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Speeding Up the Finish Process

I mentioned in my last post how I put off finishing because it takes over my shop while the finish is drying. This is also why I don’t use oil finishes as much because the drying time is so long. However as I am building up coats of Arm-R-Seal on my Walnut table I am reminded how beautiful a good quality Oil/Varnish finish can be. I’m a big fan of shellac usually, but I have to admit this oil adds a lot of depth to the grain. My wife even commented on it when she stopped into the shop during my 4th coat last night. You can’t deny the beauty that oil gives to wood.

May 16, 2013 | Magic moment when finish hits raw wood and inlay. by RenaissanceWW on

Still, I have to wait 8-12 hours between coats and sometimes even longer to really make sure the oil is dry. When you factor in a day job and normal life obligations, I’m usually applying a coat at 10 or 11 at night meaning most of the following day will be off limits to dust producing work. So I tried something that now seems perfectly obvious and it has really sped up the drying time. So much so that I can’t help but wonder if there is a catch I’m overlooking.

Space HeaterI have a small electric space heater that I use in the Winter to keep the shop above freezing. When I turn it on full blast, I can keep my small shop at about 60 degrees when the outside temperatures drop into the 20s. Even though it doesn’t have any exposed heating elements I have always set it up on the opposite side of the shop from the bench to keep it away from any stray shavings or dust and it works great.

So 2 days ago as storms rolled into the area and the humidity skyrocketed and stayed there, I grew concerned about problems with my curing finish. I don’t have a dehumidifier but I probably should get one. It’s just such an unsexy thing to buy and often gets forgotten. So I set up my little heater and cranked it up. Heated air is very dry air right? I came into the shop about 4 hours after my last coat of oil and besides the shop being prepared for a hot yoga class, my finish was dry to the touch. No sticky or clammy feel and completely ready to move on to the next coat. I haven’t tested the limits of this solution to see if I could cut down the drying time even more and frankly after all the work I have put into these projects, I’m not inclined to push my luck. I do think that this heater solution would allow me to safely move my project pieces within a few hours to another location so I could keep working in the shop. I plan to test that theory this weekend as I still have at least 2-3 more coats I want to apply to get the finish just right.

Going with my old schedule of things that means I get no woodworking done at all this weekend and my production schedule just won’t tolerate that kind of down time. So sure I could subvert all this by just using Shellac or Lacquer or a water based product, but you can’t argue with a finish that produces beautiful results. It also helps that I already had a can of the stuff in my finish cabinet seeing as good quality finish isn’t cheap.

What’s the catch here?

Most of my readers are pretty dang smart people so I’m leaning on you guys to poke some holes in this. I really don’t think I am creating a fire hazard here since the heater is on the other side of the shop and I have my air cleaner running to circulate the air and 2 windows open to ventilate. What I’m concerned about is if I am compromising the quality and integrity of my finish by accelerating the curing process. I imagine this is the same thing guys in the hot desert experience when they finish so it can’t be bad right? What am I missing? Please leave a comment below and let me know if you have experience doing this or if you foresee any problems.

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