If you’ve ever looked at an article or a video that tells you what you must have in a woodworking kit, you’ve likely seen mineral spirits included in most of them. But how do you use mineral spirits?
Mineral spirits can be used in many ways by woodworkers, including cleaning grime off of wood, showing wood grain, renewing dull wood finishes, and diluting oil-based wood stains. To apply mineral spirits to wood, you’ll need to use a rag dampened with the sprits and wipe it over the wood, or – in the case of wood stains – dilute by mixing the two and use the stain as you normally would.
If you’ve never used mineral spirits before and aren’t sure where to start, read on for a quick guide on how to apply mineral spirits to wood.
Applying Directly to Wood
There are numerous reasons you would apply mineral spirits directly to wood, including cleaning it of built-up dust and grime or paint, helping show the existing finish (by getting rid of the dirt that has dulled it), and showing the grain of the wood while you work with it.
To apply mineral spirits directly to wood, you will need to:
Step 1: Get Everything You Need
You’ll need safety equipment for yourself and anyone else in the room with you, including goggles and a face mask, as well as a few old rags and the mineral spirits you’re using.
Step 2: Dampen a Rag with the Mineral Spirits
Pour out a small portion of mineral spirits on the rag. It should be enough to dampen it but not enough to completely douse it in spirits.
Step 3: Let the Rag Sit on a Dirty Spot
Place the damp rag over the spot you want to clean and squeeze out the excess spirits over the dirty area. Let the rag sit for a couple of seconds – this will help soften more stubborn spots, so you don’t have to expend as much effort when cleaning.
Step 4: Clean the Area
Wipe away the dirt and grime from the area. If you’re working on wood that you’re still carving or need to finish, stay with the grain of the wood and don’t use circular or scrubbing motions.
Step 5: Repeat
Continue cleaning the wood as needed, pouring more mineral spirits on the cloth as necessary. Stop once the wood is clean and shining (and any existing stain is clearly visible) or if the rag becomes too dirty. If the rag is too dirty, use one of the other rags you have on hand and continue cleaning until you’re satisfied.
Mineral spirits are also a great way of completely cleaning wood after you’re done sanding. While sanding gets rid of imperfections in the structure of the wood, the mineral spirits will remove any lingering sawdust and sanding particles so that your final finish looks exactly like you’d envisioned it. You can even use spirits every time you sand between coats of finish.
Applying Indirectly to Wood
While you’ll likely mostly apply mineral spirits directly to wood, there are situations in which they’ll be applied indirectly to wood as well – such as when you’re working with oil-based finishes.
Oil-based finishes are not water-soluble, which means you need another solvent you can use before applying them to your piece. That’s where your mineral spirits come in.
To dilute your wood finishes with mineral spirits, you will need to:
Step 1: Pour the Finish into a Separate Container
Pour out the amount of finish you estimate you’ll need into a separate container. Diluting the finish in the container it came in will result in you diluting all of the finish, which we don’t recommend. You should only dilute your finishes (oil-based or otherwise) when you plan to use them.
Step 2: Add Mineral Spirits
Slowly add mineral spirits to the finish. Don’t mix in more than a spoon or two at a time – this will allow you to test out the stain as it dilutes and will make it easier to stop when you have the shade you’re looking for.
Adding the spirits in slowly reduces the risk of over-dilution and wasted product and gives you better control over the entire process.
Step 3: Test the Stain
At every step, test the stain on a scrap of wood. While a shade may look too dark in the container, the look on wood may be something different. Testing it on a piece of wood before further diluting it ensures you’ll know when you’ve found the perfect color.
It’ll also help you see what the stain looks like on the wood, which is especially important if you’re working with an unfamiliar brand of stain or a new type of wood. Different woods take stains in different ways, and each brand of stain shows up differently on wood. Testing it will allow you to be confident in your color choice.
Step 4: Apply the Stain
Sand down the wood, and start applying stain using a paintbrush, going in the direction of the wood grain. You may want to apply a wood conditioner first, depending on your personal preference.
There’s a chance you’ll need to apply several layers of stain. Ideally, you should sand the wood between layers to make the wood look even.
You can also refer to this YouTube video for a quick tutorial on how to apply stain to your wood projects:
When working with mineral spirits, there are some safety precautions you should follow. These include:
- Mineral spirits are highly flammable, so they should always be kept away from fire, as well as from power tools and electricity. This applies to rags and paintbrushes that you have dipped in mineral spirits as well – the residue left on these surfaces is still flammable, so make sure you either wash them thoroughly or throw them away.
- Proper ventilation is essential when working with mineral spirits. Inhaling them can result in you feeling lightheaded or developing a headache, so it’s crucial to breathe in fresh air as much as possible. Additionally, you should wear a face mask to reduce your exposure to them as much as possible. If you do feel a headache coming on (or start to feel dizzy), leave the room as soon as possible.
- Contact with eyes and skin can result in irritation, redness, and even pain. It’s essential to wear goggles or other eye protection when working with mineral spirits. Additionally, cover as much of your skin as possible – wear long-sleeved tee shirts and full-length pants or jeans when using this product.
Why Use Mineral Spirits?
Given the safety concerns, it’s understandable that you may wonder why you should work with mineral spirits at all. After all, there are several wood finishes available on the market that do not need to be diluted before using, and there are other methods out there for cleaning wood and restoring the look of old finishes.
The answer is simple – convenience. Mineral spirits do a lot of jobs and don’t require you to have a ton of materials on hand. Some tasks they can come in handy for include:
- Removing paint from paintbrushes and other tools
- Thinning oil-based paints
- Degreasing automotive parts
- Wiping away the residue of price tags from surfaces such as glass and marble
- Cleaning garden tools that are gummed up with sap
And that’s without going into how useful they are when working with wood! [LINK to be added on the word ‘wood’]
If you tried to stay away from mineral spirits, you’d need a ton of other products to do the job of this one thing. Additionally, a lot of those other products, such as paint thinners, turpentine, and other solvents, are just as hazardous as mineral spirits, so you’re unlikely to even get the advantage of added peace of mind.
Tips to Keep in Mind When Using Mineral Spirits
- Mineral spirits cannot be used to remove latex paint or cured paint. If the paint has dried and hardened, you’ll need to invest in a paint stripper rather than mineral spirits.
- Never use mineral spirits on asphalt, as they will soften the asphalt.
- Mineral spirits should never be used as a fire starter – doing so is extremely dangerous.
- Spirits are available in four grades: type 0, high flash, regular, and low flash. Unless you’re using them for commercial uses, you shouldn’t need anything more than low flash or normal grade mineral spirits.
- Mineral spirits are categorized as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This is due to the gases emitted by the product. What this means is that there they may be difficult to find in some parts of the country, such as California, due to local laws. In such situations, you may find yourself having to pay more for mineral spirits.
- Make sure you only buy high-quality products. While these may be slightly more expensive, you get the peace of mind of knowing that you’re using genuine products that don’t come with additional health hazards attached. I recommend the Sunnyside Low Odor Mineral Spirits – this product is available by the gallon or the quart, depending on your preferences, and has a low odor, so there’s a lower risk of you feeling dizzy from the smell of the fumes.
Mineral spirits are relatively easy to work with, though you will need to take some basic precautions to protect yourself. While they can be dangerous if used or stored improperly, when used properly, they’re an extremely effective tool that helps make sure that wooden surfaces in and around your home are clean. Additionally, they also make it easy to dilute wood finishes so that you can achieve the color you’re looking for and apply it to your wood surfaces easily.