Birch is an inexpensive hardwood with a multitude of uses, including furniture, cabinetry, and shelf making. It is a strong and durable wood that can withstand a lot of abuse. However, it is susceptible to moisture damage, insect infestations, rot and decay. This is why the wood is inexpensive regardless of being a hardwood that is pretty dense. To make sure your birch furniture lasts a long time you will need to finish it with a good oil finish. To help you in your endeavour to preserve your birch furniture, we have made this guide for you. In this article, we will explore and understand what kind of oil is best for birch wood.
Linseed oil and OSMO Polyx Hard Wax Oil are the best oils available to finish birch wood with. Any woodworker would vouch for the look and durability of a boiled linseed oil finish. It is natural, food safe, and also very inexpensive, not to mention the application is considerably easy too. Polyx Hard Wax oil by OSMO is a mix of natural vegetable-based oils mixed with waxes like carnauba. The oils get absorbed into the pores of the birch while the wax preserves the surface. It is also non-toxic and food-safe making it a great finish to use on children’s furniture and toys.
Birch wood is considered perishable due to the reason of how easily it rots and decays when exposed to weather conditions. Regardless of that, it is a very strong wood that is easy to source, inexpensive, and very workable. Woodworkers love working with birch as it cuts and sands very well, even with power tools. The only downside is you have to take care of this wood a lot so you might have to apply multiple types of finish on it so that it stays protected. You might want to make inspections of your birch furniture, cabinets, and shelves routinely to make sure it is not decaying, rotting, or under attack from bugs.
Best Oils for Birch Wood
1. Linseed Oil
Linseed oil is pretty basic but at the same time one of the most effective oil finishes. People who don’t know which oil to use on their wooden furniture or objects just opt for boiled linseed oil. It is one of the safest choices to go with since it is natural, non-toxic, and food safe. You can’t go wrong with using it as an oil finish to replenish and rejuvenate wood. For a wood like birch, protecting it from moisture damage is the most important. It is strong and durable, adding water protection can prevent it from rotting and decaying.
Not to mention, you can always use a clear coat finish once the linseed oil has cured. This will improve its water repellency even further. The only downside is that boiled linseed oil takes a lot of time to dry and cure. Tung oil and Danish oil take around 12-24 hours at most to dry properly. Linseed oil takes double the time to dry and even more to cure. So make sure you have enough time for your birch wood projects when you finish them with linseed oil.
Furniture Clinic Boiled Linseed oil is a tried and tested product which has flooded the woodworking market. It is an award-winning wood finish, so you can expect great results from applying it to your birch furniture.
- Easy application
- Food safe and non-toxic
- Does not alter the colour of wood
- Great for rejuvenating old wooden projects
- Accentuates the colour and grain pattern
- Takes longer to dry
- Not as durable as some other oil finishes
- Can go rancid if not stored properly
2. Polyx Hard Wax Oil
In most cases, vegetable oils are used for cooking foods. However, here they are being used as a wax oil finish that protects birch wood from the inside out. OSMO’s Polyx Hard Wax Oil is a product that contains a mix of vegetable oils that you mostly use in cooking. Along with that, it contains waxes like carnauba that are incredibly durable and used in furniture and car polishes. In normal scenarios, you can’t use vegetable oils as a wood finish as they are not drying oils and will go rancid. Though here the sunflower, soy, and thistle oil have been treated and processed so they harden as they cure.
This product seems to have no odour to it, making it great for indoor use. It was designed for hardwood flooring but works just as good on birch wood furniture. It is easy to apply just as you would do so with a hard wax finish. After applying it dries up considerably fast even though it has vegetable oils.
- Low odour
- Easy Application
- Natural Finish
- Food Safe
- Cannot apply a clear coat finish over this
Step-by-Step Guide on Oiling Birch Wood
Ask any wood worker the secret to a successful finish, they will tell you its all in the prep. Properly preparing your lumber ahead of applying any finish helps adhere it to the surface better. In the case of oils, it helps oils penetrate deep into the fibres of the wood.
Step 1 – Sanding the Birch Wood
To sand your birch wood, you can use a random orbit sander for the most part. You will start with 80-grits of abrasion and move up your way through the grits somewhere around 180-grits. You can go up to 220, but any higher is not recommended as it clogs pores with sawdust and prevents oils from penetrating the fibres.
First use your 80-grits of sandpaper on your random orbit sander and thoroughly work through the surface of the birch wood. Make sure you don’t leave any area unsanded, only then move on to the next grit. Next up is 120-grits, you just need to repeat the same procedure as with the previous coarseness. Then 150-grits and in the last 180, which you should do by hand instead of a random orbit sander. Doing the last grits of the sanding by hand in the direction of the grain helps with a smoother surface.
Step 2 – Oiling the Birch (Applying First Coat)
Use a rag or microfiber cloth to clean your birch thoroughly after the sanding process. Make sure that your birch wood is clean before applying oil. Pour a liberal amount of the oil of your choice on the surface directly and using a rag spread it throughout the surface. You can also pour oil on your rag instead of directly on the wood and just wipe it on. Let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour and then using a clean rag wipe off any excess oil left sitting on top of the wood.
Step 3 – Applying More Coats
After applying a liberal amounts of oils it is time to be a bit more conservative with the quantity. The birch is already saturated with oil so you just want to apply enough to layer it now. Once the first coat of your oil has dried off, which might take anywhere from 24-48 hours, depending on your choice of oil, apply another coat of oil. Repeat the same process as the first coat but with less quantity. Wait 30 minutes to an hour again and wipe off any excess sitting on top of the birch.
You can repeat this process as many times as you like until you are satisfied with the number of coats.
Step 4 – Curing the Oil Finish
When you are done applying the suitable amount of coats of your oil finish, it is time to let it cure. In between the drying process and curing you will find some excess oil that has been expelled from the wood. You need to wipe it off so that the finish dries off properly, if you don’t wipe off this excess, it will end up not drying on time and make the surface of the birch sticky. This excess oil ends up being expelled by the wood because it has been over saturated with oils.
Tips for Oiling Birch
- When you are oiling birch, make sure it is saturated with oils. You can tell this by when the wood starts expelling excess oil in forms of droplets that look like sweat. Make sure to wipe off that excess oil as it will end up making the birch sticky otherwise and will not harden as it dries.
- After sanding you should clean up the birch before applying any oil. The sawdust mixed with the oil will end up becoming a slurry that does not get absorbed by the pores of the wood. It just ends up wasting oil and prevents a proper finish.
- Depending on the project, apply another coat of a clear coat finish to prevent birch from water damage.
- Wait for up to 2-4 weeks for the oil to cure properly before you start using it. This gives the oil finish to harden enough to be handled.
- An important rule when working with wood is that don’t go against the direction of the grain. Same goes for sanding when you are preparing the wood for the finish. Of course, with a random orbit sander it is not possible to move with the grain. So you apply the last grits by hand using a sanding block in the direction of the grain to make the surface of the birch smoother.
Benefits of Oiling Birch Wood
Birch is often referred to as a perishable wood due to its nature of being susceptible to rot, decay, and insect attacks. On the other hand the wood is very strong, it is pretty durable and dense, making it perfect for a multitude of projects. However, without a proper finish, the birch will end up getting ruined. Oiling birch is the first step to ensuring that it stays preserved for a long time. Of course you can apply another clear coat over the oil finish of your choice for further protection.
However, an oil finish rejuvenates the wood, it gives it life and helps in protecting the birch from inside as oils penetrate deep into the fibres of the wood. Not to mention natural oil finishes are environment friendly, non-toxic, and food safe.
FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions
How do you protect birch wood?
You can protect your birch wood by applying an oil finish and then a clear coat synthetic finish to prevent water damage, rot, decay, and insect attacks.
How to treat outdoor birch wood?
Outdoor birch wood requires an oil finish that is suitable for outdoor settings. Teak oil is great for this reason, so is Danish oil. However, you also need to apply a clear coat finish, something like polyurethane finish that prevents water damage and has UV inhibitors.
Does oiling birch darken it?
Depending on the type of oil, a pure oil finish like boiled linseed oil, tung oil, and even a mixture like Danish oil does not darken wood unless it contains dyes and stains.
Birch is an often overlooked wood due to its susceptibility to moisture damage. Otherwise its a great wood that is strong, durable, and can withstand a lot of weight and abuse. To ensure that you get enough out of your birch wood, preserve it using an oil finish. The best part about oil finishes is that you can always apply another clear coat finish over it.