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I’m building a custom loft bed for my son in my garage. The final assembly is too large to make it up the stairs to his room so I’ll need to disassemble it to get it up there. I’m planning to stain and poly it but I can’t decide if it’s better to finish it as assembled in the garage, finish it while disassembled or finish it once I get it up there. It’s important to note that assembly is done with only screws and no glue so it can be easily relocated when/if we move.

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    Hi, welcome to StackExchange. Your query isn't a good fit for here because there's no canonical Answer possible which is ideally what SE is set up to provide. When to finish this (any project really) is up to the individual craftsman, so in effect every answer is equally valid which is one of the specific things we're told to avoid. I don't think this is salvageable with an edit so I'm voting to close. We do have some prior Q&As that touch on prefinishing and if/where you might want to do it, and there's sure to be loads more about this online.
    – Graphus
    Aug 18 '21 at 21:22
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    I'd make the argument for finishing in the garage, then taking it upstairs in pieces. There's better ventilation in the garage (that giant door should help), plus it's probably less of an issue if you spill something on the garage floor than the carpeted/hardwood/other floor in the lad's room. Note that there's nothing about the timing... Finishing in pieces lets you get all the surfaces, but the poly could stick to itself after many years of being assembled and become difficult to separate when the time comes to disassemble. So many options... So many possibilities...
    – FreeMan
    Aug 19 '21 at 13:21
  • OTOH, finishing it when assembled means that the joints will likely be either light on stain or heavy because it's hard to get tight into the inside corners. When you apply the poly to the joints, it's going to bridge the joint, and you could damage the finish when you take it apart. Ultimately, which risks are acceptable to you can only be determined by you. Sorry, not that helpful, I know...
    – FreeMan
    Aug 19 '21 at 13:23
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I would say that asking "what should I consider" may draw fewer negative responses, but one never knows what someone else sees as not appropriate. I personally think your question as is, is a really good use of the forum.

Here's my take on when/where to finish.

First, the where should be somewhere that fits the finishing. I would not apply a finish that has organic degassing inside my house, unless the house were unoccupied (as a new build would likely be). Open air generally is best; the more, the better.

Second when to finish is a complex question; I think one that does have a definitive answer for a given scenario, but as FreeMan and Graphus point out, you are ultimately the decision maker there.

I'll point out some things I think about answering this for myself.

  • will my finished product get banged up moving to it's final location?
  • will expansion/shrinkage expose unfinished portions? The best ex. here is panel doors that show unfinished tenons around the panel from shrinkage.
  • will I need to glue or otherwise connect anything, which the finish would cause failure? (I think you mention, no.)

I think my bottom line is: choose a plan, but be flexible. Learn from mistakes, have fun doing it, and appreciate that you may have to touch up or redo some portion before it's all complete. Finally, stay safe.

Welcome to the forum.

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