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I'm building a baby crib for my grand daughter and I what to know what would be a safe finish that I could use that wouldn't be harmful? (fumes)
Are you referring to fumes during the application of the finish or off-gassing of volatils after the finish is done?
After a finish has dried to the touch, the overwhelming volatils have dissapated into the air. After 24 hours, off gassing of the finish will be essentially completed.
If I were building and finishing a crib, I would probably just be finishing it with spray cans of oil based urethane varnish or lacquer based clear coat. You definitely want to do this outside the house in a well ventilated area. Most people would be utilizing the garage for this. You will want normal room temperatures to have the coating flow well, about 65 degrees or better. Also, these products can potentially explode, especially lacquer, so extinquish sources of ignition and keep the ventilation going.
Of course, if you want to impart color, the staining should be done prior to the finishing. I am partial to oil based stains. They are much easier to work with then the too fast drying water based stains. If the crib utilizes a soft wood, you should consider a pre-stain control liquid to avoid blotchiness.
I would suggest that you look into "milk paint". It is supposed to be safer for the environment but I have not heard any claims about it being safer for humans. I think that I would tend to avoid oil based paints on a surface that a baby might chew on, but then I'm not sure that Latex paint would be any less toxic.
The toxins of ages past, lead and heavy metals, such as chromium and cadmium, have been removed from all paints intended for consumers. I doubt that present day oil paints would be any more harmful than today's acrylics. Titanium dioxide, the main pigment in today's premium paints, is edible. You will find it in everything from toothpaste to the white "meringue" topping on your store bought banana creme pie!
Probably the most time tested from a safety standpoint would be a shellac finish. Shellac is actually used to coat medicinal pills. Shellac is available in spray cans from Zinsser. It is a terrific wood sealer and a very good top coat, although not as durable as a lacquer or urethane.