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Can I speed up stain drying with a hair dryer or a heat gun?

Is there any reason not to?

If it matters: In my case Minwax Wood Finish or Varathane brand, oil based, not gel, referring to all coats including first (that's as specific as I want to get for this question). And by "drying" I mean getting it to the point where I can gently handle it without marring the surface or sticking to it, e.g. flipping it over to get the other side, not having dust stick to it (being able to brush it off without wiping off stain) etc.

  • I feel like you are shining the Graphus symbol in the sky for this one. Stain might be ambiguous in this case as some manufactures use that term loosely. Are we talking oil or water based? – Matt Nov 24 '15 at 15:03
  • @Matt I don't want to get more specific than necessary but I've added some details to hopefully narrow it down. If water based is different an answer including that would still be a welcome addition. – Jason C Nov 24 '15 at 15:48
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    A reason not to: dust. You're pumping a lot more air over the surface of the project than you did by just letting it sit -- probably unless you're in a windy workshop. There's a better chance you're going to get dust in the finish. – Clinton Pierce Nov 24 '15 at 20:15
  • I made a huge mistake by using a heat gun on low setting and it ended up catching the face of my Martin Guitar on fire! I'm still in the process of trying to fix the mess so lock up the heat gun and don't even entertain the thought of using it! This is probably the dumbest thing that I have ever done in my life but hopefully it will save someone else from making the same mistake I did! – user2648 Sep 2 '16 at 20:20
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    Wow, I learned so much by reading this, woodworking is a great stackexchange! – Tina Loopu Nov 11 '18 at 8:04
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Yes if you blow air (especially heated air) over various oil-based finishes they will dry faster.

Is there any reason not to?

Hairdryer first: you're unlikely to cause a problem unless you get really close (nozzle only an inch or so/couple of cm from the wood surface) and it fits the bill theoretically, but you'd die of boredom before you see any benefit. You could in theory set up a hairdryer on a stand blowing over the piece and leaving it for a couple of hours but they're not made for that kind of sustained use and I bet you'd burn out the average modern hairdryer in short order.

Heat gun: this can easily cause a problem. With the typical temperatures these can generate you could accidentally heat the piece past the point where water will start to be released from the surface wood fibres, and it will literally start to bubble through the finish. I've accidentally done this using a hairdryer (being impatient and speed-curing epoxy fills on finished tool handles) so no question it would be even easier with a heat gun.

Where you do see the basic idea applied successfully is using fan heaters. Typically they'd be set up a few feet/a metre or so from the piece and blowing warmed air over it. In cooler weather, particularly if it's not dry, this can make a big difference in the drying of some finishes so it can be well worth experimenting with if you have an unheated shop or working space. Note though that there is quite some risk of the currents of air disturbing sanding dust from some hidden corner and making it airborne, and you can bet it will unerringly find its way to the finished surface.

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    The fan heater suggestion has worked amazingly for me. Most recently I put a small (10"x 8"x 6") heater with a fan in a 7' x 12' room. I had just epoxy'd a dining table and the temperature in the garage was about 50 Fahrenheit. I wanted to test the effectiveness of the fan so I left a "test" piece with the same epoxy in the garage. The fan kept the room at about 73 degrees. The next day the epoxy on the table was hard enough where I couldn't use my fingernail to put a scratch in the epoxy. The piece in the garage was still tacky to the touch and left my fingerprint in the epoxy. – Programmer Nov 24 '15 at 19:34
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I spent more than a few years needing a faster drying finishing product and found that by adding an agent that was compatible with the finish would always work.

For instance, adding a good quality lacquer thinner to any oil based product would help. If it was a water based product, I used either grain or denatured alcohol. Experimentation pays big dividends. For instance, I made my own analyn dies for toys and children's furniture building which requires a non toxic finish which is colorfast. Denatured alcohol worked best there or even a high "proof" grain or even rubbing alcohol (>90%) because all of the dies I used were water soluble. Even when using a vinyl finish, lacquer thinner did a great job, especially if spraying.

Hope this helps.

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    Adding atypical solvents to many coatings is fraught with potential issues (increased toxicity and potential attack of previous layers being the two biggies), and as a rule they only affect initial drying, when the solvent evaporates out of the film. For reactive finishes (most varnishes and other oil-based coatings) the main 'drying' or curing phase is unaffected and progresses at the normal rate for a given film thickness. – Graphus Jun 1 '16 at 10:55
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    I'm sorry you don't want to experiment to see what works for you. My experience was good and I never experienced any of the problems you've mentioned. I was working with unfinished wood on newly built items. You did not specify previous finishes. Therefore the answer stands. If you don't like the answer, then don't do it. Just don't lecture me when you have no idea of the work I did. And if you've got your mind so firmly fixed and think you know it all, then don't ask for opinions or help. – andythebeagle Jun 2 '16 at 4:20
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    "I was working with unfinished wood on newly built items. You did not specify previous finishes. Therefore the answer stands." but the problem exists for the *previous layer of the same finish*. It's very rare to apply just one coat to something. "Just don't lecture me when you have no idea of the work I did." You seem very defensive, I was not trying to lecture, I was only attempting to pass on some of what I've learned (some of it from doing many similar experiments) to warn you, and future readers, about problems that may arise from doing this sort of thing. – Graphus Jun 2 '16 at 9:10
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Some other options to try:

  1. Thin the varnish with an appropriate solvent. Oil-based varnishes usually call for Mineral Spirits whereas water-borne/based finished take water. Not only will this make applying it easier, it will dry a lot faster. The downside is that it requires more coats to build, but those coats can usually be applied with less time between coats.

  2. Add a drying agent such as Japanese drier or Cobalt Drier. These are already present in most varnishes but adding a very small amount to your mix can help speed things up. You can find these at more home improvement or paint stores.

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I used my wife's oven to speed up stain and polyurethane finish. Needed to ship wooden yard dice quickly to a customer for a wedding gift. Unforgettably, the finish was not drying fast enough due to snowing/sleeting outside and high humidity in my shop. 12 hours after applying, and the finish was still very tacky and certainly could not be sanded. So, took the dice and placed in my wife's oven at lowest possible temperature of 150 degrees for 20 minutes. Took out of oven and -- presso -- finish was dry. Sanded immediately and shipped on time. You got to LOVE your wife's oven.

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    Just as a headsup this is a potential health danger if you use the oven subsequently for cooking. And probably goes without saying but if it's a gas oven there is a risk of explosion. – Graphus Mar 15 '17 at 8:22
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Unless the piece of wood is a laminated piece, I usually let the sun do the job for me. Sometimes I find that a good heavy coat of stain hides a lot of flaws in the antique pieces I work on ( cup rings, etc.) It's just a matter of time before the stain finally dries, but I have found that if I put a piece in the direct sun on a good warm day it will usually dry good in about 3 hours.

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From my personal experience....yesterday...DO NOT get the material too hot. There is the obvious flammability of oil based urethanes, but if you place the work in the direct sun to try to dry it, you will, especially on a hot August day, find that the urethane bubbles. I layered up so much to cover this mess that it's gonna take a month to dry and cure. I'll probably scrape it all off, re-sand and refinish. I wanted a thick coat and considered using Envirotex Lite. I read about it on a home bar design site.

With Envirotex you can sweep it with a propane torch to quickly remove bubbles. Don't EVER try the torch method with ANY oil based stain, varnish or urethane products.

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