Finishing naturally oily woods

How to finish woods with high natural oil contents. 1998.

by Rick Hill

I was just reading that you should never use polyurethane and plastic finishes on eastern red cedar because the same oil that makes it fragrant also resists their adherence and they'll eventually peel off. Is this true and what can be used instead? I want to do lasting quality work building solid cedar chests to sell so I would like to find a good product that is reasonably simple to apply.

Red cedar, teak, and other woods share this same oily characteristic. It is a unique property that makes the woods resistant to water, insects and rot. Your concern that this natural oil will repel finishes is correct. Oil is a consistent nightmare in wood finishing, and if not handled right can cause lifting or blushing of many finishes.

There are two ways around it. One is to work with the oil by using another oil-based finish. Tung oil is a perfect product for this application. It gives a nice hand-rubbed look to the cedar and at the same time protects the wood. It will not give a clear lacquer-like look, though.

For the lacquer look, you must first neutralize the oil with a special product for that application. There are products designed to bind through the oil and grip onto the fiber of the wood. Most I know of are spray applied and some require a catalyst. I have had good success with a product called "Barrier Coat" From ICA. ICA is in Italy, but they do have US distributors. Try Advantage Coatings at 1-630-655-0680, FAX 1-630-655-0187.

Rick Hill is an independent representative and consultant for industrial wood finishes. He has been involved in the woodworking industry for 12 years, and has been known to actually hold, shoot, and clean a spray gun.

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