What Everyone Should Know About Finishing Oak

Welcome to part 2 of our series on wood types. This week I’ll be discussing Oak. If you haven’t already read part 1, feel free to go check it out here: All about Pine Wood.

A little history of Oak

Oak (or quercus as it is known in Latin) is a hardwood with some 400 known species. It has always been a popular wood in The UK, but in recent times it is even more widely used in construction and also as internal fixtures in clubs and gyms etc. For furniture construction oak has become ever more the wood of choice, a trend expanding year on year since the year 2000 when China, India and Indonesia substantially increased their export markets. Pine has been the wood to suffer from oak’s popularity as it is more widely available in the Far East.

The flowers of many oak trees are known as catkins and they are produced by oaks when they reach their reproductive age which is typically aged 20. They are triggered by rising temperatures in spring. Ultimately it is the catkins of many oaks that turn into the acorns, so maybe that popular phrase… ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’ should be ‘mighty oaks from little catkins grow’ although it doesn’t quite have the same ring does it?

Treating Oak wood

With regards to finishing and treating oak there are numerous possibilities but there are certain requirements that are asked for time and again… Often we are asked how external oak can be kept looking natural. Whilst the question is easy, the answer is not so straight forward. These are the necessary considerations: –

  • When water penetrates oak it reacts with the high tannin content within oak, resulting in ‘blackening’.
  • The Sun’s UV rays will turn the oak to a silvery hue over time.
  • Clear products are inevitably not completely clear so they tend to ‘bring out’ the natural colours of the oak, normally making it a bit darker and warmer.
  • The levels of rain, wind and sun will make a difference to how quickly the oak changes colour.
Oak affected by the sun

Oak affected by the sun

Oak affected by rain

Oak affected by rain

If the requirement is to keep the oak looking as natural as possible, whilst preventing blackening or silvering as much as possible, then the following is the best system we know of: –

Osmo 420 extra offers UV resistance and also contains biocide which is important for external timbers as it prevents the wood from becoming diseased with wet rot, dry rot and blue stone etc. The oil also repels water, thus preventing it from going black.

If the requirement is to protect the oak whilst keeping the silvery appearance then the following is the best:

Tung oil is one of the clearest oils on the market and doesn’t offer UV resistance.

If the exterior oak needs to be coloured then the following system is recommended:

If blackening on exterior oak needs removing then a scrub with a fungicidal wash is recommended. On the other hand it may be the silvering that needs removing. If so, a scrub with Osmo wood reviver (which contains oxalic acid, amongst other active ingredients).

Unfinished Oak

Unfinished Oak

Finished Oak

Finished Oak

One of the most common enquiries we get is how to keep internal oak looking natural. This is not just a case of simply applying ‘clear products’ as they bring out the natural colours of the wood, thus making it little darker and more golden. A very good indication of how your oak will look once it has been finished with a ‘clear’ coat is to apply water to a test area. The look achieved when the wood is wet is very close to how it will look once a clear varnish or a clear oil has been applied.

Some customers like the way oak colours when clear coatings are applied to it whilst others want it to be as close as possible to how it looks in its natural state. This natural look can almost be achieved by adding some white to your chosen top coat but test areas are vital because each wood needs a different mix of clear top coat to white. Here are some guidelines: –

Clear wax polish is the one exception to the above… If a clear wax polish is applied to bare oak (or just about any other wood for that matter) then the colour is kept very natural indeed, it’s just a question of whether a wax polish is going to be durable enough. Internal doors, for example are considered, by most people, to be ideal for finishing with a wax, where as a floor will look nice once waxed but regular maintenance is required, so most people don’t opt for wax for this reason.

If the oak needs to be made darker then hard wax oil is ideal because it colours and protects the wood in the same application. It is always good to try and finish with a clear coat if possible because if the wood gets scratched it is the clear coat that scratches before the coloured coat and therefore the scratch is not as noticeable.

Oiling consideration

If oak is being oiled it is a good idea to sand it with a sandpaper that is no finer than 150 grit. The reason for this is that the pores of the wood are more open thus allowing the oil to sink into the wood better. Better absorption equals greater protection.

Interesting Oak Stats

  • Oak bark is rich in tannin, and is used by tanners for tanning leather.
  • Acorns can be used for making flour or they can be roasted for making acorn coffee.
  • Tannin dissolves and escapes from the wood. Wine barrels are made from oak and it is the tannin that helps to give the wine its’ colour.
  • Sessile oaks of Europe and can reach heights of up to 40 metres.
  • Oak trees regularly live to be 500 years old, although 1,000 years old oaks are also known.
  • A mature oak tree can produce up to 50,000 acorns!

Oakey Dokey then :)  – tune in next time when we’ll be discussing………… Teak!

36 Responses to “What Everyone Should Know About Finishing Oak”

  1. Cheryl Emery Says:

    I have a raw oak dining table which I would like to leave as natural as possible. What should I treat it with to protect it whilst keeping it looking natural?

    Cheryl Emery

  2. peter davis Says:

    I have client who is considering using an oak dining table as a dining table in the garden. Is oak furniture treated with any finishes which would degenerate in an outdoor environment?

    Thanks Peter

  3. nick Says:

    Hi Cheryl,

    As the table is bare wood, a couple of products to consider would be Fiddes Hard Wax Oil Natural or Osmo Polyx Oil Raw 3044. Both of these products are designed to keep freshly sanded or bare wood looking very much the same while offering a good level of protection. Both products are resistant to heat such as hot plates and cups and completely food safe so ideal for a table.

    These products are available in a sample size and depending on the size of the table, one or two sample pots may be enough to complete the project.

  4. nick Says:

    Hi Peter

    The first thing to establish is does the oak table already have a finish such as an oil, wax or varnish? Is it bare wood or going to be sanded back to bare wood?

    If it is bare wood or being sanded back, the wood can be treated with two coats of a clear wood preservative such as Barrettine Premier Wood Preservative followed by two coats of Osmo Teak Oil. This combination of products will help to protect the table from things such as mould. algae, dry rot and other wood related pests and diseases.

    Pay special attention to end grain such as the bottom of the legs. These can be dipped in the preservative for several hours or overnight so that the preservative can penetrate deeply into the base of the legs to offer the best protection. Once the preservative has fully dried (24 to 48 hours) apply the Osmo Teak Oil, again giving the bottom of the legs extra attention.

    Always follow the instructions on the tin.

  5. Stuart Martin Says:

    Thank you Nick for a very useful post. Please can I ask whether your recommendations apply to something a little more architectural – such as external oak weatherboarding on a barn, or an oak door in an oak boarded wall? In these situations I would like to put up new oak boards and joinery, and have it weather to silver ASAP. Should we go for your preservative + tung oil option, or will this stop the oak from silvering?

    Thanks, Stuart

  6. Lauren Says:

    We have some oak we are planning to sand (as very rough at the moment) and use as a fireplace surround with a wood burner in situ, we want to keep looking as natural as possible and not have a very shiny finish, would clear wax polish be the best or hard wax oil as hear resistant better?
    Many thanks

  7. Catherine Says:

    Hi we have raw European Oak beams and I would like to know what to finish them with they are have been drying out and cracks some large have appeared .. we don’t have heating in the room where they are at the moment but shortly will have…. How can I prevent any further cracking crevices from appearing ?…. What could I use to enhance the wood…. So much information out there and want to use the right information so as not to damage the wood…

  8. nick Says:

    Hi Catherine,

    The best way to help prevent Oak beams from cracking and splitting is to feed the wood with an oil or wax based product. I see in your question that you would like to ‘enhance the wood’. A product that will do all of these things is Osmo Polyx Oil. This will enhance the natural grain and colour of the timber while also feeding the wood with a blend of natural oils and waxes. A good way to see how the beams will look with the oil before purchasing is to wipe a section with a damp cloth or sponge, the appearance of the wood when damp is a good indication of what it will look like with the Polyx Oil on.

    If you prefer to keep the natural, untreated appearance of the wood but with the benefit of being protected, Osmo Polyx Oil Raw would be a good alternative.

    I hope the above helps and good luck with your project.

  9. nick Says:

    Hi Lauren,

    If you plan to keep the wood looking natural as in freshly sanded, the best product to use is going to be Osmo Polyx Oil Raw 3044. This product gives a matt finish so it’s not shiny and helps to keep the wood looking natural. Polyx Oils also have good resistance to heat and can be easily replenished with a fresh coat of oil if the wood starts to look like it is drying out. Simply apply 2 thin coats and allow to fully dry before exposing to heat.

    If you were to use a clear oil, it will darken the timber giving it a damp look and draw out the natural grain and colour of the Oak. Depending on the age and type of Oak, this could give the timber a golden or reddish appearance, not what you are looking for.

    As with any of the products we offer, always do a test area and follow the instructions on the tin.

  10. nick Says:

    Hi Stuart,

    A good combination for your weatherboarding, Oak door and Oak boarded wall, that will give good protection while allowing the timber to silver would be 2 coats of Barrettine Premier Wood Preservative in Clear, followed by 2 coats of Barrettine Log Cabin Treatment. The wood preserver will protect the wood from the biological threats such as mould, algae and insect attack while the Log Cabin Treatment offers protection against wind and rain. As neither the wood preserver or Log Cabin Treatment contain any UV filters, the timber will silver naturally.

    I would recommend the Log Cabin Treatment over using Tung Oil as although it is more expensive, it has better durability and will not require re-coating as often.

    If possible, it’s always a good idea to soak the end grain of the timber in the preservative so that it reaches saturation and then the same with the oil ones the preservative has fully dried (allow 48 hours) as it is normally the end grain that is most susceptible to the elements.

    As with any project – Always follow the manufacturers instructions on the tin and always do a test area first.

  11. Becca Says:

    Great, comprehensive article. – Just what I needed.
    Thank you !

  12. Becca Says:

    Hi Nick,

    Thanks again for all the info. I have one more question if that’s ok…

    I am building some shelving units in a bathroom and using a variety of oak floor boards. Most of the boards are untreated and previously unused, while a couple have had some kind of varnish or other treatment which I will sand down.

    Based on your article and answers above I thought I would begin with a clear wood preservative (because of the humidity and occasional splashed water in a bathroom) and then follow with either Osmo Polyx Oil Raw or Fiddes Hard Wax Oil Natural as I want to keep the natural, pale colour of the wood.

    So my question is, in this situation will these two finishing products keep the natural look as you suggest, or will the preservative darken or warm up the colour?

    Or maybe clear wax polish would be suitable in this situation? I wouldn’t mind the maintenance, but I want something which will prevent too much staining from water.

    Thanks so much.

  13. nick Says:

    Hi Becca

    The best way to protect the wood from the damp conditions while retaining the natural sanded look is to apply 2 coats of Barrettine Premier Wood Preservative initially, followed by 2 coats of Osmo Polyx Oil Raw or Fiddes Hard Wax Oil Natural.

    Where possible, try to treat all parts of the wood i.e. both sides, edges and especially the end grain. Although these products are touch dry within several hours, allow 24 to 48 hours drying time between coats of the preservative and 24 hours between coats of Osmo Polyx Oil Raw or Fiddes Hard Wax Oil Natural.

    When applying the wood preservative, the colour of the wood will darken, giving a damp appearance, but will return to its natural look when the preservative has fully dried. The Polyx Oil Raw or Fiddes Hard Wax Oil should be applied thinly to keep the wood looking similar to the natural sanded look when dry.

    Wax Polishes can be used in these environments but is easily marked and stained by water splashes and spillages. We always recommend Polyx Oils or Hard Wax Oils in bathroom and kitchen areas in stead of waxes.

    Always do a test area before starting the main project and follow the instructions on the tin.

  14. Becca Says:

    I will do what you recommend.

    You are so generous with your time and your expertise! Thank you!

  15. Nicky Bramble Says:

    Hi, I wonder if you can offer some advice on looking after a huge, heavy, very old door made of oak?
    The door now hangs inside, opposite a large window, and has done for at least one hundred years, but it may have been used externally before that. It is several hundred years old and has not been touched for a long, long time – it looks dried out and uncared for. What would you recommend to care for it but retain it’s character?
    Thank you for any help you can offer.

  16. nick Says:

    Hi Nicky,

    Sounds Amazing. We would recommend Manns Liquid Beeswax Polish in this type of situation. This product comes as a custard/liquid beeswax consistency at normal room temperature, is easily applied with a brush, cloth or roller and dries within 15 minutes if applied as a thin coat. This will help to feed the wood and can be buffed if desired to produce a sheen.

    If your Oak door is exceptionally dry, it may take several thin applications over time for the wax to penetrate in to the timber of the door. The great thing with Manns Liquid Beeswax Polish is that it will not change the colour of the door.

    Always do a test area before embarking on any project to make sure that you’re happy with the results that the product gives.

  17. Rob Says:


    I’m looking to buy a dining table and have seen one I like with a solid oak top and oiled finish. Can I expect oiled oak to withstand the rigours of family life? In particular I’m concerned about food and red wine stains, toddlers banging the table, and regular cleaning as we’d be eating 3 meals a day at it.

    Thank you for any advice,


  18. Stefan Says:


    I have recently purchased some nice oak sleepers and was planning on cutting one and oiling this for a fireplace.

    Can you please suggest suitable treatment to get a nice finish for the fireplace.


  19. nick Says:

    Hi Rob

    Oiled finishes are perfect for Oak table tops. Products such as Osmo Polyx Oil and Fiddes Hard Wax Oil are stain, heat and liquid resistant. They are also easy to maintain and repair if the surface becomes worn, stained or scratched.

    When cleaning, avoid large quantities of water and harsh supermarket cleaners as these will degrade the oil finish quicker than if using a damp cloth and a specific wood surface cleaner such as Fiddes Wood Surface Cleaner or Osmo Wash and Care.

  20. nick Says:

    Hi Stefan,

    You can use an oil such as Osmo Polyx Oil or Fiddes Hard Wax Oil to protect, feed and enhance the natural appearance of the timber. Both of these products will enhance the natural grain and colour of the wood. If you wish to keep the timber looking more like it does in its natural state but wish to add a slight sheen, you could use either Fiddes Supreme Wax Polish Clear Wax or Manns Beeswax Polish. Wood waxes are less durable than Hard Wax Oils but will not darken (give the wood a damp appearance) or enhance the natural colour of the timber.

    Always do a test area before embarking on any project to be sure that you are happy with the result that a product gives.

  21. Mary Says:

    We have an oak mezzanine ceiling which we oiled when we put in. We’d now like it to look lighter. Can we change it at this stage, through using a stripping product or sanding?
    Thank you!

  22. Gordon Says:

    I am having a new American White Oak staircase installed which will need treating. I want to retain the natural look as much as possible and do not want a high sheen finish.

    Can you suggest the best way to go about this and presume I will need to treat it with more that one coat. If so,what should I do between each coat prior to the finishing coat?

    The steps of the staircase will not need treating as I propose covering them with carpet.

  23. Karen Says:


    We bought an old door to use as a headboard. There is absolutely no paint on one side and is mainly grey, but the other has a faint bluish tint to it in places which works well with our wall color. It is rough to the touch. Is there something we should put on it to preserve it and maybe make it a little less rough on our pillows? However, we don’t want to compromise it’s current color, so willing to sacrifice pillows if needed.



  24. nick Says:

    Hi Mary,

    Sanding will probably be the best option to return the wood back to its pre-oiled colour. If you’re looking to retain the natural untreated or freshly sanded look which is lighter, consider Osmo Polyx Oil Raw 3044 or Fiddes Hard Wax Oil Natural. Both of these products offer a good level of protection while retaining the more natural look of the wood.

    If you would like to make the wood lighter by giving it a subtle or perhaps stronger white wash effect, it may be worth considering Osmo Polyx Oil Tints White 3040 or Fiddes Hard Wax Oil Tints White.

  25. nick Says:

    Hi Gordon,

    To retain the natural look of the White Oak consider using 2 thin coats of Osmo Polyx Oil Raw 3044 or Fiddes Hard Wax Oil Natural. Both of these products are designed to keep the wood looking as natural as possible while offering a good level of protection. Both products produce a Matt finish.

    Full details on how to apply these products can be found on the relevant product pages of our site.

  26. nick Says:

    Hi Karen,

    To retain the colour of the wood and provide a smoother finish, try Clear Fiddes Supreme Wax Polish. You may need to apply several layers to achieve a smoother surface. This product does become more shiny when buffed so you may find that the sheen level may increase over time where the pillows are in contact with the wood. The sheen can be taken down again by just applying a fresh layer of wax and not buffing it.

  27. Mary maidens Says:

    we have a solid oak kitchen table, how do we get the old polish off and start again.

  28. nick Says:

    Hi Mary,

    If the table has just wax or polish on it, try Manns Wax and Polish Remover. Alternatively, it can be sanded but the polish tends to clog up the sandpaper quickly meaning that you may need to use a fair amount of sandpaper to get back to bare wood.

  29. Steve Says:

    Hi Nick
    Brilliant website, thanks. We’ve bought an old oak front door from a reclamation yard and have now stripped the outer side back to bare wood with a combination of varnish remover followed by hard scraping with an edge of a scraper held at right-angles to the wood, then sanding – phew! The weather board at the bottom is still darker (presumably it got more rain in its former life) but we’re happy with that character.
    The door is in an enclosed (glassed in) porch, north-east facing, so won’t get any rain & almost no direct sun. We want to keep it looking as natural as possible with no shine, so I was concerned that the beeswax you suggested for Nicky might leave a sheen.
    Any suggestions gratefully received.
    Steve R

  30. nick Says:

    Hi Steve,

    The Beeswax Polish recommended to Nicky wouldn’t be suitable for your exterior door.

    For your door, i recommend 2 coats of Barrettine Premier Wood Preservative initially as this offers good protection against things such as mould, algae, dry rot and insect attack, conditions more associated with environments that receive less direct sun light and are therefore perhaps more damp. Although this product is ‘touch dry’ in just a couple of hours, allow a full 48 hours between coats and before applying an exterior wood oil.

    In terms of a top coat, consider Osmo UV Protection Oil Extra 420. Although one of its key points is that it offers UV resistance to wood that gets a lot of sun, which in this case isn’t required, it also offers great durability against general weathering and lasts well before needing any maintenance. It also dries to a Satin-Matt finish so has very little reflectivity in terms of sheen.

    Always do a test area and read the manufacturers instructions on the tin or container before starting any project.

  31. Gordon Harradine Says:

    We’ve recently purchased a pair of salvaged solid oak old church doors which we’ve scrubbed, repaired and sanded, and which are now looking lovely. We want to finish them with a soft, subtle sheen but one which will also protect them against the elements. We do not want to end up with a hard brittle shine. Any ideas please.

  32. nick Says:

    Hi Gordon,

    The best way to preserve and protect your church doors now that they have been cleaned and are back to bare wood is to first treat them with a preservative such as Barrettine Premier Clear Wood Preservative. This will protect the wood from biological threats such as mould, algae, dry rot and insect attack. For the best results, apply 2 coats of preservative allowing at least 24 to 48 hrs drying time between coats and before applying an oil.

    To protect the doors from the elements including wind, rain and sun, 2 coats of Osmo 420, UV Protection Oil Extra are recommended. This will enhance the natural grain and colour of the timber as well as darkening it slightly to give an almost damp, satin-matt finish.

    Always do a test area first and follow the manufacturers instructions on the tin.

  33. Nicola Says:

    Hi there,
    Wondering if you could help me. I bought a whole range of dining room, livingroom furniture about 2 years ago from the Cambridge Oak range from Next in the u.k. It is predominantly solid oak with oak veneer. Last week I bought one more piece from the range which has been changed to Cambridge Light. I presume this is white oak they are using now in the furniture range. I love the new piece and the lighter colour oak and was wondering what I could do to lighten the rest of my furniture. Two years ago when I bought it, next recommended treating the oak with tung oil. I applied a couple of coats of this without thinning it for the first few coats with white spirits which it stated on the back of the tung oil bottle. I used Liberon pure tung oil. The furniture has darkened an awful lot in just 2 years and has an orangey look to it and I am really disappointed as I paid a lot of money for the range. Was it because I did not thin down the first few coats of tung oil that caused it to darken so much and is there anything I can do to lighten it without making a mess of it and ruining it altogether. Would appreciate any help you can give me and sorry for the long post, thanks

  34. nick Says:

    Hi Nicola,

    Tung Oil, as with most types of wood oil, will darken the colour of the wood as well as bringing out the natural grain and colour of the timber. You should be able to remove most of the tung oil by wiping with white spirit which will break down and dissolve much of the oil, have plenty of dry rags to hand. a light sanding with a 120 grit sandpaper will then take you back to the bare wood. To keep the lighter appearance of the freshly sanded wood, consider 2 thin coats of Osmo Polyx Oil Raw 3044 or Fiddes Hard Wax Oil Natural. These will provide a good level of protection for your furniture while retaining the lighter colour of the freshly sanded wood.

    As with any project, Always do a small test area on a low visibility section, perhaps the underside or back edge to be sure that you are happy with the results.

  35. Cain Says:

    Hi Nick,

    Great tips on the website thanks :)

    We have just finished installing a new kitchen and our builder made us a Tasmanian Oak timber frame for the stone bench top. Like a lot of the comments here, I want to protect the frame as best I can but still retain the natural look of the wood. I would prefer a matte, non-oily finish and could tolerate a slight deepening in shade but want to keep the natural look as much as possible. Can you please recommend how to best go about this?

    I am in Australia so unsure if the same products are available here, but the types of products I need and how to apply them?

    Many thanks!

  36. nick Says:

    Hi Cain,

    It’s always nice to hear that the information we provide on the website and blog is appreciated :-)

    I believe that Tasmanian Oak has around the same density as many European Oaks so using a good quality wood oil is going to be a good option. Hard Wax Oils are available in a Matt finish and also dry completely so no ‘oily’ or ‘greasy’ surfaces. Using a standard clear oil will always darken the wood slightly giving it an almost ‘damp like’ appearance, it will also draw out the natural colour and grain of the timber which in some cases, can be very different from the bare wood appearance.

    A way of testing the appearance that a clear oil will give is to slightly dampen the wood with some water on a cloth or sponge. This gives a fairly good representation of how the wood will look oiled without actually applying oil. Once the wood dries from being dampened, it will return to its original untreated appearance.

    If you prefer to keep the wood looking more like it does in its natural state, consider Osmo Polyx Oil Raw 3044. This oil has been specifically designed to help maintain the ‘Raw’ appearance of timber while still offering the same level of protection as the standard clear Polyx Oil.

    Osmo have a distribution network in Australia. Osmo Australia can be contacted here.

    It might be worth getting a small tester pot to try the product out first.

    Always do a test area before starting any project.

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