How to use linseed oil

Written by lewis j. fagleman
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How to use linseed oil
Linseed oil-soaked rags can spontaneously combust if stored incorrectly. (antique desk image by Leticia Wilson from

Linseed oil, made from pressed flax seeds, has a number of uses around the home. Most commonly it is used for providing a shiny finish to wood, but unlike a varnish soaks into the wood and so does not sit on the surface providing a glossy coating. It can also be used for oil painting and as a nutritional supplement due to its high levels of omega-3. When used on wood, it protects against dints and scratches, however provides little waterproofing and is highly flammable.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Linseed oil
  • Fine glasspaper
  • Water
  • 2 soft cloths

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  1. 1

    Dampen the surface with a wet cloth if the timber is new and previously untreated. This will raise the short fibres on the surface. However, it is not necessary for antique wood or surfaces that have already been treated.

  2. 2

    Remove any previous finish from the wood with a fine grade glasspaper. This will ensure no current scratches or marks remain on the wood and that the best quality finish is achieved.

  3. 3

    Check for dents on the surface of the wood. They may be removed by covering with wet blotting paper and applying a hot iron.

  4. 4

    Using a soft brush apply the linseed oil generously. Where possible, you should make sure your brush strokes run off the edges of the surface, and when working on round surfaces use a continuous circular motion.

  5. 5

    Allow the oil to soak in for 30 minutes before wiping off any excess with a soft cloth.

  6. 6

    Rub the dried surface with a clean, soft cloth for 10 to 15 minutes. For multiple coats, the time spent rubbing should be gradually increased after each layer.

  7. 7

    Repeat the process in 24 hours if necessary. For antique furniture, five or six layers should suffice. But this depends on the level of gloss required and how long is spent rubbing in-between layers.

Tips and warnings

  • To make an excellent furniture polish, mix two parts of linseed oil with one part of turpentine.
  • Linseed oil is extremely flammable and can spontaneously combust. It cools by oxidation, a process which produces large amounts of heat, and cloths or rags must be immersed in water after use and stored damp at room temperature to prevent combustion.

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