What's your finish preference?

rb4player

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I have now built a couple of electric guitars and 27ish ukuleles. I began my finish journey with rattlecan nitrocellulose lacquer on the guitars, migrated to french polishing with shellac (+ additives), later migrated to oil varnish (Tru-oil), and most recently go back and forth between FP primarily for closed pore woods and oil varnish primarily for open pore woods. What is your preferred finish for ukuleles and why? Thanks in advance for any input.
 
Started with Em6000 water based but never got a good enough finish. Then did a few in Nitro. Tried True Oil… not for me. Darkened the wood too much and didn’t give it that gloss I was looking for. Ended up settling with UV cured polyester. It’s not a forgivable product with a huge learning curve but it’s hard and can be applied very thin. Why do I like it? Looks like glass and cures in 10 minutes… that about does it for me!
 
I like Cardinal luthier lacquer Satin over CA pore filler. Takes less coats and does not need polishing. Lacquer is durable and quick if you have the right spray equipment. Can be done with spraying in about an hour outside as long as the temperature is right, and in Houston is usually not much of an issue year round. I used to have to use Tru Oil in the winter when I was in Santa Rosa, Ca due to the cold and humid climate.
 
What do you mean it doesn’t need polishing? No finish needs buffing or polishing. Buffing is needed following level sanding as the sanding process introduces fine scratches into the finish that needs to be removed to restore the gloss. If you were to polish a satin finish it would no longer be satin…
I like Cardinal luthier lacquer Satin over CA pore filler. Takes less coats and does not need polishing. Lacquer is durable and quick if you have the right spray equipment. Can be done with spraying in about an hour outside as long as the temperature is right, and in Houston is usually not much of an issue year round. I used to have to use Tru Oil in the winter when I was in Santa Rosa, Ca due to the cold and humid climate.
 
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First build was poly. Then I tried shellac and really liked it. Now I do shellac and then poly so I don't have to baby the finish when I play.
 
I use shellac because I don't like the fumes of other methods that I have tried. My dad builds mainly electric solid body. He takes them to the local autobody and the guy sprays them with auto clear coat. It is very durable and often its free.
 
I've finished a mere two ukuleles. I have completed a mere two ukuleles. My "finish" preference is to finish (complete) the instruments. I found that applying a coating to the wood still left me with lots of remaining steps to completion. So I now prefer to COAT my instruments (with Tru-Oil, so far, as it's easy, effective and not a toxic intrusion into my apartment where I build). Because if I FINISH my instrument, I want it to be ready to play.

Heh.

Just trying to change the world here. One technical term at a time. (Wish me luck.)
 
I have been using wipe on hardened shellac - that is, normal shellac plus Shines Shellac Hardener' simply wiped on, for several coats, then flattened and hand buffed, using a good quality furniture polish and a scratch removing final finish (most recently Novus Fine Scratch Remover 2). It's taken a while to sort out, but getting happy with the results, and no smells, no masks, no spray booths and no machines, no special equipment. You can get through three or four coats of the hardened shellac in a day, so build up is quick. Not French polishing, which I have not yet got a handle on, but a nice gloss outcome. This is after a few days of shellacking, but before the flatting and buffing
 

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I have been using wipe on hardened shellac - that is, normal shellac plus Shines Shellac Hardener' simply wiped on, for several coats, then flattened and hand buffed, using a good quality furniture polish and a scratch removing final finish (most recently Novus Fine Scratch Remover 2). It's taken a while to sort out, but getting happy with the results, and no smells, no masks, no spray booths and no machines, no special equipment. You can get through three or four coats of the hardened shellac in a day, so build up is quick. Not French polishing, which I have not yet got a handle on, but a nice gloss outcome. This is after a few days of shellacking, but before the flatting and buffing
That looks pretty nice!
 
I’m curious about tru-oil. There are some fairly old videos on YouTube showing how Mya Moe finished their instruments with just 4-5 thin coats of tru-oil. But I’ve come across a handful of comments that allude to it not being a very durable finish. Can someone enlighten me. What are the shortcomings of a tru-oil finish?
 
I’m curious about tru-oil. There are some fairly old videos on YouTube showing how Mya Moe finished their instruments with just 4-5 thin coats of tru-oil. But I’ve come across a handful of comments that allude to it not being a very durable finish. Can someone enlighten me. What are the shortcomings of a tru-oil finish?
Tru-oil doesn't really provide a protective layer like lacquer or the 2 part finishes used in commercial instruments. Tru-oil finish is very thin by comparison and does not provide much protection to scratches and dents. That's not a problem for me on my personal instruments. I like the signs of use but most people want something that looks pristine.
 
Tru-oil doesn't really provide a protective layer like lacquer or the 2 part finishes used in commercial instruments. Tru-oil finish is very thin by comparison and does not provide much protection to scratches and dents. That's not a problem for me on my personal instruments. I like the signs of use but most people want something that looks pristine.
And how does it wear over time. Say you finished the neck with tru-oil. Will it rub off eventually?
 
Didn’t Birchwood Casey develop Tru-Oil to finish gunstocks? Sounds durable enough for me.
 
Didn’t Birchwood Casey develop Tru-Oil to finish gunstocks? Sounds durable enough for me.
That was my assumption as well. I have seen enough stuff online calling it into question as an instrument finish that it made me wonder. There are videos out there showing how Mya Moe used it as their finish, and people love their ukuleles. I've never heard a complaint about their finish.
 
Tru-oil definitely provides a protective layer. I use it because it builds faster than french polishing, although proper techniques w pumice can be used to fill wood pores via FP. TO probably provides similar protection to nitrocellulose lacquer, substantial, but nothing like modern UV cured finishes. I have mistakenly sanded through lacquer more often than TO, but both require many coats to level a less-than-smooth surface.
 
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True oil does not offer much of protection. It wears easily with time and is not resistant to sweat. Neck and lower bout where the arm rests will suffer the most finish loss. Also darkens the woods considerably. Personally if I was to use an oil finish that one would be my last choice. Is it easy? Sure is.
But we don’t do this because it’s easy, we do it because we thought it was going to be easy! 😂
 
I actually found lacquer much easier to apply than Tru-oil. But the lacquer just keeps losing solvent seemingly forever, shrinking back toward the surface over a considerable time period.
 
A finish that I used long ago and is about as easy as it gets is good ol' Tung Oil. Rub it on with a rag. Wait. Repeat about 4 times and you are done. It doesn't really wear since it soaks into the wood. I used the "satin" finish and it looks good. A little buffing and it gets a nice subtle glow. Definitely an underrated finish. But just what is "tung oil" anyway? It is a proprietary witches brew of solvents and hardeners and oil from the tung tree nut. They ain't sayin what else. Wear gloves.

 
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