Clear Finish for Paneling
The appeal of danish oil
We've stripped the varnish off some walnut-veneer wall paneling in our house. Now we're wondering what finish we should use. Varnish? Polyurethane? Tung oil?
— Ed Zempel, Peoria, IL
Norm Abram replies: You've already done the hardest part of the project — stripping off the old finish — so the rest of the job should be quite satisfying. Any of those finishes would work, and all of them would protect the wood.
Varnish and polyurethane form a film, which offers some protection and gloss, but it is relatively hard to fix the finish if it ever gets scratched or dinged. Tung oil penetrates almost completely into the wood, deepening its color, but it doesn't resist scratches, water, or sunlight.
The finish I prefer is a so-called Danish oil finish. It's actually a very thin varnish that's easy to apply — you just wipe or brush it on and wipe it off — and it leaves a very thin coat that does a nice job of protecting indoor woodwork. And if the finish ever starts to fade or you just want to freshen it up, you won't have to sand the old finish off. Just clean the surface and wipe on a new coat. What I like most about Danish oil is the look: I think it makes wood appear more natural than varnish or poly. All the mahogany windows in my family room are finished with it.