Finishing Aromatic Red Cedar

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Forum topic by Jeff posted 01-18-2013 01:03 PM 13519 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Jeff's profile


500 posts in 3431 days

01-18-2013 01:03 PM

Topic tags/keywords: cedar finishing

I saw in another forum someone talking about a cedar chest. There were some pictures in the forum of a chest someone had built and it perfectly showed a situation I have. I’m building a small chest of aromatic cedar. I want to finish it but I still want the smell of the cedar to be evident. What finishes, if any, will allow the smell to come through? In the pictures in the other forum only the outside of the chest was finished. But wouldn’t that allow for uneven moisture take up by the wood and potential warping?

9 replies so far

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3981 days

#1 posted 01-18-2013 01:18 PM

If you look at cedar chest in the antique stores, you see they weren’t finished on the inside. I think that due to the fact that the chest are closed most of the time, and the items in them soak up more moisture than the wood, you don’t have any problems with warping. If you’re worried about warping, finish the sides and leave the bottom unfinished. If you put anything, other than cedar oil, on the wood, it WILL seal the aroma in the wood, and you’ll have an un-aromatic cedar chest.

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2606 days

#2 posted 01-18-2013 01:59 PM

I used Minwax Polycrylic on this refinish. I chose the water-based because I didn’t want to have the yellowing of an oil-based, it really let the color of the cedar show through. The inside was left unfinished. It went on super easy with a foam brush, builds quickly (I think I did 3 coats), and was easy to wet sand once it had cured. It’s been about a year and it still looks great. No issues with warping thus far. I would also recommend that you screw (using slightly oversized holes for movement) supports across the underside of the lid to keep it from cupping/warping, as unlike the sides which are all joined together, it has no reinforcement to keep it flat.

If the smell fades over time, just hit the inside with a sanding block to let the aroma out.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View MaroonGoon's profile


281 posts in 2194 days

#3 posted 01-18-2013 02:36 PM

I made my fiance a jewelry box out of aromatic cedar for her birthday last year and I believe I just used tung oil on the outside and left the inside unfinished.

-- "Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone." -- Pablo Picasso

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2723 days

#4 posted 01-18-2013 02:40 PM

You could finish both sides, but it will lose the smell.

If you go that route try this:

Cedar oil

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View Jeff's profile


500 posts in 3431 days

#5 posted 01-18-2013 02:40 PM

Well I guess like many things I can’t have it both ways. I’ll finish the outside where everybody can see it so it looks good and leave the inside unfinished so I can enjoy the odor when it’s opened. It’s a small box so wood movement won’t be an issue. Thanks for the comments.

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2606 days

#6 posted 01-18-2013 02:46 PM

If the bottom of the box is cedar, you could leave the bottom unfinished on both sides, and you would probably get the smell outside the box, and maybe rough it up with sandpaper once in a while.

BTW, if you’re handplaning, or have small cutoffs, save the ribbons of cedar, wrap a bunch of them in cheesecloth, tie it off, and stick them in your closet, sock drawer, etc.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

30135 posts in 2574 days

#7 posted 01-18-2013 03:12 PM

I use cedar as a lining in trunks. I leave it unfinished.

-- Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View bandit571's profile


21985 posts in 2919 days

#8 posted 01-18-2013 03:26 PM

Even have a solid Cedar cedar chest. NO finish on the inside..

and the inside

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3395 days

#9 posted 01-18-2013 03:43 PM

It’s a myth that you must finish both sides of a board, IMO.

Moisture affects wood by humidity. Humidity is a vapor. Finishes are not vapor barriers. Wood will move regardless of the finish. If this were not true, then you could not build a guitar, which is never finished on the inside.

-- jay,

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