Should You Use an Oil or Varnish to Finish Your Floor?


What should you treat your hardwood floor with? How do you apply a Varnish or a Hard Wax Oil? Which is better – a Varnish or Oil Floor Finish? Need answers? Then this video is for you!

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Floor Finishes Video Transcript

Hi I’m Ben O’Reilly,  from Wood Finishes Direct in this video I will be discussing Floor Finishes – specifically water based Polyurethane Varnish and a Hard Wax Oils. I’m going to be discussing the best way to apply them, the pros’ and cons’ and hopefully help you decide what one is right for your floor.


Firstly let’s talk about Varnishes, specifically the Mann’s Extra Tough Floor Varnish and the Bona Mega. Typically they look like this, a white fairly thick liquid. Application is nice and easy, I have made up a few planks as a fake floor that I’m going to be applying to today and I have stained it with a  Manns Trade Light Fast Wood Stain in Light Oak. It’s a really nice stain to work with, and it goes on nice and easy and it comes in a brilliant range of colours. When you are applying a varnish to wood it’s really important to make sure the wood is well sanded, to a p120 minimum.

And for some application tips, the varnish I’m going to be using today is the Mann’s Extra Tough Floor Varnish in Matt. The applicator I will be using is the Padco Snappy applicator, it’s a 6 inch disposable application tool that’s ideal for the application of varnishes or oils. Firstly you do need to make sure you stir the varnish and allow any bubbles to settle. And make sure you are wearing suitable protective equipment pour some into a paint tray and using your applicator apply it in long even strokes, work in manageable areas, to the full length of individual boards and avoid letting it pool as well.

So I have let this dry for a few hours,  the next step is “de-nibbing” or giving the area a light sand, I’ll be doing it with a Woodleys Finishing Pad, it’s kind of like a scotch pad. You can also do this with very fine sandpaper just don’t put too much pressure on you’ll undo a lot of your hard work, this step aids adhesion of further coats and helps it level out, you just do it by lightly rubbing it down like so, and wipe off any dust after this step.

Regarding amount of coats, it’s best to follow the guidelines on the tin or bottle, if you have any worries about durability or want to improve the sheen adding an extra coat or two is a good idea.

Varnishes offer increased durability and require less maintenance than oils, however it is more than likely need to re-sand the entire floor when it does eventually gets damaged and worn. The life of a varnish is typically between 5-10 years. It does depend on what varnish you use, the quality of the varnish, how busy your household gets and regularly you maintain and clean your floor.

Hard Wax Oils

Now Hard Wax Oils, specifically Osmo Polyx Oil and Fiddes Hard Wax Oil, Hard Wax Oils that have slight wax content, this improves durability and prevents them from soaking in too far, meaning whereas with traditional oil you would have to do 3-5 coats with the hard wax oils you only have to do 2-3 depending on what wood you are treating. Again for this i’ve mocked up a fake floor and just like varnishes the floor you are treating does have to be sanded to a P120 minimum.

The Oil I will be using today is the Osmo Polyx Oil in Matt – and again the applicator is the Padco Snappy Applicator, and with it i’m going to be using these, it’s a Woodleys Microfibre Cloth.

With the Oil it’s very important a good stir, make sure you get into the corners just in case there is any matting agent that has settled at the bottom, once you’ve done that all you need to do is pour it into your paint tray, and then using your applicator sparingly apply the oil working in long even strokes, try to work to the full length of the board as well.

Once you’ve applied, you need to get your cloth and if you have any excess on the surface as I do it’s best to work that into the wood and wipe it off.

So I have let this dry now it’s time to denib, I’m using again a Mann’s Finishing Pad, de-nibbing is really important helps the second coat soak into the wood, and regarding coats it is best to follow the guidelines on the back of the tin.

Oils do require more maintenance normally every year or two but only the areas that have started to wear, Oils are great because they don’t crack they don’t peel and they don’t flake, when they do start looking tired, they do maintain their look a lot better. And also they are so easy to patch repair, for example say you have a small area of damage or a small stain all you have to do is clean them with a Suitable Cleaner and apply a nice thin coat and you’re as good as new. any areas that are a little more damaged for example say a red wine stain or a big scratch, all you need to do is sand it back with fine sandpaper and again it’ll be as good as new,


What floor finish is right for you does depend on what look you want to achieve, how durable you require the finish to be and also how much time you want to devote maintenance. I’ve finished both these boards and both of them look fantastic. The Varnish feels strong and it looks great, the Oil feels and looks a lot more natural you can actually feel the grain as you touch it.

Ultimately as with any wood finish it is always best to do test areas, maybe decide what sheen level you like get a sample of the oil, get a sample of the varnish and try them out in different areas on your floor, see what one you like to apply and see what one works best in your home.

A full list of all the products featured and used in this video is available in the description on YouTube, and also If you liked this video and want to see more unique content, simply subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like and comment on any video’s you like, and of course, always do a test area.

Know what you want? View our range of wood finishing products for flooring.

Other Content You Will Love!

Blog: Everything You Need to Know About Pine Flooring

Blog: Product Spotlight – Fiddes Hard Wax Oil Finish

Blog: Beautiful White Wood Finishes for Dreamy Interiors

Blog: How to Clean Wooden Floors

Blog: Oak Floor Maintenance – Top Tips for Finishing Oak

Blog: How to Varnish a Wooden Floor?

Blog: The Big Brush Issue – Synthetic Vs Natural Paint Brushes – What Brush To Use.

Blog: Secrets Of The Experts – Denibbing Explained – How to Finish Like a Pro.

Video: Hardwood Oil – Osmo Wood Wax Extra Thin 1101 Product Test

Video: Floor Finishing With Wood Finishes Direct


  • Always try a test area before beginning any project!
  • Always use suitable protective equipment, and take due care while applying any of the products featured in these video’s.
  • All prices are accurate at time of the video going live.


  1. Hello, we want to refinish the original oak floors in our 500 year old french house. One of the rooms is a bathroom, so wondering which product would be recommended. I do like the Osmo products especially because they have tints that can mimic the old grey colour but will the floors be protected enough in the bathroom setting is the real question. Kind regards, Debbi Baron

    • Hi Debbi,
      The Osmo Polyx Oil will be lovely on the flooring once it has been sanded back to bare wood. Osmo recommends one coat of the Wood Protector (4006) in high-moisture areas such as kitchens and bathrooms. The wood protector can be applied prior to the application of any of the tints excluding White & Raw.
      Hope that helps!!

  2. Hi I am going to get my 1960s tropical wood parquet floor sanded and renovated and one company does with a varnish and one with oil. I’m not sure which is best for parquet – will it be the same pros and cons as in your video for wooden floor boards?

    Also, once it’s renovated I will want to be able to look after it myself so do you sell to the public or do I have to buy in larger quantities?

    Any other advice welcome.

    Thank you.

    • Hi Sally,

      The same pros and cons apply. Oils are easier to patch but take more maintenance. Varnish/lacquer lasts longer between maintenance coats but can’t be patch repaired if damaged. Yes, we do deal with everybody and assist anyone who requires advice over the phone.
      Hope that helps!

  3. We are installing new hickory stairs. We have a dog that uses them. Our thought is to go with the Osmo product to get the hardest finish. Is this a good choice over varnish?

    • Good Afternoon Marcia,

      Thank you for getting in touch with your enquiry. It would be fair to say that Varnish is a more durable product, it is harder wearing for sure than an oiled finish.

      That said Osmo Oils are also very durable and are a good option for flooring and stairs for a more natural appearance. And oiled finishes have the benefit of being easy to maintain and patch repair if they get damaged, but for example, dog claws.

      If you want to consider a varnish I would recommend the Manns Extra Tough Floor Varnish as a good option and there are sample sizes for test areas. As there are with the Osmo Wood Wax Finish Extra Thin this may be a better option for the Hickory as it is a fairly hard wood type.

      And if you need any further help or advice please do not hesitate to get in touch via our contact us page.

      Kind regards Samantha.

  4. Hi enjoyed the video on applying the Osmo polyx oil
    i have a very hard dense oily hardwood plank im planning to use as a door threashhold
    what would be the best hard wearing finish please?

    • Hello Dave,

      Thank you for getting in touch with your enquiry. Thresholds can be difficult to protect, people either step on them everytime the walk through or they step over them. If the step is going to be on the exterior side of the door I would recommend a good quality preservative such as Barrettine Premier Universal this can help to prevent mould, mildew and rot.

      And then a Barrettine Decking Oil as an easy to apply and maintain finish that can stand up to some heavy traffic. The oil soaks into the surface of the wood and so will not peel and flake, it can be topped up easily when you feel the wood needs it without the need to sand back or strip.

      If the threshold is to be interior then you could look at the Osmo Polyx Oil again this is a durable oil that soaks into the surface to protect.

      I hope that helps and if you have any questions at all please do not hesitate to let me know via our contact us page. Always try a test area first.

      Kind Regards Samantha.


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