Three days before Christmas: Aerosol Lacquer
Because it cures by evaporation, lacquer dries extremely fast, but the high solvent content means continued off-gassing of noxious fumes that could knock Santa on his bowl-full-of-jelly backside. So wrap up a lacquer finish with a couple days to spare.
Spray the first coat starting with the nooks and crannies, moving to edge and end grain, and finishing with wide flat surfaces. Begin each sweep off the wood, moving across the project, and then off the other side, overlapping the spray pattern as you progress.
After the first coat dries (30-45 minutes in a warm, dry shop, 60-90 in a cold or humid shop), sand with 320-grit sandpaper, remove the dust, and apply a second coat. No more sanding after that first coat, and you can recoat as quickly as the previous one dries. Let the project sit in a well-ventilated area on the 23rd and 24th before dropping it under the tree.
The downsides: Aerosol lacquer works great for small giftables but becomes pricey for large projects. And lacquer's fumes necessitate both ventilation and a respirator when spraying.
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