Ever Considered a Linseed Oil Finish?

by Jamie Latty

At some point or another we have undoubtedly all experienced playing instruments with satin or gloss finishes, normally favoring one over the other. And while satin and gloss finishes are always popular among Deering enthusiasts, we frequently have customers looking for a banjo but who prefer the feel of bare wood over a satin or gloss finish. Linseed oil is perfect for creating that natural wood feel while still being able to offer some protection and Deering has begun using it on some limited models this year.

It may sound fancy, but Deering is actually holding true to a time honored, historical finish process.  Linseed oil is one of the oldest wood treatments in the world and was used to finish British muskets in the 1600’s, as well as other wood products furniture for centuries. So why use it on banjos?

One benefit of using a Linseed oil is that when applied, it accentuates the natural grain of whatever wood it is being applied to. Or as we like to say in the trade, it makes the grain “pop”! However, as you already know a banjo is so much more than simply an attractive item to look at.

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As musical instrument builders, the tonal qualities that the wood has to offer is of paramount importance. The resonance and the ability for the wood to move and vibrate freely without restriction is vital to how the banjo sounds.  Some people believe that sound can be affected by the finish used, both in type and in quantity. Ever see an inexpensive banjo with a glossy finish? Take a look next time and take note of just how thickly it is applied. Ever noticed on a Deering banjo that has a glossy finish that the rim is never glossy? That is for a good reason and this is same the reason that Deering does not use paint on any of its banjos. Only wood stains, which do not interfere with the grain of the wood and therefore its natural resonance. Deering also offers a satin and a gloss finish across a variety of models, but these are designed to offer the maximum amount of protection with the minimal amount of interference to the wood’s most important characteristic – tone.

This trend in thinking has bought with it a noticeable increase in the number of customers requesting a natural Linseed oil finish, including Mr. Jens Kruger himself who wanted a banjo that has an almost au natural finish to it in order to hear the wood in its purest form, while still retaining some needed protection. The results have been fantastic. The wood is able to breath freely and a Linseed oil finish makes for a wonderfully smooth, natural wood feel that allows the banjo to sing loud and clear.

There are a couple of things to be aware of with Linseed oil. We know that many of our customers like their banjos to appear played and  a Linseed oil finish will age very well the more you play it. Unlike banjos with a gloss or satin finish, with a Linseed oil finish any marks can normally be removed with a light buff with some ‘0000’ grade steel wool. However, lighter colored woods like maple will show signs of wear and use fairly quickly so those players looking to keep their instruments squeaky clean at all times may not enjoy it as much. Part of the routine maintenance of a Linseed oil finish is that it will also need to be reapplied every few years. A common question is “what do I need and where can I buy it?

A quick Google search for Linseed oil will typically mention two main types: raw Linseed oil and boiled Linseed oil. Raw Linseed oil is exactly that. Raw and untouched. You want to pick up “boiled Linseed oil” which you can get very inexpensively from your local hardware store. “Boiled” is the key word here. Raw Linseed oil normally takes a very long time to dry. Boiled Linseed oil (which is not actually boiled) contains additives to help it dry much faster than its raw counterpart. A word to the wise though; any Linseed oil will go bad after about 6 months. So buy a small can for $5 or so and then buy a fresh can when the time comes to reapply it.

When applying Linseed Oil, it is important to remember that a little goes a long way, so use sparingly. Simply take two lint free rags and apply a little oil to one, rubbing it deep into the wood. Leave for 10 minutes and wipe off any excess with the clean rag, taking extra care in tight areas like along the edge of the fret where it meets the fingerboard, or in intricate peg head shapes where the oil could build up and become gummy over time. And even if your existing banjo is a gloss or satin finish. you can also use Linseed as a great oil for your ebony fingerboard to keep it from drying out. It works perfectly! However you use it, Linseed Oil is still an oil and has been known at times to combust if not stored or disposed of correctly. Here at the factory, we always use and properly seal the metal storage container that it comes in and we never throw rags into the trash until they are fully dry. So please use caution, but above all else, ALWAYS read the manufacturer's guidelines regarding proper storage and disposal of the oil and used rags.

And there you have it. It may not be for everyone, but the fact is that a Linseed oil finish will offer a natural protection for the wood without any coating. So if you are looking for as close to a natural feel as you can get, then you may want to consider a Linseed oil finish for your next Deering Banjo.

Just speak to your local dealer or call Customer Service toll free on 1 (800) 845 7791 to find out more!


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