Finishing Wood in Cold Weather


We all know that wood appliances can be gorgeous with the right finish; this can be anything that you think will benefit your creation the most, whether that be paint, wood oils, or polyurethane. A good finish can make all the difference in the overall quality of your creations. Unfortunately, the weather outside doesn’t care what you are doing, and trying to finish wood in cold climates can be pretty tricky. 

To finish wood in cold weather, you should have the right space heater to help regulate temperatures. Additionally, applying your finish in thin coats, letting it dry, and applying more will help prevent dust from sticking during drying.

We will go over some tips on how you can effectively finish your wood projects during cold weather. There isn’t a ton of info out there on this subject, so read on if you’d like to learn more!

Why Finishing in Cold Weather Is Challenging

The wood itself reacts to changing temperatures and humidity, which you have to be mindful of when building, installing wood floors, etc. You also have to worry about this when applying a finish. 

Mostly it is the cold that will affect how you will need to approach finishing wood. As temperatures begin to drop, the drying process becomes slower overall. Furthermore, colder temperatures can affect certain water-based finishes and cause them to appear cloudy or have dimples that throw off your work’s overall quality.

What qualifies as “cold”? When temperatures drop below 50℉ (10℃), you will start to notice that the time it takes to dry a finish is substantially longer. Heat evaporates moisture, and when there isn’t much of it, then any drying process will take quite a bit longer.

Ideally, it is best to apply your finish if the temperatures are above 70℉ (21℃) but not too hot to the point you are sweating. Since people all over the country and globe love woodworking, this isn’t going to be possible at all times for everyone, but there are solutions you can apply if you are in a cold environment.

With some investment in equipment and using certain techniques, you will be able to comfortably work on your wood projects when it is cold outside while ensuring that things go smoothly. Here are some tips to take into consideration:

Use a Good Heater

How often do you have to deal with the cold? A few months? Half the year? All year? If you spend a good amount of time in your workshop, it is probably a good idea to invest in a good heater to effectively keep the area warm.

This will be more challenging if your workspace consists of concrete floors and walls, but heaters designed to brute force out of the cold in these environments will effectively regulate temperatures. 

You can use either gas or electric heaters, but gas is more efficient at heating space and is less expensive overall. This Modine HD45AS0111 garage heater should do the trick. It’s not cheap, but it is an investment worth making in the long run.

We recommend using an indoor thermometer that can show you how warm or cold your workshop is if you don’t have one already. The ThermoPro TP55 will not only let you know what the temperature is, but it also tells you the humidity. This is a handy tool for woodworkers and one that we recommend. 

Use Thin Coats of Finish

Less moisture takes less time to dry. To help combat a cold workshop, apply thinner coats of your finish of choice. This will allow the coating to dry quicker, which lessens the chance of dust or other issues arising from a wet finish for prolonged periods. 

You can add the coating in layers to get the level of coating you desire. This may take longer than you’d like, but if you are still struggling with a cold workspace, this is a key tip to keep in mind.

Try to Keep Air Moving 

Air dryers work by blasting warm air for rapid drying. You can use this concept to your advantage in your workshop as well. Try to position your heater in a way where it is directing air towards your work area. You’ll want the heat to travel in the path where your projects are so the finish can dry effectively. 

Additionally, you can set up an additional heater that can blow hot air towards your station. You don’t have to buy another expensive garage heater. This small TRUSTECH 2 in 1 space heater can help, depending on your work area. 

This tip is especially good for water and oil-based finishes since they take longer to dry than others. 

Keep Your Project High Up

You are likely working on concrete or another floor that loves to trap cold air. Generally, the higher your workspace, the warmer the air will be in general. Heat likes to rise, and the further your wood projects are away from the cold floor, the faster your finish will dry. 

Use a Lacquer Gun and a Hot Plate

Lacquer is a great finish for wood projects. Because it is made up of dissolved alcohol or synthetic substances, it can be applied to wood, where it then dries and forms a hard, protective coating.

If you are working with this type of finish in cold weather, we recommend using a lacquer gun and a hot plate. You essentially do heat up the gun on the hot plate with the lacquer inside of the said gun. You only need to use low heat for this. We are trying to do this because we want to warm up the lacquer enough, so it has an easier time drying when applied.

Consider Using Shellac

Shellac is widely used for all sorts of purposes, even for ones that aren’t particularly pleasing to learn about, but alas, it is a finish used in woodworking. A key advantage when discussing cold weather is that it will dry quicker in colder temperatures up to 40℉ (4.4℃). So, if you find yourself in a chilly workshop quite often, it may be worth the consideration. 

Just make sure you understand the pros and cons to determine if it will be a good fit for your woodworking project.

Consider Installing Carpet

This will sound crazy to a lot of people, but it isn’t as dumb of an idea as you may think. Carpet is a good insulator that can keep your workspace warmer as well as providing increased comfort. You’ll need to maintain its cleanliness, but it is an idea worth considering if you find yourself woodworking in a cold climate often. 

We aren’t necessarily talking about the same carpet you have in a living room, rather the idea of using low pile commercial carpet, which is easier to clean and is quite fitting to have in a workshop.

We linked a video below that goes over this subject in more detail if you are interested:

Conclusion

As long as you use the right equipment and techniques, you will be able to finish wood in cold weather just fine. Key tips are to apply your finish in thin coatings rather than what you’d normally do. We also highly suggest getting a powerful garage heater for your workspace, especially if you are surrounded by concrete.

You can also consider installing carpet in your workshop. Is this deemed “normal”? No, but it is quite effective at keeping temperatures higher and not to mention the added comfort of not walking or standing around on a hard floor all day. 

Sources

John McCormick

I have been woodworking since being introduced to the hobby in High School. I enjoy woodworking as a hobby and would like to share some of what I have learned with the world. I have recently built a CNC router system and I have enjoyed learning this new dimension of the hobby.

Recent Posts