Tru-Oil vs Linseed vs Varnish


March 8, 2011, 03:04 PM
So I'm finally getting around to stripping a couple of mosin nagants and trying to decide how to refinish them. I've never done stock work before but I've been doing a lot of reading on the subject. It looks like boiled linseed can take a long time to dry and you have to use several coats. Tru-oil looks like a nice option even though it will take several coats. At least they dry fairly quickly. I've also seen people talk about various varnishes or home made mixtures that include varnish but I don't really know how well those work.

I'm not worried about maintaining perfect historical accuracy or collector value. These are just going to be range guns and something fun to shoot. I want something that can tolerate being handled and doesn't require a lot of stock maintenance over an over again for the next ten years.

So is Tru-oil my best option? Should I be looking at other options?

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Double Vision
March 8, 2011, 04:08 PM
You might consider pure tung oil.

March 8, 2011, 04:09 PM
You might consider pure tung oil.

I've used it on many stocks and it's a great way to go.

March 8, 2011, 04:11 PM
Tru-oil applied properly is a very good finish IMO. And you don't need a million coats. Boiled linseed oil takes MANY coats. But is nice. Not particularly durable but you can reapply whenever you want easily.

I haven't tried PTO but it is generally highly recommended particularly for 'military type' rifles.

You might also consider simple "wipe on poly". I used Minwax's and it worked fine. Simple polyurethane, easy to apply, looks fine.

Search the "how to do the world's best oil finish" here and read that thread for a lot of good info.


March 8, 2011, 04:13 PM
There's a really good sticky thread in the gunsmithing forum about finishing options.

Personally I like wipe-on varnish, either Minwax "antique oil finish" or Formby's "tung oil finish." Both are wiping varnishes despite the names. Formby's seems a little harder and smoother.

Pure tung oil is good, and can be durable, but it takes 3-7 days per coat to dry. Really. If your finish doesn't take that long, it is not pure tung oil. 99% of the finishes marketed as "tung oil" are not in fact just tung oil, but are some other concoction that sort of looks like tung oil. The only thing that is pure tung oil will be marked as "100% pure tung oil" and say nothing else in the name. Kinda hard to find, check out Woodcraft or Rockler's. It's not a home store item.

I've done some OK work with a polyurethane "spar varnish" (somewhat of a contradiction in terms) but wouldn't recommend it. The Minwax "antique oil finish" or Formby's "tung oil finish" provide a really good balance between ease of use and durability of finish.

March 8, 2011, 04:15 PM
I use a marine grade spar varnish. It is completely water proof and looks great. It dries fast and easy to apply. Use a little naptha to reduce it and a disposable foam brush. It comes in many sheens like flat, semi, and high gloss. I've used them all. If you want a natural look use like two thin coats of the dull finish. For really high end guns I use like 6 coats of gloss, wet sand and looks like glass

March 8, 2011, 04:19 PM
Wipe on poly FYI

March 8, 2011, 05:18 PM
Formby's tung oil finish worked out really well on my Mauser. Dries very fast and filled in the grain after about 10 coats.

March 8, 2011, 05:32 PM
Regardless what others say or claim Linseed Oil Raw or Boiled never dries to a hard finish.

Don't believe it, find an old can where some has dribbled around the spout and has set there for years, it still has a soft gummy surface, just a fact.

I agree with Z-Michigan, either one of the 2 he mentions. Myself I happen to lean to the Minwax "Antique Oil Finish" but thats just a personal opinion.

March 8, 2011, 06:16 PM
Here's my Mosin which I used Tru-Oil on.

It definitely took less time than the BLO I used on my 1903, and came out looking not too bad in my opinion. It's definitely a much harder/slicker coating. Unlike the BLO it doesn't just absorb into the wood, there's actually a clear, hard film on the surface.

March 8, 2011, 07:04 PM
When researching for my own Mosin refinishing project, I discovered the following message board:

The information in the stickies is excellent and helpful, and I verified as much of it as I could third-party.

My 91/30, I used some Behlen dye with tung-oil to finish. I wasn't going for the glossy finish, and while I think I'd do it a bit different next time, I am pleased with the results. Pics don't do it justice, but here's mine (well, my brother's now, but it started as mine :P ):

March 8, 2011, 07:10 PM
I really like Tru-Oil and would not hesitate to use it.

However, 20+ years ago when I bought my first Mosin, I used Formby's wipe on poly. I got it from Walmart. After few coats, it built up and filled in the grain like the finish on a Remington 700 BDL. That gun still looks great. I don't even know it Formby's is still in business and if they are if they still sell the same products. I think the stuff I got came from Walmart. It was in about an 8 ounce squeeze bottle....I also put it on an SKS at the same time.

The poly is much harder than the Tru Oil finish. The poly filled the grain very quickly...fewer coats. It takes a good many coats of Tru-Oil to fill the rain and make the surface glass smooth.

March 8, 2011, 11:05 PM
I have had great success with boiled linseed oil. If you allow enough time between coats and are careful to not over apply, you can avoid any gumminess. After the first few coats, little more than a drop should be needed to cover the whole stock.

I mainly use boiled linseed oil to finish decorative wood pieces/furniture I make. I only used it on my mosin because I had it on hand and have experience with its application. If you intend to do anything with your rifle other than keep it in a display case, I think there are better options available that will take less time and be more durable.

March 8, 2011, 11:06 PM
I am one who'll verify that BLO will dry to a hard finish. I live in Colo, we don't have the humidity like you folks in Tenn., probably why it won't dry. I came into possession of an old Remington model #33 rifle about 4 months ago, the stock was horrid! I used an SOS pad in the deep sink and scrubbed it down, let dry over night, then took 0000 steel wool and buffed the raised hairs of wood down. Then I lightly applied BLO, let it dry, and applied again, until I had 8 coats applied. I let it dry for another 3 days, then took a product called Rotten Stone, used it with BLO to give the stock a satin like finish. This rifle has the best finish I've ever applied to a rifle stock, if you want a shinier finish, take a hunk of doubled burlap sack and buff it out, it will shine forever!

March 9, 2011, 11:43 AM
NONE of my milsurps will ever see varnish or tru-oil. I am also in the Pure Tung or Tung oil finish camp. The tung oil finish vs pure usually has hardener and quick drying agents in it. Who wants a SHINY battle rifle?

March 9, 2011, 11:53 AM
Who wants a SHINY battle rifle?
Nobody. But these won't be battle rifles they'll be range toys:
These are just going to be range guns and something fun to shoot.

Red Cent
March 9, 2011, 12:10 PM
Hold yourself.

March 9, 2011, 12:23 PM
Got a question on the finish choices?
Will oil finishes, however beautiful, will be permeable to humidity?
Will a more humidity resistant finish like spar varnish, polyurethane result in a more stable stock?.

March 9, 2011, 12:50 PM
I've been doing this for a while. And I have a few decades in the marine maintenance world, both as a worker bee and as an engineer writing refinishing specs for shipboard and small boat maintenance. The question asked above is endlessly debated in that world. Nothing looks as good as varnished wood on a yacht. No part of brightwork maintenance even come close in terms of attention needed or skill.

The partial pressures of water vapor vs ambient moisture content of porous material is very hard to overcome. All wood will move at the microscopic level as moisture content changes. Finishes have to either move with the wood or be a complete barrier to moisture changes. Remingtons RKW process, Bownings high gloss finishes are examples of ones that form a complete and effective barrier to moisture movement across the finish. True Oil is one that allows moisture to cross the finish, but stays adhered as the base wood moves with swelling and contraction.

CETOL is the best air dried pseudo varnish out there for durability and adhesion. BUT, it looks off color on some woods. You have to test it on you project to see if you like the results? Polyurethane varnish is a good barrier, but too brittle for a stock that will get banged around in the field - unless there is a lot of prep work. That prep work must include a coat of penetrating epoxy over the bare wood before the first layer of polyurethane varnish.

True-Oil is the easiest to apply and maintain for a field finish that is "varnish like". BLO is the easiest to apply and maintain if you are looking at utility grade only.

So what is the desired finish supposed to do? Look like a Browning/Weatherby high gloss gun stock? If so, you better make a deal with you local big cabinet shop to apply a high gloss "conversion varnish" in a controlled atmosphere. Conversion varnishes are very hard to work with and don't come in 1 quart lots :(

Is it supposed to be a good utility grade finish for an old Winchester - use True-Oil with a slight redning agent :) Is it a Mil-Spec stock? Use the very best BLO you can buy and get used to waiting for curing times :(

March 9, 2011, 01:45 PM
[Double Vision

['You might consider pure tung oil.']


I too am a big aficionado of pure tung oil. Skin up the wood, (if you use the gun, it will happen) just a wiping with pure tung oil on the scrape and problem solved, it will blend in with surrounding finish perfectly.

Tung oil finishes, not so much, they are just a varnish by another name.

For maintaining wood stocks and finishes, IMO, Howard's Feed-N-Wax (beeswax) has no peer. It can be applied to the metal parts at the same time for additional protection, works great on leather slings etc too, have used it for many years:

March 9, 2011, 03:23 PM
Here is how i do my refinish jobs..It takes a little time but well worth it

-When stock is preped and ready Get a can of BLO (boiled linseed oil) and pour a small ammount into a small cup.
- Microwave it until it is very hot
- Apply oil onto a kotex pad...yes a kotex.
- rub over the stock. Then rub with the palm of your hand for a few minutes.
-Wipe stock down with a paper towel and hang up to dry for 24hrs..
- After it has dried for 24hrs lightly hit it with some very fine steel wool..then a tac rag and repeat above steps..After 7 days of doing so let dry for two weeks. After two weeks apply 3 coats of minwax hardwood floor wax...Then enjoy!

March 9, 2011, 06:00 PM
I'm a proffesional painter and if it were me and I've used about every finish out there, I would use 2-3 coats of McCloskys man-O-war spar varnish. get the satin or semi gloss. your stock will be dry enough to use 24 hours after you apply each coat. a little naptha and a sponge brush and you can't make it any simpler. I have done double barreled shotguns that look like glass and I've done military rifles that just look like they just survived all that time in great shape! you can't make it any easier. I've done cabinets in 5 million dollar houses, I've refinished boats, and furniture all professionally and on the high quality end. I just do guns for fun. If you want an old oiled look, than you'll have to use oil and just wait for it to dry. the spar varnish has uv protectants and everything. I did a 10' set of solid front doors on a house and after 8 years in the weather they still look great.. I love McClosky's

March 9, 2011, 08:05 PM
With wood stocks for real outdoor use (not just mild sunny days), I think you need to worry about water getting in at end grain, little cracks and crevices, etc. It's very hard to get all those spots with a brush-on varnish of any kind. I'm actually experimenting with a method of sealing all those spots, end grain in particular, by soaking in a penetrating oil (Watco is my choice, but BLO or Tung would probably work just as well), allowing that to dry for 1-2 weeks and then doing wipe-on varnish like I would have anyway. So far this approach doesn't seem to cause any delamination problems in the finish, and some wood coasters I finished this way still look new after a couple months of use. My 2 cents.

March 9, 2011, 09:24 PM
I'm actually experimenting with a method of sealing all those spots, end grain in particular, by soaking in a penetrating oil (Watco is my choice, but BLO or Tung would probably work just as well), allowing that to dry for 1-2 weeks and then doing wipe-on varnish like I would have anyway.

that seems like a lot of work. why wouldn't you just reduce some actual wood finish with a propper solvent and alow it to soak it up? it would be dry in 24 hours or less and wouldn't need to be done more than once? I coat every square inch of my stocks ina very "watery" mix of finish and solvent, I allow it to soak up all it will and then let it dry. the next day I coat the whole stock except where the action sits and repeat for two or three days. wet sand polish with a high speed wool pad. looks like glass, and will withstand a hurricane! if you don't want "glass" just one coat of satin, lightly sand and a second coat of finish and your done. two day process, and I guarantee you could let it float on a pond for week and no water would get into it!

March 9, 2011, 09:40 PM
Sam, your method is probably fine too. I think this is where it gets down to personal preferences. Here are the two things I think are superior about oil first then varnish:
1) the oil will soak in farther, if you get it in the end grain, and that may help (I hope) provide a more durable level of water resistance than the film which is all you get with any varnish, even diluted.
2) I like the greater depth I see when oil is soaking into the wood first.

I think that as long as someone's addressing the need for all-over sealing, the method to choose is your preference.

March 9, 2011, 10:31 PM
z- I understand. like I said I work with finishes everyday.. and what I have found in almost every kind of paint, varnish, lacquer, enamel, or epoxy, is that the method and skill of application has more to do with the end product than the product itself. wood will soak up anything.. period. If it can suck it into the grain, especially end grain. what I would recommend for anyone refinishing a stock is to reduce your first couple coats with a solvent such as naptha. the reason I like naptha is that it is oil free. I know your thinking why wouldn't he want oil? well oil/mineral spirits will slow the dry time, and will put oils that you don't particularly want into your finish. if you use a penetrating oil youMAY, and I want to emphasize MAY, have an undesired residual effect of leaching. penetrating oils have harsh detergents and things that will eat rust and oil. You may find your finish gooey after a few years or never dry at all. this would be my concern, but try it I may be wrong. I just think that there are so many good commercially available products designed with your concept in mind, that there may be a better way to go.. even oil based stains will hinder the drying of all oil based finishes, including varnish if not allowed to dry. and I will respectfully disagree about varnish as being a thin layer, or oil soaking in deeper. I have sanded off some pretty deep finishes that required getting into the wood. this is just my professional opinion

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