Varnishing Inside and Under projects

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Forum topic by ajosephg posted 05-22-2011 11:08 PM 1396 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1878 posts in 2982 days

05-22-2011 11:08 PM

Topic tags/keywords: finishing

I’ve been wondering what is usual and customary regarding varnishing the insides and/or underside of high end furniture projects. For example a chest of drawers.

The pros MIGHT be stabilization of the wood minimizing absorption of moisture, and to prevent any creeping and crawling critters from having lunch.

The cons would be extra work and expense that the end user will never or hardly ever see. Another negative applicable to a COD would be the smell transfer to the contents of drawers.

So – what do you folks do?

-- Joe

17 replies so far

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2828 posts in 2706 days

#1 posted 05-22-2011 11:34 PM

Joe, That’s an interesting question you poise and I feel there is no right or wrong way in doing it in this particular case; it’s really up to the builder and how he wants to justify why he finishes or doesn’t finish certain parts of a piece of furniture he or she builds. Personally, I’ve always finished the insides of my furniture, top, bottom and insides of all drawers and the underside of the furniture. That’s just my preference, not so much for all the technical reasons, such as moisture control and so forth, but more for the overall look. I’ve always enjoyed having my customers come by the shop while I’m building a project so they can see how it’s being built, so they can appreciate what goes into building their piece and when they see it finished I want them to understand I pay just as much attention to the finishing details as to the building details. May be a lot of wasted time for some, but it’s helped me build a reputation over the past 25 years that’s built my business and I’ve been able to make a living doing it that way and it sure makes me feel good when I’m finished. That doesn’t make it right, just makes it right for me.

-- John @

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1878 posts in 2982 days

#2 posted 05-23-2011 12:03 AM

That works for me, John. I’ve always done it in the past, but been wondering what the pros do.

-- Joe

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12989 posts in 2114 days

#3 posted 05-23-2011 12:33 AM

I’m going to watch this closely because I’ve always been curious myself. I’m no pro and I shellac-at-best the non-visible surfaces. Perhaps I’m going about it wrong. Thanks for this question.

I want to buy something from John! That’s an impressive policy.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

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1381 posts in 3549 days

#4 posted 05-23-2011 12:52 AM

The solution to this FAQ is up to the woodworker. IOW, it’s a matter of opinion – do as you choose.

I’ve been restoring and refinishing antique and collectible furniture for about 50 years and I’ve seldom seen any finish on the undersides and never on the insides of drawers.

My house is full of antiques that follow this course.
My 1895 roll-top desk, finished only on the tops and outside, is holding up well.
As are some furniture pieces my grandfather made in the 1930’s.

OTOH, I usually use a single coat of shellac to finish the undersides of tables and chairs that I make.

Note: An oil-based finish on the inside of a drawer may smell for months and could cause drawer runners to stick.

-- 温故知新

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Steven H

1117 posts in 2481 days

#5 posted 05-23-2011 01:27 AM

The only finish that would provide moderate protection and has no odor is water based polyurethane.

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1878 posts in 2982 days

#6 posted 05-23-2011 02:11 AM

Thanks hobo – I was wondering what the old-timers did.

My current project that begged the question is a chest of drawers. I’m making the drawers (sides, fronts, backs) out of cedar, so they won’t be finished for obvious reasons. Mainly wondered about the space beneath the bottom drawer dust panel and the floor.

-- Joe

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4541 posts in 2495 days

#7 posted 05-23-2011 03:05 AM

My standard approach to finishing is 5 coats of rub-on poly. I always finish every thing with 3 coats and only go to 5 coats on the primary exposed surfaces.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View gfadvm's profile


14929 posts in 2111 days

#8 posted 05-23-2011 04:25 AM

Does finishing the underside of a table top help prevent warping? Thats what I was told. If thats not nesessary,it would save me a LOT of time.Didnt mean to hijack your post.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

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1878 posts in 2982 days

#9 posted 05-23-2011 04:31 AM

I’ve also heard that both sides of large surfaces should have the same number of finish to prevent/minimize warping, so that’s what I’ve always done.

-- Joe

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17 posts in 2112 days

#10 posted 05-23-2011 04:44 AM

For what it’s worth, I’ve never finished the inside of anything I’ve build other than the inside surfaces of drawers. I’ve never encountered a warping or splitting problem and all my seams are still tight on everything I’ve built. On some pieces like a hutch most of it gets finished anyway but not the bottom parts.

-- Joe

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21459 posts in 3272 days

#11 posted 05-24-2011 01:36 AM

Like Joe I am not one for the inside finish.

-- Grumpy - "Always look on the bright side of life"- Monty Python

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8159 posts in 3069 days

#12 posted 05-24-2011 01:48 AM

I usually shellac the non-wearing surfaces. The important thing is to have
a moisture barrier. A table top, for instance, can “potato chip” in humid weather
if one side is finished and the other isn’t. There are lots of contributing
structural factors besides finishing as well that can reduce undesirable movement.

A panel like a dust panel that is constrained by a frame doesn’t need to
be finished. I highly recommend finishing all exposed end grain.

I don’t finish the insides of guitars, but some builders do and claim it benefits
the sound. Most builders don’t. Arguably finishing instrument interiors
makes it easier to blow dust out.

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361 posts in 1973 days

#13 posted 06-03-2011 06:08 AM

I work in an independent home furnishing shop.

Don’t cut corners.

Even if you think nobody will find it, SOMEONE will, (and typically they’re none too happy about it).

Even though we sell imported furniture for the most part (though do have a few woodworkers we keep on hand for the once in a blue moon custom work), you would not BELIEVE how much some customers are willing to inspect, looking for flaws, (though, it also seems to some of them that “Brazilian rosewood” and “walnut” are pretty much the same wood, or at least should be comparable in price). There are just some things people are really sensitive to.

There’s a million reasons to finish your pieces completely, and I just, in general, think it’s the best practice. Otherwise, it’s like dressing up in a tuxedo, and not wearing any underwear or socks.

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1878 posts in 2982 days

#14 posted 06-03-2011 11:40 AM

Thanks all for your input.

This piece is for us, and after we pass, one of our kids will get it, and then their kids, etc. Since I’m building it as a family heirloom, I’m trying to do my best, and not cut corners. So – everything will be finished, top, bottom, inside, outside.

-- Joe

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3256 posts in 2096 days

#15 posted 06-04-2011 05:03 AM

and I don’t think you will be sorry in the future. Finish all of it.

showing 1 through 15 of 17 replies

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