1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

Best clear finish for natural wood? Best way to apply it?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Diesel Kilgore, Aug 27, 2012.

  1. I've been thinking about stripping a bass down to it's bare wood (alder) and putting a clear coat on it.

    What would be the best clear to get a real glossy and tough finish?

    Also would using a foam brush be a good way to apply it? Would the clear "settle" or would the foam brush leave streaks? In wood shop class when we cleared stuff with a foam brush it usually turned out well, I can't remember what clear we used, but all the pieces were 10"x10" or less so it was hard to tell.

    What if I brushed it and did a finish wet sanding and polish? I'm not trying to get a super professional look, but I do want it to look nice, at least like it a was factory spray job.
  2. Arnie


    May 14, 2005
    Kingston, NY
  3. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Do you have the tools to do a spray finish. I prefer lacquer, but without a good compressor and spray gun you would be out of luck. I can't imagine it brushing on very well.

    I haven't used it but I have seen people get excellent results with Minwax wipe on poly.
  4. Are you looking for a "harder" type finish in which you can see the wood grain but it feels slick(think clear plastic) or a soft "oil" finish in which you see and feel the wood?
  5. gbarcus

    gbarcus Commercial User

    Jul 20, 2008
    Minneapolis & St.Paul, MN
    Owner of Barcus Basses barcusbasses.com
    You can get nitro lacquer in a spray can (3-4 cans) and can achieve nice results, you just have to make sure you spray fairly thin coats. The canned nitro is compressed and if sprayed too heavy can leave tiny air bubbles that can't escape before the coat hardens. Personalty, I only use a hvlp gun to do all my coating.
    Fun part is sanding it down and then buffing it to get a high gloss.
  6. The harder finish with the plastic feel is what I would prefer. But with no way of spraying I would be willing to settle for just a nice gloss finish. Tru-Oil might be what i'm looking for. Those pieces looked really good.
  7. You could always lay up a nice coat of surfboard resin. It is hand applied, sanded going to higher and higher numbers until you get to the buffing compound and swirl remover.

    All those super glossy surfboards are hand laid up and finished by hand - maybe not the ones from China - but all customs are. I used to build quite a few of them in days of yore.

    For bass bodies though, I use Helmsman spray spar varnish.


    It's really hard after about a week and it adds a nice aged-look, no matter if the company says it doesn't yellow. It does.

    Here's how glossy it is:::


    And this is only the third coat, but I sand a lot off the hide the unevenness of the decal under the clear, so it winds up at maybe three coats left after 6-10 coats are applied and sanded level.

    It's tough, easily repairable and it can be re-coated with itself any time in the next thousand years or so, it loves to adhere to itself!
  8. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Hey Joe, can that varnish be wet sanded, buffed and polished? I have ran into problems with tinted nitro, where after I achieved the color I wanted, and after enough coats of clear were applied, when wet sanding I sanded into the color coat and left a light spot. That varnish seems like it might be a good alternative.
  9. Oh yeah! It can be buffed and polished! I wet sand between coats, like I said.

    It dries super hard given a few days, but you can wet sand it in 10-15 minutes after the last coat if you don't pour it on.

    I can get 10-20 coats on in a day if I don't goop it on too thick.
  10. I tell ya..

    A product like this comes to mind..self leveling is where its at...my only concern would be the sides..:meh:


    You can get it in much smaller quantities at your local big box stores for about $40

    That spar varnish looks cool but if you dont have a ton of experience spraying , things can get real squirrley . You also need proper ventilation and environment (ie. low humidity, wind, dust)
  11. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Cool, I don't usually trust anything in a rattle can, but I may just have to give it a try.
  12. Actually that spray varnish is fool proof I think. It's self-contained and although it's plasticized as a varnish, it's very easy to clean up and overspray is a minimum problem.

    The spray itself is soft and very controllable - and besides it's very forgiving to screw ups in application.

    It sands well - wet sanding is always the best, and cuts clean without balling up.

    The reason I had any idea of using it for necks and head stocks, is since I used it to refinish a pair of huge exterior doors with oak panels that needed a lot of prep.

    The spray - in this case in gallons that I HVLP'd onto the doors, was so easy to use and humidity didn't ever become a problem as I was shooting in the owner's garage in a driving rainstorm going on just outside.

    I then saw it in bombs and tried it and have loved it since. I've shot it in single digit humidity and temps below 32ºF, just as long as the can itself was up to about 75ºF.

    As I say - it's so easy a Rhesus Caveman could use it.
  13. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    I would only use epoxy on a fretless fingerboard. Its messy and takes forever to cure.
  14. thebassbuilder


    Mar 7, 2012
    Spartanburg SC
    guitar builder, Meyers Guitars
    Surfer Joe. I was talking to the guys that supply all the paints to the big boys here in America, MusicMan, Fender and so on. That they even told me about trying Varnish for my necks and I dismissed them as I wanted Polyester. I think I am going to try the Varnish thing as well. I am using Polyester on a couple of builds and it is very thick and hard to spray with a normal spray gun. You need a gun with a big tip on it. I am only using it for a base coat before adding the color top coat which will be a car finish poly.

    So not to get off topic Diesel Kilgor, I would go for the spray can varnish. Sounds like an easy application, with great results.
  15. A note here if you think you've screwed up the finish with the spar varnish - you haven't.

    This stuff is as forgiving as a mongrel dog and if it runs (shame on you) or bubbles (this is really almost impossible to do) you can just work with the mistake by sanding it out and then give it one more fairly wet shot and all is well again.

    At least wear a particulate (comfort) mask to keep all the spray from gluing your nose hairs to each other. I get some very serious reactions to paints now (Agent Orange/VietNam) and have to be ultra careful with things I inhale, so I usually wear a full organic 3M dual cartridge mask.
  16. Wow Joe, that stuff looks really good. That's the gloss i'm going for.

    Are you hand buffing or using a drill pad attachment (if so, what kind) between coats? How many coats can you get per can?
  17. I use the 1200# and 1500# wet/dry for the next-to-last coat. One could use 2000#, but this has worked really good for me so far.

    Then I just gently flood it with a final coat of varnish - keeping the area as flat as possible to keep it from running.

    Let it harden for a day or so and just hand rub carnauba wax on it - but you're seeing here things 'way before any wax!


    Before final sanding and last clear coat:::


    It doesn't take any buffing to get to that finish at all. It'll turn glassy all by itself. I have as yet NOT buffed anything with a machine.

    And remember that if you think you goofed it, you haven't. Just sand again and reapply.

    BTW: Coats-per-can vary, but I'd say one can will do two complete necks. As far as varnishing a body - that's harder to guess - but I keep two cans on the shelf all the time (it's surprisingly cheap too) and I always have a lot left over from any project I'm doing.
  18. Cool, Thanks for the tip
  19. Surfer..Im assuming your using the Carnuba as a buffing compound of sorts?

  20. Okay, i'm starting to get it. Sounds easier then I thought it to be. No buffing, huh? Man it looks so good. I think this is the route i'm gonna go. Simple and shiny, I think I may even have some 2000 grit wet paper around somewhere too. :D

Share This Page