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Finish on wenge top/headstock?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by billoetjen, Jul 25, 2007.

  1. Hi Folks,

    More questions to ponder as I await delivery of my first build (Warmoth neck/body). My wood selection was wenge for the neck and mahog body with wenge top. I'd love to hear some pointers from folks who have hands-on experience with this unusual wood.
    I want to protect the body from my own body's sweat/oils/grime. But I've read opinions from wood craftspersons who leave the wood completely bare to expose the subtlety of the texture/figuring. :cool:
    I was planning to leave the neck unfinished (to take advantage of this wood's speed) but seal the headstock and body with a hard, clear finish (General Finshes High Performance Topcoat). Now I'm questioning that.
    So, let's begin the debate....
    Thanks as always,
    Bill Oetjen
  2. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    I would put at least a sealer coat or 2 of Tung oil on the neck, as wenge can give you micro fine splinters when left bare.(This is NOT an absolute, but a suggestion)

    As for the body, I have no experience with the finish you are considering. I use Target USL Waterborne Lacquer and Waterborne Poly finishes, Behlens Nitro Lacquers, Acrylac Acrylic Lacquer, and Tung oil for my finishes. All work well on Wenge.
  3. contakt321


    Jul 31, 2006
    New York, NY
    You could actually just use tung oil for the mahogony too, I had a mahog bass finished in tung and I loved it.
  4. Wenge has huge pores, so you need to think about whether or not you want them to show.

    If you like them to show, then an oil finish is a good way to go. I like Tru Oil myself (never used it on wenge), but oil finishes in general are not super hard when cured.

    If you want the "dipped in glass" look, then I'd grain fill with epoxy and shoot your favorite clear over that. My favorite clear these days is pre-catalyzed conversion varnish.
  5. Greenman


    Dec 17, 2005
    Ontario Canada
    Does your Warmoth neck need a hard finish to comply with the warranty?
  6. Hi,
    Thanks for the question.
    According to the Warmoth website,


    wenge does not need a hard finish (AFAICT). But Musiclogics warning has got me concerned all of a sudden about my choice. That posting is the only place that I've seen a mention of thos splinters from a finsh-sanded neck. I thought I looked up everything I could about wenge. I knew that lots of folks hate working with it in its rough state because of the splintering issue. By the way, the General Finishes HP topcoat was chosen as an Editor's Choice by Fine Woodworking based on testing of all the available waterborn finishes. I was looking for something that would be super hard and resistant to sweat, etc. I've heard that tung oil can get gummy over time.
  7. IIRC all Warmoth necks have sanding sealer on them...if you can confirm this, then the splintering won't be an issue. However, you'd want to do something more than just sanding sealer.

    Can you see the pores in the wenge?
  8. SDB Guitars

    SDB Guitars Commercial User

    Jul 2, 2007
    Coeur d'Alene, ID
    Shawn Ball - Owner, SDB Guitars
    I just made a short scale bass of mostly wenge... wenge top and back with an alder core for the body, and wenge and maple neck, with wenge fretboard (using up some wenge scraps in the shop, had to do *something* with them... lol)


    When *making* something out of wenge, it splinters all to hell... I'm *still* picking splinters out 2 weeks later. However, once properly sanded, I have never had a splinter issue. Warwick basses had wenge necks for years, and IIRC, they just applied a wax to them (combo of carnouba dn beeswax, I think). The bass pictured above has been sanded up through 12000 micro-mesh, and then had Briwax applied. Even before applying the wax, it felt smooth and sleek, with no hint of splinters. You can feel the grain in the wood, but it's not leaving splinter behind, even after aggressively running my hand up and down the neck playing it for about an hour.
  9. I used tru-oil on wenge once. The nice "milk chocolate/dark chocolate" striations disappeared and it all became a slightly muddy dark brown. Not horrible, but not what I like about wenge either. Luckily it was just a countertop cd display, not an instrument. I myself probably wouldn't use oil on wenge again, certainly not without practising on scrap. (I know, we all ALWAYS do that anyway, right?)
  10. Can't shut up, can I? I realized I have something to add on the splinter subject: I put together a Warmoth Gecko with a wenge neck and have had no splinters. I did sand it to 600 grit, a little smoother than it came from the factory, but not because of splinters. I have since made one from scratch with a wenge neck and didn't have a bad time, and no splinters in playing. I honestly didn't know it had the "splinter problem" reputation until I started reading about it on this site, but then I don't get out much.
  11. Hey Folks,
    Once again, TB and its contributors are the tops. I'll pay attention and not fear too much about the splinter issue. I'll take care of the neck with the micro-mesh (where can I get that locally - auto body shop; woodworking supplies?) and finish the body with a few thin applications of satin topcoat. Thanks again for all the great information. I'll know more in a few days, UPS is supposed to be bringing my new pride and joy to my door on Tuesday. All the other pieces are ready and waiting.....
    Bill Oetjen

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