "how you hold your mouth" kind of thing.   It's not something I've used myself. 

Test your finish on scrap, FIRST, or risk having to scrap your finish.

pcott's picture

I apply it to a cloth, and (post #153662, reply #12 of 17)

I apply it to a cloth, and wipe it on thinly. I use very little. I then rub it vigorously until it is dry to touch. Never had a problem with it, and never feel high after using it either.

HowardAcheson's picture

>>>>>  Is Minick's article a (post #153662, reply #4 of 17)

>>>>>  Is Minick's article a valid comparison of products?

That article was roundly criticized when it first came out.  There were lots of issues with it.  It's conclusions, in my opinion, are not valid.

DonStephan's picture

T&T Varnish was very (post #153662, reply #5 of 17)

T&T Varnish was very difficult for me to use.  Eventually I the manuf answered my call for help.  His instruction was to put a couple drops on a clean cloth and rub onto the wood vigorously, working as much as possible out of the cloth and onto the wood beforfe recharging.

I had tried applying it like one does boiled linseed oil - pour a bit on a clean cloth or on the wood, spread across the wood as much as possible, and so on; after the entire surface is coated, wipe with dry paper towels until no more comes off.  After two weeks it still had not dried, and I had to scrub it all off with lacquer thinner and a nylon pad.

If you want to try it, experiment thoroughly on scrap would be my advice.

Chris Becksvoort was able to use it by mixing 1/3 alkyd varnish (P&L, McCloskey Spar, . . .) with 2/3 T&T.  My experience with that mix was that it still needed to be applied extremely thinly in order to dry within a few days.

Planesaw's picture

Don, Yes, I understand (post #153662, reply #6 of 17)


Yes, I understand Chris B mixes a dryer with it to help speed up the drying process.  In my tests, so far, on scrap, I wasn't applying it "that" thin.  I was putting a good bit on a cloth and then rubbing it in, but would have enough to need to use cloth or paper towels to rub off the excess.

Appreciate everyone's input.  More is good.

Alan - planesaw

SteveSchoene's picture

Yes, more info is good, but (post #153662, reply #7 of 17)

Yes, more info is good, but if you choose to try the T&T the motto has to be less is good. 

Test your finish on scrap, FIRST, or risk having to scrap your finish.

Yersmay1's picture

I used Tried and True Oil (post #153662, reply #8 of 17)

I used Tried and True Oil Varnish on a set of cherry doors I made some years ago.  It came out beautifully but it wasn't the easiest thing to accomplish. 

I didn't trust that this stuff would penetrate evenly and I was concerned about uneven sheen and blotching.  So I sanded everything through 800.  I got everthing silky smooth and I more or less burnished the pores closed. 

I smeared it on, not liberally but not thinly either.  I let the oil sit for about 30 or 45 minutes, then I wiped it off with a rag.  Here's where you have to go a little nuts.  You REALLY have to wipe it off.  Vigorously.  With clean rags.  You should try to rub it down so energitically, you try to generate a bit of heat. 

Then you have to come back some hours later and rub it down again because you'll see some spots that have oozed up from the wood.  Another maniacal rub down.  If you have the energy, do this several times during the same day you applied the oil.  Then rub it down (but not add more oil) a few times a day for about three days.  The oil seemed stable at this point, no more tiny puddles... I let the doors sit for about a week just to let the oil dry out.  During this time, I rubbed the doors down maybe just once a day.  Then after the week had passed, I smeared on another coat and repeated the process.  I did this for about four coats.  It took forever and, frankly, it was a pretty painful way to go about putting on a finish.  But all the rubbing and the intervening time to let the oil dry helped this stuff build from coat to coat.  And it came out really well.  The linseed oil brought out the most beautiful color of the cherry.  And the linseed oil darkens over time as does the cherry, so it gets better and better. 

The upside -- it's an oil finish, it doesn't create a film.  But unlike most oil finishes, this built to a really nice glowing sheen. 

RMillard's picture

How did the sheen hold up (post #153662, reply #9 of 17)


I used the varnish oil on a William and Mary reproduction, and followed a similar approach, although I put it on very thin and I think I heated it once (it has been 9 years), The results were good, but no better than I could have got with a couple of carefully brushed on coats of shellac and a good rubout, which would have taken all of 2-3 days.

I will admit, that I dislike oil finishes, because they tend to oxidize rather quickly and loose that beautiful soft sheen of a newly applied finish. I wondered how long ago you finished the project and how you feel the sheen has held up. 


Rob Millard

Yersmay1's picture

RMillard, It's hard to (post #153662, reply #10 of 17)


It's hard to remember exactly but I think I finished the doors about 7 years ago.  The finish has held up nicely.  It still has a glow.  If I look really closely I can see a few small areas where the sheen has dulled slightly, but overall it's pretty good.  It might be worth mentioning that these are closet doors in a bedroom, which presents 'light duty' for any finish.  I put good sized cast bronze handles (Rocky Mountain Hardware) so the doors are rarely even touched.  But just in terms of oxidation, it appears to have aged nicely. 

RMillard's picture

I thought it might hold up better than standard linseed oil (post #153662, reply #11 of 17)


I thought the sheen might hold up better than hardware store linseed oil. 7 years is a good test. Thanks for the information.

Rob Millard

jjjjj's picture

Tried and true varnish oil (post #153662, reply #13 of 17)

I used this on my workbench 2 years ago, and am pleased with the result, but less pleased with the effort required.  I would not apply it again in the summer, as I think the drying time is (more than usually) dependent on humidity.  It did requite a wipe down for several anxious days.  It was finally dry to the touch after about 7 days.  

swenson's picture

T & T is all I ever use on (post #153662, reply #14 of 17)

T & T is all I ever use on cherry.  I have used it on beds, tables, cradles.  I have used it warmed and at room temp.  At one time I used to warm a can of sand in the oven and set the base of the T & T on it to keep warm.  I stopped doing that when I found grit on my application cloth.  I have been able to do a new coat every 24 hours by putting on very thin coats, rubbing it down after one hour and then burnishing it with cloth or 0000 steel wool after 24 hours.  I had problems when I was dipping the cloth pad into the can... too much T & T.  I started dipping a popsicle stick in the finish and smearing it on the pad and that worked much better.  Get a good light on the surface of the wood and look at your progress at an angle.  There are times you are sure you are not putting any finish down, but at the right angle to the light you will see that you are.  Thin coats is the answer, you can't make them too thin.  Rubbing down is vital, you can't rub too much or too hard.  Rub it 'till it's dry.  Drag a clean cloth across the surface to see if it catches on any non dry sections.  Rub some more.  Burnish the next day with a good hard rubdown.  If using 0000 on the very last coat it will make more of a matt finish than cloth.  I love this stuff.

pcott's picture

+1 on all of the above. I (post #153662, reply #15 of 17)

+1 on all of the above. I don't even burnish with steel wool, and I still get a great finish. I will try it tho'

DonStephan's picture

Glad you found a way to use (post #153662, reply #16 of 17)

Glad you found a way to use T&T.  My only question would be is it worth all the work?  It involves minimal solvents during application, but I don't think the build is any thicker than multiple coats of Danish oil.  The latter goes on far more quickly, with little chance for problems, but does involve mineral spirit evaporation.

swenson's picture

It's not all that much work.  (post #153662, reply #17 of 17)

It's not all that much work.  Finishing is my least favorite part of woodworking so I'm happy to take the easy route, but I just like the way the wood looks and feels with T&T.  Five hours ago I finished wiping down the first coat of T&T on a cherry fireplace mantle I made for my wife.  The first wipedown left very very little finish on the white terry cloth, just a slight discoloration.  I'll just let it sit for 24 hours, burnish it, and put on another coat.  All the work and trouble others seem to be having comes from putting on too much to begin with.  Even when you know better the tendancy is to overload the pad so you don't have to keep adding more and you can cover a larger section of wood.  Don't do it.  Work on small patches at a time.  I have used Bartleys, oil and terps, Watco and water based finishes and will in the future, but for cherry and for the look I like in my house I mostly have switched to T&T.