Waterlox application in low temperatures.

There are two main parts to using Waterlox. The first part is the actual application and the wetting of the surface. The second is the drying and curing component that makes the film dry to the touch and ready for the next coat. Temperature can affect both the application and drying processes.


Surface and room temperature issues:

During the actual application, you’ll want the product and the surface you are coating to be close in temperature and at least 50°F during the application and for at least 1-2 hours afterwards. At low temperatures, the surface energy of the project may be lower than the surface tension of the Waterlox which can cause the product to bead up on the surface (or dewet). This is less likely to happen with the early coats, as the surface is rougher due to the open pores and much of the product will absorb into the wood surface. As the surface is sealed, the finish will become smoother which will further decrease its surface energy and make dewetting more likely.

Prevention measures:

  • Lightly scuffing the surface with 0000 steel wool or 400 grit paper (or equivalent) will create a better profile for traction and can also take care of minor surface imperfections. This should only be done after your 2nd coat or later as we do not want to reopen the wood surface after one coat.

  • Always wipe with a little mineral spirits or paint thinner between coats. This has the benefit of picking up any dust that may have settled, as well as removing any other potential contaminants. With larger fluctuations in temperatures in your workspace there may be some condensation (dew) on your piece. It may not look or feel wet, but the slightest bit of humidity will only be working against you. Oil and water don’t mix!


  • If you put your coat on and it starts to bead up, wipe the product off with a clean rag and wipe it down with mineral spirits to remove this coat and get back to a clean surface. After wiping everything clean with mineral spirits, you may be ready to try again, or you may want to consider lightly scuffing the surface or wait for warmer temperatures.

  • If the finish has dried with all the beads and puddles, you’ll want to do some light sanding. Follow the same procedure as the Tips for A Smooth Final Finish guide. The key is that Waterlox does not leave that much material on the surface, so it should take very little effort to remove the bad coat.


All Waterlox products (Original, Urethane, TrueTone, Tung Oil) are Thermoset type coatings. This means that an actual chemical reaction takes place during the drying process where the oils and resins can crosslink to form a watertight, but still flexible coating. In particular, they are oxidative coatings meaning that the Oxygen molecules in the air trigger the reaction. This being the case, there are two factors involved in driving the reaction forward in the favorable direction:

  • Availability of the reactants (oxygen) – Oxygen availability will be the easiest to control variable in the curing process, as well as the most important. The more oxygen we can provide the equation, the more likely we are to get one in the right place at the right time. If you view it as a supply and demand problem, flooding the “market” with oxygen ensures that every available reaction site can get one without much effort.

  • Temperature – Higher temperatures means all of the molecules are moving around faster, so it is more likely for an oxygen molecule to find an open reaction site and trigger the reaction. The molecules also have more free energy to overcome any other inhibiting factor. We cannot control the weather, so this is a bit difficult to manage, but not impossible.

    NOTE: Because there is no water in our formulations, there is no concern of freezing as the product is drying. Again, you’ll want application to occur above 50°F, but if temperatures drop much lower at night, that is not a concern, just make sure your plumbing is OK!

Our products are solvent based and have an odor, so there is a need for ventilation and that cannot be avoided. There are still a few ways to help ensure a successful project at lower temperatures and here are a few considerations when doing a project in colder temperatures:

  • This is a multiple step drying process, so you can make adjustments. First, you’ll want to remove the solvent and fumes from the drying of the Waterlox. This occurs in the first 2-4 hours and the focus should be getting the air from near the project exhausted to the outside. Fans directed outward in nearby windows will bring fresh air in and force the contaminated air out. You do not need to have every single window as open as far as you can. Focus on ventilation outward for the first few hours and then just shift the focus on keeping the air circulating. It is important that you do not blast air directly onto a surface immediately after coating as that can cause it to skin over and trap some of the solvents. Again, light air movement exhausting out of the room will get the bad air out and bring fresh air in, we will increase the airflow directly to the surface after a few hours.

  • After the first 2-4 hours, most of the solvent is gone and the film should be mostly dry to the touch. It will still not be dry enough to walk on, but it should no longer trap any airborne dust. At this point, you can focus on maintaining air movement. You do not need hurricane force winds inside your room, but a box fan on a low setting blowing gently over the surface will help IMMENSELY with the cure and also help to diminish any lingering odors quickly. You can turn heaters back on (no open flames in the same room), partially close windows, etc. to help maintain a warmer environment. But remember that air flow will always be more important than warm temperatures!

  • If you are finishing a smaller project in a large room (like a countertop in a garage), there will be less of a need to keep exhausting a large amount of air to the outside. Keep the air circulating over that piece to always replenish fresh air to the surface.

  • Forced air and ceiling fans will be nowhere near as effective as directional air flow that you can achieve with a cheap box fan. Set these fans on a low to medium setting to keep a gentle breeze going, it does not need to be a hurricane or a tornado!

  • When in doubt INCREASE AIR MOVEMENT! After 24 hours, you should be able to walk on most surfaces with socked feet, if you need to close windows you can do so, as long as you keep the air moving! Air circulation is the best way to help the cure process and will do the most for eliminating lingering odors.

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