Walnut Oil vs. Boiled Linseed Oil

Walnut Oil vs. Boiled Linseed Oil

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.

Boiled linseed oil (aka BLO) is a highly combustible/flammable drying oil which generates heat as it dries.  It has all of the same safety concerns as mentioned above (just read the label on the container).  Additionally, boiled linseed oil has a strong odor and has been known to darken (wood carvings) over time.  I learned this through personal experience.


A fire occurred on Feb. 23, 1991, at the One Meridian Plaza Building fire in Philadelphia that resulted in the deaths of three firefighters. The fire was started by spontaneous combustion in linseed oil-soaked rags that were improperly disposed of after use. The fire occurred on the 22nd floor of the 30-story building.

Don’t let this happen to you!  Think about it before you use boiled linseed oil again.


Walnut oil, on the other hand is extracted from walnuts, (Juglana regia).  The oil contains polyunsaturated fatty acids, monosaturated fatty acids, and saturated fats.  It is not a drying oil.  Walnut oil is completely safe, odorless and is not combustible/flammable in any way as it has a short drying time and does not produce any heat as it dries.  There are no special safety precautions listed on its label for disposal of rags and other items used to apply it.  Also, through my several years of use, walnut oil has not darkened any of my wood carvings.  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.  It is also an edible oil widely used in cooking.

Below are two photos that illustrate the damage done to a wood carving due to the darkening effect from the use of boiled linseed oil.  Photo #1 shows the carvings after it was originally finished.  Photo #2 shows the same carving six years later, which had darkened from the boiled linseed oil used on it.

Questions & Comments

Bill sent in a good question this week in relation to one of my very first blog posts back in July, 2021, titled “How Do I Know If My Knife Is Sharp?”  Bill writes:

“Great guide. Thanks for sharing this! Do you also have some tips on how to sharpen the knives properly using items that we can find at our house?”

That’s a good question, Bill.  In the many years I have been wood carving I have never really seen any non-commercial knife sharpening items that are suitable for sharpening woodcarving knives.  The only thing that comes to mind is a sharpening steel used for sharpening kitchen knives.  These, however, are not actually designed for the low angles (generally 12o-15o) edges on woodcarving knives and I actually don’t recommend using them.

Using sandpaper is an excellent way to sharpen a knife blade (Search for Scary Sharp Method on YouTube).  Anything that’s 600 grit or finer will work.  600 grit sandpaper is coarse enough to take the small nicks out of your blade.  If you don’t have nicks in your blade you may not want to start there.  Start with 1200 or 1600 grit.  Automotive sandpaper because of the extremely fine grits available is ideal for sharpening knives.  When sharpening with sandpaper start with a high grit and go increasingly lower.  The lower you go, the finer the edge you will get on your blade.

When it comes to honing (stropping) your knives, and I assume that’s what you meant when you said “sharpening”, there are lots of options.  The back sides of old belts make ideal strops.  Glue them to a board or paint stick.  Even the board or paint stick itself will make a good strop as long as the wood is smooth.  Many carvers use just a piece of wood with some compound on it.

Cardboard also makes a great strop, particularly the insides of cereal boxes.  It can be used with or without compound.  You can even try a piece of brown paper bag in a pinch.

Even a piece of rubber, like a tire inner tube (without compound) can be used.

That was a rather long answer, Bill.  I hope I addressed your question.

In response to Rick’s question from last time about making glasses for caricatures, here is a little piece on how I do it.  I originally demonstrated this in my article titled “Norbert The Elf” in the Woodcarving Illustrated winter 2019 issue #89.

How to Make a Pair of Wire Glasses

Starting 2 1/2″ from one end tightly wrap a 10″ piece of 20 gauge brass wire completely around a pencil (or dowel) one time forming one circular loop.  Remove the pencil from the loop.  Leave about 3/8″ of wire after the loop and tightly wrap it around the pencil again forming the second circular loop.  Remove the pencil from the loop.  You should now have two loops with wire sticking out at each end.  Bend the end wires back 90o right at the loops to form the ear pieces of the glasses.  Trim both ear pieces with wire cutters or pliers.  Shape the glasses by hand, as necessary and fit them onto the carving.*  You may need to trim the ear pieces a few times until you get the glasses to fit just right.  Caution: Be careful not to trim the ear pieces too short.  A drop of Cyanoacrylate (CA) glue will hold them permanently in place.

*Note 1: In some cases, holes can be drilled in the temples of your caricature to accommodate the ear pieces.   Fit them onto the carving by inserting the ear pieces into the holes that were drilled in the temples.

Note 2: Adjust the sizes of your wire and dowel to fit the size of your caricature.

Greg Meece from Landenberg, PA wrote in with a great tip on how he make wire glasses for his caricatures.  Greg says:

“Hi Bob.

It’s Greg Meece, again from Landenberg Pennsylvania. I read on your blog about Rick’s question concerning using glasses on caricature wood carvings. I like using thin brass or silver wire and rolling it around the tapered end of a paintbrush handle to create the right sized lenses.”

These two photos show how Greg used glasses on a caricature he carved:

That’s a terrific tip, Greg!  I really appreciate your sharing it with everyone.

Connie Teeters from Deland, Florida wrote in with another comment about the use of glasses on caricatures, and also with a good question about how sassafras carves.  Connie writes:

“I would like to add that Carving Magazine issued #2, on the cover and inside is the photo gallery and artist profile by Mar v K a i s e r s a t t , it is a character carving of a man doing old fashioned photography but he does have glasses on which is kind of interesting. I do love reading Wood Chip Chatter. I do have a question about the sassafras wood. How does it look when it’s finished and can you carve it.

Connie Teeters, Deland Fl.”

Thank you for writing, Connie!  On occasion you do see caricatures wearing glasses, it’s just not that common.  I’m happy to hear you enjoy reading Wood Chip Chatter and hope you will continue to do so.

I once carved sassafras in the past and enjoyed carving it.  I had sassafras trees growing in my backyard and one night one blew down in a storm.  After the tree was all cut up and cleared I cut a piece off to carve a wood spirit as a gift for the neighbor who cut the tree for me.  Obviously the wood was still green and contained a fair amount of moisture.  It had an ash grey to light brown color, carved well if you took your time, and seemed to hold detail pretty nicely.  Sassafras is classified as a hardwood and carves similar to black walnut.  Sassafras has a beautiful grain with distinct growth rings that finishes beautifully when treated with oil.

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.

Our first entry to the Photo Shop this week is a beautiful pineapple carved on a rolling pin submitted by Mr. T.

“Bob…. Wife wanted an addition to her decor so requested the attached. Mr. T”

Mr. T’s Pineapple on a rolling pin

Nice work, Mr. T!  I’m sure the Mrs. loved it!

Our next two entries to the Photo Shop come from Kathy Savage.  Kathy carves magnificent looking animal carvings that look very realistic.  This time she carved a Beagle and a bear for two of her nephews.

Terrific work as always, Kathy!  I’m sure your nephews loved their carvings.

News & Announcements


We have not had any entries to the “Carver’s Corner” for several weeks.  Don’t be shy, send in photos of your carvings and get them critiqued!

I’m sure you all have some terrific carvings to share in my “Photo Shop” section.  Photos of your carvings liven up the blog’s appearance and make it more interesting.  Also, my “Carver’s Corner” is a great way to get constructive critiques on your carvings so you can learn where to improve on your next ones.  When sending in photos please specify whether you want them for display in “Photo Shop” or if you want me to critique them in the “Carver’s Corner.”  Send your photos in to carverbobk@woodchipchatter.com.  Thanks!


Send in your questions and comments so we can keep Wood Chip Chatter active and keep the conversations going!  Effective discussions are one of the best ways to learn about the topics that interest you.  Remember, there’s no such thing as a dumb question.  Plus we would all love to learn about the unique tips, techniques and products YOU use in your woodcarving process.  Send your questions and comments to carverbobk@woodchipchatter.com.  Thanks!

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


5/14 – Dana Kababik – Carving Junkies

5/21 – Dillon Goodson

NOTE:  Beginning in June, through August meetings will be held only once per month…

6/18 – Chris Wilson – Wilson Wildlife Sculpture

7/23 – TBA

8/20 – Malcom Sharp – Twisted Sticks



Keep a sharp edge, and keep on carvin’!

Funny Bone

How does a pig keeps its feet clean? With ham sanitizer

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.

8 thoughts on “Walnut Oil vs. Boiled Linseed Oil

  1. Great read on oils. Have wanted to shift from BLO and walnut is on the list to try. Do you usually source from hardware stores?


  2. Thanks so much for woodchipchatter. It is very informative and I am always eager to learn more to improve my carving skills. I definitely see the benefits of walnut oil. The blo has yellowed the carving and has risks associated with it.
    Regarding your points on sharpening, you mention that we should start with high grit sandpaper and ‘go increasingly lower. The lower you go, the finer the edge you will get on your blade.’ By ‘lower’ I assume you mean finer grit, not lower numbers, since finer grit numbers are actually higher.


    1. Thanks Steve! I’m glad you’re enjoying Wood Chip Chatter. You are correct. By lower I meant finer grits, not lower numbers. I guess I should have made that clearer.


      1. Point well taken. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience with us less experienced carvers. We really appreciate it. Keep up the good work.


    1. I use walnut oil as a sealer prior to painting, not as a final coat. For a final coat after painting I use Krylon acrylic spray. Walnut oil is a good sealer if you are not painting your carving.


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