Environmental Sensitivities: A Tough Sell

Failure stories are common among cabinetmakers who have tried to satisfy "chemically sensitive" clients. February 28, 2012

I have a client who is extremely sensitive to smells in the environment. I recently gave her some parts made from Nugreen Zero from Uniboard with no formaldehyde and she reacted to those, which I was not expecting. Does anyone have experience with this kind of customer? What materials have you found acceptable? I also gave her 2 Thermofoil doors with no drillings in them, thinking they would be safe, but apparently not.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor M:
Try a no-formaldehyde plywood? I would think that would use a lot less binding agents. For the finish... a water borne something? Check the panels used in the medical industry. I would think those are top notch.

From contributor R:
Some people are so sensitive, only solid wood is going to be acceptable. And then some low oil woods like maple will only work. You may have to give them samples of finish, but no petrochemicals will be a necessity. Maybe start with Livos (all plant based) for the finish. I've only done the reading on this, no practical experience. Food allergies are the bane of my existence, but my doc suggests toxic chemical buildup in me as a reason for my fatigue issues.

From the original questioner:
My supplier made me aware of a product from Columbia that uses soy based adhesives in a birch plywood.

"Columbia's PureBond technology uses a formaldehyde-free adhesive derived from food-grade soy flour and a wet strength resin used in printed currency and milk cartons. There is absolutely no added urea-formaldehyde in the adhesive or the components."

I think this may work and will give it a try. This is a serious problem for some folks and I hope to find a solution because there is a market niche for a solution that these people can tolerate.

From contributor C:
Run - you are never going to make her happy or be able to collect your final payment.

From the original questioner:
I understand your sentiment, but she is a doctor who treats people all over for these things and if I can crack this she is a reference account I can use to further develop my business. Don't worry - I am being paid for my efforts, but I will clarify my payment terms again.

From contributor C:
I've dealt with two of these clients in the past. Everything smells - they will never get it. Let them bankrupt someone else. I understand we all need any work we can get, but risk analysis says there is a high probability of a loss. If you decide to do the job and you make a profit please let me know how you did it. The information would be useful to all of us.

From contributor J:
My wife is this type of person. Each one is a bit different, but no need to run. Be patient and let her smell everything. My guess would be to use something like the NAUF prefinished ply from Colombia FP, as another poster posted. If that does not work, you may need to go to solid lumber? You may try a multiple part urethane finish by ICA, or MLC. I probably would not use CV as a finish.

From contributor G:
I have had dealings with clients who are sensitive and I was never able to satisfy them. Neither with any answers I gave nor with solid woods or veneers. Finish, no finish, sanding, no sanding! They were impossible. I eventually gave up after two or three months of trying different products and woods. I hope they lost my number and donít give it to their friends.

From the original questioner:
Well, I have to now admit that you were all right. After spending several days with her and trying products, she kicks me to the curb when we find something she is okay with. She now wants a refund so she can shop the market with the information I gave her about products that would suit her. I should have listened.