Cedar Chest

rangerdonJune 6, 2012

I have an older hand-made cedar chest. Unfortunately the builder finished the inside with either varnish or poly-something. Am I gonna hafta sand all the finish off the inside, or will a stripper remove it & let the cedar smell come out? I really don't want to stick my head inside to get this done, but I guess I don't have a choice here.



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IMO, sanding is going to be your best option since you will not be re-finishing. Alternatively, you could drop some thin slats of cedar into the bottom of the chest and get similar benefits.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2012 at 7:44PM
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I'm going to disagree -- sanding is probably the worst approach. You will go through a lot of time, a lot of sandpaper, and not remove it all.

You have two problems here:
1. Oil-based varnish on the inside of a closed chest is going to off-gas and smell for years. The whole purpose of a cedar-lined chest is to leave the cedar unfinished so its aroma fills the inside.

2. Cedar has natural oils that turn most finishes soft and gooey. Worse in a closed environment.

Your best bet is to use a chemical stripper on the inside. You can do this carefully and not affect the outside. Mask off the finished exterior with 3M 2060 "lacquer tape." Remove the excess stripper with the product directed by the stripper, or acetone. Do all this in a well-ventilated area.

Leave the case open and let it dry thoroughly for a couple of days. A fan would help.

Lightly sand the interior.

If this is a Lane chest, there is a recall on the locks that will avoid child suffocation. Lane chests from made from 1912 to 1987 on have an unsafe lock. They will send you one free and it takes about 10 minutes to install (3 to 6 wood screws). The new locks have to be locked from the outside. The old locks will lock when the lid is simply closed.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lock recall

    Bookmark   June 6, 2012 at 9:00PM
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Find out what the finish is first.

Try denatured alcohol (softens shellac) then lacquer thinner (soften lacquer).

Nothing can reverse varnish or polyurethane without chemically breaking them down (not the same as simply dissolving it).

The polymerization reaction is not reversible.

While sanding is likely to be the most difficult method, it has the least chance of leaving odors behind you may not like in your stored items.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 3:28PM
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