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.