Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Featured Craftsman -- Artisans of the Valley

The “microbrew of wood finishes,” meant for handcrafted pieces of wooden art that go beyond everyday mass produced wood products. That’s how Eric Saperstein, Master Craftsman at Artisans of the Valley Hand Crafted Custom Woodworking in Pennington, New Jersey, describes Waterlox premium wood finish. So when it came time to finish some of his proudest solid white oak pieces from Artisans of the Valley’s New Wave Gothic line, choosing a wood finish was easy.

“These Gothic pieces will be around long after I’m gone,” Eric said. “They need a finish that will last as long as they do.”

Eric prefers Waterlox to lacquer or polyurethane finishes for a number of reasons.

“Waterlox lasts years beyond lacquer and polyurethane finishes, which can color and fall off,” Eric said. “Waterlox is a flexible finish that will expand and contract with a piece over time, unlike other finishes.”

More importantly, Eric says, he trusts Waterlox as the finish he puts on what he considers investment pieces.

“Artisans of the Valley is a custom shop and we consider our work to be heirloom quality,” Eric said. “Many of our pieces see an annual increase in value. It’s furniture you can pass down to your kids. It’s why we use Waterlox.”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010



Tung oil is made from pressed seeds from the nut of the tung tree. The tung tree, native to China, is named for its heart-shaped leaves because “tung” is Chinese for “heart.” In the 14th century, Chinese merchants were noted for using tung oil to waterproof and protect wooden ships from the eroding powers of the sea. There are even mentions of tung oil appearing in the writings of Confucius in around 400 B.C. For these reasons, it is also sometimes referred to as “China wood oil.”

Pure tung oil is considered a drying oil much like linseed, safflower, poppy and soybean oil and is known to have a slightly golden tint. Tung oil, which is actually a vegetable oil, is considered the best penetrating drying oil available due to its unique ability to wet the surface, allowing it to penetrate even the densest woods. Unlike linseed oil, it will not darken with age.

Although Tung oil is a superior drying oil, Waterlox Original Tung oil finishes differ because they are resin modified. Therefore, resin-modified Tung oil is what makes our finishes superior to others.


It is a small deciduous tree that grows up to 40 feet tall with smooth bark and a branchy head. Its leaves are dark green and glossy with blades 3-13 inches wide. The tung tree has flowers that range in size from 1-3 inches in diameter with petals that are white tinged with red and yellow. Each nut or fruit contains 3-7 large seeds.


The tung tree’s official botanical name is Aleurites fordii. It thrives in moist, well-drained, slightly acid soil. These hearty, fast growing trees mature to bear fruit in their third year and yield commercial quantities at four to five years of age. Maximum production occurs in the tenth to twelfth years of growth, with trees expected to be commercially productive for at least 20 years after optimum production has occurred.

In the Northern Hemisphere, tung tree nuts grow in clusters and fall to the ground from late September through November. The fruits and are left for a few weeks to dry and cure. Tung oil is produced by harvesting these nuts and separating the nuts from their hard outer shells. Then the transparent oil is squeezed from the seeds inside.

Dried and pressed nuts yield about twenty percent oil. Under favorable conditions an acre of tung trees will produce about two tons of tung nuts and yield about 100 gallons of raw tung oil annually.

  • Tung oil has been used extensively in the paint and varnish industry.
  • In the 30’s, tung oil compounds were used to coat cables, telephone wires, generators, fans, and various other types of electrical equipment.
  • The automobile industry used large quantities of tung oil. For instance, every brake band manufactured used it as a binding agent to hold it together.
  • At one time, more than 2 million pounds of it were used annually to manufacture cosmetic tubes.
  • During the War of 1914 it was used extensively in the treatment of airplane fabrics as a water resisting varnish.
  • The Chinese have used it for waterproofing masonry, cloth, shoes, clothing, and paper.
  • It can be used to seal concrete.
  • Tung oil, mixed with lime mortar or burned tung nut residue, was one of the world’s first agents for waterproofing caulking boats.
  • It is used by stonemasons on granite and marble to permanently seal stone surfaces to prevent staining.
  • A light coat rubbed onto steel is an effective rust inhibitor.
  • The shells of tung nuts yield a valuable raw material for the manufacturing of insecticides.
  • It is used in printing inks.
  • It is used to print US paper money.
  • Tung oil was reportedly mixed in the mortar that made the Great Wall of China.
  • Its non-toxic nature makes it particularly appropriate for children's toys and furniture

The first tung tree seed was brought to America from Hankow, China in 1905 by a senior agricultural explorer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 1912 the Bureau of Plant Industry issued a special bulletin that urged growers to plant tung orchards and offered a limited number of free one-year old trees. This was a perfect fit, because after acre upon acre of pine trees were cut for timber in the early 1900s, Gulf Coast farmers were looking for a sustainable cash crop for the vast vacant land. That same year, ten trees were planted at University of Florida’s Agricultural Experiment Station in Gainesville. By 1927, there were over 400 growers and more than 10,000 acres of tung oil trees in Alachua County Florida and surrounding areas alone.

In 1928, L.P. Moore, nephew of the Benjamin Moore Paints founder, built the first mechanized tung oil compressing mill in the world, located in Gainsville. This began the commercial production of tung oil in America. Other mills later popped up in Cairo, Georgia and Florala, Alabama. The U.S. was a prime location for this new industry, importing 100 million pounds of Chinese tung oil in 1927, and 120 million pounds in 1933, with demand still exceeding supply.

The industry expanded from Florida, Georgia and Alabama to Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, with Mississippi becoming the largest producing state.

Just prior to the outbreak of WWII, tung oil was declared a strategic item for defense use, so the government aided growers to help them to produce more and better trees. During the war, all ammunition was coated with tung oil and products containing tung oil painted all ships. Not only were government support programs available for US growers, but the government also assisted foreign plantings in South America, particularly Argentina. There was an embargo on Chinese tung oil at the time, making domestic oil profitable. The Pan American Tung Research and Development League was formed between tung oil producers in Amercica and Argentina to work jointly on research and development and to pool tung oil from both countries to provide consistent supplies to U.S. consumers.


Major production of tung oil in the U.S. occurred between the late 1930’s and 1972, peaking in 1958 at 44.8 million pounds.

However, because tung orchards are greatly affected by adverse weather conditions, frost was a huge hindrance to U.S. tung oil production, usually decreasing the yields of tung groves. Between 1934 and 1940 frost almost totally destroyed the domestic tung nut crop. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, freezes wiped out commercial tung oil production in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and all of Georgia.

Hurricanes Betsy (1965) and Camille (1969) dealt the final blows to the tung plantations in southern Mississippi and eastern Louisiana. Camille cut tung oil production in the U.S. by over half. Since those growers were eligible for government disaster compensation, they took the money and went out of the tung oil business and into other agricultural production.

In addition, by the late 1960’s many of the US tung oil mills had closed due to the fact that importing tung oil from Argentina had become cheaper than producing it in the states.

Camille came on the heels of what was thought to be the savior of the tung oil industry – a genetic breakthrough that produced late-blooming varieties capable of escaping late spring freezes. Unfortunately, there was little incentive for replanting. Because oil is the only economically significant product of the tung tree. It cannot be grown for fiber, meal or fertilizer. That, along with the fact that domestic consumption declined nearly 50% between 1955 and 1970 spelled the end of commercial tung oil production in the U.S. 


While there is not a whole lot of tung oil being produced domestically these days, it is still readily available thanks to imports from China and Uruguay. Which is a really good thing since it is an essential ingredient in Waterlox Original Tung oil products.

Because Waterlox creates a unique line of tung oil based wood finishes – even among others who use tung oil in their formulations. Chemically speaking, our Waterlox Original Tung Oil products are resin-modified tung oil based wood finishes. The tung oil provides the best penetrating drying qualities available while the resin allows the coatings to form a film that is both water-resistant and elastic – standing up to both foot traffic and common household spills.

Different from other types of wood finishes, Waterlox offers “best of both worlds” benefits. For example, raw oils penetrate into wood but do not provide any real protection to the substrate. Plus, raw oil finishes need to be recoated often due to oxidation and wear. Urethane coatings lay on top of the surface, look more like plastic, can be brittle and once breached ultimately fail. Waterlox is truly incomparable because it penetrates like raw oil, while protecting and nurturing the wood without becoming fragile or having a plastic appearance.

Waterlox resin-modified Tung oil finishes penetrate into the pores of the wood and build up a coating that both guards and strengthens the wood. Best of all, they are easier to restore and re-coat. And without tung oil, Waterlox extraordinary finishes wouldn’t be possible.

  • Marco Polo is said to have brought a sample back to the western world from China.
  • Completely natural and renewable, pure tung oil has gained recent popularity among the environmentally conscious.
  • Inherently resistant to disease and insects, tung trees require no fungicides or pesticides.
  • Tung nut byproducts can be used for mulch or burned for fuel.