Explosion hazards of solvent-based finishes

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Forum topic by live4ever posted 06-03-2010 10:37 PM 1615 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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983 posts in 3131 days

06-03-2010 10:37 PM

The first finishing I ever did was spray. I learned to spray before I learned to wipe-on or brush on.

Anyways, that led to me always using water-based finishes as I didn’t have a safe space to spray solvent. As I’ve gotten more into woodworking and making smaller things like boxes, I have started to use finishes like Danish Oil.

I understand how to safely (I think) dispose of rags – I lay them flat, let them dry out, then dispose.

What I am concerned about is the ability of some of these solvent-based finishes to spontaneously ignite/explode. I do my woodworking in the garage, which is where the water heater lives. Technically that is an open flame. Should I be concerned about vapors igniting if I am just wiping small amounts of finish? I am very careful about closing the finish container. Usually I am wiping on finish about 15 feet from the water heater.

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

7 replies so far

View CharlieM1958's profile


16276 posts in 4339 days

#1 posted 06-03-2010 11:10 PM

I have a similar situation, and I think it’s fine. I do follow some precautions, though… I only finish small projects in the garage, unless I can plan to leave the doors wide open until the finish has dried. And I have an old potting table outside where I spread out my solvent rags to dry, rather than leaving them in the garage with the water heater.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View a1Jim's profile


117203 posts in 3698 days

#2 posted 06-03-2010 11:34 PM

Your probably fine but why not just go all water base ? in years to come I’m guessing it will all be water base anyhow.
Of course you need to get those oil base rags out and away from anything flammable. Some folks just have a bucket with water in it and put there rags in there.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 3131 days

#3 posted 06-03-2010 11:50 PM

Thanks Charlie & Jim.

Jim – I would go all waterbased (I love Target waterbased finishes), but I really really like Danish Oil + wax. It really brings out the color and figure of the wood. But my understanding is Danish Oil is one of the REALLY flammable finishes, so that’s why I asked. I want to know if I need to cut this love affair short before it gets going!!

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3809 posts in 4142 days

#4 posted 06-03-2010 11:52 PM

I’ve used VOC’s for years but…never around open flame I’m not afraid of fumes as I am dropping the stuff on the floor or it’s solvents.
I simply wont use any flammables around any flame period.
I have an infrared heat system in my shop and have cut way back on lacquers during the winter until I get a better filtration system.
I agree with Jim, If you are just starting out go with the water based systems.

I have stored oily rags in a sealed tin from time to time but only for short periods ( 24 hrs)
There’s not enough air in there to support combustion.
p.s. the coffee can with the plastic lid – not a good idea.

-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View a1Jim's profile


117203 posts in 3698 days

#5 posted 06-03-2010 11:54 PM

You can get any look you like with water base finishes it takes some trail and error or get your self Charles Neils new DVD set “It’s all about the color” he’s already done the experimenting. It covers Water base finishing.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3406 days

#6 posted 06-14-2010 03:25 AM

I have to relate a story about solvent based stains. Where my shop was located a few years ago was across the street from a production cabinet shop. I was working late one night and when I left, I noticed a strange light coming from the front windows of his shop. At first, I figured he forgot and left a light on, but it seemed to be flickering, so I drove across the street and when I pulled up to the front of his shop, I realized there was a fire. I called the fire dept and the owner and after they got the fire out, they determined that the finishing guys had stained a bunch of cabinets that afternoon and put the rags in a empty can on top of a work bench. Here’s the scarey part. It only took about 4 – 5 hours before it started a fire. The can the rags where in had started to melt and the fire had caught the bench on fire since it was covered with stain and old finish. If it had burned another 30 minutes or so, they feel that it would have spread through his whole shop. Just happened to be at the right place at the right time.

-- John @

View wisno's profile


88 posts in 3132 days

#7 posted 07-18-2010 09:40 AM

The water based is a quite safe material. I never heard that a water based materials ignite and spark itself and cause fire.
But the finishing room with solvent base material can be very dangerous place. A rag that is wet with glaze or oil finish are easy to get ignite itself.
There is a story about the glaze that was burnt itself in a furniture factory.
The glaze rag that is ignite and burnt itself..


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