Penetrating Finishes

Smaller sets of finishes actually penetrate the structure of the wood and provide protection and add beauty. Wax has been used as a floor finish for about as long as floors have been around. These are often used over basic penetrating oil or as a standalone finish. Tung and linseed oils have also been used as standard finishes for decades. Penetrating oil finishes are often combined with a topcoat of wax to add richness and depth to the wood’s grain and character.


When a wax or penetrating stain or oil is applied to wood, it soaks or is worked into the wood itself and the excess material is then removed. Waxes with solvent bases are very easy to apply and they dry quickly. These finishes are a little more work to maintain, but they are also one of the easiest to repair. The durability comes from the wood itself and varies by the characteristics of each species. Buffing an oil and wax finish can keep it looking like new, year after year, without the risk of chipping or flaking.


When I completed a large addition to my home, I used a traditional penetrating oil finish in my master bedroom. The hardwood flooring I chose was Jatoba, also know as Brazilian Cherry, and it is significantly harder and more durable than oak. I prefer the look of satin and low-gloss floors, and linseed oil alone yields a subtle sheen that is timeless in its beauty. Linseed oil also imparts a pleasant smell during application and provides basic protection in a room where heavy traffic is minimized. The low cost of a linseed oil finish is also a nice benefit. Polyurethanes can run $30-$40 a gallon; Swedish finishes $80-$100 a gallon; while linseed oil can easily be one-third of those costs.