I have been taking old stair treads and risers from various remodel projects and shaping them into circles, squares and rectangles for trivets, both pots of food and pots of plants. I’m at the point of finishing and have been toying with finishing them with tung oil to keep the natural look of the various woods and not bothering with poly or any other finishing. Any thoughts or advice? – Daryl Johnson
Tim Inman: Tung oil is just a drying oil, like boiled linseed oil. The finishing products which are popular and which are often sold as “Tung Oil” are almost always blends of varnish (poly!) and tung oil driers. They work OK, but don’t pay a ton extra just to get the name tung oil on the label. Rockler sells a tung/varnish blend formulated and made popular by the famous woodworker, Sam Maloof. You can buy it or make your own. Mr. Maloof contributed his recipe and made it public years ago. It is a fine finish and one I could recommend. An oil by itself offers very little in the way of surface protection for the wood.
Chris Marshall: I’m with Tim 100 percent on this one. Any finish that contains some amount of oil will give you the “natural” look you’re after, but what you also really need is more protection. For trivets, the enemies are heat and food or water spills. Years ago, I made some trivets for the magazine and finished them with a 50/50 mix of oil-based polyurethane and mineral spirits. Its thinner consistency allowed the finish to flow down into the nooks and crannies well (my trivets had some intricate cutouts, as you can see in the photo below). Then, the excess was easy to wipe off. It soaked in and dried quickly, and I applied several coats. Over the years, we’ve continued to use this very trivet regularly, and the finish has held up well to all sorts of hot pots and cookie sheets. I recommend it.