Hobbyist here, non professional.

Can anyone chime in on the use of linseed oil on fingerboards?  I was watching a few different YouTube videos and a few guys would rub down the cleaned fingerboards with it.  Another would rub it on scuffs and surface wounds on the body.

I grabbed an old neck out of my cadaver corner 2 days ago and cleaned it up and then applied a coat on the FB and a few surface scuffs on the neck.  Looks good  2 days later, but what's the long term effect on fingerboards and finishes?  What about on guitar bodies? 

What potential issues would a future repairperson have to deal with coming across this on a future repair?

My first thoughts were cautious, because I haven't seen any references to this procedure on this forum.

So it's time to ask.


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This can be a complex topic, so be prepared to sort through a lot of conflicting info.

Fingerboards are often oiled to give them a richer appearance.  Generally, a light mineral oil is preferred because it does not polymerize as do the various vegetable oils.   "Lemon oil" is traditionally made of a light mineral oil with a bit of lemon scent added.  It is NOT made from squeezed up lemons.

Linseed oil is made from flax seed, and it is chosen for finishes because it DOES polymerize and become a surface coating - a quality not usually desired for fingerboards which can get sticky and nasty before long.  You know the polymerization as the gunky stuff that forms around the top of a bottle of olive oil.

Manufacturers have been known to use 3-in-one, lubricating oil, and even WD-40 as a fingerboard treatment.

Me, I'll continue using the mineral oil from the supermarket that's sold for use as a laxative.   Wipe on, wipe off, and done.

This is kind of like asking for opinions on a favorite brand of underwear. You'll get lots of differing opinions.

FWIW, I used to use the mineral oil like Mr. Ford. I somehow got onto Howard's Feed and Wax. I think it lasts longer and gives a better sheen to the wood. It is dynamite on any mahogany furniture you may have. Plus it can be bought at Lowes for a very reasonable  price.

Hi John,

The choices available for finishing fingerboard surfaces are many and as with stuff these days its a crap shoot as to whether what you are getting or doing is the best solution. Here is our reasoning for our choices, the rest is up to you.

Finishes, for bare wood in particular  serve distinct purposes: looks, cleaning  and protection.

For looks we see mineral oils and dyes and lemon/orange oils and mineral spirits for cleaning.

For Protection we see Tung, raw and boiled linseed (flax) and many similar nut/vegetable oils.  These oils can be combined  with Citric Terpene (a distillation of citric peel) otherwize know as D Limonene to assist penetration into wood and by themselves used as a bio degradeable/ecologically sound cleaner. 

We use Tung oil and Citric Terpene treatments to condition all our new boards. We have previously used a Boiled Linseed/ D Limonene based preparation (for over twenty years of production) and can verify the effectiveness and serviceability of this system.  CT or DL is also a great cleaner for removing embedded grunge and grime - A cut down soft/medium toothbrush  is still the best tool for getting up close and personal with the fret junction (that I know). Note:   Citric Turpene does not react with Poly/modern  finishes and we use nitrocellulose on most of our guitars and have never experienced a reaction or problem. Ditto repairs and reconditioning of older nitro finishes.   As usual: if in doubt; test it. 

Moving on: The philosophy being that longevity and serviceability of the fingerboard is important at an Artisan and Stage performance level and when correctly applied and buffed/polished provides a level of protection to the wood and the fingerboard.fret junction that will assist in achieving a long life span in adverse (climate, sweat, moisture, alcohol, grimy paws etc) conditions.  This is the key to our choice - using the appropriate system for the likely circumstances. 

A high level acoustic player who can control the environment in which the guitar will be stored and played may have no need for a protective fingerboard finish and if he/she is a rosewood (or similar) board player with an open grain finish then a protective coating which penetrates the surface layer is a debatable prospect (anything you do can change your instruments tonal response).  Good ebony responds well to these oils and darkens a tadge along with highlighting the usually concealed grain patterns and I would have no hesitation using Tung or Flax based oils for all round good looks and protection.   Always buff and polish as usual.

To reiterate, if the situation requires protection you should use it (and that goes for guitars as well). 

For cheap and nasty it doesn't matter what you use, if the guitar is going to be short lived most wood will stand up to the test without treatment in moderate climates and playing conditions.

So, that's a quick and dirty look at our philosophy and use of fingerboard treatment.   Note:   do all your fretwork before you oil or clean with anything as the fret filings and grindings love the fret/fingerboard junction, particularly if there is any residual cleaner or oil lingering in this place. Same goes for using steel wool to either smooth or apply finish to the board, which is a very popular cabinet making finish,  - it gets into everything as you know (toothbrush job after you use it).   

Regards, Rusty.

Hello Rusty,

I was in a Woodcraft store recently and was looking at their selection of tung oil and orange oil. I am interested in using tung oil and  D Limonene. I would like to know how you apply them. Also, at the moment I don't remember the brand but there was a bottle that had combined both. Do you use the  D Limonene first then tung oil?

Thanks in advance for replying.


HI Lee,

The D Limonene is used as a thinner for the Tung oil to assist in penetration of the Tung oil into the wood.  There are a number of combinations and methods used in oil finishing wood but for New fingerboards it goes as follows.

50/50 mix apply liberally with a clean swab and note the response of the wood.  If it sits and stays shiny (a sheen) as it will do do with premium ebony leave it for a while (30 minutes or so) and buff it off with an absorbent pad.   If its drawn into the wood quickly reapply immediately and allow 30 minutes or so and then buff off.  If the oil appears to "drag" on the buff pad its stood for too long and a quick lick with the existing oil mix will reconstitute the mix and allow it to buff off.  Any soft terry towel/cotton swab will buff OK and the buffing is complete when no noticeable "smear" occurs when a finger is wiped across it.  However, highly  polished ebony (2000 grit and above) and similar will always smear anyway so don't be too concerned with this.

For a full blown furniture finish wait a couple of hours and reapply (use a less thinned mix) and repeat a few more times   That's basically a DIN Spec for furniture and not really necessary for fingerboards.

Our philosophy is to provide a basic measure of climate and finish protection to the wood along with enhancing the look of the wood.

To clean a grungy fret board prior to oiling it use straight D limonene sparingly with a medium toothbrush (or equivalent) to get into the fret junctions and ends.   It is pretty much a high quality "lemon oil cleaner" without the application of tung or linseed oil.

All of the above advice has been used and tested over a 20 year period of guitar manufacture and repair and constitutes confirmed performance rather than opinion.   

Dispose of the rags in a sealed container or zip loc with the voids filled with water.  That's the tech advice for disposal. 



Hello again,

Thanks again for replying so fast! Thanks for the detail. I plan on getting tung oil soon. Woodcraft carries General Finishes orange oil. Will that work as D Limonene? 

HI Lee,

We use Citric  Turpene to thin Tung and Linseed oil, D limonene is the same thing (for all intents an purposes here) - Check out the product description on the orange oil - this may be a combined or polymerised preparation similar to retail lemon oils etc.   Not the same thing and if you are going to source Tung oil the seller will more than likely also sell a compatible thinner.    Oil finishes are pretty forgiving but if you are going to shell out for Tung maybe go the extra yard and get the other part of the system.   


G’day Rusty :).

I was just wondering what the effect of citric terpene/d-limonene is on the smell of a tung oil application? I think that would be my main concern with most customers, as the smell of real tung oil is a bit pungent and it hangs around for quite a while. I assume citric terpene smells like citrus.. does it cut the smell of the tung or otherwise make it more tolerable?

Also, do you prefer ‘raw’ tung oil, or polymerized?

OK, got all that,   Andrew and Lee.

I just looked through a lengthy utterly bizzare thread on the use of d limonene and similar cleaners thinners etc on another forum and now understand why some animals eat their young.  Tung oil smells like tung oil, Linseed (flax oil)  smells like it does and the various citrus based extractions smells like oranges or lemons etc. The citrus smell is a good one and many manufacturers of many things use it for its pleasant fresh smell which is recognized by most customers.   It masks linseed oil but real Tung is quite strong so I'd use it sparingly and buff it well to remove any standing oil.

The amount of misinformation about what the citric distillations do to finishes is disconcerting.   If you try to clean 20 years of grunge and beezwax and nicotine offa an instrument with anything its going to react and smear and so on and so forth - old 335 finishes in particular come to mind (for some reason not known to me these guitars seem to attract dirt and corrosion - probably because there are so many old ones out there that we see).    So don't use the mix to do anything other than to clean or refurbish  fingerboards or treat/darken new boards and you will be fine.   I haven't noticed this stuff affecting gloves and don't use gloves when applying this mix but acetone and thinners surely does.   

But as with all things, test before leaping in to build confidence and assurance if in doubt.   I have no idea what this stuff does to Shellac or acrylics.   All I know is poly and nitro and I have been using these mixes for 20 years with nothing to report.



 P.S.   I just recalled something from my apprentice days about testing solvents - you may wish to look it up on the web as I'm about to pull stumps here.  Its a procedure and order of applying solvents starting with de ionised water and working through the classes of solvents to determine what solvent removes or cleans various glues or dirt or other junk from various surfaces.   It's designed to prevent you using the wrong class of solvent on a particular finish or dillution .   I''ll  have a look later but if you find it could you post it.


As for my posts, I was looking for info strictly about cleaning, treating, refurbishing fingerboards. Thank-you for your responses. As for using citric terpene and tung oil on finishes it makes sense to test before using. If I am able to find the info on testing solvents before you find it I will post.


Hello again Rusty,

I found D-limonene on Amazon. Thought I'd include a couple of pics of the bottle. I also found Citric Turpene from a source in Australia. I beg your forgiveness but I thought I'd start with a source a little closer to my home in Scottsdale, AZ.

Just wondering what type of gloves you use to apply this mixture? The bottle says D-limonene isn't forgiving to nitrile, natural rubber, neoprene...

I really appreciate your replies, responses, and time you give on this forum. I have and am still learning a lot from you.



The use of oils is very dangers if the rag is not disposed right. I used to rub down the Cabernet I built  after finishing them. 

One house I threw the rag in the garage and during the night it cought fire and lucky the concrete floor in the garage and the house was plastered so nothing burnt bet had to be repainted.

I know of a house had to be rebuilt 2 times  because of linced oil and turpentime set them a fire .Spread the rags out so they will dry or keep in enclosed can.



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