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wood filler to raise the grain

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I'm starting the finish for my seamp ash guitar body and i want to raise the grain and dye after (blue).

I will stain the wood filler with black before to apply to the wood.

I want to know if there is a difference between using a water based woof filler (such as timber mart) or a latex wood filler?

Did the process stay the same: wood filler first and dye after?

thank you for your answers!!!

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I'll unpack this a bit first so we're on the same page, and anybody else has a takeaway from this also.

Raising grain is either broken and unsupported fibres rising from the wood surface during some finishing process that involves water, or it's done prior to a finishing process by wetting a surface with water in order to cut them back. Working wood leaves broken and loose fibres on the surface that deform when they absorb water. Any water-based finish will make this happen, leaving a furry surface. These fibres can be knocked off by sanding with say, 320 grit paper, at 11 o'clock and 1 o'clock to the grain direction to cut rather than push them back down.

A wood filler that is water based will raise the grain also, although perhaps less so since fillers are ragged in and have a degree of surface tension that might hold most damaged/loose fibres flat to the surface rather than allowing them to deform. You'll find yourself doing at least a minor sanding of any grain filler anyway, which should cut back most raised grain, however subsequent dyes (if they're water based) may induce additional raised fibres.

When using any sort of finish schedule that involves water-based products, you should do at least a couple of rounds of grain raising and cutting back straight after finish sanding and before any finishing. Nothing aggressive, just a wetting and skim cut.

Grain mostly rises in reaction to water, however alcohol/spirit based products also do this to a degree but to a lesser extent. A grain raising session is always handy in any instance. Damp-to-wet (but not soaking) cloth and you're golden.


The decision to dye or fill first depends on what you're aiming to achieve in terms of the look. Filling first will allow the dye to colour the filler also, increasing the contrast between the wood and filled pores. That said, some schedules can be dye first - then a sealer such as shellac - and then filling the pores with a specifically-coloured filler. This is getting into advanced schedules though, so I'm guessing if you want the simplest approach then go filler first, dye later. As long as the dye doesn't pull the filler out, this is very easy to achieve.

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Hi and welcome!

I don't know the specfic latex filler you are referring to, but latex will reject dye and waterbased won't.  Now, while you will be sanding back down to wood anything you want to be blue, theoretically, this shouldn't be a problem,  However, personally, I always avoid anything that repels anything.

Timbermate is a great product - personally, I would use that.

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The title misled me until I read further. In my understanding raising the grain is to make the fibres stick off the surface to be gently sanded - similar to pre electric shave products...

You're obviously talking about making the grain pop, i.e. enhancing the grain pattern. But this is just how I've learned the insider terminology...

Staining the wood filler is a good idea as dyes may not stick well to any dried filler. Even the water based ones have some sort of hardening glue to make them stick. Thus even a mixture of contrasting wood dust and glue won't take stain well.

So, stain the filler of your choice and sand it back properly so that there's no residue in the areas you want to stain.

Water or latex? I'd vote for water just because it might interfere less with the finish. Again, this is just a hunch.


- Damn I'm a slow typist! Two answers before I got mine finished.

Anyhow, welcome!

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Popping figure is generally taken to describe accentuating figured grain patterns, as dye soaks more into end grain (rising and falling out of the surface) than the sides of those fibres (parallel to the surface), creating an illusion of lighter and darker contrasting areas in the figure. I don't know if popping grain is as commonly used as popping figure. Then again, terminology is often rather vague and interchangeable in this field anyway. Look at the sheer amount of meaningless garbage language generated by guitar marketing wankateers....caramelised, roasted, baked, broiled, sautéed, salted and served with micro greens au jus.

Good points from you both on the composition of the filler. I agree that latex brings problems to the table, and an explicitly dye-compatible filler is needed. I would personally opt for a water-based thixotropic grain filler like Brummer or Timbermate. Being in Canada, Timbermate is probably more available than Brummer which is UK. Either way, the contents of dry fillers (check the MSDS) are pretty much just mineral powders and pigment, so it's worth checking contents. Timbermate is widely used by guitar making enthusiasts from what I recall, so I think it's the way to go.

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9 hours ago, Prostheta said:

I don't know if popping grain is as commonly used as popping figure.

As a non-English speaker I've learned most of the jargon from either builder videos or forums like this. For the record there's tons of videos about making the grain pop so let's assume both are valid expressions for accentuating figured grain.

Between the lines I'm also reading that @Macarel31 would feel much more at home in French, n'est ce pas? That could make both asking the right questions and answering to them a bit more challenging but as an international forum we'll manage. :thumb:



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The thing is, there's so much imprecision and vague interchangeable language in guitar-making and woodworking. I do think that this is a combination of there being a degree of laziness in communication which propagates incorrect terms, and a lack of understanding of what is X and what is Y. Grain and figure being big examples. There are instances - depending on context - where grain means a couple of slightly different things, or is just used incorrectly. In the case of figure however, the distinction is very clear. Grain is the direction of the wood fibres, whereas figure is a phenomenon caused by aspects of how the grain is directed. For example, flame figure is the rising and falling of fibres and how they reflect or absorb light. Some people use "grain" to describe the rings and lines that appear on cut faces where it intersects with growth rings, as in "grain lines". I find this somewhat of a misleading term as the lines are not a direct consequence of grain direction. "Popping grain" isn't precise, as what you're actually doing is accentuating pore structure or - in the case of say, sand-blasted Ash - the voids where soft earlywood has been abraded. That's not grain; those are growth rings. When you ask a person to imagine grain lines of course, the cathedral ring sort of look is the first thing they think of.

Thing is, to some people I might be wrong. It's because there isn't always a good definition of terms, only a mutually agreed-upon terminology that passes into common speech. I think though, that it is useful to try and define things in the most basic and specific terms possible, especially when talking about aspects of tree anatomy in timber.

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Hello everybody,

First, thank you for all your answers.

I see that the subject has drifted on the accuracy of the terms.

So to clarify, yes I am French but i live in Canada since 10 years. I am neither a luthier nor a woodworker. The terms that I use, I learned them by doing research on the internet. When i search on the internet "raising grain" or "enhanced grain", I found what I want. So I considered that these words are the right ones for that. I’m agree with you, in the internet, there is a lot of people that are using approximative terms but a deal with it. For example, after several weeks of research on internet, I don’t know the difference between the terms stain and dye…

As people says, a picture is worth a thousand words, so please find here pictures that show that I want to do.

But honestly, i’m sure that everybody here has already understand that I wanted to do. So i come back to the first subject of my post. First, I want to explain why this post and add some precisions.

I prepared the wood with the following process:

I sanded the wood with those successive grits: 180 / 220 / 320. Then I wetted the wood surface with a humid cloth, let it dry and sand with 320 grit. I did it a second time.

Why I’m worried about water-based grain filler. First after several weeks of research about who to improve grain appearance, I founded a lot of different methods. Is the one I chose the right one? I don’t know.

The second reason is that timber mart grain filler is a water-based grain filler. I want to dye after and I am afraid that the dye dissolves the dry grain filler (on the package there is specified that it’s possible to reconstitute the product by adding water). So, I preferred to ask before.

I finally tried timber mart grain filler with back stain on a remaining piece of swamp ash and it work but… the grain filler smells horrible. it looks like burnt rubber of something like that. It’s surprising for a water-based product.

Another thing that I saw, it’s that the timber mart grain filler is very compact and it take a lot of water to obtain a malleable paste.

So, your answers seem to confirm that I choose a good way to obtain what I want.

Thank you all.



trans blue front.jpg

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You've done right with the sanding by moistening and resanding with the finest grit.

In regard of filling the grain there's no superior method or material above others. The figuration on ash is quite deep so if you want a mirror like finish you'd need quite a lot of the filler. If you're worried about the original wood colour showing somewhere because of the filler having prevented the stain/dye (another confusing pair of terms!) to stick, you can apply the colour before filling. Of course you'd be sanding most of it off when leveling the filler but that way every single tiniest spot of the blonde ash would get the right colour. And of course you'd have to stain the body again after sanding the filler level.

I've seen ash filled with a paste made of ebony dust and wood glue. Any other dark (brown) wood should do as well, and of course you can add stain to the paste. That shouldn't smell too bad.


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Stain is made up of pigment particles in a carrier--usually oil based. The pigments collect in the wood pores  during application and change  the color of the wood that way. Large pores get much darker and smaller ones a little darker. Dye is absorbed by the wood fibers and actually changes the color of the fiber. The orientation of the fiber to the surface of the wood dictates how much dye is absorbed. Fibers running perpendicular to the surface have been cut square and absorb the most dye. Fibers running at an angle to the surface absorb less than that and fibers running parallel to the surface absorb the least amount. As @Prostheta says the changing direction of the fibers is what constitutes figure, and the fact that the changing directions absorb dye at different rates is what enhances or "pops" the figure.

As far as your water-based pore filler being diluted by the dye: Dyes can be dissolved in water, alcohol and spirits (solvents). If you have a water-based pore filler, mix your dye in alcohol and it will not dissolve your pore filler, but it will still color it.


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Yep, the Internet is a constant uphill struggle of trying to keep good information from getting drowned out by the bad. @ScottR is on the money with the difference between dye and stain. I regard stain as sitting on the wood like a thinned out paint and dye as a penetrating colour. But yeah, exactly what Scott says.

Apologies for pulling the subject off in one direction about the accuracy of wording. It's often useful to know the specifics behind ideas in order to figure out how they work in the first place. "Popping" is used a lot, but means different things in different circumstances, so getting a bead on how best to apply this to your circumstance helps all around.

The finish on that Kiesel looks like the Ash has been grain filled with a black stain or pore filler. The pores on Ash run very deeply, and can be accentuated by sand blasting or simply using a coarse abrasive pad. The early wood deepens as it is softer than the (in that photo, light) latewood. Both stain and filler are applied more or less the same way. Rub onto the wood in the direction of the grain, then rag off before it fully sets up with a coarse material like jute or burlap. This burnishes the latewood and leaves stain/filler in the pores. The blue looks like clearcoat toned with blue dye added rather than a straight to the wood dye.

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