When Should You Use Tru-oil Vs Wipe-On Poly? [3 Key Comparisons]

Wood finishing can be a confusing process. Simply deciding between all of the different finishes out there can be mind boggling.

And it’s not just the standard stock finishes that you need worry about. There are also numerous finish blends and recipes – each one mixed to their own special ratios.

Take Tru-oil, for example. This thin oil is easy to apply, and dries into a nice glossy coat, that brings out grain in a way few other finishes can.

Used on musical instruments such as Guitars and Banjos, it’s widespread popularity is largely in part due to the way it enhances the natural definition of wood grain.

Still Polyurethane, or rather Wipe-on Poly, is a more durable finish than Tru-oil. And it’s ability to form a long-lasting seal around almost any type of wood, is a big plus.

So which one of these two finishes should you use on your wood craft?…

When Should You Use Tru-oil Vs Wipe-On Poly? [3 Key Comparisons]

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1). Use Wipe-On Poly… If You Want A Durable Finish

Polyurethane is made of some sturdy stuff. It is one of the toughest finishes you can use, and it is more durable than varnish, shellac, and even lacquer.

Related Post: Can You Put Tru Oil Over Nitro Lacquer? [Best Practice Revealed]

Now, most of its durability is the result of its flexibility; this finish has a little bit of give in it after it cures. That bit of elasticity makes it more difficult for dents and abrasions to make their mark.

Tru-oil, on the other hand, is about as durable as your typical Linseed oil finish. Which means that while it may offer wood excellent protection from moisture, it doesn’t offer much scratch protection.

Basically, if you are worried about long-term wear and tear, then a few coats of Wipe-On Poly will garner better results than a Tru-oil finish.

Related Post: Can You Put Tru Oil Over Shellac? (Here’s What You Need To Know)

How Many Coats Of Wipe-On Poly Do I Need?

Okay, so here is where we need to clarify a key point… wipe-on polyurethane is a thinner substance than regular brush-on polyurethane.

So while your typical polyurethane sealer will need 2-3 coats to be effective, you are going to need at least triple that number of coats for a wipe-on poly product.

In other words, it takes 6-9 coats of Wipe-on Poly to give wood the same level of protection as 2-3 coats of polyurethane.

But, don’t worry, those extra coats shouldn’t slow you down as Wipe-on poly is super fast to apply. You can rub this product on with something as simple as lint-free cloth.

So even with all those extra coats, you’ll save a lot of time with a wipe-on poly application (compared to brush-on poly).

Is Wipe-On Poly Just A Thinned Out Polyurethane? It’s a bit more involved than that, but largely, yes it is. Thinners are used alongside other additives, (such as Penetrol), to help polyurethane dry much faster.

2). Use Tru-oil… If You Want To Save Time On Repairs Later On

Wipe on Poly is tougher and more durable than Tru-oil… that’s simply a fact. But it is it’s toughness that makes it more difficult to repair later on.

If you get any deep scratches in that thick poly coat, then fixing it is going to require quite a bit of sanding work.

Tru-oil, on the other hand, doesn’t need anywhere near as much work to repair. This is mostly due to the fact that Tru-oil dries and cures into a much thinner film than polyurethane. Which is one of the reasons why Tru-oil needs so many coats.

Related Post: Can You Put Polyurethane Over A Tru-oil Finish? [3 Quick & Easy Tips]

How Many Coats Of Tru-oil Should I Use?

Well, to put things into context. Linseed oil, a key ingredient in Tru-oil, needs around 3 coats if you want to get that finish done properly.

Tru-oil, however, blends Linseed oil with mineral paint thinners that heavily dilute the thickness of this substance.

So, don’t be surprised if it takes you some 12-15 coats of Tru-oil to get an even coat.

Is Tru-oil Very Durable? Tru-oil doesn’t hold up well against everyday handling. It’s brittle coat will scratch far more easily than a wipe-on poly finish.

When Should You Use Tru-oil Vs Wipe-On Poly? [3 Key Comparisons]

3). Use Tru-oil… If You Want A Glossy Wood Finish

Tru-oil will leave wood with a high gloss natural appearance that makes wood almost glow with vitality.

Sure, any Linseed oil product can do the same. However, Tru-oil is able to offer that within a fraction of the drying time of Linseed oil.

But, when it comes to polyurethane, you are left with a more matte finish; unless you purchase that poly specifically in satin, semi-gloss, or high gloss.

Still, even with those glossy additives, Wipe-on Poly makes wood look like its been tightly wrapped in plastic cling film.

Is Wipe-On Poly An Oil-Based Finish? It depends on the product. You can purchase oil-based pipe-on poly and water-based pipe-on poly. Simply check the label on the can.

Which Brings Us To The Conclusion…

When it comes to choosing between Tru-oil and Wipe-on Poly, your choice really boils down to deciding between two things; durability and appearance.

So to sum up, if you go with Wipe-on Poly, you’ll have a more enduring and water-resistant finish.

And if you opt for Tru-oil, it will buff out into a finish that is a lot more pleasing to the eye than poly.


Strength and durability of one-part polyurethane adhesive bonds to wood