We should keep in mind that @sanvito
lives in Los Angeles. Some of the products that he/she mentioned are restricted in California (CARB), and additional products are restricted in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.
Oil-based poly finishes are nearly impossible to buy here. Certain solvents commonly used in woodworking are also banned. Paint thinner used to be mineral spirits. You can still buy containers labelled "paint thinner" here, but it isn't the same stuff any more. Need I say that it isn't as effective? MEK is gone. They sell something here called "terpatine." Yeah, that's how it is spelled. Who came up with that? The regulations are all about "volatile organic compounds" (VOCs).
Note: Oil-based finishes like boiled linseed oil (BLO), tung oil, walnut oil, etc. are readily available here. I suppose that they aren't volatile enough, or perhaps CARB/SCAQMD has not had enough time to ban them yet. :-(
Some local retailers sell Arm-R-Seal in small containers. I was told that they get away with it by taking advantage of a loophole, by claiming that the Arm-R-Seal will be used or applied in a way that is permitted. The small size of the containers has something to do with it, too. The retailers know full well that their customers are violating the regulations.
One less concern: the climate. Even though it is December, BLO and tung oil finishes dry in a reasonable time here. It is too late for the tung oil because Christmas is upon us. A BLO finish could be done in time for Christmas, especially if done in warm, dry indoor location with good air circulation.
Around here, people use oil-based stains with the water-based poly, but they must be sure the oil stain is fully dry before applying the water-based poly. The best test is to rub a clean cloth on the surface. If oil appears on the cloth, it isn't dry. If it does not, then smell it to confirm that it is really dry. Nobody thinks it is superior to oil-based poly, but it works.
If it were my zebrawood box and I were facing a Christmas deadline, I would do the following:
* Sand a piece of scrap zebrawood to match the box.
* Wipe some BLO on the scrap to see how it looks.
* If you are satisfied, finish the box with the BLO.
* If not, then try some stains on the scrap.
* If the stain is an oil-based stain, give it a couple days to dry. Test it to make sure it is dry.
* Protect it with a few light coats of water-based poly. You can apply at least two ultra thin coats in a day. Don't shake the can, and use only one or two brush strokes to apply.