Should I finish the inside of cedar lined blanket chest lid?

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Forum topic by jcwalleye posted 12-07-2011 06:24 AM 7702 views 1 time favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View jcwalleye's profile


306 posts in 3096 days

12-07-2011 06:24 AM

Topic tags/keywords: aromatic cedar finish cherry

I understand that to equalize the moisture moving in and out of a glued up wood panel, both sides of the panel should be finished. But I’ve also read that finishes in an aromatic cedar environment soften up over time causing problems. My question is: should I finish the inside of the lid to prevent warpage, or leave it unfinished.

I’m finishing the design for a cherry mortis/tenon/panel blanket chest. The lid will be 7/8” solid cherry with the ends breadboarded, if thats the right term. I’m also thinking of splining the boards that make up the field, and some kind of sliding dowling of the field to the ends, on the underside so it won’t show.

The inside of the chest will have an unfinished plywood bottom and the sides lined with aromatic cedar. I’m thinking I should probably finish the underside of the top but would appreciate hearing your opinions.


-- Trees, a wonderful gift --Joe--

10 replies so far

View ajosephg's profile


1880 posts in 3584 days

#1 posted 12-07-2011 12:59 PM

Yes, finish it, to equalize the stress to prevent warping.

I built a cedar lined chest out of cherry finished with polyurethane (except for the cedar of course) more than 20 years ago, and the finish still looks great.

-- Joe

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

4998 posts in 2516 days

#2 posted 12-07-2011 02:24 PM

I think I would finish the underside of the lid, and I’m sure I wouldn’t use any oil based finishes like a varnish on interior parts. The odor will be there forever. A shellac or water borne finish will do well, and not have an odor problem. You could also use lacquer, though I avoid it due to the fumes.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

5908 posts in 3217 days

#3 posted 12-07-2011 04:32 PM


-- " At my age, happy hour is a crap and a nap".....

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

4998 posts in 2516 days

#4 posted 12-07-2011 11:04 PM


The varnish will off gas for a very long time, maybe over a year. If things like food (kitchen cabinets) or fabrics, especially those made with natural fibers like wool are stored in there, they can take on that odor (DAHIKT). It makes for a very unhappy LOML….(LOL).

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View Chipy's profile


374 posts in 2616 days

#5 posted 12-07-2011 11:23 PM

I made my lid with 3/4”plywood veneered with oak then i warped it with 1”solid oak leaving a 1/4” space for tung and grooved cedar.I think it makes

a nice touch.Look under my projects for my cedar chest I have made 2 this way.

View ajosephg's profile


1880 posts in 3584 days

#6 posted 12-07-2011 11:33 PM

”The varnish will off gas for a very long time, maybe over a year.”

I disagree. I finished a 12 drawer chest several weeks ago that is finished inside and out with Minwax polyurethane (see my project list), and the drawers are unfinished aromatic cedar. The inside had 3 coats, and the outside about 7 (I lost track).

By the time I finished installing the drawer slides and making final adjustments any varnish odor was gone. In use, the only smell is that of the cedar.

-- Joe

View jcwalleye's profile


306 posts in 3096 days

#7 posted 12-08-2011 03:49 AM

Thanks for all your insight. I’m inclined to finish the underside of the lid, though hadn’t thought of using shellac. Most of the interior would be unfinished and lined with cedar.

Thanks again.

-- Trees, a wonderful gift --Joe--

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2713 days

#8 posted 12-08-2011 06:06 AM

Joe, I have had the same experience with Poly, Spar smells for slightly longer.

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

View William's profile


9949 posts in 2865 days

#9 posted 12-08-2011 01:55 PM

I highly suggest you leave the inside, even under the lid, unfinished. I have built several trunks lined with cedar. I make sure everything that is NOT aromatic cedar is finished. I put no finish on the cedar that’s on the inside though. I do this for several reasons, and each of these reasons I learned from doing it, not just from reading it somewhere.
The aroma in aromatic cedar comes from oils that are in the wood. While this creates a much sought after smell that also repels against moths and other critters, I have found that it also creates havoc with certain finishes. The oils sometimes makes finishes seem blotchy, even long after they’ve been applied and cured. I know this sounds crazy. You’d think that after a finish cures that the tone of it is there to stay. Not so with aromatic cedar. I have thought about this and I have a theory. I think it’s the oils from the cedar accumilating under the finish that just eventually overbears whatever finish you used. I have even tried shellac with great results in the beginning. Over time though, even shellac had problem. There is only one finish I have found that works flawlessly on aromatic cedar, but it is labor intensive, Johnson’s Paste Wax. The one I built for my daughter mad out of all cedar with the outside finished with wax and the inside bare. It has ten coats of Johnson’s Past Wax which took me for what seems like forever to apply.
I also think that it is better to have as much exposed bare surfaces as possible on the inside of a cedar trunk. The more the better. As long as there is enough, and the trunk is left alone for long enough, then everytime you open it, you’ll get that wiff of that aromatic cedar smell. I feel that this is the number one reason I like lining trunks with it. For some of us, it brings back memories of trunks our mothers, grandmothers, or someone had. By the way, I found a different way to restore that smell without sanding or scraping and it worst also as sort of a satin finish if you apply it right. Oil of cedar can be purchased from several online suppliers and replaces oils in old cedar and, in my opinion, gives it a look of new satin finished wood.

You can also see two more chests I made with cedar lining here and here.


View Bertha's profile


13529 posts in 2716 days

#10 posted 12-08-2011 03:05 PM

How about adding some attractive cauls? That might help. I’d stick with a water-based finish if you’re going to do it. Nothing worse than a cedar chest that smells like a mechanic’s garage.

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

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