Non-toxic options

I went back and forth on what to use to finish my piece. My teacher and I discussed a number of natural, environmentally gentle options. At first I really considered trying a soap finish—which is just what it sounds like. Soap flakes whipped with water to a frothy consistency can be applied straight to wood surfaces to seal the pores. It’s a popular floor and furniture finish in Denmark. Over time, a patina will form and the finish can easily be refreshed by rubbing the soap away and reapplying it. So appealing.

But for a dinning tabletop that is being spilled on and wiped down regularly, soap might not the best choice. I also thought about using a “salad bowl finish”—straight walnut oil perhaps… But in the end I went back to Tung oil, which is what I used on my bench. It’s harder than walut oil and maybe a bit more durable. I’m using Sutherland Welles Botanical Polymerized Tung Oil. My teacher is a fan and when I read about the company’s mission and the product details on their website, I decided to go for it. The Di-Citrusol thinner speeds the drying time. So far I have two coats applied. I’ll report back on the results.

My teacher also turned me onto Old Brown Glue—a non-toxic, organic animal hide and bone glue modified with urea. My classmates and I each received a free bottle (the first plastic bottle I’ve accepted in quite a while… can’t remember the last product I got in plastic) to try on our projects. My table design left me with little to glue up but I did have to join the four legs to the apron stretchers that run along the length of the table. I loved using it because it has a 20 to 30 minute open time that allowed me to carefully position and clamp my work. Yellow glue (Titebond) expands a lot and sets up quickly, which stresses me out a bit. Old Brown Glue is also bond reversible. From a restorer’s point of view, this is preferable when repairs need to be made. Yellow glue is stronger than wood and we’re not sure how it will behave over a great amount of time. PVA (polyvinyl acetate) glues have only been around since the 1950s.

So as I continue to reconcile my desire to be a maker of things with the responsibility of the waste that’s created in the process, I’m grateful to learn about products like OBG. Thanks Tim.

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