An Eco-friendly Wood Finish Alternative

ross939October 12, 2010

My neighbor and I run a small business out of my wood shop. He works for a winery here in Sonoma, CA. We bring home the fully extracted wine barrels, which have outlived their usefulness storing wine. We dismantle the barrel heads and the staves and make a variety of furnishings, including barrel had lazy Susans and serving trays, as well as candle holders and coat racks from the barrel staves. We sell our product through various mediums, including the Internet, as well as local shops.

One very strong selling point for our products is that we present them as an "eco-friendly" and "environmentally sustainable" product. The problem is that, although all the wood used in production is re-purposed French oak, we finish the product with a light coat of pecan stain and polyurethane finish. We use Min-wax 2 in 1 stain and varnish. I already know this isn't the best quality product out there, but it is a very good price and gives us excellent results.

What I am looking for, however, is an all-natural finish that I could apply to the wine oak. I would like something that is truly "eco-friendly," and is not overly expensive, so we can continue offering our crafts at a fair price. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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Shellac is a natural finish, using denatured alcohol only as a vehicle that meets Gov. requirements. Any alcohol would work. Best thing about using shellac is that you can buy bulk flakes(which have a very long shelf life) and mix your own mixes and colors.

Another plus is shellac will dry in as short a time as 15 minutes.

The minus is that allowing alcohol to touch a shellac finish will dissolve that part of the finish. The plus to that minus is that using shellac to repair is the best way to fix the damage.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2010 at 11:09AM
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I'd just like to know what you consider "eco-friendly" and "environmentally sustainable" and what is not. Are you concerned for the exposure of your workers, restricted by government what you can apply (or obtain) in your shop, or just want to have an "eco-friendly" green label on the product?

    Bookmark   October 13, 2010 at 6:26PM
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All natural and eco friendly are really two different animals, especially for paints and wood coatings.

For marketing your "eco friendly" "environmentally sustainable" products, look into green label paints, zero VOC, or contain recycled content.

My personal favorite green label wood finish is Sierra from Rustoleum. It is as durable as catalyzed lacquer, has no VOC's, and dries to a true clear without the whitish or blueish hue, which is problematic for many water-based clear wood coatings.

Here is a link that might be useful: sierra

    Bookmark   October 13, 2010 at 6:54PM
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I also work with reclaimed wine barrels and Tung oil works really well for me. It can be a little pricey and hard to find though. You don't need to use very much at a time so a quart can last a while.
Make sure to get "pure tung oil" versus "tung oil finish" which usually has distillates and other not-so-friendly things in it.
It's available at Rockler retail stores and online.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 6:11PM
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" You don't need to use very much at a time so a quart can last a while."

Real Tung oil must be stored in a container with no air. Any amount of air will cause the tung oil to gel, and then harden by polymerization. Once it does, that's it. You can't thin it down with solvent.

Woodcraft sells pure Tung oil. It comes in a plastic container, so you can squeeze out the air until it's about half empty. Then I transfer it to a smaller plastic container, and always make sure to squeeze out all the air before closing it up.

That being said, I have some 3 or 4 year old Tung oil that's still liquid and ready to use.

Tung oil is not a very durable finish, and it takes a long time for it to harden. I have used Waterlox varnish as a top coat over base coats of tung oil, with excellent results. I was basically experimenting with Tung oil, and eventually decided that a more durable finish was necessary. I let the Tung oil dry for a couple of weeks before using the Waterlox Varnish. The resulting finish looks almost identical to using pure varnish, but there is less ambering of the Birch and Maple woods.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 10:56AM
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Absent a legal definitional of "eco-friendly" and "environmentally sustainable" you can call it whatever you want and do whatever you want.

It does not actually mean anything.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 9:20PM
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I get a little impatient with people who want "all natural," "eco-friendly," and "sustainable." I would challenge most of these people to pass a ninth-grade science test. In most cases I think they are just being duped out of their money.

Add to the fact that finishing labels rarely tell the whole truth about the contents. Below is a link and at $30 a quart seems like quite the deal.

I have never really understood the fascination, almost cult-like following, of tung oil. It seems to offer no advantages over the much cheaper, faster, easier to use, and less error-prone boiled linseed oil (which is not boiled, another finish label lie). I would challenge anyone to distinguish between the two side by side on the same piece of wood.

I did a fabric cleaning job for a lady a few years ago. She didn't want me to use any "chemicals." I'm thinking, that leaves light or vacuum, because everything else, including Di-hydrogen Monoxide (aka water) is a chemical. She was pleased when I pulled out a jar of "Natural Fiber Cleaner." I didn't tell her that "natural" modified "fiber" (it was meant for Haitian cotton) and not "cleaner." The only difference was the pH; it was not as alkaline as the other cleaners.

Here is a link that might be useful: one alternative

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 1:14PM
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"I get a little impatient with people who want "all natural," "eco-friendly," and "sustainable." "

Think of it as a new age religion.
It explains a lot.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 1:53PM
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And I get a little weary of the types who think we should use whatever industry gives us regardless of what it does to our health, and the health of the planet that we are presently killing off.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2011 at 7:34PM
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You could use Crystal-lac stain and finishes. The stain MSDS sheet says it has 0 VOC's

    Bookmark   June 12, 2011 at 9:56AM
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OK, you've convinced me. But I'm a bit confused? Can you explain the difference between a VOC and an HAP?

I've checked some of my finishes for their contents. Which of the following would be classified as a VOC:
* 2-Butoxyethanol
* methyl ethyl ketone
* 2-propanol
* acetone
* dihydrogen monoxide

    Bookmark   June 12, 2011 at 7:37PM
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