Swamp ash grain fill with dye tutorial

Discussion in 'Tele Home Depot' started by Telegraph, Jan 1, 2013.

  1. Telegraph

    Telegraph TDPRI Member

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    I just completed a dyed red finish on an ash tele with the grain filled black. It’s a complicated procedure and I had a lot of questions before I started. I had to piece the whole thing together from various posts. Colt has a great tutorial on grain-filling with drywall mud and I got a lot of my information there, but I still had other questions about applying and sealing the dye, so I did a lot of research and I think I got it all figured out. I know a lot of other people have to piece it together like I did and the questions are likely to keep coming, so I humbly present a quick tutorial on doing the whole process. This is mainly for people like me who may have done a few projects, but don’t have a ton of experience.

    This tutorial is also aimed at people who don’t have spray equipment and so can’t do the toner-coat that many builders recommend. In fact, apart from spraying a little shellac, this is a NO SPRAY process that anyone can do in their garage with minimal equipment.

    [Edit: I just realized that this post should go in "finely finished." If a moderator wants to move it there, I would be grateful.]
     
  2. Telegraph

    Telegraph TDPRI Member

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    Step One: Prep

    I’m sure most people know how to do wood prep, but let’s just review. Assuming that your body is not sanded when you get it, you’ll want to stand it with 150, 180, and 220 grit. Go slowly and check for smoothness all over as you go. There’s really no such thing as over-sanding, so keep at it until it feels totally smooth, and then sand a little more before you move unto the next grit. Be sure to use a block on the top and back to maintain a flat surface.

    Before I forget, most “raw” bodies need to be radiused around the edge. You can run around the edge with a 1/8 inch round-over router bit, but be sure to test your depth on scrap or you might get a “shelf” that’s a pain to get rid of. If you don’t have a router, there are ways to do it by hand.

    Once the sanding is done, dampen the whole body with water and hang it up to dry overnight. In the morning, the grain will have raised and the body will feel rough, like all of your sanding has just been reversed. Don’t worry; this is just the grain and it sands right down with 220. After you’ve sanded the grain back down, dampen again, dry and sand. Then you probably want to do it once more, for a total of three times. This step is crucial because any dye you apply directly to the wood is going to raise the grain. You can’t really sand the dyed surface, so you want to be sure there’s no grain left to raise by the time you get to the dye stage. Once you’re done raising and sanding the grain, wipe the whole thing down with naptha or mineral spirits. This last step gets rid of any oils your hand might have left in the wood and helps the finish to adhere. From this point forward, try not to touch the body except with gloves on. You might want to screw on a false-neck. I did, and it really helped.

    Here’s the body with prep finished. It’s an Allparts second I got off of the ‘bay. I got it really cheap because of some small worm holes on the upper edge. A little wood-filler and those holes were no longer a problem.
     

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  3. Telegraph

    Telegraph TDPRI Member

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    Step Two: Dye

    There are a lot of good dyes out there and dozens of posts debating the merits of each. Colortone seems to be especially popular around here, but it’s expensive and I’m on a budget. I’ve had really good results with Feibings Professional leather dye. Their black dye is great, even for hard-to-stain woods like poplar, but I have never used their red dye, so I wanted something proven to work…and cheap. Did I mention cheap? I ended up with LMI aniline dye. You mix it with water to make dye of any strength you need. At about $4 for a half-ounce container, it’s hard to beat for the hobbyist. I got red for the body color and black to dye the grain-filler. To prepare it, I mixed about a ¾ teaspoon of powder to an ounce of hot water. This formula makes a strong, dark dye.

    Many builders report trouble with dry woods “grabbing” dyes and creating streaks in the wood as the dye goes on. To avoid this problem, dampen the guitar body with water on a rag before you apply the dye. You can see this in the first attached picture. Don’t get it really wet; use just enough to darken the wood.

    In my second picture, you can see me applying the dye. Put a little dye on a well-washed scrap of cotton rag and massage it into the wood. Do a section at a time. After I got the whole top dyed, I re-wet the rag with dye and ran over the whole thing again to ensure even coverage. I let the top dry for a minute before moving on to the sides and back. I let the body dry overnight and then did the whole thing again the next day. This may well have been overkill, but I wanted the richest red color I could get. I was pleased with the finished product.
     

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  4. Telegraph

    Telegraph TDPRI Member

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    Step Three: Seal

    Okay, this is crucial. Since the grain-filler is going to be mixed with black dye that is DARKER than our red dye, the grain filler cannot touch the wood or your precious red dye-job will be over-stained with black. Again, there are many products that seal effectively, but I like Zissner spray shellac. It’s cheap, easy to use, wipes off with alcohol, and is easy to find down at Home Depot. The first coat I shot disappeared right into the wood, so I shot three more about a half hour apart. This was probably too many coats and the next morning, the body was still a bit tacky. When I tried a little sanding later the next day, the paper loaded right up and I didn’t get anywhere. I suggest two coats, dry over night, two more coats and let dry fully. Other sealers may take less time and require fewer coats. I’d be happy for someone else to chime in here.

    Once the sealer is dry and hard, sand it lightly with 220. You don’t want to sand through, just even things out nicely. Now the wood is fully prepped for the filler.

    This pic is the sealed body. I used a flash to show off the grain, which is a lot less pronounced than it looks in the pic. Before I did this project, I didn’t understand how one could spray sealer on the wood and still have grain to fill. The thing about deep-grained woods like ash is that the grain is SO deep that the sealer does very little to fill the grain. There’s still tons of depth to be filled here.
     

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  5. Telegraph

    Telegraph TDPRI Member

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    Step Four: Preparing the Filler

    Once again, I’m going to direct you to Colt’s excellent thread on this topic. He covers it very well and for this step, I basically used his process:

    http://www.tdpri.com/forum/finely-finished/313712-yet-another-grain-fill-thread.html

    First, you want to mix up your filler. I used dry-wall mud because it’s cheap, water-based and easy to get. You also need water, black dye, gloves, a stirring stick, and a clean container. I’ve included a shot of all my supplies.

    Mix together mud, dye, and water until you get kind of a pudding consistency. You want it thinner than the mud comes out of the can but not watery. Since the mud is water-based and aniline dye dissolves in water, I just added the black dye powder directly to the mud and then added a little water for consistency, I let it sit a few minutes and then mixed it a lot more to be sure the dye was dissolved. Be sure to wear gloves anytime you’re handling dye. Once it gets on your skin, you’re married to it for a while.

    A couple of notes on grain-filler. First, you don’t need much of it. About a golf-ball-sized blob of mud is probably enough for the whole body. Second, it takes a surprising amount of dye to get the mud really black. I did this once with Feibings Professional leather dye and once with the LMI aniline dye and both times, I had to add to dye four or five times to get it looking black rather than gray. Third, the mixed filler will keep for several days if you store it in an airtight container. You’ll be re-applying the filler at least once, and you might as well use the same batch for each application to ensure consistent color. If you find that the filler has gotten a little stiff from being stored, add water until you get the consistency back.

    In my second pic, you can see the mixed filler. It doesn't look like much, but it worked.
     

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  6. Telegraph

    Telegraph TDPRI Member

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    Step Five: Filling the grain.

    This part is easy. Slap a glob of filler on the body and massage it in with gloved fingers (first pic). You want to rub across the grain and really push it in wherever you can. You want to work fairly quickly to keep the filler from drying out too much. Once you have the filler rubbed in over one whole surface (like the top or the back), let it sit for a few minutes (second pic). You don’t want to let it dry out, but you do want it to get a bit of a haze to it (third pic). Once it looks cloudy rather than shiny, scrape off as much filler as you can with an old credit card or a 3M rubber squeegee. When using a credit card, hold it at a bit of an angle as you scrape. If you hold the card too straight, you can get chatter and gouge your sealer. The 3M squeegees work particularly well for the sides and around the neck pocket.
     

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  7. Telegraph

    Telegraph TDPRI Member

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    Here, you can see the body with the filler scraped off. You can already see it filling in the grain

    If your body already has all the holes drilled for the bridge etc, you can take little balls of paper and stuff them into the holes (first pic). Pull the paper balls out while the filler is still wet and the holes won’t get clogged up with filler. If you let the bridge holes become clogged with dried filler, it’s a real pain to open them up again.

    As I worked, I took the filler I scraped off and put it back in my container. A couple of drops of water and it mixed right back in, ready for future use. After scraping off a section, let the body dry for a few minutes and then moved on to the next section of the guitar. Once you have the whole thing filled, hang the body up and let it dry overnight. I actually filled the body twice on the first night. I don’t know if this accomplished anything, but it didn’t hurt either.

    After the body is fully dry, sand with 220 or 360 and a block (second pic). Go slowly and be very careful not to sand through your sealer.

    Repeat filling procedure, but this time you may want to thin the filler out to a more watery consistency so that it penetrates any remaining gaps more easily. This time, the filler will look more pronounced on the body (third pic). Dry overnight. Sand.

    When you sand for the last time, your sealer coat might be getting a little thin. This is no longer a problem, and if you sand through a little (especially on the always-tricky edges) you can just touch up the wood with a little red dye. I had to hit a few spots this way and you can’t even tell. You can then vacuum the fine filler dust off of the body or hit it with compressed air. I then wiped the body down with mineral spirits and let it dry overnight.

    I didn't take another pic after I sanded the second time, but you get the idea. Once you sand, you only have the filler in the grain. The whole thing may look a little pale and dusty. Stay calm. Clear coat changes everything.
     

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  8. Telegraph

    Telegraph TDPRI Member

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    Step Six: Seal The Filler.

    Drywall mud is a fine filler, but it’s not as hard as epoxy-based products (or so I hear), so it’s a good idea to spray on a few quick coats of shellac to get it sealed on before moving on to your final clear-coat. The shellac will also give you a really good idea of what the finished product is going to look like. Let the shellac dry overnight and sand with fine sandpaper.

    Here, you can see the body with the shellac applied over the filler. It's getting there.
     

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  9. Telegraph

    Telegraph TDPRI Member

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    Step Seven: Final Finish.

    For this project, you can do any clear finish that you like. Since shellac is compatible with just about anything, you can now spray nitro or poly or several others. I’ve done several finishes, including Tru-Oil, rattle-can lacquer, and rattle-can poly. I haven’t gotten into spray equipment yet, and I hate getting my garage set up for several days of spraying from cans, so I did wipe-on poly.

    Let me just say here that I will NEVER use wipe-on poly on another guitar, and I mean ever. The multiple coats and long-ish drying time led to tons of crap getting stuck in my finish as I worked. When I thought I was done, I tried to wet-sand and buff and I got witness lines like crazy (search the forum for more on this topic if you are not familiar with the term.)

    But I did promise a no-spray finish, so here’s my advice on doing the best wipe-on finish. Start with light coats and build up a good depth of finish. You may need to stop in the middle and sand with a fine grit to get rid of dust nibs. Use your judgment. After you have many coats (8 or 10), wet sand with 1500 grit on a block and mineral spirits to get a very flat surface. Then put on one or two heavy coats of the wipe-on. Your goal here is to get a super smooth and glossy final coat that will need minimal sanding. Lay the finish on thick so that it self-levels like a puddle of still water. Really, it should look like water.

    Only your last coat really matters because you will get witness lines if you sand through it. As you apply the last heavy coat(s), be mindful of drips down the sides. If these are allowed to run down and sit on the side you are not working on, they will form very visible bumps of finish. You will be pissed. Trust me.

    When the whole shebang has cured for at least a week, wet send with 2000 grit and NO block. The block will increase your chance of witness lines while your hand will follow any contours in the finish without sanding through. Then move on to scratch remover, polish, and wax.

    So, like I said in the beginning, I’m not an expert. I just wanted the whole process in one place where future builders can see all the steps in sequence. If anyone has questions or feels that I’ve left something out, feel free to let me know.

    It was a long road here, but I think the final result speaks for itself.

    Good luck.
     

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  10. Glen Smith

    Glen Smith RIP

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    Nice result! Thanks for taking the time to do this.
     
  11. Mojotron

    Mojotron Poster Extraordinaire

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    That looks awesome!
     
  12. Telegraph

    Telegraph TDPRI Member

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    My pleasure. Glad you like it.
     
  13. Bentley

    Bentley Friend of Leo's

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    maybe some stuff I disagree with, but very good. I'm no expert on poly, or really anything, though. Two weeks doesn't seem very long to dry, and shouldn't you use a block to make it mirror flat? Also, could you not grain fill first, sand it down, then dye red? just another way.
     
  14. Telegraph

    Telegraph TDPRI Member

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    1.) Poly dries pretty quick. I don't find that it needs to dry like lacquer. Just my experience. Oh, also the instructions on the can.

    2.) A block does help with mirror flatness, you are totally correct. I always use a block with lacquer. However, let's just say you have ANY waviness in your final poly finish, the block will hit those high-spots the most and give you witness lines. Use just your hand and the paper will follow contours. If you hold the guitar up to the light, you might see some waviness, but witness lines are evident in normal playing conditions, not just under close inspection. Lesser of two evils.

    3.) I think you are correct and that you could do the job with filler first. I opted not to because my filler is mixed with dye and that dye might have sunk pretty deep into the wood and needed a LOT of sanding to get out. Sealing the wood fixes this problem. I also don't want to be rubbing a wet dye rag over my water-based filler and softening it up or pulling it out.

    Thanks for your thoughts. I think discussion is good where multiple solutions are possible.
     
  15. Bentley

    Bentley Friend of Leo's

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    Okkkay, see I researched mostly lacquer, because frankly Poly and nitro and all those other words don't really mean anything to me. thanks for the reply! Definitely learned a trick or two from this!
     
  16. blackbelt308

    blackbelt308 Tele-Holic

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    Nice post! Just wanted to add that I've used essentially the same procedure but using Deft Sanding Sealer (lacquer) in place of the shellac. Much easier to sand IMHO! And then lacquer (I like Min-Wax) for the clear coats.

    Mahogany:
    [​IMG]

    Ash:
    [​IMG]

    Ciao,
    Rick
     
  17. koolaide

    koolaide Tele-Holic

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    SPOT ON !

    Great finish and well explained tutoral.

    Thanks
     
  18. Telegraph

    Telegraph TDPRI Member

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    @ blackbelt: Those guitars look great! You totally nailed the filled and stained look. I also really like Minwax lacquer and you can bet I'll use it next time around. You get to thinking that poly will be easier, but it's not.

    I especially like the first guitar with the p90s. How did you do the body? Did you angle the neck pocket? Is there a build thread? I loves me some off-set guitars and I really want to build one.
     
  19. Bentley

    Bentley Friend of Leo's

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    That top one is a real beauty. A new favourite.
     
  20. blackbelt308

    blackbelt308 Tele-Holic

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    Thanks! The mahogany guitar with the P-90s was built with a special order USACG "Jazzymaster" body and a Strat-style neck. Feel free to e-mail or PM me for details. There's no angle on the neck pocket. It wasn't necessary with the wraparound bridge.

    Ciao,
    Rick
     
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