How To: Revive Old Wood w/ Boiled Linseed Oil

By Scott Sidler September 19, 2016

how to revive old wood with boiled linseed oilWood is an extraordinary building material that can last hundreds of years, especially old-growth wood, when given a little care. Just like any material when exposed to the elements it can slowly degrade. But you can bring old wood back to life by using boiled linseed oil and prepare it for a few more decades of service life.

Don’t let grey, weathered wood convince you to replace it when all it needs is a little TLC. Other than rot or physical damage boiled linseed oil is a great treatment for old dried out wood. It also makes a fantastic pre-treatment before painting to extend the life of your paint job.

 

What Is Boiled Linseed Oil?

No it’s not actually linseed oil that has been boiled. Linseed oil, also known as flaxseed oil, is a colorless to yellowish oil obtained from the dried, ripened seeds of the flax plant. The oil is obtained by pressing the seeds to withdraw the oil. Linseed oil is a very slow drying oil and so to make it more readily useable some guys in lab coats mixed a combination of raw linseed oil, stand oil (linseed oil that has been heated to near 300 °C for a few days in the complete absence of air), and metallic dryers to create a product that behaves much the same way but dries before the cows come home.

 

How To Revive Old Wood

UV rays break down the fibers in wood and after enough exposure wood begins to turn grey from the sun’s effects. Paint and other coatings won’t adhere well to this grey wood, so it’s important to treat the wood before trying to paint again. Follow these few simple steps to revive that old wood and get it ready for some fresh paint or varnish.

1. Sand Lightly

Using something like 120-grit sandpaper make sure there isn’t any dirt or loose wood fibers lingering. Sanding also helps open up the pores of the wood to prepare it for the oil. Wipe off the dust and you’re ready for oil.

2. Apply Oil

Mix up a 50/50 solution of boiled linseed oil and turpentine. Liberally apply the mixture to the wood using a cotton rag. You can brush it on if you’d like as well but I prefer a rag. Make sure you apply a good amount to the surface, not just a light coat. The oil will penetrate the wood and soak in quickly. If the surface is still shiny after a couple minutes, wipe off the excess and set your rag out to dry.

Read this post about how to safely deal with rags soaked in boiled linseed oil because if not handled properly they can spontaneously combust!

Let the oil dry for at least 24 hrs. but 48 hrs is even better. Don’t put a second coat on because with extra coats the oil can build up on the surface and create adhesion problems with your paint. One coat is more than sufficient.

3. Prime & Paint

Using a good oil-based primer cover the bare wood after the oil is cured. Using an oil-based primer rather than a latex primer helps create a bond between the boiled linseed oil and oil primer which gives your paint job an extraordinary bond. Latex primers are water based and don’t work as well with this system. You can finish with a latex finish paint on top of the oil-based primer, but stay away from a latex primer in this situation.

 

Boiled Linseed Oil as a Finish

Not just a pre-treatment, boiled linseed oil works great as a wood finish itself. It won’t give you a super hard and durable finish like polyurethane or varnish, but with enough coats boiled linseed oil will eventually build up a beautiful and protective finish. I’ve used it for years as well as my own custom blends to finish furniture and table tops with great results.

Boiled linseed oil gives a very “close to the wood” finish where you can really feel the wood instead of layers of plastic poly on top. The trick is to add multiple coats over the course of a week or so. Usually giving it about 24 hrs between coats you’ll build up between 3 and 6 coats of oil depending on how thirsty the wood is.

Boiled linseed oil really brings out the deep rich color of the wood and accentuates the grain. Even less attractive woods look pretty decent after being oiled. Finish the project with a coat of wax for even more protection and you’ll have professional looking results.

Here’s some projects I’ve finished with Boiled linseed oil below.

 

14 thoughts on “How To: Revive Old Wood w/ Boiled Linseed Oil”

  1. I mentioned raw linseed oil in an earlier comment, but I would like to bring it up again. Also the importance of the linseed oil being pure. The stuff you can purchase in the store can have lots of things which are actually not good for the wood (or your health) like synthetic dryers . Please see the sight http://www.solventfreepaint.com for the whole story. We have an 1860 farmhouse which was neglected for a very long time. It is so wonderful to see the wood come back to life! The raw oil penetrates deeper in the wood, and we’ve found that there is no problem using epoxy in places which have been oiled. The price of the purified linseed oil may seem steep – but it is a one time expense which save your floor indefinitely. It is also a much healthier option than anything with solvents!

  2. I’m wondering why you don’t mention raw linseed oil, since because of its smaller molecular structure it penetrates farther into the wood.

  3. I have been using a mixture of equal parts BLO, distilled white vinegar, and gum turpentine on all my wood for years. I was taught this recipe by a furniture re-finisher and have had great success with it. The top of the bookcases under windows around my fire place were dry as a bone. The first coat I let sit and then wiped off to get any dirt off. It then took 9 more coats before the wood stopped absorbing the mixture and they look great 5 years later.

  4. 1. I have a 100 year old house with oak paneling that is dried out, would BLO work on refreshing the look of the walls?
    2. Can BLO be applied over old varnish that is in poor shape?

    1. It should work just fine! You’ll always want to do a small test area first but if that turns out the way you want it then I would say go ahead with the rest of the house. For exterior work if it’s not painted boiled linseed oil can have a tendency to mildew in wet and humid areas so check that out first.

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