Optimized Boiled Linseed Oil
Unfinished shovel handle Oiled shovel handle

   Although the previous method for making boiled linseed oil was fully simplified, it was not fully optimized. The large amount of catalyst dissolved poorly, the steel pan tended to discolor the oil, and the drying time could potentially be improved. After a period of experimentation, I was able to significantly improve my boiled linseed oil without adding any complexity to the production process.

   To make a batch of this oil, I began by adding 100g of raw linseed oil and 400mg of ferric acetate (ground in oil to make a paste) to a large (7 inch diameter) crystallizing dish that I found on Ebay for $20. I then brought it to 220C on my hot plate, at which point the catalyst completely dissolved, temporarily producing a strong vinegar smell and turning the oil a transparent dark red. I then maintained it at this temperature for four hours, which I found to be the longest reliable duration before the oil starts to solidify. At this point, a drop of oil rubbed on cold glass will have significant friction rather than feeling slippery; this appears to be a reliable indicator, and I will likely use it later when preparing larger batches of oil. I then let the oil cool to room temperature, and transferred it to a small mason jar. The steps of this process can be seen below.

Raw linseed oil with catalyst Oil on hot plate, side view Oil on hot plate, top view Boiled linseed oil in mason jar

   Oil produced this way is extremely fast-drying; a thin layer on glass will dry to a rubbery film in three hours in sunlight, and overnight indoors. It is also highly viscous; not to the extent that it is difficult to apply, but likely near that limit. Whether this is desirable is a matter of personal preference, but if a more fluid oil is needed it can be thinned with turpentine. As a practical test, I decided to apply it to the badly-weathered handle of an old shovel, which had been left outdoors long beyond the point where the original lacquer had flaked off. The oil wiped on easily by hand, soaked well into the wood, and could be buffed to a soft shine with a rag. It appeared to dry overnight, but I sat the shovel in the sun for a day to be sure. A before-and-after comparison can be seen at the top of the page. The color of the wood was greatly improved, and the texture became softer, providing a better grip. Hopefully the oil will help bind together the wood fibers and prevent further splitting, but only time will tell as to whether this treatment improved the longevity of the shovel. Overall, though, I am highly pleased with these results, and this type of boiled linseed oil will likely become my go-to finish for wooden objects that are subject to frequent handling.


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