Finishing - Poly wont dry

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Forum topic by snowdog posted 11-06-2007 03:11 PM 3788 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1164 posts in 3950 days

11-06-2007 03:11 PM

Topic tags/keywords: finishing poly wet dry

What could I do so stop this from happening, am I doing something wrong? This is the 2nd time this year that the poly wont dry. Both time this happened I had an open can of poly (only a 2 months opened and sealed well), could that be my problem?

The dresser is hard pine from the 60’s, we stripped it, sanded it and stained it. After rubbing the stain off I let the stain sit for 24 hours at 60+ degrees in the basement. Brushed on Poly (foam brush) and came back 24 hours later and it was still tacky. The poly is only a few months old and was sealed pretty well (almost a full quart can) I stirred the heck out of it before applying.

I did not use a sanding sealer. I did notice some of the stain was coming off on the foam brush from some of the deep details work on the dresser but in general the stain was dry. I wiped it down before applying the poly.

What might be wrong?

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

11 replies so far

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 3973 days

#1 posted 11-06-2007 03:30 PM

Sounds like a problem of November weather and a basement for a drying room. I believe i’d find a place in the house to move it to if you’re in a hurry.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View Mark Mazzo's profile

Mark Mazzo

352 posts in 3880 days

#2 posted 11-06-2007 03:59 PM

Sounds like the humidity is just too high in the environment where it is drying. If you can move it to an area of lower humidity or use a dehumidifier that should help.

In the future you can thin your poly with Naptha (up to 50%) and either wipe or brush it on. It will go on thinner and level better, but it will also dry faster with the addition of the Naptha. You could also thin with Mineral Spirits, etc. but the Naptha flashes off (drys) faster.

-- Mark, Webster New York, Visit my website at

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 3842 days

#3 posted 11-06-2007 04:07 PM

Make sure your stain is dry first. Wipe away the excess stain and then let it sit until the surface is 100% dry. Even if the poly dries over damp stain, it won’t adhere well.

Most brands of poly estimate eight hours drying time, but then say that can vary depending on temperature and humidity. What they don’t say is that it can vary a lot. 60 degrees is on the low end of acceptable temperature for applying poly, and basements are notoriously damp, especially this time of year. Given your conditions, I think tacky at 24 hours is not unusual.

-- -- --

View snowdog's profile


1164 posts in 3950 days

#4 posted 11-06-2007 04:44 PM

If I leave it for a few days will it cure or do I need to bring it up in the living room? I had this happen 6 months ago and I bought a new can and applied it (after cleaning off the damp poly) and it crued in 24 hours. It coudl just be a coincidence that it cured.

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

View TomFran's profile


2957 posts in 3961 days

#5 posted 11-06-2007 06:56 PM


I’ve had this happen when the temperature where I had my project was too cool. I would bring it (my project) into a room that is above 70 degrees or higher if possible. You could even put it outside in the sun if it is nice and warm. That’s one of the problems with poly; it does need to be in a warm place to dry (and not humid either).

The last time I had this problem, I was able to get it dry by putting my piece inside in front of a window that had lots of sunshine coming in. It did eventually dry out, but, like you, it caused me some distress until it did.

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View RobS's profile


1334 posts in 4274 days

#6 posted 11-06-2007 07:26 PM

Yes, I agree with most here, patience is a virtue. I too had longer than instructed drying times with my most recent project, waiting more than 24 hours between coats and taking advantage of the Texas sun on the cool days to help things along.

-- Rob (A) Waxahachie,TX

View Dadoo's profile


1789 posts in 3958 days

#7 posted 11-06-2007 10:25 PM

Same here. Poly took 48hrs to cure enough for the second coat…which dried hard in less than 24 hrs! I blame the temp of the room.

-- Bob Vila would be so proud of you!

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4023 posts in 4031 days

#8 posted 11-07-2007 05:47 AM

What are the carriers involved? Was the stain oil based? Was the poly waterborne or oil based?
Likely it’s just as everyone has pointed out regarding temperature and humidity, but there maybe more at work here as well. If the stain is oil based, I would wait the a full 72 hours for the stain to dry. If the poly is waterborne over oil based stain, I would pad on a layer of Zinsser Sealcoat dewaxed shellac after allowing the stain to cure. The poly will stick to the dried shellac, and will seal in the stain. Make sure and get the Sealcoat and not standard shellac as the wax-free formulation will virtually insure adhesion of the poly, as well as prevent any potential grain-raising.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View gizmodyne's profile


1777 posts in 4057 days

#9 posted 11-07-2007 05:50 AM

I agree with Douglas. Advice: Be patient between coats. It must be dry. Sand lightly in between and use the dewaxed shellac as a sealer.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3930 days

#10 posted 11-07-2007 03:21 PM

I’ve not had this problem because it is really dry here on the high desert. For a long time I’ve sealed with shellac. Then I read on the can that poly(oilbased) is not to be used over shellac. I checked pieces that have been around quite a while and found no problems. I’m not the only one who does this, Nancy Hiller(sp) who has had articles in FWW does it as well. I use Zinnser 3 lb. clear shellac. If you want to dewax it just pour it into a glass jar and sit it in the dark and wait. The wax will settle to the bottom and you can strain off the dewaxed shellac. If I dye a piece, I coat it with shellac to seal the dye. If I use gel stain, I coat it to seal down the stain. If I dye and then use a glaze I seal after the dye and again after the glaze. I then let the shellac dry for 24 hours and then sand it by hand with 220 sand paper. Use a tack cloth and air to get rid of the dust. Now mix the poly with about 20-25% mineral spirits. Put on the first coat of poly. You can brush or wipe. When the poly is dry (here that is 4-6 hours) sand again lightl;y to scuff the surface of the poly and do it again. On table tops I’ve wiped on 6-8 coats to get the build I want. The main thing is the sanding between coats. Lately we’ve been brushinf the poly to build quicker. When it is really dry after the final coat I buff it down with finishing steel wool and then wax. On kitchens we use spray wax. Don’t as me what brand, that’s Carleen’s department. This has worked for me. I can’t guarantee it will work for you but it is something to try. Always do test pieces before dong a real piece.

Another thought on poly, I never buy any thing but high gloss. It has no flatting agents and therefore doesn’t need stirring. No stirring = less bubbles. You can cut the gloss with very fine steel wool and wax to any gloss you want.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View snowdog's profile


1164 posts in 3950 days

#11 posted 11-07-2007 03:56 PM

Great advice, thanks to you all.

I turned the heat up to 70 and the dehumidifier down to 35, This seemed to do the trick. I think my problem may lay in the fact that the stain (oil based) was not really dry to start with. It went down hill from there :)

Ok so I am still a bit new to all this fine detail work. I miss working with out door decks lumber<grin> it never mattered if the wood was wet or dry, and as far as precision ..well close was good enough <laugh>

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

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