'Twas the night before: Water-based Poly
Water-based polyurethane has many advantages: It dries fast, builds fast, and puts off only minor fumes, so you can finish indoors.
For best results, stir the can well, and apply with a synthetic or foam brush. Use a brushing technique similar to that for shellac: Work fast, apply a thin coat, and avoid overworking the finish.
Allow two hours for the first coat to dry. If the grain raises noticeably, don't sweat it. Sand it smooth again with 220-grit sandpaper, remove the dust, and apply the next coat. Water-based poly builds fast, so two or three coats usually suffice.
The downside: Because it dries so quickly, water-based polyurethane can be finicky to brush. It is temperature-sensitive. And it raises the grain. But follow the steps above, and when the last coat dries, the minimal fumes mean you don't have to wait. Drop the gift under the tree, nestle yourself snug in your bed, and watch visions of sugar-plums dance in your head.
Bob Flexner's book Wood Finishing 101 offers a step-by-step look into a variety of finishes. Buy it here: woodmagazine.com/flexner.
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