Linseed Oil Paint

Why does paint fail today? Many professionals and home owners are analysing the massive amount of information available on the web and elsewhere. Paint companies are introducing new chemical paint products to find a solution to the immense problem of paint failure. The issue is made more complicated than is has to be. The problem is the paint and not the surface it is painted on. Petroleum paint is today replaced with Acrylic paints because of the elimination of solvents (VOC’s). Acrylic paint on an exterior of a house, especially an old house without an interior vapor barrier will suffer extensively. The paint will trap moisture on the inside of the walls making the wood rot from the inside as the paint starts failing. This is the hart of the problem. All these modern acrylic paints do NOT breathe enough. Any wood replacement products from hardy-planks (clapboard exterior siding made from a cement compound) to vinyl siding does NOT solve the maintenance nightmare; it simply shifts to a new material that still has to be maintained. What is interesting is that when you research material that was used 100 years ago, the word “paint failure” seldom comes up. Why? Paint 100 years ago before all the fancy chemically made paint products were introduced, Linseed Oil Paint was used. It did not have any of the problems. Linseed Oil Paint is clearly an excellent alternative that is long lasting, with very long history and contain zero chemicals.
History of Linseed Oil Paint

Paint failure was unknown 100 years ago. Paint used before the 1920’s contained primarily pigment, boiled linseed oil. Lead was later extensively used until it was found to be causing serious illnesses. Lead has been replaced since 1978 in the USA and since the 1940 in Europe. The paint did not build up on the outside of the wood surface and the linseed oil allowed any moisture in the wood to easily escape. This eliminated any chance of paint failure (paint flaking & peeling). Linseed Oil Paint preserved the wood very well. We can see proof of this in several hundred year old buildings in Europe and in the United States. Problems with paint were not common during the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The paint job lasted much longer than it does today.

The introduction of modern paint. In the 1940’s after the 2nd world war, the paint manufacturing industry moved away from the old tried and true methods of making linseed oil paint and began heavily promoting chemical, petroleum and solvent based paints. These new paint products were very inexpensive to manufacture but did not hold up well, making it necessary to repaint every few years. This was a perfect product for the paint industry, but not for the customer.
When the introduction of the new petroleum paint products began to be marketed in the early 1900’s, the arguments for the new type of oil paint were mostly:
Drying time was claimed to be shorter. – Today, drying time is about the same for linseed oil paint as well as Petroleum based oil paint. You can paint every 24 hours.
Bright new colours. Very bright colours are not easily achievable with Linseed Oil Paint, but the Linseed Oil Paint colours are significantly longer lasting. Linseed Oil Paint can last 50 to 100 years with minimal maintenance. Maintain with the Purified Organic Boiled Linseed Oil and the Linseed Oil Wax. The last coat will work as the sacrificial coat.
New high gloss surface. A high gloss can be achieved with Linseed Oil Paint by adding just a small amount of Linseed Oil Varnish (also a completely natural product) to the Linseed Oil Paint or by applying a Linseed Oil Varnish as a top coat.

Modern paint. A major difference in modern paints is the change in binder from the used of natural boiled linseed oil to alkyd oil which is generally derived from soybean and safflower oil. Use of synthetic resins, such as acrylics and epoxies, has become prevalent in paint manufacture in the last 30 years of so. Acrylic resin emulsions in latex paints, with water thinners, have also become common.

Today we know the detrimental effects of exposure to chemicals and solvents. So why use them in paint if they are completely unnecessary? With the awareness of the danger of petroleum products in the environment, we are entering a new period for the painting industry. Legislation has been drafted to eliminate petroleum based oil paint from the market and to ban solvents in paint.

Other environmental hazards. Mildecides and fungicides were prevalent and popular until their environmental hazards were seen to outweigh their benefits. New formulations which retard the growth of the mildew and fungi are being used. Lead was eliminated after 1978 in North America and in the 1940’s in Europe. Most recently, volatile organic solvents in oil paint and thinners have been categorized as environmentally hazardous.

Returning to linseed oil. The oil pressing industry vanished back in the early sixties and today. Farm pressing of the flax seeds are mainly done in the northern Europe, Saskatchewan Canada and in north and south Dakota in the United States. The Canadian producers export most of the flax seeds. Small local producers manufacture linseed oil and to a large extent bottle it for use in outdoor wood preservation.

A safe paint is available again. Through the rediscovery of ancient wisdom, there is finally an alternative to modern paint hazards and failure.  Linseed Oil Wax, Linseed Oil Soap and Linseed Oil Varnish are completely compatible chemistry, making solvents unnecessary in any step of the painting process. These are the best and safest materials available to preserve our wood structures for future generations.

7 thoughts on “Linseed Oil Paint

  1. interesting, I remember mixing linseed oil in paint cans to paint a house my folks were going to resell. I thought it was because that was the cheapest kind of paint they could get. And maybe it was. That was in the early 70’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “This was a perfect product for the paint industry, but not for the customer.” This statement sums up what I hate most about our world, and applies not only to paint, but also to all consumer goods.

    Do you know when this article was originally written? Wonder if anything has changed since then.


    1. I remember it being a Swedish company that still sells linseed paint. They show a picture of an American barn painted with linseed oil. I don’t remember the web address though. Tell me, why is this article so offensive?


  3. Sounds like there is a market opportunity here to reintroduce linseed oil paint. Long lasting and ease of maintenance. All natural. Etc, etc.


  4. The article itself is not offensive. The motivation behind some of the ‘technological advances ‘ can be brought into question and I personally think a lot of people are more than a little frustrated and dismayed at the moral code which seems to be lacking in the manufacturing sector when big business comes into play. I am all for making a dollar, you need to eat, stuff is nice and the standard of living can be improved with our every increasing knowledge base. I do not believe making a dollar by destroying someone else’s ability to or the planet through unnecessary and wanton pollution is right. If anyone wants to see the effects of plastic in general there are multiple documentaries available to view. Plastic can be a fantastic material, available in many forms and types. If there is not the means to deal with the vast quantities we consume and discard should we be using it ? I have seen the problems described in the article relating to acrylic paint and the immediate damage from the discarded thinnings. What happens to the timber coated in acrylic paint once no longer in use? At the moment I am testing out an Osmo paint, oil based, which claims not to peel and be microporous. Solvents are not necessarily bad, you can get solvents derived from gum or citrus or several other sources. I wouldn’t suggest bathing in any of them, caution is needed with all products. Some are worse than others for our health. Some may be biodegradable but not biocompatible- they can still damage or kill living organisms. All materials are made up of chemicals, the linseed oil is made of chemicals. The mention of the shift after the Second World War to petroleum based paints is not a coincidence. There are a huge range of industries which sprang out of the manufacturing advances from the war. There is a lot of knowledge which has been sidestepped because the ‘value’ is not as great in dollar value. The definition of value obviously is a controversial one. I would think most people reading this have more than an inkling of value in knowledge, culture, craft, history etc. Maybe I have overthought Matt McGrane comments but I do appreciate the sentiment behind them.

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    1. What do you know about citrus solvents? I have always believed that citrus solvents are no different to white spirits with the exception of the pleasant smell one gives over the other. Citrus solvents cost about $82 for 4litres, that’s very expensive, however, I do have a can of it and have used it with Tung oil which I find better than BLO. I would like to know your thoughts on it if you have any.


  5. Through the course of my work with building maintenance/renovation in domestic housing some of my customers have either suffered acute chemical sensitivity or reactions from the off gassing so have asked for particular products. This, along with a more pronounced consumer and manufacturing shift towards environmentally sound/aware products has helped broaden to a degree my exposure to a range of products, some backed up by talks from chemists whom work for companies such as Volvox, their solvent by the way is isoparaffin thinner with no aromatic hydrocarbons. The citrus solvents have not been the most straightforward or ready to purchase and the cost as you know is prohibitive compared to petroleum based solvents which, from my limited understanding vary in terms of vocs etc depending on the processing involved. I have in the past had a rather unpleasant reaction to diesel oil which was used as a lubricant in a ceramics factory and was very hard to avoid contact with- it was everywhere. The chemist I spoke with said the level of absorption through your skin was so fast that it travelled through your body at a rate measured in seconds. I read what I can and try to verify the source material, there is a fair lot of unsubstantiated information out there. I have found in terms of use that thinning with gum turpentine some of the oils I use to be more satisfactory both odour wise and with application. It is more readily available at short notice too. Some of the bigger manufacturers of timber oils have as much as 60% mineral turps in the product. Thats a lot of offgassing and not a huge amount of product left on the surface as it all evaporates as far as I am aware. I believe that the majority of BLO these days is mixed with drying agents rather than the traditional way and therefore potentially more hazardous. It would be great for a chemist to run through all the facts. I suspect that in terms of health, environment and usage/characteristics there are pluses and minuses on all. I also suspect that the profitability in petroleum based thinners is huge, I heard somewhere that mineral turps was a by product from manufacturing something else. Like to know if this is factual or not. Not sure if any of this helps, basically one of the biggest issues I have faced is whether or not I can afford the alternatives or my customers are prepared to pay for them and if they are a logistical nightmare to get. I try to minimise the usage with frugality.


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