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Wintertime Workshop Woes

How to prevent the cold from compromising your project materials

Illustration by Allan Sanders

If you work or store materials in an unheated shed or garage, a cold snap can cause a project to fail. Take the right steps to avoid these common problems.

Your Lumber Shrinks

A change in humidity can cause lumber to contract in cold, dry air. Unstack the wood and let it acclimate to warmer temps for a few days before working, says TOH master carpenter Norm Abram. Test the humidity with a hydrometer and keep it consistent with where the piece will rest long-term. If needed, add moisture back into the air with a humidifier.

Glue Won't Hold

Water-based adhesives dry faster in dry winter air because the water evaporates in much less time. But if it's too cold, the glue won't bond at all. Check the bottle for the minimum room temperature at which the glue will work. Remember, wood that was stored in the shed can bring the glue's temperature down too.

Paint Doesn't Adhere

Like glue, if the water in latex paint doesn't evaporate, the paint won't take hold. Don't use paint when it's colder than the temp listed on the can, which is usually 50-degrees F. And be wary of storing cans in an unheated space. The chilly air can thicken paint, leading homeowners to overapply.