As I’ve said many times, one of the reasons finishing seems difficult to amateur woodworkers is that the manufacturers targeting these woodworkers provide bad directions that don’t produce good results. One reason for many of these bad directions is that these manufacturers believe amateur woodworkers want to be able to finish their projects in a day, or even in just an afternoon.
One example of these bad directions is Danish Oil that instructs you to flood the surface, allow the oil to penetrate for 30 minutes, reapply the oil, give it 15 more minutes to penetrate, then wipe off. Watco Danish Oil says the wood is ready to use in 8-to-10 hours. These directions are not the best because the first coat isn’t given time to dry and be sanded smooth, so a smooth satin sheen can’t be achieved.
Another example is wood conditioner, oil or varnish thinned with about two parts mineral spirits (paint thinner), used to reduce blotching when staining. The directions usually say to wipe off within 2 hours, then apply the stain right away. The directions that work much better are to let the wood conditioner dry overnight before staining.
So, how to you finish if your goal is to deliver the project to a relative, friend or client the next day?
Oil and varnish, including polyurethane varnish, are out because they dry too slowly. You have to allow overnight for the first coat to dry before you can effectively sand and apply the second coat, which is critical for achieving depth, sheen and smoothness. Moreover, the stink from the curing can last for several days, so you would need to wait at least this long before delivering the project.
All types of solvent lacquer are also out. You could get two coats applied in a day and have them dry enough to deliver the next, but as with oil and varnish, the stink from the solvent, which is continuing to evaporate, would make it unwise to do this.
This leaves water-based finish and shellac as possibilities. You could also apply paste wax to a small object, such as a jewelry box, that won’t receive much wear.
Water-based finishes dry in about an hour or two, so it would be easy to get two coats applied in one day and, with almost no residual smell, there wouldn’t be any problem delivering the project the next day.
Shellac is almost the same, though there might be a slight residual smell of alcohol.
So if you are faced with a one-day time frame in which to get a project finished and ready to be delivered, think water-based finish, shellac or wax.