Back in the beginning days, I was building my first toboggan with my mentor Milton Chaboyer and he told me that he always finished his sleighs with boiled linseed oil and cedar oil stain mixture: 4 parts boiled linseed oil and one part cedar oil stain. He explained that the linseed oil helps to carry the oil deeper into the wood and the cedar stain helps to blend the various shades of red oak. The mixture beautifies the wood but most importantly, it is an excellent preservative. By the way there is Boiled Linseed Oil and Linseed Oil, the former has chemicals added to speed the drying process, the latter doesn’t and it will take weeks for it to dry. Throughout I’m referring to boiled linseed oil only.
While I originally took Chaboyer’s guidance to heart, it wasn’t until an experience with an old fish house that I realized how effective the linseed oil really was!
When we were getting started with our young family and we had recently moved to Warroad on Lake of the Woods, I built a fish house on a budget. The house had a fiber glass roof but was predominantly chip board and plywood.
The family enjoyed catching walleyes in this house for about 10 years, until it was replaced with a newer portable ice fishing house I built and our old shack was turned into a garden shed. For another decade and a half it sat on blocks on our 40 acres. Each year it would leak a bit more and the walls finally rotted away. As we tore down the old shack we found a completely solid floor! I had originally painted the exterior walls and had applied boiled linseed oil to the plywood floor when I built it. After 25 years outdoors in the Northern MN elements the plywood’s integrity was maintained with a single coat of linseed oil!
After my personal red oak sleds get a few years old and the color begins to fade, I’ll give them a second light coat of the linseed oil mixture. This keeps them looking great and further preserves there future usefulness.
Some folks prefer a second coat of polyurethane or varnish for the final finish. Gloss varnish is harder than satin but both will work. Either polyurethane or varnish can be applied over the original linseed oil mixture finish, it will provide a shiner finish that some people enjoy.
If you use the linseed oil mixture, be careful to dispose of any rags or paper towels used to clean up in the oiling process. Linseed oil is notorious for spontaneous combustion! Milton told me another story that day about his linseed oil mixture… One time he had left used saturated rags on the work bench in his shop and then he later woke up to his shop burning to the ground during the night! Cause of the fire was determined to be by spontaneous combustion of the linseed oil saturated rags.
His lesson on this topic still resonates with me every day I am in the shop oiling our sleds and there has never been an oiled cloth or paper towel left in my shop overnight!