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Low-odour varnish/polyurethane?

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  • Low-odour varnish/polyurethane?

    I'm finishing up a built-in bookcase in my 4-month-old son's room. I've used polyurethane for projects like this in the past, but I've found it stinks for a week and there is a lingering odour for quite a while afterwards and I have no idea what the effect would be on a baby - it certainly gives me a headache after a while. I don't want to give the little guy brain damage or have to move him out of the room for two months while it totally dries...
    Any experts have suggestions for a (reasonably-priced) low-odour (or a "pleasant-odour") wood finish? I don't really care about the appearance.
    Many thanks in advance!
    Mark

  • #2
    Re: Low-odour varnish/polyurethane?

    Hi Mark,

    Yes, poly stinks for a long time. I stopped using it for that and other reasons. Catalyzed lacquer or conversion varnish (my favorite finish for furniture and cabinets these days) is a little better but they are spray only. I think the lowest-odor finish is probably shellac. The alcohol smell goes away pretty fast.

    You might also give tung oil a try. The tung oils usually have other resins in the mix, so if you decide to try this, test on a sample before finishing the baby's furniture. Tung oil works well, it's pretty durable, easy to refinish and you can rub it on. Rub a thin coat on every day for a week. It will develop a real nice look after 5-6 coats as long as you keep the coats thin.

    Maybe someone has experience with the odor of water based finishes. I haven't used them.

    Good luck!

    Andy

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    • #3
      Re: Low-odour varnish/polyurethane?

      If you want to use oil based finishes then they will stink for a while, of ifs ands or but(t)s. It seems that about the only thing that is of service in this area of finishing with oil based finishes is time. About 30 days is generally accepted curing time. Best if it happened in the garage and if it's exposed do fresh warm air, such as outside.

      If you want some nearly instant gratification then use water based finishes. Most won't give the wood the same appearance as oil based ones but you will be able to complete the whole finishing job in a day (under room temperature) and it will be safe to use it the next day.

      I have a little table I made of maple almost 20 years ago. A simple thing and not much to brag about, but the surface (water based) is still untouched by time and use.
      In order to understand recursion, one must first understand recursion.

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      • #4
        Re: Low-odour varnish/polyurethane?

        I think the lowest-odor finish is probably shellac. The alcohol smell goes away pretty fast.
        The alcohol smell is gone as soon as the shellac is dry. Another plus for shellac is its non-toxic.

        All you would ever want to know about shellac.
        http://www.ridgidforum.com/forum/sho...45&postcount=1
        "It's a table saw, do you know where your fingers are?" Bob D. 2006

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        • #5
          Re: Low-odour varnish/polyurethane?

          Thanks for the tips folks. I will definitely have a look at shellac.

          Mark

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          • #6
            Re: Low-odour varnish/polyurethane?

            Just remember its not as durable a finish as some of the others.
            "It's a table saw, do you know where your fingers are?" Bob D. 2006

            https://www.youtube.com/user/PowerToolInstitute

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            • #7
              Re: Low-odour varnish/polyurethane?

              fwiw, I just put a coat of water based poly on the inside of a large cabinet I'm installing in my kitchen (30w x 25d x 96h) I used polycryllic by Minwax.

              Besides the initial sticker shock ($17/qt), I put on a thin coat in about 40 minutes. It was dry within 2 hours, and once dry the smell was gone.

              I was going to use blonde shellac, but opted out because I was afraid it might get tacky in hot humid weather. (and its humid here now).

              I have no idea on longevity, other than a friend used it to seal an oak counter top he made, and its held up for a few years now. I also don't know much about toxicity, other than I had heard that most film finishes are 'supposedly' safe once fully cured. I'm not too concerned about that since the cabinet sides shouldn't be coming into contact with raw food.

              Good luck.

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              • #8
                Re: Low-odour varnish/polyurethane?

                >> "Just remember its not as durable a finish as some of the others."

                Good point, it's not. But on the other hand it is very easy to repair/refinish. So is tung oil or regular lacquer. Any of the catalysed finishes and especially polyurethane are not friendly in that way.

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                • #9
                  Re: Low-odour varnish/polyurethane?

                  So after reading all the advice here I went to the hardware store to look at shellac and other things... I ended up getting a new product called Penofin Verde which claims to be no odor, no VOCs, interior/exterior. It is apparently composed of vegetable-based and natural solvents. Application is brush on wipe off 20 minutes later.

                  I will post on here once I've tried it (probably not for a week or so) to let you know how it works!

                  Mark

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                  • #10
                    Re: Low-odour varnish/polyurethane?

                    Originally posted by notsewkram View Post
                    ... I ended up getting a new product called Penofin Verde which claims to be no odor, no VOCs, interior/exterior. It is apparently composed of vegetable-based and natural solvents. Application is brush on wipe off 20 minutes later.

                    I will post on here once I've tried it (probably not for a week or so) to let you know how it works!
                    Having tried Penofin Verde I can attest that it is VERY low-odour, smells like vegetable oil, and cleans up with soap and water (which is great - I hate paint thinner). Takes about a week to dry fully, and the finish looks great, but not as hard as polyurethane (as tested by my fingernail). Since I figure durability is a desired characteristic of shelves in a kid's room, I used the Verde stuff on the fixed parts of the bookshelf, and I'm going to use poly on the shelves themselves (and leave them in the garage for a few months to dry fully before installing them).

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