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Cold comfort

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For those of us who don’t work wood professionally – at least, not in the sense that our entire income depends on it – winter is the time of year we get most of our woodworking done. When it’s warm outside other things demand our attention; things both fun (picnics, vacations, activities) and things not so fun (lawn care, yard work, house repairs) often draw us reluctantly from our sawdust lairs. But when the long winter months set in, it’s only natural to pursue indoor activity, making it the best woodworking season for many. That is, of course, except for those times when winter becomes so winter-like that the shop temperature plummets to finger-numbing levels. This past weekend was such a time.

My shop is a converted two-car garage. Attached to my home and bounded on two sides by walls shared with the house, it rarely gets below 50 degrees in the winter, but an overnight low of nine degrees put the shop near 40 this morning. That’s not so bad, not even close to actual freezing, but it sure can take some of the pleasure out of a pleasurable activity.

My current project is a reproduction oak spool cabinet, and because I’m making this one for pay I have a deadline to meet on it. It’s actually completed, but still in need of at least one more coat of clear finish. So this morning, as I usually do in the winter, I fired up the shop kerosene heater for an hour to bring the shop up to a working temperature. Generally, after about an hour or so while I have breakfast or get some work done on the computer, the shop is nice and toasty – the garage is well-insulated, so I can shut the heater off and enjoy several hours of comfort while I work.

This morning, however, running the heater for two hours barely brought the shop to the upper 50s; the wood of the cabinet was even colder to the touch. I was using satin polyurethane as my top coat, and although I keep my finishes in the heated laundry room during the winter I knew that trying to apply it to the cold oak would be like applying pancake syrup.

But, I had to get the project done, so I seized upon a two-part solution. I took the cabinet drawers inside the house where the thinner wood would warm up fairly quickly on its own. The heavier cabinet, made of 3/4-inch stock, was another story. Fortunately, my wife wasn’t home so I borrowed her hairdryer. Running at a low level, I played the warm air over the inside of the cabinet and within about 20 minutes it had warmed up nicely; the drawers in the house had done likewise. An hour later, cabinet and drawers were done, and the purloined hairdryer returned to the bathroom with my wife none the wiser.

Please don’t tell her.

Till next time,


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