Generally everything I do uses timber without any pre-existing finish applied; it is bare timber in other words. Dry wood doesn’t need any conditioning as such; it has moisture in the wood but it is a very low amount and this varies depending on the relative humidity of the environment the wood is stored in. Applying finishes to the timber affects the surface but not the heart of the wood; so when you hear about letting oils soak into the wood – they do, but only to a tiny depth.
Even if I have a planed surface that is mirror smooth I still give the item a final sand; this ‘roughs up’ the surface a fraction and allows the oils to penetrate into that top, thin layer slightly. I use Tung and Linseed Oil for the first coat; sometimes I dilute with Mineral Turpentine (turps). This is not required but if I’m using a spray gun then it is essential to prevent the spray gun blocking; most of the time I use it straight from the can (so to speak).
I use a cloth or paper towel and spread the oil on fairly thick making sure it gets into all the grooves and corners; this is not like paint, it doesn’t have to be smooth – you can just slop it on. Something like Linseed Oil reacts with air to harden so after slopping it on I give it a final rub over to make sure I have a fairly even amount all over then let it sit to dry. The drying time is not critical at all; I’ll leave most things for anything from 15 minutes to a couple of hours and then I get a clean cloth and buff the excess off and then let it sit for another 15 minutes (for example).
At this point the surface will be dry; you can add another coat if you like, it adds a bit of thickness to the hardened oil but most of the time I leave as is. Next I use beeswax polish; I make this myself using white mineral oil and natural beeswax (recipe here). The mineral oil softens the beeswax so you can apply it (otherwise it is like rock). Before I start applying it I feel the surface, if there is any slight roughness I apply the first coat of beeswax using either 000 or 0000 grade steel wool. This makes it a very mild abrasive; as with the oil put a fair bit on and give it a good rub then sit and allow to dry for a bit. The beeswax should spread easily (like soft butter); if it is cold it may be a bit hard – so you can give it a short burst in the microwave to soften it. Once again the time is not important; 15 minutes to a couple of hours then I buff it with a clean cloth and you should get a nice sheen to the timber.
Then I give it another coat but with only a cloth this time; leave it a bit and buff it off and you’re done. The beeswax gives the timber surface some protection as it adds more layers to the Linseed or Tung Oil you applied previously. Over time the beeswax will deteriorate and lose it’s effectiveness – so every now and then give it another coat.
You can use beeswax over a varnished surface and it will act as any other furniture polish; I don’t like varnish so rarely ever use it. You can also use it on anything used to prepare food; beeswax is edible and mineral oil is inert to humans and I have never heard of any allergies to either.