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Finishing baltic birch drawers with Poly

PheasantHunter's picture

I built two large bedroom dressers recently.  I built the drawers out of baltic birch and at the wife's suggestion finished them with oil based polyurethane.  The baltic birch plywood really sucked up the finish.   Everything about the  project went great.  Got lots of kudos from the wife and friends.  However, the drawers still smell of polyurthane after 8 months!   Will they ever stop smelling?  Mostly I finished them to prevent clothes from snagging.  Better way to finish?  Water based?  Put them out in the 100 degree heat for a few days to cure?  Trying to learn from this mistake.   Any advise? 

wiskytango's picture

(post #111278, reply #1 of 12)

I did the exact same thing. I added some cedar blocks to the inside. Not sure if it made em stink less but it made em sting different any how.

ring's picture

(post #111278, reply #2 of 12)

Leave them open whenever you can. It will very gradually disappear.

SteveSchoene's picture

(post #111278, reply #3 of 12)

Ever? Sure.  Certainly by the time your kids inherit it the smell will have dissapated. 


You can put on a couple of thin coats of shellac over the poly.  Shellac does a pretty good job of sealing in such odors. 


And, while traditionally drawers aren't finished, if a finish is desirable shellac works very well, with odor that doesn't linger nearly as long and which many find much more pleasant.  


Waterborne will work OK on the bare wood, but won't seal in existing odors quite as well. 


As a sidebar, a little Tincture of Benzoin in the shellac will give a very nice fragrence.  Peter28 has mentioned this, and this is an ingredient appearing in 18th. & 19th. c. finish formulas, where it is often called benjamin.    

Test your finish on scrap, FIRST, or risk having to scrap your finish.

nikkiwood's picture

(post #111278, reply #4 of 12)

A better approach would have been to use a single coat of wax free shellac (Zinsser Seal Coat), and then a couple of coats of water based poly.

However, if the smell is still bothersome after eight months, I would suggest you apply a coat of the Seal Coat now. It dries very quickly, and I think even a single coat will alleviate the problem.

********************************************************
"It is what we learn after we think we know it all, that counts."

John Wooden 1910-

******************************************************** "It is what we learn after we think we know it all, that counts." John Wooden 1910-
highfigh's picture

(post #111278, reply #5 of 12)

Next time, maybe try thinning the poly with naptha for the initial coat, to seal. Shellac would be a good first coat, too. Even for the later coats, the naptha will cause it to flash over and dry faster and flatter.

"I cut this piece four times and it's still too short."

"I cut this piece four times and it's still too short."
HowardAcheson's picture

(post #111278, reply #6 of 12)

There are a number of "rules" new finisher should be taught. One is to never put an oil based finish on the inside of any cabinet, carcase or anywhere on a drawer if cloth, clothing or open food items are going to be stored inside. Oil based finish actually cure almost forever. All the time they are curing, they off-gas an odor which will permeate items inside where the gases are concentrated. Either don't finish at all--perfectly valid--or use shellac or a waterborne finish.

Howie.........

Howie.........
Rich14's picture

(post #111278, reply #7 of 12)

Howie, "never put an oil based finish on the inside of any cabinet, carcase or anywhere on a drawer if cloth, clothing or open food items are going to be stored inside. " Ditto for lacquers, especially nitrocellulose. I always finish the insides of pieces and all drawer surfaces. Shellac is so superior to just about any other substance for this purpose as to be in a leaque of one. Rich

PheasantHunter's picture

(post #111278, reply #9 of 12)

My brother-in-law is a cabinet maker and he sprays lacquer (not sure if it is nitrocellouse) on the inside of all the cabinets he makes.

Rich14's picture

(post #111278, reply #10 of 12)

Hunter, Many workers do. And their cabinet interiors (if the doors are left closed) will smell strongly of solvent for a long time (months to even years). It's not a terribly offensive odor, after a while, but it's unnecessary. Shellac is such a "sweet" solution to this problem. Rich

PheasantHunter's picture

(post #111278, reply #8 of 12)

Thanks for the info.  How come this isn't common knowledge?  Or on the label on the can of finish?   If I put a topcoat of shellac over the oil will that "seal" in the gases?

HowardAcheson's picture

(post #111278, reply #11 of 12)

>> How come this isn't common knowledge? Or on the label on the can of finish? If I put a topcoat of shellac over the oil will that "seal" in the gases?

It is common knowledge to most finishers. It's also in most of the books on finishing.

If you use a dewaxed shellac (Zinnser's SealCoat) and be sure to get it into all the nooks and crannies it will generally seal in the gases. Apply two coats. I've seen cases where it didn't work though. It's certainly worth a try

Howie.........
Howie.........
forestgirl's picture

(post #111278, reply #12 of 12)

"How come this isn't ... on the label on the can of finish? "  A marketer's nightmare.  "Our product is wonderful, but it might stink."  Nahh, not likely to impart that information.

forestgirl -- you can take the girl out of the forest, but you can't take the forest out of the girl ;-) 

forestgirl -- you can take the girl out of the forest, but you can't take the forest out of the girl ;-)