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How To: Revive Old Wood with Boiled Linseed Oil

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.

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82 thoughts on “How To: Revive Old Wood with Boiled Linseed Oil

  1. It was once actually booked linseed oil. And it worked a million times better. Boiling linseed oil is messy and inconvenient – can even be dangerous – so chemical dryers were devised to ‘improve’ it; speed up the process and make it cheaper to produce ‘ready made’. Unfortunately, that also meant making an inferior product. Know how linseed oil often goes black on a job that gets a decent amount of exposure? That simply doesn’t happen with raw oil that’s been physically boiled.
    Know the globby rubbery mess it can make is it’s put on too think? Likewise a blue moon event or rarer if you use boiler LSO.
    So why wouldn’t you?
    Well, boiling takes ages, is messy, and can be dangerous, as mentioned above. And it can still take ages to cure/dry or *polymerise* – what’s actually happening.
    As a compromise I’ve found adding a pinch of fine, dried and crushed vertisol clay (some impurities in this instance help crystallisation) allow with simply warming the oil before use. A mix with a trace of gum turps too can help.
    But it’s still slower drying than most commercial purchased BLSO.

  2. I have an old tree stump that I want to make into an outdoor fairy house. It’s very dry and beginning to crumble in some spots – will linseed oil work to rehydrate it? It would be very difficult to apply anything with a brush or a rag, would it work to immerse the stump in a tub? I don’t want to apply paint, prefer to have the wood appear natural. I would really appreciate any advice you can give as I’ve searched for just such a tree stump for a long time and I really hate to give up on it!
    Thanks so much!
    MJ

  3. I just purchased an oak wine barrel and want to finish it to make it natural looking. It’s not faded but does have some black scuffs that will have to be sanded. Is boiled linseed oil the best product to use? This will be a table for our outside patio.

  4. Hi… Saw a video about sealing a wine barrel with a BLO and mineral turpentine mix…. Cant get turpentine anymore in California… is there something else I can substitute for the mineral turpentine ? Would mineral spirits work? Thank you!!!

    1. Mineral spirits work to an extent but it doesn’t have some of the goos stuff that Turps has. Check with a company called American Rope and Tar to see if they will ship to you. They have a natural turpentine that is not petroleum based.

  5. A better version of linseed oil is Raw Linseed Oil. It has smaller molecules and penetrates deeper into the wood. Remember that oil doesn’t dry – it cures in the presence of air.
    So you may find the object still sticky if you haven’t given it enough time. My understanding is that people add turpentine (a solvent) to reduce curing time – but this limits the benefit to the wood. Much better is to heat the oils and don’t add anything to.

    1. I am curious about your reply stating heated raw linseed oil does a video very good job of penetrating into wood. What do you recommend for heating safely and to what temp?

      Thanks.

    2. Yes and no. Once upon a time….
      Turps was used as a thinner to aid in penetration. It would, if traditional turps, also help polymerise the oil (gum turps can even set or gel on its own). Ironically if it’s mineral turps, penetration and thinning comes at the cost of drying and sometimes even cracking the wood. Resin or traditional (or gum or pine turps – many names; one original purpose turpentine from non mineral sources) won’t dry the wood but can thin the oil and even help it “dry” more evenly.
      I must admit I’ve never seen good lasting results from purchased blso. By contrast, people simply don’t believe over used lso when i show them my work with raw lso treated with heat, gum turps, and a pinch of vertisol clay dust to help polymerisation. It takes longer but to say the result is better is a monumental understatement.

  6. I found some old wooden bowls from the 1800 to 1900 hundreds and let a friend of mine apply linseed oil and he applied way to much how do I go about getting it out are is there anyway just asking

  7. Hello.
    I have a very old, several hundred years old Asian wooden figure with some remains of lacquer.
    Can I treat it with BLO?

    Thanks,
    Hagen

  8. Hi, thank you for the great information on your site. I have some oak staves from a wine barrel that I would like to apply boiled linseed oil to, and then stencil lettering on using paint. What time of paint could I use so I don’t have to primer first? Thank you!

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