Finishing a live edge cedar desktop

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I picked up a piece of live edge red cedar and am making a desk out of it. It had some spots where bark was visible in the top which I really liked and to preserve those I filled them with epoxy, my plan being to sand it to level before finishing. The epoxy filled those areas in nicely and is drying right now, and I'm trying to decide the best way to finish it as soon as that's ready to be sanded. I'm hoping to accentuate the grain as much as possible because it has all sorts of cool texture in it, but I'm inclined not to stain it because I think that wouldn't work well with a live edge piece. I'm also unsure of the best approach for this for a cedar piece as this is my first time working with cedar. Right now I'm leaning towards a few coats of linseed oil to accentuate the grain and the knots followed by a couple rounds of polyurethane to toughen it up a bit since it will be used as a writing surface. Any input would be welcome.


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Thanks for the responses! I'm working out of a 7th floor apartment, which can make spraying difficult as it has stunk up my whole living space. I'm hoping that straight application will lessen that. And I'm actually not terribly concerned about preserving the red tints in the piece, moreso want to accentuate the grain as much as possible to highlight.

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General Finishes WB applied with HVLP has worked really well for me.  Super low VOCs so, won't stink up the apartment too bad.  I've sprayed it in my shop several times.


Here's a link to the stuff I'm referring to..

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Boiled linseed oil (BLO ) can take many days to completely dry ! Until it has dried coating over it can be a disaster. Make test pieces before you rush into finishing your slab.

Days! Try weeks, even! I learned the hard way to not apply a heavy coat of BLO in a cold shop! Took over a month for the oil to stop oozing back out of the wood.

My best experience with BLO is to mix it in equal parts with mineral spirits and poly, then wipe it on.

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Wipe it on, wait 5 minutes, then remove the excess. Or do like me and just wipe it on really thin to start. Still takes about 3 coats to get from bare wood to a film with any gloss.

Just refinished my front door this way, in place. One coat per day until 5 coats gave me the build I wanted. Might have stopped at 3 for an indoor project. Also, I was using spar poly, which cures softer than regular poly.

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  • 5 months later...

I want to try this too. Does 'poly' just mean any kind of polyurethane? Oil or water based? Are you recommending that after the BLO (or BLO mix) layer, then you create the hard finish using straight poly urethane? Sand between coats?

If you're mixing it with BLO and mineral spirits then you need an oil based poly. Water based finishes don't mix with BLO or mineral spirits.

This recipe is for a wiping varnish. It will create a very thin film finish. It will be easier to apply than straight poly but won't build much. A very light sanding between coats is good. If you're looking to build a thicker film you'll want to drop the BLO after the first couple coats and just wipe thinned poly.

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  • 6 years later...

I know this post was from literally years ago, but this is the EXACT project I’m looking to take on. I’m interested to know how this worked out? Were you able to get the cedar to a better strength with the BLO and poly blend? How has it held up over time? 

If I get lucky and somehow get a reply from the OP, I would sincerely appreciate it as it will really influence my choice of wood moving forward with my desk project. 

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@BethyLynn, having experimented with several wipe-on polyurathane products in the intervening yeas since this thread started, I have taken a preference to Minwax Tung Oil finish. It seems to alter the color a bit less than other oil-based finishes, and builds to a high sheen in 3 coats, but is still thin enough to avoid the appearance of plastic-coated wood. Application couldn't be simpler, just wipe on liberally and blot away any runs or puddles. Seems ready to re-coat sooner than similar products I have tried. Just be sure to fully cover the surface with each coat. I missed a small spot once, on the second coat, and it stuck out like a sore thumb when I applied the third.

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