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I have some wood that I want to apply varnish to. My garage is exceptionally dusty and my house is pretty bad too. My question is, is it okay to apply varnish outside in the sunshine? Will it still cure properly because the sun is now quickly drying it off.

Note: I'm actually using spar urethane. It's for a sign.

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Urethane doesn't "cure". It dries as the solvent (which may or may not be water) evaporates. It isn't like masonry where time and moisture are critical.

There's no problem applying urethane in the sun other than the challenges it poses to the actual application. Very quick dry times mean less time to get good coverage and work out runs.

Never apply heavier than a minimal thorough coat. Apply liberally, then spread well, leaving just barely a glossy appearance. Multiple thin coats are much better than heavy coats, which will sag and run.

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All varnishes set in two phases. First the solvent evaporates as it dries, then the as the resin molecules come into contact they cross link and cure. The only concerns with the actual curing time, which can be up to month, are that you follow the minimum time between coats on the label (generally about a day) and preferable wait the month before eating off the finish (which is hardly ever an issue).

As far as the sun goes you only need to worry about the dry time, i.e. how long do I have before enough solvent evaporates that my varnish is the consistency of peanut butter? The answer is a combination of the product in question and experience.

Traditional varnishes are very thick to begin with, and the instructions call for heavy thinning of the first coats and progressively less thinning of additional coats. They also require sanding every coat so that the layers will bond together. The need to measure and mix chemicals and laborious application does create a marketing opportunity for simpler to apply products.

If your varnish doesn't have a thinner schedule in the instructions (Minwax Helsman or similar) then it's thinned at the factory to an average value and contains additional chemicals to allow it to "burn in" to undercoats without sanding. There are tradeoffs which aren't relevant to the question at hand. What is relevant is that you'll find lots of different directions depending on the product.

Your best bet is to work with small amounts in a separate container. That prevents you from contaminating the varnish with dirt and allows you to keep it tightly covered out of the sun preventing the solvent from evaporating. The amount you can keep in your working container depends on the conditions and how quick you are applying it. If it's graduating from paint to frosting you're using too much.

If the label indicates "Clean up: Mineral Spirits" you can also thin the varnish with them if it begins to dry out on you. You can also thin it slightly from the get go if you know evaporation is going to be an issue.

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Are you using it in a spray can? if so good luck, i have never done this. if your applying it with a paint brush put it on thick it wont dry as fast. its drying so fast i am guessing your are using a spray can. in any matter apply it to the wood thick. let it dry and sand it down to get a good Finnish. i have done sealers on wood in the direct sun before never had a problem. if it really bothers you. might try doing it in the early morning or at night with a light. put a coat on sand it down and repeat for a couple of coats. good luck

  • No, I'm not using a spray can. So far I've been putting it on thin, and I think I've been putting it on too thin because it's leaving some rare spots where it doesn't look like it covered entirely. Also, I've been using 220 grit sand paper. What grit do you use? – mj_ Jun 7 '17 at 17:37
  • Sand down urethane? Mmm... no. That should only happen if you really bunged up your application and need to do it over. – isherwood Jun 7 '17 at 17:52
  • @isherwood you can sand urethane as far as grit size the greater the grit size the better the polish – joe Jun 7 '17 at 19:35
  • Surely you mean the smaller the grit size. And urethane tends to gum up and haze. Yes, you can do it, but it's not the ideal outcome. – isherwood Jun 7 '17 at 19:36
  • 800 grit paper is less aggressive than a 220. a 220 is pretty rough. the more grit the less abrasive the sand paper is the better the shine. so yes you would need to get a higher grit paper – joe Jun 7 '17 at 19:38

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