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JackLuis
03-12-2016, 12:32 PM
I posted this on the Tech Support forum but got no feedback.

I purchased several Caramel Zebra wood Ukes to have a set. However the finish on them is very lightly applied and some are much lighter in shade than I'd prefer. I want to darken them up a bit and fix some of the rough edges. Nothing too drastic but just make them prettier.

So I have a couple of questions.

1. The rosewood bridges have no finish at all on them. Should I mask them off when I refinish the bodies, or would it make any difference if I did apply a finish to them? The Concert's bridge is pretty rough has a couple of chips on the string tie bridge and is pretty light colored. I was planning on using steel wool to buff it up to not remove much material.

2. Should I use acetone to remove the old finish and start from scratch or just apply the poly-wipe on top of the old finish? They are satin finished now and I will use a satin polyurethane that I wipe on and buff with steel wool between coats.

Last year I refinished two of the Rubin 'butterfly' ukes,(mahogany lam's) a concert that came with a horrid orange stain and a sopranino with what looked like one coat of shellac. I used gloss poly-wipe and they came out looking pretty good, but I completely removed the previous finishes first on them.

I'm hesitant to use acetone on the Zebras as they have (probably) plastic bindings (the butterflys were unbound) and if I screw the Zebras up I'd be ... upset.

3. Should I remove the nuts or just mask them off with the fret boards?

Despite the low cost of the Ukes I do like them and I don't want to screw them up. Is this a good idea, or not?

sequoia
03-12-2016, 05:18 PM
Despite the low cost of the Ukes I do like them and I don't want to screw them up. Is this a good idea, or not?

If you really don't want to screw up your ukes, take them to a professional luthier type repair-person and let them screw it up. That way you can blame somebody else for ruining your ukes. Not that they probably would hurt your ukes this being a pretty straightforward operation, but there is always some risk associated with working on delicate wooden musical instruments. The more experienced and talented the luthier, the less the chance. You however have no experience and thus your chances are higher. There is always risk in life. Dynamic people tend to be able to deal with risk (fearless) and some can't (fearful). Whenever I approach doing something to my uke builds I always think about the risk involved and where is my line of retreat should things not work out the way I visualized them. Then again there are operations where there is no going back. This is called the "pucker factor". Fun! Or not!

As has been said on this forum many times, pictures accompanying questions are very helpful. Really it isn't hard. What do these ukes look like with close-ups of the finish etc. Anyway, whether you can do this work depends a little bit on your level of wood working skill (doesn't have to be much) and your tolerance for risk which in this case is rather manageable for the dynamic person I'm sure you are. Now I'm no finishing guru, but I think finishing is one of the more forgiving operations. If you really screw something up you can always (mostly - short of sanding through the wood) go back to square one and start all over again. Heavy sigh. All that is lost is a lot of time out of your short unhappy life and perhaps a little bit of your sanity. As to your questions:

1) Whatev... Your bridges are probably just oiled. Mask em off and apply oil later. Again, pictures help here. What are your bridges finished with?

2) I would not recommend using acetone to remove your finish for a number of reasons: 1) you probably don't know what kind of finish is on there and how is it going to react to acetone (2) we are not talking about stripping furniture here. Kinda harsh. (3) you could get a nasty gloppy stinking mess of gummy chemical crap that would not be fun to work with and would definitely be flirting with "screw-up", (4) acetone flammability and toxicity (hello flaming ukulele and goodbye liver) and (5) It is not necessary. A sharp(!) cabinet scraper and sandpaper will take off a finish literally in minutes if not seconds. Tape everything off, remove finish, apply new finish, let dry.

Hope that helps. Remember, we are not talking about brain surgery here. Plus, you might have some fun and want to start to make your own ukuleles. Then you can make them how you want them to begin with. Fun! Tears! Laughter! Anger! Depression! Joy!

greenscoe
03-12-2016, 09:20 PM
I'm no great expert at finishing so for what its worth here are my thoughts. (I have refinished a few cheap ukes including a Rubin)

I am familiar with the Rubin/Caramel ukes sold on Ebay (approx $45-$90 direct from China). I belong to a recently formed uke group where most started off with very cheap and nasty painted sopranos. I quickly moved them onto better low cost concerts and tenors. I bought several of these instruments for members of the group. I thought they were great starter ukes.

Given what they are, the finish is OK. However if you want to improve them, then theres no way the cost of a pro refinishing them is worth it

If you do it yourself I would simply clean them up with steel wool or fine glasspaper and apply your handwiped finish on top of the existing finish. As you suggest I would mask the fretboard. Its up to you whether you mask the bridge and leave it unfinished or whether you apply a finish, it wont affect the sound. The nut ought to tap off easily but equally you could mask it, the choice is yours.

The bottom line is that only you know whether your efforts are likely to improve the look of these: I suggest that the light touch is all that you should attempt here.

JackLuis
03-12-2016, 10:01 PM
If you really don't want to screw up your ukes, take them to a professional luthier type repair-person and let them screw it up.
-One of the reasons I bought them is to fool around with decorating and finishing them. I have a good deal of furniture finishing experience and gunstocks etc. These seem to have a very thin finish on them, open pores generally. They had some finish as they had some raised grain in places, but I buffed them down with 0000 steel wool and now they are smooth. I'm willing to risk them a bit.

1) Whatev... Your bridges are probably just oiled. Mask em off and apply oil later. Again, pictures help here. What are your bridges finished with?

-One appears to be unfinished, not even sanded that well. the tenor and soprano 'might' have been oiled but I doubt it. I was just wondering how they would normally be finished, Oil sounds reasonable.

2) I would not recommend using acetone to remove your finish for a number of reasons: 1) you probably don't know what kind of finish is on there and how is it going to react to acetone (2) we are not talking about stripping furniture here. Kinda harsh. (3) you could get a nasty gloppy stinking mess of gummy chemical crap that would not be fun to work with and would definitely be flirting with "screw-up", (4) acetone flammability and toxicity (hello flaming ukulele and goodbye liver) and (5) It is not necessary. A sharp(!) cabinet scraper and sandpaper will take off a finish literally in minutes if not seconds. Tape everything off, remove finish, apply new finish, let dry.

Okay no acetone. I probably don't need it anyway, with as little finish as is on them. I was just going to use that as it is fast and really easy. The Rubin concert I refinished last year had a horrid orange satin on the mahogany laminate and the acetone took it off quick without raising the grain much at all. I use a plane blade as a scraper, I may need to stone it, but it works pretty well. 0000 Steel wool should do me well on the rest.

Hope that helps. Remember, we are not talking about brain surgery here. Plus, you might have some fun and want to start to make your own ukuleles. Then you can make them how you want them to begin with. Fun! Tears! Laughter! Anger! Depression! Joy!

I toyed with the idea of making one, but I'm not ready for that big a project. I'd rather play them, lord knows I need more practice. I was just a bit hesitant as I've never worked with Zebra Wood before and didn't know if there were special things about it.

I'll start with the soprano. It had a crack in the back from shipping. I sealed it with CA and it needs some sanding to clean up the squeeze out. It will give me an idea how the Zebra wood will darken, or not, from the polyurethane. If it works out I'll try to darken the tenor and bring out the character of it's top/back grain a bit.

Thanks for the advice.