Finishing a Cedar Chest?

Finishing a Cedar Chest?

I’m planning to build a cedar blanket chest with cedar lining. What finish would you recommend? I would like a finish that enhances the cedar’s natural grain. Also, does the lining need to be sealed? – Jim Showalter

Tim Inman: On the inside of the cedar chest, I would use no finish. On the outside, use whatever finish you like. If you feel you do need something on the inside to make the surface more “snag-free,” try this: Dilute some shellac to about one part shellac and 3 or 4 parts alcohol. Apply this liberally to the cedar. One coat is the limit. Then, use a nice fine, sharp abrasive like 220 and sand the surface. The shellac is very brittle. It will sand off the surfaces quickly and leave a baby bottom-smooth surface. The area sanded through will be enough to let the cedar oils do their thing, but the shellac soaked down into the wood will keep it pretty and smooth.

Chris Marshall: I’d probably apply a coat of dewaxed shellac (Zinsser SealCoat is a good choice) to the outside of the chest before following with polyurethane, particularly if the cedar has any knots in it that might bleed resin. The shellac’s sealing properties will ensure that it won’t happen. On the other hand, the aromatic cedar lining inside does not need to be sealed, and leaving it bare is the traditional approach. When that distinctive cedar smell fades, just scuff-sand it lightly to rejuvenate the aroma.

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  • Garrison Traver

    I have been an antiques dealer/restorer for 30 yrs. Never seal the inside. Sand inside with at least 220 fine paper and wipe it with water. Danish oil will bring out the best color for outside. If you are using solid cedar for the chest why are you lining it?

    • Roy Harding

      I make a lot of cedar chests from Northern Red Cedar. Northern Red Cedar does not maintain its aroma over time – in fact after I’ve milled and cut it, there’s barely any cedar aroma noticeable even before applying finish. Consequently, I line the bottom of my chests with aromatic cedar (also known as Tennessee Cedar) – which I leave bare. If, however, the chest is constructed of Tennessee Cedar, then no lining would be required, and I would not finish the interior surfaces.

      I use an application or two of de-waxed shellac (a 1 lb cut) on all surfaces – interior and exterior (except the aromatic cedar bottom lining), and top it with either polyurethane, or a mix of BLO and shellac (kinda’ like French polishing – without the high sheen polishing).

    • Brian Henricksen

      Ty been looking for what’s best, I have 7″-14″ red cedar we milled. Have a great day

  • I would cover mine in mineral oil. Would this be OK?