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Varnish versus oil

A brief look at the benefits of using oil instead of varnish to protect your woodwork

Protecting wooden surfaces from wind, weather and everyday wear has always been a challenge.

Polyurethane coatings

A popular choice today is varnishing since a varnished surface is cheap, easy to apply and is resistant to stains and water. However, even the best varnishes will start to wear, and areas will need to be sanded down and additional coats applied, especially on well-used areas such as wooden floors.

This can present the problem of having to satisfactorily match the existing colour tone. It may prove necessary to sand down the whole area before re-applying another coat of varnish. Another drawback with varnish is that it can crack and peel over time, thus increasing the number of times that you will need to maintain the surface.

The advantages of oil

An oiled wood offers a highly durable surface which resists water, dirt and stains. It is superior to varnishes since when it requires reviving, the required finish is so much easier to attain. A very light sanding followed by a coat of oil and job done. An alternative to sanding is to use a spirit-based cleaner, just rub it gently over the wooden surface before applying the oil.

The choice of oils on the market is huge. Look for oils that will give you a high level of protection and, if possible, ask for examples so that you can see the finished effect. Wax oils are another option for indoor woodwork, they work by holding the wax in a spirit base which only becomes solid when the spirit evaporates. Only one coat is required, and it takes around eight hours for evaporate to occur. It is odour free and avoids the need for hard polishing.

On surfaces where food is either eaten or prepared, e.g. hardwood worktops, remember to choose a protective oil that is suitable for these areas. For exterior use, there are oils on the market which offer protection for a variety of timbers, as well as some UV protection against the elements.