Quick Guide: Waterlox vs Watco Danish Oil

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When the build is complete on your woodworking project, perhaps a side table, a dinner table, a desk, or a chair, it’s time to choose the wood finish.  You probably had some idea of the type of finish before the project began, but maybe the grain is calling out for something other than paint or stain.

You want your hard work to be protected, and you’re now thinking of penetrating finishes that will preserve the wood and keep it looking great for years to come.  If it’s something like a new countertop in your kitchen, you also want something that is durable and safe for food.

Let’s take a look at two wood finish products that can accomplish most, if not all, of those effects and see how they stack up against each other.


Waterlox is a wood finish, a resin-modified tung oil. It comes from pressing the seed of the tung tree and hardens when exposed to air.   That exposure to air makes the resulting coat transparent and provides a deep, almost wet appearance. 

Waterlox penetrates deep into the pores of the wood and creates a protective coating that strengthens the wood.  It has been used for centuries as a water-resistant finish for boats, for instance, and also as a finish for stone.

Watco Danish Oil

Watco Danish oil is also a wood finish containing both a penetrating oil and varnish.  Beyond that description, though, there is no single definition for its constituent composition. 

It may be based on linseed oil, or tung oil, or both; it may contain mineral spirits and synthetic resins, and it contains varnish.  Mineral spirits are petroleum-derived clear liquids used as a substitute for turpentine, which is vegetable-based, commonly used as an oil-based paint thinner and paint brush cleaner.

While varnishes alone will give you good protection for the wood surface, the linseed or tung oil will give your wood a wonderful appearance.  Together, you get the best of both – protection and a great look.

How Do Waterlox and Watco Danish Oil Stack Up?

Now that we know what they are, how do they measure up against each other?  How do you choose between them for your project?  Here are a few distinguishing features of each:

How many coats for Waterlox and Watco Danish Oil?

  • For Waterlox, use 3 coats for most woods, although softer woods like fir and pine will require 4 coats.  Remember to keep your applicator (brush, pad, etc.) dipped in mineral spirits or other paint thinner to prevent a crust from forming.
  • For Watco Danish Oil, 2 coats will usually be good enough.  It’s used for finishing the wood’s appearance, and the difference in look will be minimal as between the second coat and a third coat. Wood ends or rough-hewn pieces may require a bit more oil, as there will be more open pores to feed, and they will absorb more.

How To Apply Coats of each

  • Brush for Waterlox.  Do not wipe on.
  • Cloth for Watco Danish Oil.  Do wipe on.

How Long Does It Take To Dry/Cure?

  • Depending on air circulation, temperature, and humidity, Waterlox recommends a drying time of 24 hours.  A full cure will take between 1 and 3 months.
  • With Watco Danish Oil, the surface will be ready for use in 8-10 hours.  If you are going to apply a topcoat of another finish like polyurethane, allow the surface to dry for 72 hours before application.

Should You Sand Between Coats?

  • Sanding between coats of Waterlox is not necessary.  However, if a coat feels rough, or has dust in it, a light sanding will help create a smoother surface.
  • Since Watco Danish Oil is applied by cloth, there will be no brush marks to sand away.  However, a “wet” sanding will create an even smoother finish between the second and third coats.  Wet sanding uses a special sandpaper that is supposed to be very wet with water.  The water acts as a lubricant and keeps the surface smooth and clean.

Do Waterlox and Watco Danish Oil Darken Woods?

  • Waterlox may change the appearance of woods.  Tung oil brings out the natural patina of woods, and might eliminate the need to stain them.  Test it on an obscure portion of your project or on a piece of scrap wood to help you determine its use.
  • Watco Danish oil will darken woods slightly.  Again, test it on a hidden part of your project or on a piece of scrap wood to help you determine its use. 

What About UV Resistance?

  • Waterlox will form a protective finish on woods against UV rays, harsh weather, and exposure to water, making it suitable for outdoor as well as indoor use.
  • Watco Danish Oil contains UV filters that protect woods from discoloration caused by exposure to sunlight.  It is also water, heat and alcohol resistant, making it too suitable for outdoor use as well as indoor use.

Are They Food Safe?

  • Waterlox is food safe and is often chosen as an excellent finish for kitchen counters, cutting boards, and other items that regularly come in contact with food.
  • Watco Danish oil, too, is food safe.  It is an excellent finish for kitchen stuff like cutting boards, salad bowls and kitchen cupboards.

As these comparisons suggest, each one is an excellent choice for finishes.  They provide protection and create a beautiful appearance, allowing your chosen woods to show through with their best elements and grains.

Words are helpful, and a bullet list guide can answer quick questions; sometimes, a video can help show the use of these two finish products.  We found a couple for you

Waterlox finishing guide

Watco finish application

There is no wrong choice.  The differences between the two are minimal and not enough to compel one over the other.  Each will give your project a beautiful finish.

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