Getting 3D grain on quilted maple

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by weeeugene, Feb 14, 2004.

  1. weeeugene


    Oct 19, 2003
    I plan to finish the quilted maple top on my bass with tru oil. is there anything i can do to make the grain "pop" as much as possible? i like the color it is now (a light bronze) but i dont mind staining it a little darker if that would help.
  2. Carey


    Jan 18, 2002
    Redlands, CA
    Try the tru oil on a little scrap or a hidden area. It may give you exactly what you want. In my experience, oil pops the grain about as well as anything. It just doesn't offer much protection.
    You may also want to add a little tiny bit of stain to the top first. Honey amber Transtint from Stew Mac mixed with denatured alcohol works great. Again, test on scrap first. It's easy to mix it up too thick and make it too dark.
    Good luck.
  3. Believe it or not, one of the best ways to make figured woods "pop" is not a finish technique. The method is called scraping or microplaning. The idea is that sanding will always leave a slightly textured finish - we're talking microscopic here but it's got ridges from the grit nonetheless. Well this texture breaks up light as it enters the transparent grain. When light rays are kept straight and not diffused, they will penetrate quite deeply into the wood fibers and that gives the depth you desire. Same principle as light rays you've seen going down into the water on a lake or the ocean. Here's where microplaning helps. By using specially tuned steel or plate glass scrapers you literally slice through the wood fibers leaving a tremendously smooth surface. In turn, the smooth surface allows light to penetrate very deeply into the wood and you see the results.

    This can also be an advantage when choosing an oil finish. Oil is clear and penetrates between the fibers much deeper with a scraped finish. When the oil drys, it drys as a clear sort of "lens" between the transparent wood fibers. See where this is going? Yep, you get even more depth.

    Carey has good advice when he says to test on scrap. You can even test my theory by picking a test piece that is flamed but isn't well defined or especially deep. Sand as you normally would to about 320 grit. As you go along and the wood gets smoother, you should see the figure begin to become deeper and more defined. Then as a last step before finishing, use a scraper to peel the top layer off. Oil or shellac as you would normally and I just about guarantee that what appeared to be a piece with just "some" flame has been transformed into a really beautiful specimen.
  4. weeeugene


    Oct 19, 2003
    Hi Guys

    Thanks for the tip. I'll def give it a try with scrap wood first. about the scraping. I'm not a really experienced wood worker so i might mess it up. from what i know, preparing a scraper takes some skill to get the burr just right.

    one more thing. I'm thinking of staining a reddish brown on the mahogany back, like the colour of taylor acoustics made of the same wood. i'm wondering if i mask the join between the two woods, will the red stain bleed into the maple top?

  5. Good point about the proper way to prepare a steel scraper. That's one reason I suggested using glass. You can use microscope slides - they are precut to a decent size and their edges are nice and sharp. They don't cost much either.

    You should do some tests of your color on the mahogany. Keep in mind that there is plenty of red already in the wood. Any stain you put on it will have a cumulative effect and get things dark quickly. Maybe too dark.

    Don't mask the joint, just the maple along it's edge. Instead of masking tape, use the thick clear shipping tape. It's edge is flatter and straighter than masking tape and it seals better. As long as you are using a water based stain, it shouldn't loosen the adhesive and bleed.
  6. ryan morris

    ryan morris Supporting Member

    Sep 11, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    So.. if I were to get some glass slides to do some microplaning on my bass... would I just drage the glass alongside the top of the bass? How much pressure would I use? Pretty much, how would I go about doing it? (and would it work well for a bass that doesn't have a flat top.. (spector)?).

    Would it kill.. enhance.. or make not much of a difference to the 3-D effect if I would put a light stain and some tung oil on it?

    Thanks, Ryan
  7. Any oil will help pop the grain. Adding a small amount of stain is fine as long as the two are compatible - don't put a water based stain in TruOil!

    Hold the slide at an angle to body - 45º to start. Then drag it towards you. You'll get a lot of fine curly residue, just like a big plane only much smaller. That's the technique. The slide itself won't take a lot of pressure because it's the sharp edge that does the cutting. To see how much smoother this can make the wood, hold the specimen up to the light and bounce the light off the surface at a steep angle. Look down the surface and you'll see the smoother glossy areas where you've scraped compared to the duller areas that haven't had the treatment.

    Hope this helps
  8. ryan morris

    ryan morris Supporting Member

    Sep 11, 2000
    Chicago, IL
    Hambone, thank you VERY much. I'm going to refinish my newer Spector CRFM4 soon.. I'll make some before and after pics for another thread if it turns out alright.