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I'm a total newbie and just made a simple desktop. I finished it with Minwax polyurethane satin.

The can says let dry after final coat for 24 hours, but from what I've read on this forum it sounds like oil-based finishes can take weeks to dry fully. Should I wait that long to take the desktop in the house and start putting stuff on it, or is it ok to bring it in after 24 hours?

  • As the manufacturer says on their web site, their stated drying times are based on a specific temperature and relative humidity. If the finish is tacky, it is not finished drying. How long it takes depends on temp and RH. – jdv May 3 at 13:24
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To start with please see previous Question, What is the difference between "curing" and "drying"?.

Dry to the touch — what you have now – is not cured, that takes weeks at least. The oft-repeated rule of thumb for a full cure in an oil-based finish is that it takes "about a month", although this is obviously a generalisation it gives a good idea of how patient you have to be.

To a degree, finishes take as long as they take to dry because drying times are dependant on local conditions (temp, humidity and airflow) and the moisture content of the wood itself. People who live in temperate climates with higher humidity have to wait much longer than those living somewhere dry and warm.

That said, 24 hours is not nearly long enough to safely put an oil-based finish into service probably anywhere, including somewhere like Arizona or the Australian outback. At this stage it would still scuff easily and be prone to taking imprint marks, even fingerprinting is possible early on.

Poly can be considered cured enough for light use (while still not being fully cured) when you can no longer smell any solvent odour with your nose pressed right against the surface. Expect this to take a few days to a week. Personally I wouldn't use something with varnish on it before this, but realities are what they are and if you must use a varnished surface before that time use coasters, placemats etc. to protect the unhardened finish.

I would advise not putting anything particularly heavy on the desktop until after a full cure. This includes only moderately heavy items with a small footprint, or rubber feet, which concentrate the weight to small areas. And don't wipe the surface with a damp cloth unless absolutely necessary.

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    Consider that a woven placemat will concentrate the weight on it on smaller areas and could, potentially leave marks in the finish, too. – FreeMan May 3 at 19:26
  • Thanks to all, that is very helpful. I am in the Phoenix area so we are very dry and warm. I will follow your advice. – Theodora May 4 at 15:30
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    @Theodora, that's v. helpful for you. Your drying and curing times will be much shorter than the norm. If I may, a general tip for the future — Minwax are broadly speaking the bottom of the heap when it comes to consumer finishes, you'll generally get a much better product that works better/more reliably from General Finishes for example (although there are others you could look at too). – Graphus supports Monica May 6 at 6:55

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