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Bob F.
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Working on my first cabinet. I'm finding conflicting advice on staining/finishing the inside of cabinets.

Some say finish the inside of the cabinet, and the bottom of the tabletop, to avoid moisture absorbtion differences between the inside/outside and top/bottom faces, which can lead to warping and cupping.

Others say no, don't finish the inside. Often you get odor issues in an enclosed space.

What do y'all think?

The piece:
 

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There is no correct answer. I will give you my opinion, which is just my opinion. There will be (or should be) others that might have a slightly different take. The issue about wood warping if there is a different finish on both sides is quite correct, especially if there is little in the way of physical restraint or the design does not account for it. Slow drying finishes will smell for a while, and the smell never seems to go away with some finishes. Clothing and other articles may pick up odors or even become soiled by weeping finishes - linseed oil is notorious for that. Extreme temperature and humidity changes bring out the worst in wood and finishes. Finish choices are to some extent dependant on what you are going to use the cabinet for: Clothing, dishes, children’s toys?

Here is my advice. You can finish the inside of the cabinets with shellac, which is fairly benign stuff and will dry without an odor, though it can be damaged by alcohol. Shellac, especially if it is from an old can, can get gummy in high humidity and heat, so be careful. It will have a different ability to slow moisture exchange depending on the outside finish, but design considerations will help prevent warping – frame and panels, physical restraint and so on. I would not finish the inside or outside of the drawers with anything, except for the front. The front is usually stable and restrained by the sides, depending on the design and size, and it is not likely to warp from moisture variations related to the difference in the finishes. I’ve never had one do that. Recall too that some woods, like cedar, are used specifically because they do bring a pleasant odor to the contents of the drawer.

As you drew it, the top appears to have a real potential for warping, and I’d make sure you finish both sides, and using the same substance would be ideal. The panels in the frames are probably going to be stable since they appear to be small and adequately trapped by the frame.

Given the myriad of finishes available, only experience can tell what works the best.

Finally, the design looks like it has the grain of the drawers going vertically. If that’s the case, and not just a rendering issue, avoid doing it. They need to be horizontal and match the drawer sides, otherwise there will be differential wood movement which will be worse than any finish induced problems.

Nice design.
 

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Old School
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I agree with TGRANT on most everything except for a few things. I would use waterbase polyurethane for the interior of the cabinet (all surfaces), and for the inside and outside of drawers (except for the underside of the bottom).

WB poly is more durable than shellac, dries clear, and carries no odor when dry. Drawers can get dirty, and with no finish can be hard to clean. Some fabrics will get "catchy" on bare wood.








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If you don't have access to spray equipment and lacquer then I would go with the WB poly. No need to stain on the inside, but it can make it more difficult to try to keep a nice line between the stain and finish.

Clear interiors is what I prefer. A nice bright inside to aid with seeing what is in the cabinet.

 
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Bob F.
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks guys. I really appreciate the pointers.

OK, so this is what I’ll do:


Finish both sides of the top.


Finish the interior with water-based poly. No stain.


Rethink the drawer fronts. It’s a shame, though, because I’ve already cut and fit all the panels, with the grain vertical. I guess I’ll live with the drawer fronts going horizontal, and maybe they should be stained darker like the carcase to minimize the difference.


Finish the inside of the drawers with water-based poly. No stain.

FYI, the cabinet if for a friend who wants a place to store her vast collection of Beatles memorabilia. Mostly coffee-table sized books.

Thanks again.
 

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WB poly is more durable than shellac, dries clear, and carries no odor when dry. Drawers can get dirty, and with no finish can be hard to clean. Some fabrics will get "catchy" on bare wood.
Good point about the poly. I’m not familiar with that product. Thanks for chiming in. I might try it soon.
 

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Rethink the drawer fronts. It’s a shame, though, because I’ve already cut and fit all the panels, with the grain vertical. I guess I’ll live with the drawer fronts going horizontal, and maybe they should be stained darker like the carcase to minimize the difference.
It’s customary to have the grain direction for drawer fronts horizontal with panels that have vertical grain, though there are zillions of exceptions. It’ll probably work look fine that way. I almost always do vertical gain in panels – it looks correct to me, but remember there are no rights and wrongs in designs – what looks good looks good. One facet of design that sometimes gets overlooked is that people expect certain things, and when they are not there, the design can look ‘wrong’, but the observer might not know exactly why. Keep up the good work. By the way, books will pick up smells, and papers are sensitive to acids that might leech out of wood/finishes.
 

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Old Methane Gas Cloud
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Twenty Two Cents

I have always heard regarding finishing, "Thou shalt do to the inside what thy does to the outside."

Going a bit further...

Generally speaking, wood warps because the moisture content on one side of the stock is different than the other side. By finishing both sides, the moisture content remains relatively equal.
 
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