16 Helpful Tips for Using Birchwood Casey Tru Oil

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This is 16 Helpful Tips for Using Birchwood Casey Tru Oil. This is one of my very favorite wood finishes, and for several reasons. After reading these tips, you will be able to apply a perfect finish with almost zero effort. Enjoy.

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Tru Oil is Awesome for a Million Reasons

16-Helpful-Tips-for-Using-Birchwood-Casey-Tru-OilTru oil is awesome stuff. Not only is this one of the best finishes that you could ever work with, but it’s also very easy to apply. That’s a double win right out of the gate, and you’ll benefit the entire time.

Tru oil was originally developed as a finish for high end rifle stocks. The oil brings out the beauty and the grain of the wood, and the film layer protects the surface from damage. That’s the second double win, and again you benefit.

The instructions for using birchwood Casey tru oil are very simple. The manufacturer recommends that you wipe the product on, and let it dry. There are a few more particulars of course, but that’s the basic story.

It’s rare in this world to see something that is amazing, and also easy. If you are brand new to wood finishing, true oil is your ticket to applying a flawless finish like a professional with almost no learning curve.

Here are my special tips on how to use Birchwood Casey Tru Oil, (BCTO), and I will go into each one of them in more detail farther down in the post.

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See Also: How to Finish Wood with Tru-Oil

16 Tru Oil Tips:

  • Buy a New Bottle of Tru Oil
  • Surface Prep is Very Important
  • Use Clean Cotton Cloths
  • Don’t Pour the Finish on the Piece
  • Apply Super Thin Coats
  • Ventilate the Room Really Well
  • Use a Fan for Air Circulation
  • Coat Several Times to Build a Layer
  • Don’t Use Too Many Coats
  • Use Steel Wool After a Week
  • Apply One Final Super Thin Coat
  • Let the Piece Cure for Two Weeks
  • Can be Polished After Cured
  • Touch Up With More Tru Oil
  • Use Tru Oil on Small Woodworking Projects
  • How to Use Tru Oil on Larger Projects Too

Buy a New Bottle of Tru Oil

First step is to buy a new bottle of true oil. If you have an old bottle, make sure that it still good by checking the consistency. Tru oil will last for a long time in a bottle, but even the best finishes degrade over time.

Even though tru oil is a very high-end wood finish, and produces an amazing look, the product itself is rather inexpensive. You can pick up a bottle for less than $10, and in some cases way less.

I recommend that you use the hand applied version rather than the spray. These directions and tips are all about applying the oil by hand, and may be different if you use the spray. Besides, the oil version is the easiest to use, and has the most consistent results.

See Also: Finishing With Tru-Oil Video

Surface Prep is Very Important

The first tip is about surface preparation. No matter what finish you apply, the look will only be as good as the surface upon which it is applied. If you have a crappy surface, you will have a crappy finish.

Understand that point, and the rest will be much easier.

Spend some time on the surface prep. Make sure that you sand away all scratches, fill any defects, and make the wood look perfect. All the extra time you spend at this point will mean a better looking project in the end. It’s worth it.

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You don’t have to go crazy with sanding before applying to Tru Oil. Just get the surface down to the point where it is defect free, and sanded 220 grit. Anything beyond that is unnecessary, and that should be a big relief if you don’t like sanding.

Before you call it a night, check your piece and a glancing light and make sure you don’t have any hidden scratches. Take them out with 220 sandpaper if you do, and then do one last final sanding with the grain to hide any scratches.

After that, wipe down the project with a cloth to remove all of the sanding dust. You could also do this with an air nozzle to blow off the dust. One last scratch check, and if you pass then you are ready to start finishing.

See Also: 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing

Use Clean Cotton Cloths

There are people that apply Tru Oil with their fingers, but you can really elevate your game by using a clean cotton cloth. This is the same type of material that under shirts are made out of, and you can even buy it from a fabric store if you like.

Most gun cleaning patches are also made out of cotton, though they can be kind of small depending on what caliber they are meant for. I recommend picking up a couple yards of white cotton cloth from the fabric store, and it will last you a decade.

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Cut the fabric into squares that measure about 6“ x 6“. These are perfect because you can fold them up into little bundles, and essentially create your own finishing bad. When you’re done, they are easy to dispose of, and they are small.

Small is good when it comes to applicator pads for tru oil. One of the tricks that’s coming up is applying thin coats, and a small pad helps you accomplish that goal. No matter how bad you want to, only cut small pieces of your clean cotton cloth to make applicator pads.

See Also: The Secret to Wood Finishing

Don’t Pour the Finish on the Piece

When you start to finish your project, resist the urge to pour oil directly on your project. Not only is a colossal waste of product, but it goes directly against the main point of applying thin coats.

No matter how you do it, it can be way too much to chase around, and it can end up being thick in certain spots and tin in others. This ends up creating more work later, because the finish looks uneven.

When that happens, you end up having to go back and sand the surface down to make it level. Then, you have to add more coats to bring back the even sheen. It’s way too much work to save an extra 30 seconds.

Instead of pouring oil on your project, simply place your folded up cotton pad over the mouth of the bottle, tip the bottle over, tip it back, and you will have deposited a small amount of finish right on the pad. This is all you need in order to be able to start applying very thin coats.

See Also: The Best Time to Learn About Wood Finishing as a Beginner

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Apply Super Thin Coats

Now that we previewed thin coats, it’s time to talk about them. The absolute best way to apply nearly any finish in the world is by using thin coats. This is the best for several reasons, and it will make your job a lot easier.

First of all, thin coats dry much faster. The benefit is that you can get to the next coat quicker without cutting corners. In a situation where you need to apply five or more coats, it’s awesome that the time between them is significantly reduced.

Next, when you apply very thin coats it forces you to make them level. The simple process of applying a thin coat of liquid finish results in thin and even coats of cured finish. Help yourself in the end by applying the finish thinly in the beginning.

Thin coats also require less work after the finish has been cured. Thick coats inevitably cause runs, sags, and other finishing problems that persist long after any time you may have saved on the front side.

In a really bad situation, you may end up creating an overly thick layer and trapping moisture. This means you may have a soft spot that never dries. It’s just not worth trying to cut corners.

See Also: 9 Unbelievable Wood Finishing Myths for Beginners

Ventilate the Room Really Well

Once you apply a coat of finish, the best way to encourage drying is to use a ventilated space to allow the product to rest. This can be inside your shop, outside of your shop, or in a ventilated room in your house.

Make sure to keep any of your projects away from children and pets of course, and also make sure that the ventilation is adequate that any fumes have the ability to escape before they can build up. Finishing fumes can be lethal, so be careful.

Transferring the piece from the shop into another area is also useful if your shop is dusty. As the finish dries, the last thing you want is airborne dust particles landing on the surface. This creates more work, or a surface that doesn’t look as good as it should.

Find a wide open area that you can rest your piece in between coats. The bigger the area, the better, because it will allow any solvent fumes to dissipate into the bigger space. It also reduces the probability of being overcome by those same fumes.

See Also: 7 Ways to Get Better at Finishing

Use a Fan for Air Circulation

Another tip for helping your coats dry when using tru oil is to have a fan running in the room. This can be a ceiling fan, a box fan, or any other fan. The point is to get the air in the room moving around.

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When the air moves around, the fumes dissipate faster. The product also dries faster because of the fresh air contact constantly happening all over the surfaces. This will speed up your drying, and help the layer remain dust free.

Make sure that the fan you use is not kicking up additional dust in the air. This would be the opposite of the effect that you’re looking for. The point is to move around the air to help it dry faster, not to coat it with additional duster debris.

See Also: Understanding Wood Finishing

Coat Several Times to Build a Layer

Depending on where you live, true oil tends to take only a couple hours for a very thin coat to dry enough that it can be coated a second time. This is under optimal conditions, and if you are in a place that is colder, more humid, or not the best conditions, then wait longer.

This is also predicated on very thin coat. Anything thicker than a coat so thin you almost feel like you’ve wiped all of the finish off will take longer to dry. It may seem a little counterproductive to wipe that much, but it only takes a few coats to bring out an amazing finish with this method.

Apply your second coat the same as you did the first. Work in sections, and apply a very thin layer over the first one. You’ll notice the color change slightly, and that’s how you’ll know what areas you already hit.

Once you’re done with that layer, return the piece to the drying area and turn the fan back on. Let the finish dry as long as it needs to, and then apply a third coat in the same way you apply the second.

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Do this at least three times, but you could also go to five. After that, you want to take a look at the layer you’ve created, and see if it’s adequate. In most cases, it will be. That’s great, because it means you’re almost done.

See Also: 19 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Woodworking

Don’t Use Too Many Coats

The next tip is about applying too much product. Tru oil is not like lacquer. The goal is not to make your project looks like it’s been dipped in a protective coating. The opposite is actually true, and oil finishes should look very close to the wood.

Part of the romance of an oil finish is that it doesn’t even really look like there’s very much on the surface of the wood. This is a strong contrast to lacquer, which can almost look like a thin plastic layer over the surface of your project.

Resist the urge to apply more than 3 to 5 coats before you really take a look at what the finish looks like. I promise if you like the oil finished look, that you will be satisfied with the majority of projects after even the first three coats.

See Also: A Woodworking Notebook

Use Steel Wool After a Week

After your initial round of coating, it’s good to let your project rest for about a week. This gives all those layers a chance to solidify, and ensure that you can work the surface. Don’t rush this part, your very close to the end.

After a week, use 0000 steel wool to scuff the surface. The goal is to even out any nibs, or imperfections that may have shown up. If you applied very thin coats, then this part should only take a few minutes.

Once the surface has been carefully leveled, wipe down your project really well. This is to remove any traces of steel wool residue from the wood. Take your time, and get every last bit before moving forward.

See Also: Woodworking Tips Cards – Steel Wool

Apply One Final Super Thin Coat

After steel wool, your surface will be dull. The tip that you need to fix that is to apply one last super thin coat of Tru Oil. Apply the oil the same way that you’ve applied all your other coats, but go as thin as possible.

Aim for an even coating of course, and watch the color change to know where you’ve been. Once you’ve applied a very thin layer to the entire project, return it to the ventilated room with the fan and allow it to dry.

This simple process will restore the gloss without needing any buffing equipment. If you skip this part, you will have a dull finish with minor scratches. My recommendation, don’t skip this part.

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See Also: 50 Awesome Reasons to be a Woodworker

Let the Piece Cure for Two Weeks

This is by far the most valuable tip, and also the most exhausting out of any of the previous tips. You have to let your piece cure for two weeks before any aggressive handling. The finish will be rock solid at that point, and is definitely worth the wait.

Plan another project for that two weeks, or lock yourself out of that room for a couple weeks. Do whatever it takes in order for you not to touch or disturb that project. Pulling it out too soon is only asking for trouble, especially if it’s something that needs to be handled a lot.

I’ve personally finished nearly 30 acoustic guitars with Tru Oil, and it’s always excruciating to have to wait that two weeks. I totally understand, but you really need to wait. The last thing you want is a permanent fingerprint impressed into your project.

A soft finish with a tight grip will take the ridges from your skin and transfer it to the surface of your project. All of the time that you spent applying it and waiting are now wasted and useless because you pulled the project before it was cured.

I promise, it’s worth the wait.

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See Also: How a Practice Break Can Make You a Better Woodworker

Tru Oil Can be Polished After it’s Cured

If you went through the last few steps with steel wool and applied one last super thin coat, then you really don’t need to do this part. However, if you want to know how to buff the project, then stick around.

Since tru oil sits on the surface like a varnish, you can use buffing wheels and abrasive compounds to shine the layer. You can use any set up designed for buffing wood finishes, just pay attention to your speed and don’t cut through the finish layer.

I use the Beall Buffing System, which uses Tripoli compound and white diamond compound to shine any surface. It works great for bare wood, and it also works great for finishes like true oil. If you are brand new to buffing, this is a perfect beginner set up.

I only say beginner because it’s easy to use, not because of its ability. You can end up having that set for your entire life, and not reach the end of its capabilities.

See Also: How to Buff Wood to a High Sheen

Touch Up With More Tru Oil

For the type of finish, true oil is fairly resistant to the minor things that can happen to a finish in its life. That being said, sometimes you do need to do a little touching up. Thankfully, this is an easy process.

Touching up is simply a matter of applying another coat. Focus some attention on the damaged area, but then make sure to at least coat the entire surface of the project. New coats are going to look a little different, but if you coat the entire surface then you don’t have to worry about that.

Make sure to address any real damage by filling and sanding before you go to the tru oil. The product is not a filler, it’s just a finish. If you have extreme damage, you may need to sand quite a bit. Either way, apply more tru oil in the end and you’re finish will be restored.

This is one of my favorite parts about Tru Oil, not only is it a beautiful finish, but it’s easy to keep the finish beautiful if something happens to your project.

See Also: How to be a Modern Renaissance Woodworker

Use Tru Oil on Smaller Wood Projects

Tru Oil is literally made for smaller woodworking projects. These can be anything you are making that needs to be protected well and the grain and beauty highlighted. Literally any kind of wood can benefit from this stuff.

It’s great for tool handles too, and for tools that you make. The finish is not only good looking, but it’s also rugged, and can stand up to a beating over time.

If you are making things that you are planning to sell, smaller projects finished in Tru Oil look really nice, and have a great looking sheen. People love shiny stuff, and tru oil makes the surfaces look really good.

See Also: 10 Fun Things to Build With Wood

How to Use Tru Oil on Larger Projects

You can actually use tru oil on larger woodworking projects too. You need to adjust your efforts a little and work slightly differently, but you can do it. 

Instead of working on the whole project at once, you simply work in sections. Apply the product the same way, with a clean rag and in small amounts. Work in sections, taking on a single surface at one time.

When that surface is done, switch to another surface and use the same methods. You can finish larger projects like furniture and instruments using this method, and though it will take a while, it will work.

See Also: 20 Easy DIY Woodworking Projects With Tutorials

Your Action Assignment

Now that you know so many awesome things about Tru Oil, your homework is to buy a bottle and bring it into your shop. Start using it, and try it on several different pieces of wood. I promise that you will be impressed with the look and the ease of application.

Cut yourself a bunch of small scraps, and just start finishing them. You can even make it a point to go to your scrap bin and just finish as many pieces as you can get your hands on. This will be great practice, and you will get to know what the finish looks like on different pieces of wood.

After you’ve done your initial experimentation, pick a project that you can use tru oil with. Make the project like normal, and then finish it using the oil. Make sure to give it to cure time that it needs, and enjoy a long lasting, beautiful finish that you created nearly effortlessly.

If you have any questions on 16 Helpful Tips for Using Birchwood Casey Tru Oil, please Post a Question in the Q&A Forum and I’ll be glad to help. Happy building.

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  • More than 20 Years Woodworking Experience
  • 7 Woodworking Books Available on Amazon
  • Over 1 Million Words Published About Woodworking
  • Bachelor of Arts Degree from Arizona State University
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