What I Have Learned About Home Improvements #1, Wood Oil is Terrifying


When it comes to home improvements, DIY, homemaking, decorating, even gardening, I am the first to admit that I am a novice.  I have zero experience in the field, but I am learning.  Very gradually, I am learning.

I have now been in my new house for seven months.  I set myself a target of almost a year, until Christmas, to have everything I wanted to change and fit to my taste to be completed.  It would be easy, I told myself.  First I’ll sort the kitchen, then I’ll get some new carpet for the stairs, and then I’ll get a new bath.  Easy peasy.

Well reader, it is never that easy in real life.  Seven months later I can-in theory-still say that I am on target.  There is still some way to go until Christmas, and the kitchen is a work in progress but it is, at least, progressing.  However, it has not been without its technical hitches.  Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the back of a can of apparently well-known wood protecting product Danish oil.

home improvements

“Spontaneous combustion”?

My mother warned me that having wooden worktops was a “mistake,” and although I refuse to give her the satisfaction of affirming said proclamation, I did question whether I should have put in a bit more research when I saw that the oil I needed to put on them every evening was prone to randomly catching fire.

“Have you seen this?” I trilled to the woman in the hardware shop as a perused the various offerings of wood oil only to discover that worryingly, they all contained warnings of the small matter of suddenly and without warning instigating a self-immolating inferno.

“Well yes,” she says, looking at me as though I am the most naive and sheltered snowflake she had ever come across. “It’s oil.  Oil burns.”

“Not without an ignition source!” I cried.  This says SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION.  That does mean it still needs an ignition source, right?  Right?”

I am clutching at straws here, and the woman is clearly confused about the meaning of the word spontaneous.    I know in my heart of hearts that this oil does not need an ignition source, but am I prepared to suspend my better judgement for beautiful and long-lasting wooden worktops?  Incidentally, I learned the meaning of the word “spontaneous” from Grease 2.  I am willing to bet that this woman has not seen it.  I think about the gas cooker in the kitchen, and the legions of tea lights under the sink that I have never actually used for fear of inadvertently causing an unstoppable inferno.  There are ignition sources in the kitchen, clearly, but so far (touch wood) none of them have ever caused a conflagration, not even when I have been using them to fry oils, and I’ve tried olive, sunflower, vegetable, rapeseed and sesame and they have all been fine.  And, I tell myself reassuringly, there must be far more people in the world using gas ovens happily and without incident, than people using Danish oil, which is surely less dangerous (right?), so hopefully the odds are in my favour.

I hand over my seven pounds fifty, go home, and apply the oil.  Piglet picks up a jay cloth, and starts joining in (such a helpful boy).

Hang on a minute, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!

I cannot have this child anywhere near surfaces contaminated with spontaneously combusting oil.

I find myself flying across the room, shrieking at him.


It is too late.  He has rubbed the jay cloth on the worktop.  Now that there is oil on the cloth it is going to spontaneously combust.  I need to get it away from him, and fast.  As I fling myself across the kitchen, the can of Danish oil (all £7.50 of it) goes flying, soaking a nearby cookbook (PAPER!  FIRE HAZARD!) and the laminate flooring (not real wood.  Will there be an adverse reaction?  Will the whole thing go up like some kind of toxic tinderbox and kill us in milliseconds with some kind of toxic fume?)

Reader, I am ashamed to say I shouted at poor Piglet, and put him in another room while I cleaned up the mess, before picking him up and heading to bed, checking the smoke alarms as I went and mentally plotting an escape route.  I then spent what remained of the evening googling stories involving the spontaneous combustion of Danish oil.  It’s a thing people, apparently it’s a thing.

I may be learning, very gradually, about the ins and outs of home improvements, but I am shredding my poor nerves in the process.

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