I am looking to create something similar to a cigar humidor for storing Pu'er tea which requires relatively high humidity and temperature.

However, the important difference is I would like a wood that has the least amount of smell possible. Humidors are typically lined with Spanish cedar I believe for its fragrance. This is essentially the opposite of what you want for tea, so I am looking for the least "smelly" wood possible.

My criteria in order of importance would be:

  1. Least smell
  2. Moisture/Humidity tolerance
  3. Cost, being much less important than the first two

What type of wood would you recommend in this situation?

  • 1
    Hi, welcome to SE and Woodworking. Don't use wood. Or at least, don't use unfinished wood. Take a lesson from commercial tea boxes, which back in their day were lined with metal as soon as this became practical (in an era where metal was unusual in storage boxes so we can infer it was highly beneficial for them to incur the extra cost). I'm not saying you have to use metal, but you should line it (or coat it) with something so that the tea doesn't in fact touch the wood. Now with that in mind, you no longer have to be particularly concerned with how low-odour the wood is.
    – Graphus
    Nov 11 '20 at 7:13
  • Now re. a wood recommendation, normally we would need more info from you about where you are since there's no point in anyone recommending certain woods to certain people because of where they're located. For example a wood that's cheap and freely available in the UK, but you're in Australia where it's uncommon or not available at all. Or its rarity makes it more expensive than it should be, for what is otherwise a fairly plain-Jane wood. However, bearing in mind the above, you really don't need to be that fussy :-) Were there any species freely available to you that you were hoping to use?
    – Graphus
    Nov 11 '20 at 7:20
  • I am generally fairly new to the hobby, so no real set preferences so far. I am located in Florida in the US. Additionally the tea will be wrapped in paper and compressed into cakes, so the tea itself will not be touching the wood, even without a lining.
    – Doogan
    Nov 11 '20 at 20:44
  • As @Graphus implied, if you like the wood look as opposed to a tin liner then use polyester resin to coat the entire inside, or several coats of varnish. Nov 12 '20 at 1:48
  • Ah, since you're in the US then you have many species to pick from, both domestic and imported. Honestly I'd just go with something you like the look of, since you'll be sealing the interior anyway (using shellac, lacquer or varnish). You can, but don't have to, use the same finish inside and out. Since you're fairly new, you might not be aware that you can pre-finish the interior surfaces of the box pieces prior to assembly to make the finishing task easier. This would be especially true if you intended to use something in a spraycan. [contd]
    – Graphus
    Nov 12 '20 at 10:02

You are going to find that storing anything at 70% RH in a wooden box will tend to suggest wood that has at least some odour. The reason for this is that usually this odour is a result of high oil and/or resin compounds that suppress moulds and maybe even beetle larva, which will be a problem at such high relative humidity.

Furthermore, the wood chosen is rather dense, so we can keep the humidity inside the box. This is different from wood used in the kitchen or bathroom or sauna, where we want the wood to be resistant to rot, but also dry out quickly and not hold onto moisture.

The cedar you mention (which is a misnomer, because it isn't actually cedar or even from a coniferous tree) is chosen because it is relatively close-grained, keeps its oils for a long time, and isn't quite as strong-smelling as other woods used for the same purpose.

At the end of the day only you can decide if your tea is too delicate for this.

I'm hesitant to suggest that any wood would be appropriate from this if what you want is a neutral smell. Maybe using white oak (a classic "kitchen" wood) for the basic box, and then line it carefully with one of the denser, oilier woods from the tropics. I'm thinking of the ebony-like woods with various names, and things like purpleheart.

Though, again, these oilier, more resinous woods do have a distinctive scent sometimes.

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