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Tung Oil Finish Over Stained Mahohany


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I built a kit guitar last year and have got the bug. (So I'm not a total newbie, but close enough.) I'm going to build another kit while I tool up my workshop and then try to move on to building from scratch. For this next kit guitar, I've got a mahogany body I'd like to stain slightly with cherry red, then finish it with low-gloss tung oil. My goal is the heritage-cherry satin finish Gibson is currently putting on some of its SGs and Vs. This finish has a soft look but still has a nice, deep-looking grain, even on mahogany.

Can anybody point out regrets I might have with the following plan, or offer any advice?

1. Sand, fill the grain with medium brown water-based grain filler. Sand to clear the wood field. I'm hoping this will both make the grain a little more pronounced and even out the color produced by the stain.

2. Stain with a fairly dilute mix of ColorTone cherry red dye dissolved in water. I really just want a hint of red to accent the mahogany.

3. Finish with 8-12 coats of Minwax tung oil (which I know is really wiping varnish), a day apart, wet sanding the last 4 coats with 800 grit sandpaper.

On my last kit, which had an alder body, I mixed green Woodburst stain with my tung oil and did not wetsand at all. I was only halfway pleased with the result--it was a little uneven, especially on the body edges. I really want a uniform color this time. My first idea was to dissolve a powdered dye in my tung oil, but I'm afraid that would turn out the same as the Woodburst.

Thanks for this incredibly helpful board.

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well, first of all, if you grainfill first, you wont be able to stain it

OK, that's news to me, so I've learned something already. What should I do instead, to ensure that the stain absorbs evenly over the whole body? Dye the wiping varnish?

i would stain red first, then clear grainfill. there are many more people on here who will be able to tell you exactly what you want, but i suggest searching on here. most everything you would ever need has already been discussed in the past

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I'm of the old school and don't use grain filler, but if you decide to use it, then I suggest a toner coat of color then your clear coats.Now that's just my way of doing things, since I use my toners and or clear coats to fill as well. This seems to me to give depth to the grain. Again as I said it's the way I am used to doing it and what works for me.

MK

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I'm of the old school and don't use grain filler, but if you decide to use it, then I suggest a toner coat of color then your clear coats.Now that's just my way of doing things, since I use my toners and or clear coats to fill as well. This seems to me to give depth to the grain. Again as I said it's the way I am used to doing it and what works for me.

MK

Thanks, MiKro. It sounds like your method is simpler. How do you ensure that the stain covers evenly? I had a lot of problems last time with the Woodburst leaving clear spots on edges.

I've read some about using a much more concentrated version of the stain instead of grain filler, then sanding down to the field, as a way of making the grain darker and deeper-looking. I'm not sure how that differs from doing the same thing with a colored grain filler, as long as you sand back to the field of the wood.

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well, first of all, if you grainfill first, you wont be able to stain it

Not entirely true. You can add the dye to the grainfiller, which is what Gibson did to the Cherry Red SG's. If you use water based grain filler you can use any type of dye, and it will take. If you use oil based grain filler you have to use a solvent based (laquer thinner, denatured alcohol) dye. You are dying the wood and the grain filler. I have to go back and look, but I think Gibson dyed the grainfiller, applied a sealer coat, applied a toner coat and then cleared. If you get the Finishing, Step by Step book that Stewart MacDonald sells, they have the recipe that Gibson used on the original SG's and V's. If it in not exact it is extremely close. But they do say, one of the keys to getting the color right is the dyed grain filler.

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I'm of the old school and don't use grain filler, but if you decide to use it, then I suggest a toner coat of color then your clear coats.Now that's just my way of doing things, since I use my toners and or clear coats to fill as well. This seems to me to give depth to the grain. Again as I said it's the way I am used to doing it and what works for me.

MK

Thanks, MiKro. It sounds like your method is simpler. How do you ensure that the stain covers evenly? I had a lot of problems last time with the Woodburst leaving clear spots on edges.

I've read some about using a much more concentrated version of the stain instead of grain filler, then sanding down to the field, as a way of making the grain darker and deeper-looking. I'm not sure how that differs from doing the same thing with a colored grain filler, as long as you sand back to the field of the wood.

"How do you ensure that the stain covers evenly? " It depends on the wood. I usually spray my stain. sometimes I will wash coat it on, then use denatured alcohol as a wash coat to even it up. Other times I will mix the stain with a very light cut say 1/4lb shellac and spray, it becomes somewhat of a toner at that point.

Now as to the question of the grain filler and sanding back. I'm not sure how to answer the question where it makes any sense. So in it's simplest form, grain filler does not penetrate into the wood it fills, stains and dyes penetrate into the wood.

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well, first of all, if you grainfill first, you wont be able to stain it

Not entirely true. You can add the dye to the grainfiller, which is what Gibson did to the Cherry Red SG's. If you use water based grain filler you can use any type of dye, and it will take. If you use oil based grain filler you have to use a solvent based (laquer thinner, denatured alcohol) dye. You are dying the wood and the grain filler. I have to go back and look, but I think Gibson dyed the grainfiller, applied a sealer coat, applied a toner coat and then cleared. If you get the Finishing, Step by Step book that Stewart MacDonald sells, they have the recipe that Gibson used on the original SG's and V's. If it in not exact it is extremely close. But they do say, one of the keys to getting the color right is the dyed grain filler.

Thanks, this is very helpful. I will have to get that book (I'm getting quite a stack of them!) for when I graduate to sprayed-on finishes, which I'm planning to do on my next guitar.

My grain filler is water-based (it's ColorTone, like my cherry red dye), so I could dye it, no problem. But after that I'm going on to a soft-looking oil finish, rather than spraying anything. Do the other steps (sealer and toner) have any application to my tung-oiled project? I'm thinking that after the dyed filler, my next (and only) steps would be to rub in about 8-12 applications of wiping varnish over two weeks, wet-sanding the last ones. I admit to being clueless, though, so feel free to correct me.

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I'm curious about the wet sanding part... Since tung oil (in general) is meant to soak into wood and not on it, what purpose does wet sanding serve? There should be nothing on top to sand. Since you mentioned Minwax, right on the can it says to let it soak for a few minutes then wipe dry(polish). The first wet coat soaks into the wood, and seals the pores once it hardens. Subsequent applications just give it some luster.

Tung oil has been a staple in my shop for the past 25 years. I've used it on everything from 7 foot grandfather clocks to guitars. It produces a wonderful natural finish. If applied evenly and wiped off after each application the final finish will be flawless. I usually follow-up the last coat with 0000 steel wool just for good measure.

I know other's have their ways, but I'm old school sometimes. Yes, I also have my own formulation. Nonetheless, drying oils basically work the same way.

-Doug

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The Minwax tung oil is a polymerized oil (might be the wrong term) but is essentially polyurthane thinned heavily with oil and thinners. It will penetrate like oil, but after a few coats will start to build and seal. It is acutally a wiping varnish, but is called an oil. I've read a few suggestions to apply a coat of the oil and wetsand, using the oil as the lubricant for the last several coats and then the final coat or two without sanding and then rub out as prefered.

Guitarophile: The sealer and toner coats do not apply quite in the same manner, but can probably be used. Instead of spray, you would wipe on a few coats of oil to work as the sealer, and then mix the dye into the Minwax oil and apply one or two coats of that. I would try it on some scrap first. Even try dying the and grainfiller first and then applying the oil. You will probably get at least a minor difference in the final look and you can experiment with what you like.

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I'm curious about the wet sanding part... Since tung oil (in general) is meant to soak into wood and not on it, what purpose does wet sanding serve? There should be nothing on top to sand. Since you mentioned Minwax, right on the can it says to let it soak for a few minutes then wipe dry(polish). The first wet coat soaks into the wood, and seals the pores once it hardens. Subsequent applications just give it some luster.

Tung oil has been a staple in my shop for the past 25 years. I've used it on everything from 7 foot grandfather clocks to guitars. It produces a wonderful natural finish. If applied evenly and wiped off after each application the final finish will be flawless. I usually follow-up the last coat with 0000 steel wool just for good measure.

I know other's have their ways, but I'm old school sometimes. Yes, I also have my own formulation. Nonetheless, drying oils basically work the same way.

-Doug

Doug, here's where I first read about the wet-sanding technique (I couldn't figure out how to post the file here, so here's a link. It's an article on finishing drum shells, but I was directed there in connection with guitar finishing. I've read other procedures that mention wet-sanding the final coats of wiping varnish, as well. I can't vouch for them, though, as I've never tried them.

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I stained after I grain-filled.

I stained the mahogany yellow after I grain-filled and I liked it.

The filler made a nice contrast to the filled grain.

I find the grain filler colors stain the mahogany with the dark oil used in the filler.

If I wipe the grain filler off, I end up taking some of the stain too.

Once the grain is filled I can apply all the stain I want to get it right.

If you use epoxy to fill, then the wood won't be stained.

That's just my way.

All the help here is appreciated.

Mike

Edited by MP63
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... after a few coats will start to build and seal.

Is that assuming you don't wipe it dry after a few minutes?

Pore/fiber sealing happens with the first application. Once the fibers harden they are sealed and will no longer absorb oil. The reason for multiple treatments is to be sure none was missed and all the wood fibers exposed to the surface are sealed.

Yes, Minwax is "cooked" and is not 100% tung oil. Varnish is great for surface building and predated polyurethane. 100% tung oil almost never dries (well after many years it might sort of).

We could go on for weeks about tung oils.... so I'll reserve further comment on which blend or method works or doesn't. We all have our 'ways' I guess you could say. I respect them all. :D

Anyway, about the dye part of the question:

I mix with denatured alcohol and spray. Sometimes I use water instead and apply wet. It produces different results. Alcohol solution makes for more vibrant color (usually). It can also darken dark colors.

Once dye is applied, I seal.

Mix dye with your oil should push it deeper into the wood pores. You could have fun with this one I think. Tung oil is a good medium for colors.

-Doug

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Doug, here's where I first read about the wet-sanding technique (I couldn't figure out how to post the file here, so here's a link. It's an article on finishing drum shells, but I was directed there in connection with guitar finishing. I've read other procedures that mention wet-sanding the final coats of wiping varnish, as well. I can't vouch for them, though, as I've never tried them.

Interesting article that was. Thanks. I like to know what other people do... alway have.

Whew, that made me tired just reading it... So I wonder, if all he was trying to do is make a shiny drum from a hundred coats of tung oil, why didn't he just use urethane or full fledged varnish? Urethane = 3 or 4 coats. Varnish maybe ten, but only a couple sandings.

-Doug

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Mix dye with your oil should push it deeper into the wood pores. You could have fun with this one I think. Tung oil is a good medium for colors.

-Doug

Here's another option I've been considering: J.E. Moser's Mahogany Aniline Dye

This would be dissolved into the first coats of tung oil. Of course, it would bring me back to the uneven application problem I had on the edges with the Woodburst the first time around . . . and the question of how to ensure even application. MiKro mentioned denatured alcohol wash to blend it in.

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... after a few coats will start to build and seal.

Is that assuming you don't wipe it dry after a few minutes?

Pore/fiber sealing happens with the first application. Once the fibers harden they are sealed and will no longer absorb oil. The reason for multiple treatments is to be sure none was missed and all the wood fibers exposed to the surface are sealed.

Yes, Minwax is "cooked" and is not 100% tung oil. Varnish is great for surface building and predated polyurethane. 100% tung oil almost never dries (well after many years it might sort of).

We could go on for weeks about tung oils.... so I'll reserve further comment on which blend or method works or doesn't. We all have our 'ways' I guess you could say. I respect them all. :D

-Doug

To be honest I have never used it. It's a little ironic that this topic came up because I had just finished a bunch of reading to learn more about oil finishes. If I remember correctly to get a build with any of the wiping varnishes, you applied them and did not wipe off the excess. But I would have to go back a verify that. I only read throug the info once so far, so it has not quite sunk in yet.

A little off topic for Doug: You said that you have done a lot of work with tung oil, so maybe you can answer this for me. From my research I have gathered that 100% tung oil does not fully dry, do not build a film, does not protect from scratches or dents or scuffs, and only offers minimal resistance to moisture changes. So why exactly would you want to use tung oil if it does not offer much protection to the wood. In all of my reading, I did not really find anything that really said what benefits it provided. While I would like to try an oil finish it seems that straight oil does not do much of anything for protection and that you need to use one the wiping varnishes or Danish oil or similar.

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I just bought some of this the other day and plan on trying it Formsby's Tung oil. I can't find it on the site, but the can calls it a varnish, but I think as suggested it is a mix. I bought the high gloss version and will test it soon see how it works out. I've been testing different finishes for my neck. I just finishes testing Watco's Danish Oil. While, it made the wood look nice, its not something I would like for a neck finish personally.

ihocky- one thought I had in regards to why someone would choose oil finishes is the safety of it. Oils seem to generally be much safer than laquers and varnishes, plus more environmentally friendly. Plus most often they can be effectively brushed or rubbed in versus spray which takes more equipment and leads to a greater waste of product. Aside from that I'm sure there is some differences in look that people prefer, oils can really create a nice glow in the wood. I think it looks great, however, I also am a big fan of those high gloss clears that look deep. In regards to necks, some people might prefer the feel of specific oils, though many of those pure or raw oils don't really dry, so they probably wouldn't be top choices for necks, at least I would imagine that being true. You can though just buy heated or boiled versions which will dry better, for example boiled linseed oil, that will actually dry whereas the raw version would probably take forever. Anyhow, just some of the reasons I've found on why the preference for oils. So far I prefer varnish, lacquers, and the like but I have yet to test a number of different oils, so we shall see. I'm sure doug has some much more informed answers for you, I haven't been testing long, just learning as I go. J

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Here's another option I've been considering: J.E. Moser's Mahogany Aniline Dye

This would be dissolved into the first coats of tung oil. Of course, it would bring me back to the uneven application problem I had on the edges with the Woodburst the first time around . . . and the question of how to ensure even application. MiKro mentioned denatured alcohol wash to blend it in.

Some of your troubles with uneven application on your first kit may have been due to a couple issues.

1) There may have been a light sealer on / in the wood

2) Alder sometimes does not take stains and dyes evenly.

Test on scrap first, but the mahogany "should" be easier to get an even color on.

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... after a few coats will start to build and seal.

Is that assuming you don't wipe it dry after a few minutes?

Pore/fiber sealing happens with the first application. Once the fibers harden they are sealed and will no longer absorb oil. The reason for multiple treatments is to be sure none was missed and all the wood fibers exposed to the surface are sealed.

Yes, Minwax is "cooked" and is not 100% tung oil. Varnish is great for surface building and predated polyurethane. 100% tung oil almost never dries (well after many years it might sort of).

We could go on for weeks about tung oils.... so I'll reserve further comment on which blend or method works or doesn't. We all have our 'ways' I guess you could say. I respect them all. :D

-Doug

To be honest I have never used it. It's a little ironic that this topic came up because I had just finished a bunch of reading to learn more about oil finishes. If I remember correctly to get a build with any of the wiping varnishes, you applied them and did not wipe off the excess. But I would have to go back a verify that. I only read throug the info once so far, so it has not quite sunk in yet.

A little off topic for Doug: You said that you have done a lot of work with tung oil, so maybe you can answer this for me. From my research I have gathered that 100% tung oil does not fully dry, do not build a film, does not protect from scratches or dents or scuffs, and only offers minimal resistance to moisture changes. So why exactly would you want to use tung oil if it does not offer much protection to the wood. In all of my reading, I did not really find anything that really said what benefits it provided. While I would like to try an oil finish it seems that straight oil does not do much of anything for protection and that you need to use one the wiping varnishes or Danish oil or similar.

I can't imagine why someone would choose this type of oil for a guitar. Cutting boards, and other misc. wood projects maybe, but not a guitar. Yes, your reading is spot on. I've never liked any finish that doesn't provide protection.

Waterlox is my out of the can preference. Minwax is easier to get and does a very nice job. Honestly, Minwax does not exhibit the same properties as true varnish so I would caution thick applications. Tests I've done demonstrated it stays gummy for quite a while. One issue with the "tung oil" subject as a whole is that there are so many varieties.

I will only use processed blends because it does stiffens the wood fibers and protects from mild abrasion.

I use the tung oil blends when I want to feel the wood surface.

Hope that helps.

-Doug

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Here's another option I've been considering: J.E. Moser's Mahogany Aniline Dye

This would be dissolved into the first coats of tung oil. Of course, it would bring me back to the uneven application problem I had on the edges with the Woodburst the first time around . . . and the question of how to ensure even application. MiKro mentioned denatured alcohol wash to blend it in.

Some of your troubles with uneven application on your first kit may have been due to a couple issues.

1) There may have been a light sealer on / in the wood

2) Alder sometimes does not take stains and dyes evenly.

Test on scrap first, but the mahogany "should" be easier to get an even color on.

Absolutely test it first!

If the dye doesn't take evenly it's an indication of something on the wood. Dye is meant to color the wood fibers. If the dye can't get to the fibers then it won't take. (ex. fake binding on PRS guitars) This is exacerbated if the surface is rubbed (like a wiping finish).

-Doug

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Absolutely test it first!

If the dye doesn't take evenly it's an indication of something on the wood. Dye is meant to color the wood fibers. If the dye can't get to the fibers then it won't take. (ex. fake binding on PRS guitars) This is exacerbated if the surface is rubbed (like a wiping finish).

-Doug

I would--unfortunately, since it's a kit, it didn't come with scraps! :D

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Here is an example of a modified tung oil finish on my Model 07LTD. Feels and looks exactly like the bare wood (padauk) itself. So sweet! Unless you're up close it's pretty hard to tell that there was anything at all on the wood.

Opinion time...:o) the Utopian tung oil finish is one that can not be seen or felt. Evidence of it is noted by the subtle warmth color and grain presence exhibited by the treated surface.

Body sanded to 1200, which on padauk is glass smooth. Rubbed with 0000 steel wool. My blend of oils applied, then wiped dry. Blend applied 3 or 4 more times for good measure, taking care to wipe and rub to shine after each.

07LTD_upper_left.jpg

-Doug

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