Finishing in Cold Weather

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Forum topic by Paul posted 11-21-2007 06:26 PM 3923 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Paul's profile


660 posts in 4056 days

11-21-2007 06:26 PM

Topic tags/keywords: finishing

I work in an unheated garage which isn’t a problem for most of the year in Texas. But I’ve begun the finishing stage of a three piece furniture project (stained last night – still in the 70s) and the weather is about to change (tonight – dropping to 30s and windy) for the next one to three months.

The garage is also a stand alone building with no entrance outside of raising the garage door. The garage door is an old heavy wooden beast and the door raising assistance spring has had to be set quite tight. Therefore unlocked, the door will often raise by itself. So . . . I don’t like working in the shop with the door down (with a space heater on) because it is separated by some distance from the house, I may have to lock myself in to keep the door down and if I would have an accident . . . it might be difficult to go for, call for and/or receive help. I know I need to enclose half the two door garage opening – go with a single garage door and a swing door entrance, etc. But until then . . .

All this to say . . . I want to deliver the three piece furniture project before Christmas. It seems like I read somewhere recently about warming your finishing materials before application instead of your shop – same difference? Did anyone else read this? Have you tried this? Your experience?

Other suggestions?

-- Paul, Texas

8 replies so far

View dalec's profile


612 posts in 3852 days

#1 posted 11-23-2007 12:06 AM

It seems as a matter of safety, you may want to install and exterior door to your shop. Garage door tracks can get misaligned, and leaving the door open in the middle of winter may not be the most comfortable condition to be working in.

I am just getting started into woodworking, so have not had any experience finishing in an unheated space. What I know is there are finishes that dry faster than others. While some may take days if ever in damp cold environments to dry. You may have to find a way to manage the temperature in your shop to allow you to complete your projects on schedule and with the quality of finish you desire.


View Don Niermann  's profile

Don Niermann

218 posts in 3936 days

#2 posted 11-23-2007 03:48 AM

I too live in texas. I do not thinkl you are going to have much luck if the temp goes below 50. That is just about the limit for almost any finish

-- WOOD/DON ( has the right to ones opinion but not the right to ones own facts...)

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 3960 days

#3 posted 11-23-2007 06:08 AM

Are all the pieces out in the shop??? Do you have any where you can put them inside? My shop is not heated either, so I’ve had to finish things inside. I just set some ply down on the floor of a room, usually our little office, and finish there. Heating oil based finish to 120 degrees is supposed to help penetrate in a typical application, but I don’t think that it’s the answer to the cold weather problem…the wood is cold, the warm finish may penetrate initially, but then it’ll cool down to the same temp as the climate it’s in and won’t dry/set well…

Inside is the answer! But you need a finish with low VOCs. That’s why I’ve been using the Tried and True oil varnish product. There’s also a finish called Penofin that’s supposed to be a low/no tox finish.

Good luck!

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Dadoo's profile


1789 posts in 3954 days

#4 posted 11-23-2007 12:30 PM

I do know that it takes two whole days for “quick drying” poly to dry when it’s cooler outside! Most manufacturers suggest a room/project temp in the 70’s, which means finding a place indoors to do your finishes. My garage is heated so I just turn the T-stat up when finishing.

-- Bob Vila would be so proud of you!

View Paul's profile


660 posts in 4056 days

#5 posted 11-23-2007 06:02 PM

Yes Dale, it is a safety issue. But don’t have the $ for the remodel right now. That’s why I keep the door open.

Believe it or not, we had a dusting of snow last night on Thanksgiving evening. Dorje, all the pieces are in the shop and moving a piece at a time into the house is not really an option. I would hear complaints from the wife and children about the odor as it dries.

This is why I generally have a two or three month winter vacation from the shop. (I know that’s nothing like what many of you deal with. I grew up in Northern Illinois.) But I’ve got folks waiting to bring me things to do. Even the friends we shared Thanksgiving with yesterday suprised me with the news that they’re hoping I’ll build some Frank Lloyd Wright inspired designs for them.

I’ll have to find that article on warming the finishing materials so you guys don’t think I’m crazy. I want to say it was in “Woodshop News” for the professionals – but I’ll let you know.

-- Paul, Texas

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 3838 days

#6 posted 11-24-2007 01:23 AM

I had to finish a dining table by thanksgiving (the one in the scraper video). It has been freezing here and my shop is unheated as well. I took the table top pieces into the kitchen, cranked up the heat and opened the window for ventilation. My wife wasn’t that stoked but it meant I had to diligently apply each next coat and get the thing done. But the other reason the kitchen made sense: no sawdust falling from the ceiling whenever their is a draft.

Do what you gotta do for now but it sounds like you might want to fix your garage door problem for several reasons. Then maybe you could get some sort of affordable heat.

-- Happy woodworking!

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4023 posts in 4027 days

#7 posted 11-24-2007 04:25 PM

I’d recommend shellac if you have no other options. it’s evaporative, not reactive like the oil-bornes and it dries fast if padded on. Otherwise I do the winter work indoors.

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

View dbriski's profile


22 posts in 4020 days

#8 posted 12-07-2007 01:48 AM

Can you adjust your door springs so they aren’t so strong. You should be able to slide them down one bolt hole to weaken them, that way it won’t pop open on you. Another thing you could do is hang plastic up across the door opening except for a small location for you to enter and exit, this will keep the heat in better when you have to go in and out, or if you need some fresh air in.

-- David,

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