Curly Maple Finishing Plans, would like input

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Forum topic by JDCrae posted 03-03-2015 05:04 PM 2835 views 1 time favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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34 posts in 1551 days

03-03-2015 05:04 PM

Hey all,

I am going to be starting a project pretty soon, and while I did an insane amount of research beforehand, I really want to double check my plan to make sure I am on the right track.

A little background – I build hifi speakers, varying from small bookshelf to large towers. Normally, I have constructed my cabs from 3/4MDF and then veneered. I have been pleased with the results I have gotten some with traditional stains, and most recently, a nice set of bedroom speakers finished with aniline dye and natural danish oil on some heavy flaked quartersawn white oak veneers.

But for this next project, the cabs were constructed of 3/4 maple ply, with solid wood curvy maple baffles. I am building these for my brother in law as his birthday present. He is a cellist, and as such, I am trying to replicate a finish similar to an old cello.

In researching finishing techniques for this idea, I quickly decided the traditional violin or cello finishing approach was not going to work. Custom made varnishes recommended have really long dry times and I simply don’t have that ability. Also, the varnishes used for cellos and violins require sun time, and as its winter and my shop is in the basement, that is not really an option either.

From what I had learned in talking with some people about this, the recommended plan was a 4 stage process using transtint aniline dyes. The first would be the amber color. Mixed into a 50/50 mixture of denatured alcohol and lacquer thinner, I would apply the amber dye to the wood, allow to dry, scuff with 400, and reapply. I would do this 3 or 4 times. Next I was told to seal with a dewaxed shellac to seal the amber color in. Next I would mix up some reddish brown dye with the same 50/50 mixture. I would apply coats, sanding in between each. I plan on finishing with General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Urethane Topcoat in Satin finish. The idea was the amber would give the grain that warm amber color, while the reddish brown would color it similar to a cello or violin, popping the curvy maple. Areas that I sanded back down would reveal more of the amber color, giving me a similar finish to that of a violin or cello.

Does this sound like a good course of action to achieve the goal I have in mind? I plan to finish the rest of the cabinets with only the reddish brown dye- and typically the sides of a cello are darker than the face. I also have milled F Scrolls into the front baffle, about 1/16, and plan to dye those black to mimic the F Scrolls found on the front of a cello.

I am excited to get started on this project, and have all the materials needed on hand. Looking to begin finishing next weekend, and this weekend I plan to finish assembly of the cabinets.

Any and all insight is greatly appreciated.


27 replies so far

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5507 posts in 2858 days

#1 posted 03-03-2015 08:31 PM

Only you will be able to judge whether that does what you want. $ coats of dye sounds like a lot to me, it varies in intensity depending on how dilute you mix the color. Im any case, one thing I want to mention. If you use Transtint dissolved in alcohol, and try to top that with shellac be aware of one thing: the shellac (if wiped or brushed) may well redissolve the dye and streak it all over, it will be mixed with the shellac. You can spray the shellac on and not have that problem. If spraying isn’t an option, maybe use a powdered dye that is designed to be dissolved in water. Then top that with shellac, you won’t have the possibility of streaking or smearing. You may also have a problem topping shellac with a dye dissolved in alcohol/lacquer thinner (don’t know what the purpose of the lacquer thinner is, either). That may redissolve the shellac and at least make it not so level. Maybe testing all these out on scrap or the back of your baffles might be a good idea first. Don’t see any problem putting Arm-R Seal on this once completed, but you might want to use dewaxed shellac. There is some possibility of problems with urethane finishes not adhering to waxy shellac.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View RogerM's profile


799 posts in 2764 days

#2 posted 03-03-2015 10:47 PM

Would something like this be what you are looking for?

The finish is a multistep process which I have come up with based on a lot of trial and error. First sand the stock to 180 grit sandpaper. I use a random orbit sander and a Porter Cable multi tool for the raised panels. Wet the stock with water then sand again when dry. To get the curl to come through on curly maple you have to use a dye. I use Moser’s Medium Walnut water soluable dye (it is a powder that you can get from Bartley’s Furniture Kits website). I mix this using two cups of water to 3/4 teaspoon of dye powder. After this dries lightly sand with slowed down random orbit sander (400 grit) then put on a second coat and sand again (400 grit). Follow this with a coat of boiled linseed oil diluted with equal parts of mineral spirits (I use a rag for this). Let this coat dry at least 24 hours then put on a coat of Seal Coat diluted with equal parts of alcohol (I use a chip brush for this). After this dries rub down with 00 steel wool or use the random orbit sander using 600 grit (you can get this from Klingspors). Follow this coat with successive coats of polyurethane diluted with equal parts of mineral spirits (I rag this on until I get the sheen that I want). The cabinets have three coats. Finally, lightly sand the final coat with a slowed down random orbit sander with 1000 grit (Klingspor’s again). Rub down the entire surface with Minwax Finishing wax applied with 0000 steel wool and buff. Rather lengthy but hope this helps.

-- Roger M, Aiken, SC

View RogerM's profile


799 posts in 2764 days

#3 posted 03-03-2015 10:52 PM

Send me a message if you would like further details.

-- Roger M, Aiken, SC

View Ghidrah's profile


667 posts in 1587 days

#4 posted 03-03-2015 11:19 PM

I find Tung oil adds depth to any wood big time figured or not. The 1st pic is quilted maple, purple heart and reclaimed mahogany. The 2nd pic is very old reclaimed mahogany. The mahogany used in both were once part of a customers dropleaf table from the 60s; you can see the walnut plugs filling in the screw holes. I haven’t had any luck with varnish over the Tung oil but much success with shellac and clear poly.

-- I meant to do that!

View AandCstyle's profile


3208 posts in 2622 days

#5 posted 03-04-2015 12:40 AM

I have a few random thoughts:
1. Maple is very prone to splotching so test your complete finishing schedule on samples before attacking your project.
2. Dissolve the TransTint in water because an alcohol solution will dry very quickly and it will be difficult to avoid darker lines where you overlap when applying.
3. If you pre-wet and sand lightly, the water based TT will not raise the grain.
4. Use dewaxed shellac to seal the various colors and prevent getting a “muddy” effect.
5. If the Arm-R-Seal is oil based, you will need another coat of shellac after the final TT coat and before the first Arm-R-Seal coat.

Good luck with your project and please post pix when complete.

-- Art

View JDCrae's profile


34 posts in 1551 days

#6 posted 03-04-2015 01:05 AM

Really appreciate all the input guys.

Previously when using transtint dyes, I was working with smaller pieces, so the alcohol/lacquer thinner mix worked well as it dried very quickly. (This is one option of the instructions on transtint’s website)

It seems their option 2 will be better suited for my project as these are considerably larger. This option is a 50/50 mix of denatured alcohol and water. Apparently it helps minimize the grain raising too much.

Roger, those cabinets are absolutely beautiful. I envy whomever gets to have those within their house. The look I am going for is similar in grain pop, but a bit different. I found a picture online that shows what I am trying to achieve.

Gidrah- those too look fantastic. Mahogany has some very similar characteristics, but unfortunately it already has that reddish brown color to the wood. Something I will keep in mind if I ever build more of this style speaker though.

As you can see in the picture above, the color varies from a golden amber, to a reddish brown.

Based on feedback you all have given, it seems I need to switch up methods so to not pull up previous finishes in the layers.

So what about this for an idea to try to achieve this look.

Sand the surface properly and apply the golden amber dye- using 50/50 mix of alcohol and water.

Allow to dry and sand back to proper amount.

Add reddish brown tint to wiping varnish, very diluted. Wipe on finish, allowing to dry, scuff and apply subsequent coats, allowing finish to build, perhaps scuffing more heavily in some areas to reveal more of the amber if necessary, but continue compounding the reddish brown wiping varnish until I achieve the depth and color I am looking for?

To my understanding this is how they build up the varnish finish and color on violins and cellos.

The thought behind my process would be because the amber dye is applied via water, the lacquer should leave it alone. Could be wrong there….

View jusfine's profile


2422 posts in 3291 days

#7 posted 03-04-2015 01:22 AM

Roger, that is a great set of cabinet doors and explanation on your system to get the doors to pop.

Sure wish we could buy material like that in Western Canada, it is far from common here.

Enjoyed the post and answers, All the best!

-- Randy "You are judged as much by the questions you ask as the answers you give..."

View Ghidrah's profile


667 posts in 1587 days

#8 posted 03-04-2015 02:44 AM

I get all my curly and quilted maple from “Northwest Timber” Jefferson OR.


That is some beautiful wood!

-- I meant to do that!

View RogerM's profile


799 posts in 2764 days

#9 posted 03-04-2015 02:47 PM

Jusfine -

Thanks for the compliments. Those cabinets are part of a set that went into our laundry room. You can see the entire set on my LJ web page.

-- Roger M, Aiken, SC

View JDCrae's profile


34 posts in 1551 days

#10 posted 03-06-2015 12:29 PM

Anyone have a thought on my plan? Want to make sure before I plow forward


View OSU55's profile


2258 posts in 2354 days

#11 posted 03-06-2015 01:19 PM

To accomplish the look you are after I would:

o Use Target Coatings WR4000 stain base. This is a BLO water emulsion providing the look of BLO yet mixable wither water dyes (I use transtint) and it dries much faster than BLO (~ 2 hours). The advantage of it over water or alcohol is longer open time to prevent lap marks and the BLO pops the grain.

o Use dewaxed shellac to seal the stain. I would mix the brown dye with the shellac and spray to get the desired color. Another option would be a light coat of shellac, very light sanding with 600, stain with WR4000 with brown, evaluate color. If more brown was needed, another coat of shellac with brown, If not, seal with shellac. The shellac will help pop the grain more.

o Topcoat

View JDCrae's profile


34 posts in 1551 days

#12 posted 03-09-2015 10:57 AM

Really appreciate the reply OSU55. I am in the process of looking up that product now. Thanks again!

View abie's profile


887 posts in 4136 days

#13 posted 03-09-2015 02:46 PM

Check the net and ask for how to make curly maple POP!!!

-- Bruce. a mind is like a book it is only useful when open.

View JDCrae's profile


34 posts in 1551 days

#14 posted 03-15-2015 04:14 PM

Alright, so I applied the 3 different dyes, each sanding after and applying a coat of dewaxed shellac.

After the last coat of dye, so I seal with dewaxed shellac before BLO and Arm-R-Seal, or just go right to BLO and then apply the Arm-R-Seal after the BLO has dried fully?

Thanks, will put up some pictures here in the next few days

View RogerM's profile


799 posts in 2764 days

#15 posted 03-16-2015 03:56 PM

Seal the last coat of dye with dilute Seal Coat (dewed shellac) then rub out with steel wool. Forget the BLO and rag on 3 to 4 coats of dilute Arm-R-Seal. Rub out with 0000 steel wool followed by a coat of Minwax Finishing Wax rubbed on with 0000 steel wool and buff.

-- Roger M, Aiken, SC

showing 1 through 15 of 27 replies

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