Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups
Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups
Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups

Minimum Number of Tru-Oil Coats for a Body

Discussion in 'Finely Finished' started by El Tele Lobo, Jan 12, 2019 at 9:51 PM.

  1. El Tele Lobo

    El Tele Lobo Friend of Leo's

    Oct 21, 2014
    Hey Guys,

    I have a couple hand-torched pine bodies in a build thread on here right now. I just put my 3rd coat of Tru-Oil on them and I'm really liking the way they look. I've heard of people using as few as 3 coats of Tru-Oil, but I don't know if that is wood dependent or anything. I put 30 coats on my first build on the body...15 on the neck. The neck I'm using for one of these only has 3 coats on it and looks great.

  2. EsquireOK

    EsquireOK Tele-Afflicted

    Aug 30, 2011
    You can use as few or as many as you'd like. All it is is a modified/hybrid form of wipe-on urethane, so it goes on nice and thinly like an oil finish. The more coats you use, the more resistant to damage and wear through the finish will be, and the more the grain will get filled. One coat will seal the wood, but it will wear through relatively easy, and it won't significantly fill the grains.

    For a pine body with a "rustic" look already, I'd have no problem going with only three coats, myself. With that sort of look, I would think the wear through and eventual dirtying of the wood below would make the thing look better.
    El Tele Lobo likes this.
  3. adjason

    adjason Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

    Jan 9, 2010
    I think my first build (neck and body) used one heavy coat and although I've only played it maybe 20 hours or so it seems fine years later
    El Tele Lobo likes this.
  4. boredguy6060

    boredguy6060 Friend of Leo's

    Mar 28, 2012
    Sou Cal
    It depends a lot on how heavy a coat you put on.
    I’ve seen guys use one drop and rub forever on it, until they have a mirror like finish.
    OTOH you can use really heavy coats and have plenty with 3coats.
    If you don’t do the very light coats where you rub a lot, and go with really heavy coats, you’ll have to let it dry and harden.
    Possibly sand it and buff it if needed.
    Tru-Oil is extremely easy and forgiving, it hard to screw it up.
    But if you think the three coats you have is sufficient, then go with it, if you decide later to add more, do it.
    FWIW, the best feeling neck I have out of many is a Partscaster Iused Tru-Oil on the neck. It has aged wonderfully as well.
    Great Stuff!
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2019 at 1:35 AM
    El Tele Lobo likes this.
  5. DuckDodgers

    DuckDodgers Tele-Meister Silver Supporter

    Nov 5, 2015
    Dee-troit City
    When I use it for gun stocks, I take a small piece of 320 grit and use that to apply the Tru-Oil, creating a mud of oil and wood dust. I then rub down the area, pushing the mud into the grain, and wiping off the excess. I repeat this until the grain is filled. Then I wipe on several very thin coats which i let dry overnight and buff with OOOO steel wool. The process takes about a week.
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  6. Chunkocaster

    Chunkocaster Friend of Leo's

    Aug 10, 2018
    In space with Ziggy
    For high gloss you will need around 20 plus coats.
    For a natural looking finish only one or two coats is required. If you like it at 3 it should be fine to stop.
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2019 at 1:27 AM
    El Tele Lobo likes this.
  7. Silverface

    Silverface Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

    Mar 2, 2003
    Lawndale CA
    Since it's not designed as a "finish" the number of coats depends on several factors:

    1. The porosity of the wood and whether or not it's been sealed with sanding sealer or some other sealer or filler (not recommended with Tru Oil - except for using it to seal the wood itself.)
    2. What look you want - a hand-rubbed "penetrating oil finish" ( the product's intended use) or a high gloss.
    3. How much effort you want to expend.

    VERY porous/open-grained woods will not end up with a glossy finish, as Tru Oil can't fill large areas. It's "sort of" varnish-like but the extremely low solids means it normally takes a couple dozen coats to build up enough film thickness to buff to a gloss without "burn through" - and the film will still be VERY thin. A tight-grained maple neck only needs a few coats to get a satin sheen, but a mahogany neck (which has open grain) may take a dozen coats to do the same thing.

    You've already encountered differences in woods and Tru Oil application, so the question seems a bit self-answering. There is NO standard number of coats, nor any consistent recommendation - it's all dependent on the specific piece of wood - and you.

    Birchwood-Casey doesn't write documentation for a gloss finish (nor any for guitar finishing) as they designed it as a penetrating/hardening oil to protect wood gun stocks from moisture and provide some level of increased abrasion resistance.

    But it's much loser to a Danish Oil than a varnish. It's simply boiled linseed oil, a modified oil (which hardens - likely soybean) - and solvents. Substitute tung oil for linseed and you'd have Danish Oil.

    IMO if you want a glossy hand-applied finish and don't want to use a polyurethane, use a varnish that's designed for the job. Apply a coat of sanding sealer, sand it smooth, apply a couple coats of varnish, buff - done.

    It will be virtually the same kind of surface film - but applied slightly thicker (providing improved durability) in a couple of thin coats. It will be more durable than 30 coats of Tru Oil - and take FAR less time.

    I'm not knocking Tru-Oil - I use it periodically as a neck finish when asked. But it's does not provide the same kind of surface film as lacquer, polyurethane or shellac (although it has much better solvent resistance than shellac) - or even oil based varnish except on smooth surfaces with a lot of effort.

    PS - edited to add this: I'd be a bit concerned about long-term adhesion on the torched areas. "Torching" creates a hard crust in some areas - especially in cuts containing sapwood - where the saps and oils are drawn to the top and harden. And if any areas are blackened with char they will take fewer coats to turn "glossy" - but the Tru Oil will not have its normal level of adhesion, relying simply on the "stick" of the resin to a hard surface, which is minimal. This seriously reduces impact and scratch resistance - the product needs to penetrate the grain and "grab" with the initial coat; then there is a chemical bond between successive coats. On a solid, hard surface it will not have that.

    Just something to be aware of.
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2019 at 1:48 PM
    DuckDodgers and El Tele Lobo like this.
  8. schmee

    schmee Friend of Leo's

    Jun 2, 2003
  9. ppg677

    ppg677 TDPRI Member

    Oct 16, 2018
  10. El Tele Lobo

    El Tele Lobo Friend of Leo's

    Oct 21, 2014
    Thanks for this very thorough response. I did use the Birchwood-Casey Sealer & Filler first (2 coats) before applying the 3 coats of Tru-Oil. Am I correct in understanding you that this was unnecessary on the pine bodies? That would actually be good news for me as I don't like working with the Sealer & Filler, but find the Tru-Oil pretty easy. I'd just as soon leave it out. But I thought in this case it would provide an additional barrier between the Tru-Oil and any possible sap leakage.

    Yeah, I'm really not sure how this is going to fare long-long term, both due to the burned finish, the minor (so far) sap issues) and the thin finish. I don't have much more time to devote to it now though. School starts tomorrow and I've been sick for a week. Need to shift my focus.

    Just for future reference, can you recommend a good wiping varnish that's not overly noxious for apartment use (with a respirator, open windows and fans during application, but I have to live here too) and that's not prohibitively expensive?

    I will likely try shellac on my next build. I just didn't have the money to buy the flakes this time and the time to experiment with color mixing.
  11. El Tele Lobo

    El Tele Lobo Friend of Leo's

    Oct 21, 2014
    Thanks guys for all the replies, and feel free to continue chiming in. I welcome all of your insights and experience.

    Overall, I'm okay with not having a gloss finish on these. They are more rustic-looking barncaster type builds anyway. can link to the build thread here:

    Not sure I'll do a burned finish again with pine, certainly not with knotty pine...maybe a nice piece or clear pine that's relatively dry. I like knotty pine, but if I use it again, I will probably just use a transparent finish and be done with it. Lots of good feedback here. Appreciate you guys.
  12. Silverface

    Silverface Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

    Mar 2, 2003
    Lawndale CA
    As far as I'm aware they are not supposed to be used over each other - there's a different finish recommended over the sealer, and NO sealer recommended for Tru Oil on Birchwood-Casey's website. They aren't even listed as "related products" on each other's page.

    As mentioned previously "guitar finishing" isn't Birchwood Casey's market - Tru Oil was adapted by some acoustic guitar makers as an experimental finish, then some electric makers stated using it - for maple necks.

    But its use on bodies, especially on open-grained wood, is an "invented" use - not the manufacturer's intent.

    the combination does not appear to be advisable - I'd not do it.
  13. stefanhotrod

    stefanhotrod TDPRI Member

    Aug 27, 2016
    7 thin coats on my headstock, inbetween sandings every coat. It‘s glossy, 3-D and hard like glass.
  14. El Tele Lobo

    El Tele Lobo Friend of Leo's

    Oct 21, 2014
    I already did it on my first build and two necks. They haven't blown up yet. But I'll stick to straight Tru-Oil for the future. Thanks for the feedback and the heads up.
  15. El Tele Lobo

    El Tele Lobo Friend of Leo's

    Oct 21, 2014
    Actually HERE'S where I got the notion to do this. Not like me to just play amateur chemist out of the blue. Forgot where I'd gotten the was right on the bottle (of Sealer & Filler)!:

    responsibleadult likes this.
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