Wood Finishes & Their Solvents

Wood Finishes & Their Solvents

The following is a Glossary of terms of wood finishes, solvents and the components that go into their chemical makeup.  Although this is a bit of a chemistry lesson (I’m a retired chemist), I put this list together to give you an idea of the kinds of substances you are applying to your wood carvings.

Acrylic Paint – a fast drying paint made up of pigment suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion and plasticizers, silicone oils, defoamers, stabilizers or metal soaps.  Most acrylic paints are water-based but become water-resistant when dry. 

Alcohol – especially ethyl alcohol, that has been denatured: used chiefly as a solvent.  Ethyl alcohol is highly flammable.

Danish Oil – a wood finishing oil, often made of tung oil or polymerized linseed oil.  Because there is no defined formulation, its composition varies among manufacturers.  Danish oil is a hard drying oil, meaning it can polymerize into a solid form when it reacts with oxygen in the atmosphere. It can provide a hard-wearing, often water-resistant satin finish, or serve as a primer on bare wood before applying paint or varnish.

Drying Oil – an oil that hardens to a tough, solid film after a period of exposure to air at room temperature.  The oil hardens through a chemical reaction in which the components crosslink by the action of oxygen.

*Lac – a resinous substance deposited on the twigs of various trees in southern Asia by the female of the lac insect (Kerria lacca): used in the manufacture of varnishes, sealing wax, etc.

Lacquer – any of various quick-drying, resinous varnishes, especially a resinous varnish obtained from a Japanese tree, (Rhus verniciflua), used to produce a highly polished, lustrous surface on wood or the like.   Lacquer is dissolved in lacquer thinner, which is a highly flammable solvent typically containing butyl acetate and xylene or toluene.

Linseed Oil – a colorless to yellowish oil obtained from the dried, ripened seeds of the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum).  The oil is obtained by pressing, sometimes followed by solvent extraction.  Linseed oil is a drying oil, meaning it can polymerize into a solid form.  Owing to its polymer-forming properties, linseed oil can be used on its own or blended with combinations of other oils, resins or solvents as an impregnator, drying oil finish or varnish in wood finishing, as a pigment binder in oil paints, as a plasticizer and hardener in putty, and in the manufacture of linoleum.  Oiled wood may be yellowish and is likely to darken with age.

Mineral Oil – any of various colorless, odorless, light mixtures of higher alkanes from a mineral source, particularly a distillate of petroleum, as distinct from usually edible vegetable oils.  Most often, mineral oil is a liquid by-product of refining crude oil to make gasoline and other petroleum by-products. This type of mineral oil is a transparent, colorless oil, composed mainly of alkanes and cycloalkanes, related to petroleum jelly.  It has a density of around 0.8–0.87 g/cm3 (0.029–0.031 lb/cu in).

Mineral Spirits – a clear, volatile distillation product of petroleum, used as a common organic thinner for paints and varnishes.  Also known as white spirit, mineral turpentine, turpentine substitute, and petroleum spirits.

Polymer – a compound of high molecular weight derived from the combination of many smaller, low molecular weight molecules (monomers).  A product of polymerization.

Polymerization – the process of reacting monomer molecules together to form large polymer chains of three-dimensional networks.  In the case of drying oils such as linseed oil this process takes place as the oil dries on your carving.

Polyurethane –  varnish made with synthetic drying oils that is typically a hard, abrasion-resistant, and durable coating.  Popular for hardwood floors but are considered by some wood finishers to be difficult or unsuitable for finishing furniture or other detailed pieces. Polyurethane is comparable in hardness to certain alkyds but generally forms a tougher film. Compared to simple oil or shellac varnishes, polyurethane varnish forms a harder, decidedly tougher and more waterproof film.

Resin – a solid or highly viscous substance of plant or synthetic origin that is typically convertible into polymers.   Resins are usually mixtures of organic compounds. 

Shellac (varnish) – a varnish made by dissolving shellac in (usually) alcohol or a similar solvent.

Shellac – lac* that has been purified and formed into thin sheets, used for making varnish.

Tung Oil –  also known as China wood oil, is a drying oil obtained by pressing the seed from the nut of the tung tree (Vernicia fordii).  Tung oil hardens upon exposure to air (through polymerization), and the resulting coating is transparent and has a deep, almost wet look.  Used mostly for finishing and protecting wood, after numerous coats, the finish can even look plastic-like. 

Turpentine – any of various oleoresins derived from coniferous trees, especially the longleaf pine, (Pinus palustris), and yielding a volatile oil and a resin when distilled.  Used mostly as a thinner for paints and varnishes.

Varnish – a preparation consisting of resinous matter, as copal, rosin or lac, dissolved in an oil (oil varnish) or in alcohol (spirit varnish) or other volatile liquid.  When applied to wood, metal, etc., it dries and leaves a hard, more or less glossy, usually transparent coating.

Walnut Oil – oil extracted from walnuts, (Juglana regia).  The oil contains polyunsaturated fatty acids, monosaturated fatty acids, and saturated fats.  Walnut oil is composed largely of polyunsaturated fatty acids (72% of total fats), particularly alpha-linolenic acid (14%) and linolenic acid (58%), oleic acid (13%), and saturated fats (9%).  Walnut oil was one of the most important oils used by Renaissance painters.  Its short drying time and lack of yellow tint make it a good oil paint base thinner and brush cleaner.

Wax – a solid, yellowish, non-glycerin substance allied to fats and oils, secreted by bees (also called beeswax), plastic when warm and melting at about 145o F, variously employed in making candles, models, casts, ointments, etc.


Because of flammability concerns, many product containers list safety precautions for storage and disposal for varnishes and drying oils as they are flammable, and materials used to apply the varnishes may spontaneously combust. Many varnishes contain plant-derived oils (e.g. linseed oil), synthetic oils (e.g. polyurethanes) or resins as their binder in combination with organic solvents. These are flammable in their liquid state. All drying oils, certain alkyds (including paints), and many polyurethanes produce heat (an exothermic reaction) during the curing process. Thus, oil-soaked rags and paper can smolder and ignite into flames, even several hours after use if proper precautions are not taken. Therefore, many manufacturers list proper disposal practices for rags and other items used to apply the finish, such as disposal in a water filled container.

There were no Reader’s Questions or Comments nor were there any entries to the Carver’s Corner submitted this week.

Photo Shop

“Photo Shop” is the section of Wood Chip Chatter where carvers can send in photos of their wood carvings for display. It’s your chance to show off your work…sort of a show and tell. The photos will only be displayed and no comments or critiques will be made.  For critiques on your carvings send them in to the “Carver’s Corner.”  Send your photos to carverbobk@woodchipchatter.com.

I’m very pleased to see we have several entries to the Photo Shop this week!  Your photos are always greatly appreciated and we love to see what you’ve been carving.

Our first entries to the “Photo Shop” this week were sent in by Kathy Savage who wrote:

“thought I would send a few

these were Christmas gifts for 2 nieces 

the German Shephard was carved from a photo of her dog that unfortunately passed over the rainbow Bridge a month before I gave it to her

Kathy Savage”

Kathy’s Lighthouse Relief

Wow, those are magnificent carvings, Kathy!  I especially like the German Shephard carving.  It’s very realistic.  Thank you so much for sending them.  That’s so sad to hear about your niece’s dog, though.

Our next “Photo Shop” entry comes from my good friend, Wayne Smith, from Nova Scotia, Canada.  Wayne sent in some photos of one of his signature “South Shore Rednecks” carvings:

“Hi Bob, you said you’d like to have a few photos for your blog’s photo shop section. Since I carve mainly  SSRN’s  ( South Shore Rednecks)  and Christmas ornaments,  I figured I’d send you some pics of my most recently finished character and save the Santa’s for sometime closer to Christmas. 

  I look forward to your blog, but understand as we approach summer most carving communities tend to slow up a bit, so every 2 weeks is fine. Maybe next fall when we’ve got all our gardening and other chores taken care of you can go back to a weekly schedule. 😉


Thanks, Wayne!  I sure do appreciate the photos and I always love seeing your South Shore Rednecks.

Next we have a photo of a spectacular horse carving by Dick Bonewitz, from Carmel, IN:

“This is a horse I carved in a class with Janet Cordell as the instructor.  It was at the Ozark Woodcarving Seminar, which is an excellent seminar.  The horse is from a basswood roughout, sanded to 400 grit and sealed with 3 coats of spray lacquer.

Thanks for publishing your newsletter. Please show this one in the next addition

Dick Bonewitz

Carmel In”

Dick’s Horse

Wow, Dick, that’s fantastic!  Thanks so much for sending it.  Much appreciated!

Free Pattern

Here is a Bunny Rabbit fridge magnet I designed which can also be carved as a sweater or lapel pin.  Although this is not really a pattern it’s easily traceable to make your own pattern.  It’s a quick and easy carve and makes a great filler for the kids’ Easter Baskets.

Bob’s Bunny Fridge Magnet

News & Announcements

I will be taking a much needed vacation over the Easter break so there will be no Wood Chip Chatter on April 15 & 22.  The next Wood Chip Chatter blog will be posted on Friday, April 29.

I want to wish everyone a very Blessed, Safe and Happy Easter!

Upcoming Shows for Spring, 2022

April 23Westby, Wisconsin. Carve In 6@ Bekkum Memorial Library, 206 N. Main St., 10am to 4pm. Free admission. Contact John Sutton (608) 634-4396, lbarnfarms@gmail.com; or  Bekkum Library (608) 634-4419.

April 30 – May 1 – Fargo, North Dakota. 45th Annual Red River Valley International Wood Arts Festival;  Sat. 10-5, Sun. 10-4;  Admission: $3.00, Children under 12 free, $7.00 Family rate;  For more information: http://www.rrvwoodcarvers.org or contact Show Director, Rhonda Smith 218-839-4259

.May 68 –  Missoula, Mont. Montana State Woodcarvers Show & Sale; Missoula County Fairgrounds. $4 admission. Sat: 9 -3 ; Sun: 11-5. Tom Collins (406) 529-0239;  tomcollins875@gmail.com.

May 7 – Inverness, FL. Nature Coast Carving Club of Citrus Co. show and sale. at 6298 E. Gospel Island Road, Admission $2, Open 9 am-3 pm. Email: naturecoastwcc@gmail.com.

May 78 –  Mountain Home, Ark. North Arkansas Woodcarvers’ show/sale at Baxter Count y Fairgrounds. Sat 10-5; Sun 10 -4. Free admission. Contact: Sandy (870) 431-8070; webmaster @northarkansaswoodcarvers.org. Visit website: http://www.northarkansaswoodcarvers.org.

May 21-22 – Greeneville, Tennessee.  Evergreene Woodcarvers Iris Festival Woodcarving Show;  First Presbyterian Church in Greeneville. Woodcarvers of all skill levels are invited to compete. For more information please message us on Facebook.

May 21-22Sacramento, Calif. Capital Woodcarvers host 50th show at Scottish Rite Center, 6151H  St. Sat. 9-5, Sun. 9-4. Alison Cook (916) 485-7893; crystal53@hotmai l.com.

June 11-18Maquoketa, Iowa. The Affiliated Wood Carvers present 54th International Woodcarvers Congress at Jackson  County Fairgrounds. Website: woodcarverscongress.org.

The International Association of Woodcarvers has upcoming Zoom meetings on the following Saturdays at 3PM EST with special guest presenters.  Check them out…

Zoom:  310-460-3575


4/9 – Joe You

4/16 – Chris Hammack

4/23 – Brett Andrews

4/30 – Cecilia Schiller – Cranklady

5/7 – Ken Kuhar

5/14 – Dana Kababik – Carving Junkies



The Jersey Hills Wood Carvers (JHWC) club is a small but growing group of wood carvers sharing their time, knowledge and joy of woodcarving.  The JHWC generally meets from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Thursday of each month (when school is in session) at the Jefferson Township High School wood shop classroom.

Membership is “FREE” and open to anyone interested in woodcarving regardless of their ability.

JHWC’s Upcoming Meetings and Events

May 5th, 19th

Jun. 2nd, 16th, 30th

For more information contact:

Al Santucci  alsantucci4@gmail.com  President

Bill Brunner  billbrunnerdesign@gmail.com  newsletter/website editor

Or visit:

Website:  https://www.jerseyhillswoodcarver.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/736479646821641/

Next Wood Chip Chatter:  Friday, April 29, 2022

Keep a sharp edge, and keep on carvin’!

Funny Bone

Published by carverbobk

I’m a self taught award winning wood carver who has been carving since I was a teenager. I enjoy instructing other carvers, especially beginners.

3 thoughts on “Wood Finishes & Their Solvents

  1. Bob, thanks for the bunny magnet idea. I was trying to think of a fridge magnet for my family for Easter, and here it is. Thank goodness I have until May 1st, because I have several to do. It looks as easy as your snowman I did before. You are my hero, you have saved my Easter. Thank you my friend. I hope you, Pat and your family have a wonderful holiday.


  2. Another great chatter Bob I will be putting the report on oils and such in my storage folder for reference. Enjoy your break all the best to you and your family….Danial


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