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Tung Oil Finish - Quick Question

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Obese Chess, Mar 24, 2009.

  1. Obese Chess

    Obese Chess I'm Your New Dad Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2005
    Portland, OR
    So I started finishing my Mighty Mite neck with Tung Oil today. It says only use one coat every 24 hours.
    After my first coat, it doesn't look like I finished anything at all. :eyebrow:
    I followed the directions. Apply a generous coat, wait 5-10 minutes, and buff off with a soft cloth.
    I mean...is it supposed to look almost unfinished after one coat?

  2. vbasscustom


    Sep 8, 2008
    yeah, tung oil wont start having a finish to it until about the 3rd or forth coat, in my experiance with it anyway
  3. 9mmMike

    9mmMike Would you happen to have a cookie for me? Supporting Member

    Was it an unfinished neck? If it is already sealed with a finish, I'd imagine it will take awhile.
    I have used Tung Oil on gunstocks with great success. These are stocks that have been completely stripped of finish first. The wood had good color and figure to start. A quick wipe with water reveals the character of the wood and it always looked pretty similar to the finished product. The more coats the darker, or more contrasting the figure in the wood. If you are using it to tint naturally light-colored wood, I am not sure how long it will take. I have always used 000 or 0000 steel wool to apply mine. I have neve done a bass neck though. If you use steel wool, stay far away from your pups!
  4. Obese Chess

    Obese Chess I'm Your New Dad Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2005
    Portland, OR
    It's off the bass right now. And yes, it's unfinished. :)
    Other thoughts on Steel Wool, anyone?
  5. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    All so-called Tung Oil Finishes aren't created equal, and some of them don't contain enough tung oil to mention.

    Which "Tung Oil Finish" are you using?
  6. praisegig

    praisegig Supporting Member

    Jul 7, 2008
    Stephenville, TX
    IMO, a Tung oil finish on maple is not an effective finish. The pores in maple are very closed and will not let the oil penetrate, so you are applying a very minimum amount of finish with each coat. I would suggest a Tru-oil finish, which will layer more film with each coat and you can apply 3 to 4 coats a day. Let it cure and rub down with 0000 steel wool for a fast neck that looks great, especially after using a dye tint. http://reranch.com/reranch/viewtopic.php?t=15094
  7. 62bass


    Apr 3, 2005
    As others have mentioned, maple is not a porous wood and finishes applied to it do not penetrate deeply. So one coat of finish doesn't look like it is doing anything. Another variable is how thick or viscous the "tung oil" is. Thick finishes just sit on the surface, even when left for a few minutes. You wipe them off after the recommended 5 minutes or so and you've removed almost all of it. So you need to apply more coats. One way to make it penetrate more is to thin the finish with some paint thinner such as Varsol. Apply it and let it sit longer but keep it wet for about 15 minutes by applying more of it before it starts to get tacky.

    You haven't mentioned which brand of tung oil you're using. That's important too. Most of these so called tung oil finishes don't contain much tung oil, if any, and are actually just thinned out varnishes with a high content of other oils. They work well on more porous woods where they can lodge in the grooves in the finish.

    True Oil is a very thin varnish and oil mixture which works well on maple but you need to apply multiple coats to get the right effect and to provide protection to the wood. Minwax Antique Finish is another that looks good and is quite thin. It darkens well. I used some recently on a maple table top and it looks very nice. I applied about 6 coats spaced about 12 hours apart.

    My favourite for this type of work is Waterlox Original Sealer Finish thinned out with about 50% of paint thinner. It has lots of tung oil in it and eventually dries quite hard and can be built up to a thin layer that protects the neck from moisture penetration quite well. It needs to dry about 24 hours between coats but you can speed it up by adding a capful of Japan Dryer to each half cup or so. Waterlox is harder to find than many of the other oil finishes though. If the paint departments don't have it it can often be found in places that sell hardwood flooring. You can also find it on line.

    As far as steel wool goes, I use 0000 grade, the finest. I also have used the synthetic abrasive pads in fine grade. They don't shed particles of steel and are safe to use around your pickups.

    For sure, keep your pickups well away from steel wool particles and vacuum up all the steel wool dust before bringing the pickups back to where you were working on applying the finish.

    None of these oil finishes provide as much protection from moisture as a thick coat of varnish or polyurethane though, but they do give you a nice look and a smooth but not sticky surface to slide your hand along.
  8. Obese Chess

    Obese Chess I'm Your New Dad Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2005
    Portland, OR
    I'm using the Minwax Tung Oil.
    Great. So what should I be using instead? :(
    I mean, what's easy. I'd like to finish this neck ASAP.
    And I don't want to stain it, I like the current color. I just want a hard, glossy finish on the fretboard.
    No steel wool, the frets are already in :\
  9. Obese Chess

    Obese Chess I'm Your New Dad Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2005
    Portland, OR
    Also: Poly is super-unforgiving, isn't it?
    I've heard that. Otherwise I'd just be using Poly.
  10. 62bass


    Apr 3, 2005
    Minwax tung oil is a good finish. I don't know how much real tung oil is in it but it provides a decent finish. Not as hard as a varnish finish say, but good for the neck. Carvin uses it on their oil finished basses. Just continue applying coats of it. It will never build to a thick finish but you don't need that. 6 coats should do it. A light steel wooling between coats and wipe off the dust, then another coat. Try to keep the temperature above 70 F or it takes way too long to dry.

    If you're working in a warm enough room, you could apply 2 coats a day. It'll take a few weeks to fully harden but after the last coat 3 or 4 days should be enough for light use. You should end up with a finish that feels nice to play on where your hand doesn't stick like it does with super glossy finishes and it'll protect the wood from moisture and dirt. You can easily renew it after years of wear by giving it a good cleaning and applying a few more coats.

    There's nothing much easier to do by hand than Minwax. I've used it on a few oil finished projects. I prefer to make up my own oil/varnish mixture but Minwax is fine. Watco danish oil is similar and there are a half dozen similar finishes out there from other manufacturers.

    Any other harder finish requires a lot more work and more expertise.

  11. 62bass


    Apr 3, 2005
    There are polyurethane finishes that you can apply by hand that result in a harder and glossier finish that can be built up quite thick. One such is Minwax Wipe On Polyurethane. It's easy enough to apply.

    It's a good finish. It'll look and feel different than the tung oil. It's a varnish and enough coats of it look like it. I've got about 6 coats of it on a maple plywood work bench top. Provides good protection from liquid spills and is harder and more abrasion resistant than tung oil would be. I could have got the same look and protection by brushing on 2 or 3 coats of polyurethane varnish, but that requires cleaning a brush after use and because it dries slower, dust can build up on the surface and become trapped before it dries.

    You've already started with the tung oil. Might as well finish the job with it. It'll turn out fine.
  12. I used Minwax Tung Oil when I refinished my '78 Precision a few years ago. It does take several coats to start building well but I wouldn't deviate from the instructions at all. It may take a little longer to get it like you want it but the results will be worth it. I stayed away from polyurethane finishes when I did mine because it changes the way the wood resonates/sounds but I know a lot of people wouldn't agree with me. The tung oil finish will also be easier to touch up invisibly if needed.

    I agree with using 0000 steel wool or another super fine abrasive between coats, just be sure to use a tack cloth or something to make sure you get all of the dust, etc....

    I hope you're as happy with the tung oil results as I am.
  13. 62bass


    Apr 3, 2005
    Whoa--hold on here. I seem to have missed the part about "I just want a hard, glossy finish on the fretboard" Sorry. My mistake. I missed the fretboard part and thought you were talking about the back of the neck.

    If the frets are already in it's very difficult to sand or steel wool between coats. It's best to sand in the direction of the grain for a smooth look. Also the finish builds up on the frets and needs to be removed.

    Factory maple fingerboards with a hard, glossy finish are sprayed on in a factory by guys trained how to do it. It's going to be difficult to do by yourself without a dedicated spray booth, spray equipment and experience with it.

    The best you can do is get a low gloss surface that will repel dirt and moisture using what you've started with and are now stuck with. The frets get in the way and prevent a good sanding or steel wooling.

    I'd say, don't try to build up thick coats and wipe the tops of the frets off after applying a coat and before it starts to harden using a clean cloth and some paint thinner.
  14. What about a pre-cat lacquer? Not too confuse the issue, but lacquer is much more forgiving than poly(much easier to sand and all coats meld into each other.) and i think it would be hard enough once cured.

    Not an expert, but I've used both quite a bit.

    And as for the frets, Brubaker told me he's started finishing his fb before he even cuts his frets in. Sounds like it would be alot easier. He said the only thing you have to be careful about is getting moisture into your slots before you get your frets in.

  15. Obese Chess

    Obese Chess I'm Your New Dad Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2005
    Portland, OR
    Well, I think I've applied so little Tung Oil that I may not be stuck with it. But hey, as long as I've started, might as well keep going.
    I don't need the glossiness - I just want it to be durable and look nice :)

    Thanks for everyone's help!
    I'll go throw on another coat!
  16. Are you trying to finish the fretboard, back of neck and headstock, or both? I think everyone has assumed that you were doing the back and headstock? You have an all maple neck? Please clarify.
  17. Obese Chess

    Obese Chess I'm Your New Dad Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2005
    Portland, OR
    All maple neck.
    Just the fretboard.
    I like the unfinished feel of the back of the neck, so I might put one coat of Tung Oil on.
  18. 62bass


    Apr 3, 2005
    Then you should be fine.
  19. +1. I used it on my first Warmoth maple neck. It worked well. I masked the fingerboard applied 4 thin coats. It's a satin finish. Occasionally, I rub a scotch brite pad on the back of the neck and it makes it a little smoother.

    I've also used Minwax tung oil on bodies and necks, as well as Tru Oil on a neck. I prefer to wet sand as this gives a nice smooth finish. I've done 3 bodies using oil. My walnut body feels like glass!

  20. If you want an unfinished feel on the back of the neck, tung oil will be satisfactory. You said, you wanted a high gloss on the fretboard. Polyurethane or Epoxy may be better for the fretboard.
    Most high gloss maple fretboards, that have had the finish worn off, turn very dark in that area. That is common on guitars that have been played alot.

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