hey guys, wife is making me (ha ha) build a cradle for the one we've got due in november. Only question the wife has is what stain and sealer is chew-safe for small babies once it's fully cured? She doesn't wanna hear it from me.. but from the general consensus.
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Your post didn't state what specie wood you will be using or the color you desire. I had this suituation about 25 years ago in making a crib. The parents to be asked the same question. If I remember correctly, I used food coloring (in viscous solution), and allowed it to dry, and then mineral oil. I would also suggest using a hard wood, like maple, that is less likely to splinter or easily be "chewable".
You can use virtually any finish you want, as all fil-forming finishes are non-toxic when fully cured or fully dried, depending on the finish type. What does fully cured vs fully dried mean?
Varnishes, polyurethanes (which is really a varnish), etc. are reactive finishes, which means that there is a true chemical reaction as and after the film is "dry". That's why most application instructions say something like "recoat within 2-4 hours or wait at least 24 hours." After a couple of hours the film is dry enough to handle, but it is not cured. This allows the next coat actually to bond with the previous coat. Ater a few hours that chemical bonding will not occur or will be very weak, so then you have to wait long enough for the film to dry/cure sufficiently to be scuff sanded without "balling up" and causing a whole range of problems. To be "fully cured" these finishes require up to a few weeks for the chemical reaction of curing to take place. Once fully cured, varnishes are "food safe," hence "baby safe."
Shellac and Lacquer are evaporative finishes, i.e. they dry with no chemical reaction. When an evaporative finish is completely dry it is also completely non-toxic. In fact, shellac is often used as the hard outside coating on candies and pills. The solvent is what causes problems.
If you want, email me and I'll give you some references.
I liked what I did then, but I like more what I do now.
For years I've been using stains, clears and tones made by a german company called Livos. They are linseed oil based. They give off less vocs than most waterbased finishes and the company claims that they use their linseed oil on salads in their lunchroom. Rubs out nicely and is fairly durable and very forgiving. You can find their info at livos.com.