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honza992

95% Tru oil finished guitar - A How to Guide

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Hi All

I thought I'd do a thread about an (almost) completely Tru-oil finished guitar.  I've gone through lots of different finishing options that aren't nitro - waterbased, oils, wax varnishes etc, with varying degrees of success.  This one though, is definitely a success, and it;s also one you can do with absolutely no equipment, other than a bottle of tru oil, some sandpaper and opposing thumbs....I know there are lots of builders who can't spray for whatever reason (neighbours, the spouse, exploding extraction etc) so I think in the right circumstances Tru oil is a good option. 

I should point out that much of my success with using Tru oil comes from our very own @Andyjr1515 who was kind enough to share his knowledge and techniques with me.  Mine are largely based on his. 

I thought I'd show you all a guitar I've just finished for a friend.  He wanted a Springsteen inspired tele.  Not a copy, just something in that ball park. 

So I made this....

QX6B9492.jpg

QX6B9499.jpg

The pictures in all honesty don't really do it justice.  It's still at the workshop at the moment, but if I have time over the weekend I'll bring it home to take some shots in natural light, that's when the oil finish really comes alive. 

I'll go through the process in some detail, so bear with me......

 

Edited by honza992
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Very nice looking guitar. I look forward to seeing how you did this.

I refinished a Tacoma PK30 with Liberon Finishing Oil, so I’m interested to compare.

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56 minutes ago, honza992 said:

Hi All

I thought I'd do a thread about an (almost) completely Tru-oil finished guitar.  I've gone through lots of different finishing options that aren't nitro - waterbased, oils, wax varnishes etc, with varying degrees of success.  This one though, is definitely a success, and it;s also one you can do with absolutely no equipment, other than a bottle of tru oil, some sandpaper and opposing thumbs....I know there are lots of builders who can't spray for whatever reason (neighbours, the spouse, exploding extraction etc) so I think in the right circumstances Tru oil is a good option. 

I should point out that much of my success with using Tru oil comes from our very own @Andyjr1515 who was kind enough to share his knowledge and techniques with me.  Mine are largely based on his. 

I thought I'd show you all a guitar I've just finished for a friend.  He wanted a Springsteen inspired tele.  Not a copy, just something in that ball park. 

So I made this....

QX6B9492.jpg

QX6B9499.jpg

The pictures in all honesty don't really do it justice.  It's still at the workshop at the moment, but if I have time over the weekend I'll bring it home to take some shots in natural light, that's when the oil finish really comes alive. 

I'll go through the process in some detail, so bear with me......

 

My goodness, John - that is flipping GORGEOUS!!!!

Wow.  

Just Wow...

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Good man!

Great guitar.

Smashing idea to follow up on Christine's sharpening guide with a guide for Tru Oil application.

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2 hours ago, SpondonBassed said:

Good man!

Great guitar.

Smashing idea to follow up on Christine's sharpening guide with a guide for Tru Oil application.

As always, I learnt the technique from someone else and then just passed on the same technique to @honza992 ;)  I seem to remember the original guy did a video and quite a detailed description - I'll see if I can find it.

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1 hour ago, Andyjr1515 said:

As always, I learnt the technique from someone else and then just passed on the same technique to @honza992 ;)  I seem to remember the original guy did a video and quite a detailed description - I'll see if I can find it.

Was it this one? 

There's no doubt he gets a great result, though tru oil is a lot easier on closed grain wood like walnut than it is on ash. Having said that the back of his also looks great, and it does look like Ash. Either he's done an outstanding job of grainfill (in which case I'd love to know how) or the back is a really nice piece of alder. Either way, it looks great. 

Edited by honza992
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Sorry, I thought I was actually going to post something about how to you know, apply tru oil. 

Unfortunately my worst nightmare has come true. My wife is ill..... For the father of a 2 year old they are the four most frightening words in the English language. And at the weekend when nursery is closed. I may not make it till Monday..... 

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9 hours ago, honza992 said:

Sorry, I thought I was actually going to post something about how to you know, apply tru oil. 

Unfortunately my worst nightmare has come true. My wife is ill..... For the father of a 2 year old they are the four most frightening words in the English language. And at the weekend when nursery is closed. I may not make it till Monday..... 

Very sorry to hear.  Your apologies are not necessary.  I wish your wife a speedy recovery.

You haven't made a binding commitment here so you needn't worry.  There are no deadlines other than those you make for yourself.  You can relax as far as BC is concerned.  We will still be here when you want to pick it up again.

Your child is in the formative years of life.  You are spending your time wisely.

All the best.

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Finally I manage to update this thread.  Albeit I'm going to cut it into a few different posts. I'll cover the body first, then the neck in another post. 

I took the guitar home and took a couple of photos in natural light coming in through the window.  By some bizarre, never-to-be-repeated, quirk of fate, Nottingham wasn't grey and overcast. This is what the Tru Oil finish looks like in natural light, really nice colour and chatoyance:

IMG-20181106-144243.jpg

I would describe the finish as being a high satin, or very low gloss.  I'm sure it could be polished to a much higher gloss, but it's not the look I was after.  It's 90% grain filled, meaning it feels incredibly smooth and shiny, but has a tiny bit of texture to it.  It's lush!  I could have gone for a complete grain fill...but again, not the look I was after.  There's definitely a time and a place for a dipped-in-glass type high-gloss finish (Mmmm....sadowsky), but not when I was asked to create a Bruce Springsteen inspired guitar.  Anyway, here's the lustre:

IMG-20181106-144712.jpg

Here's my finishing schedule. 

1.  Sand to 400, 600 on the end grain.  Obviously, sanding is critical.  All scratches have to be gone otherwise they get amplified by the oil.  The end grain is always difficult, especially on baseball-bat ash (which this was).  Wetting the body with a sponge helps identify scratches (and raises the grain prior to finishing) as does going outside into natural light where the scratches are easier to see.  

2.  Seal the wood.  I applied two coats of Tru Oil using a cotton rag.  There's no science to this bit.  Squirt some oil on the rag or the guitar then rub it in.  I wiped off any excess after 5 minutes.  I did this twice, 24 hours apart. 

3.  Grain fill using the slurry method.  Using wet/dry paper on the back of a sanding block (a bit of scrap MDF) I sanded with the grain using Tru Oil as the lubricant.  I know other people sand in circles (including the chap who made the video above, and his results look great) but that just makes me nervous - I don't ever like sanding other than with the grain.  The idea is that the sanding dust/slurry gets trapped in the grain.  I found that sanding with the grain, then using my finger to 'swirl' the slurry around worked well, and there was no danger of visible sanding scratches (which is the danger when using a circular motion).  I found the best way was to divide the body up into sections and move from one section to the next (the top for example I would divide into 4), rather than trying to do the whole thing in one go.  You then want to wipe across the grain to get rid of the excess.  You do want to make sure you wipe off all the excess, otherwise you find that you end up with ridges or streaks, which can then be hard to sand away when you move up to the finer grits.  If you are anythnig like me you'll find it a pretty messy business - always dripping down the sides, or onto the top you've just wiped, and onto your work surface which then get's smudged onto you newly wiped guitar top etc etc.  None of which is a problem, just wipe.  I wiped off with standard kitchen paper.  Keep lots and lots to hand.  I repeated this process twice, both times using 400 wet/dry and seperated by 24 hrs.  I found that his filled the grain to a bout 90%, which was the look I was after.  A third time would probably have been enough to get the grain completely filled, if you were wanting a completely smooth surface on which to build a high gloss finish. I found the slurry was very happy to stay in the grain, wiping with the kitchen paper took the oil off the surface but leaving the grain nicely filled. 

3.  Smoothing.  I find it usefull to seperate in my head the process of grain fill, and sanding smooth.  The process is much the same as above - using wet/dry paper on a sanding block, sanding with the grain then throroughly wiping off the excess.  I did the following grits:

600, 800, 1000, 1200, 1500, 2000. 

It was really at 1500 where there was a sudden change in lustre, from what I would call satin to a low gloss.  The great thing about tru oil is that you really just keep going until either your arms fall off, or you've got the appearance you want.  It is quite a physical process - from 800 and above I would vigorously rub off the excess oil (again, in the direction of the grain), pressing hard to generate a tiny bit of heat.  I did only one grit per day, but I'm told doing 2 per day is no problem. 

Another thing I tried was using Mirka Abralon sanding pads rather than wet/dry paper.  It worked really well, and was definitely less messy as the oil gets absorved into the foam of the pad.  It did, though, use a lot more oil.  I'm not sure the effect was any different though, both worked just as well. 

I left it at that, ie my last coast was sanded with 2000 grit.  For a higher gloss (without buffing) I understand you can just apply a very thin coat with a cotton rag as your final coat.  I didin't as I liked the finish as it was. 

4.  Waiting.......I wait at least a week before putting the guitar together.  I think Tru Oil takes that long to harden sufficiently. 

Overall, I'm very happy with how it turned out.  Using Tru Oil on ash is not an easy option.  Then again, ash is never an easy option whatever the finish you're using, the grain is just so open.  But if you don't want to spray then it's a finish you can apply on the kitchen table.  Just make sure that you have wiped away every trace of oil at the end of each session or you'll have to go back down the grits to get out the ridges.  

 

I'll go through the process for the neck tomorrow.  

Cheers all. 

And thanks very much to @Andyjr1515 for his help and advice re Tru Oil (amongst many other things!)

 

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That finish looks just as you describe it - LUSH.

Great job and excellent detailed run through.  There's a few tips in there I'll certainly be trying on my next finish job :) 

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21 hours ago, Andyjr1515 said:

That finish looks just as you describe it - LUSH.

Great job and excellent detailed run through.  There's a few tips in there I'll certainly be trying on my next finish job :) 

 

7 minutes ago, BassTool said:

Absolutely stunning! 😎

He he thanks very much😁

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My methdodology for the neck was roughly the same as the body.  Here's a completely rubbish photo:

IMG-20181106-144932.jpg

Necks are really hard to photo, but the tru oil finish came out really really nicely.  It has a great clarity to the finish and gives enough colour to really warm it up with a nice amber tone, but without going over the top.  I hate those necks that look like they've been covered in fake tan.  The finish is very very smooth but with none of the 'squeakyness' that you get with gloss finishes which I hate.  I think this may well now be my go-to neck finish.  It's really hard to fault. 

The process was as follows:

1.  Sand to 400. 

2.  Two seal coats, 24 hours apart, wiped on with cotton rag. 

3.  Slurry sanding using either wet/dry paper or Abralon pads (I had a mixture of grits), sanding with the grain.  Wiping off really carefully with kitchen paper. Grits were 400, 600, 800 & 1000, 24 hrs apart.  The last couple of grits you have to be really careful to wipe off the excess pretty quickly (no more than a few minutes max) and make sure you get all of it off, or you'll get ridges that are impossbile to sand away with the higher grits. 

And that was it.  Because maple is closed grain wood, the whole process is much much quicker than the body as no grain fill was necessary. 

For my logo I waited 7 days for the Tru Oil to be really dry then I applied a water-slide decal - I get mine from Rothko & Frost, they are really expensive but worth it.  The paper they use is very thin and can be buried in many fewer coats than previously when I've used decals I've printed myself on paper bought off t'internet.  Once the logo was on, I waited overnight for it to dry then sprayed 4 coats of General Finishes High Performance top coat, which is a water based polyurethane.  GFHP works really well being sprayed over Tru Oil (in the past I've finished entire necks in this way).  I think I did them all in one day, then the next day I lightly dry- sanded with 1000 and then 1500 Abralon.  I taped off round the face of the headstock, so the join (ie where the polyurethane started) was right on the roundover.  Because GFHP is crystal clear, it's really hard to tell that the face of the headstock isn't finished in exactly the same way as the rest of the neck.  Again, this is now my standard finishing procedure for headstocks & logos. 

As you can see, the finish is consistent with the rest of the neck, and no lines at all round the edge of the logo:

logo-tele.jpg

Finally, a quick word about the fretboard, which was a lovely piece of pau ferro:

IMG-20181106-144318-1.jpg

I've started doing all of my fretboard finishing before fretting.  Trying to do anything once the frets are in is really really hard, almost impossible to get a consistent finish.  So for this one I sanded to 1000 before fretting, then applied 3 coats of Liberon Finishing Oil, just wiping on with a rag, once per day.  I used this rather than Tru Oil mostly because it's a lot thinner, which allows it to sink down really easily into the quite open grain.  It's a lovely combination of browns, reds and oranges that is brought to life by an oil finish. 

And that's it.  A Tru Oil guitar, apart from the fretboard done with Liberon Finishing Oil, and a polyurethan clear top coat to hide the logo. Job done. 

Edited by honza992
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1 hour ago, honza992 said:

My methdodology for the neck was roughly the same as the body.  Here's a completely rubbish photo:

IMG-20181106-144932.jpg

Necks are really hard to photo, but the tru oil finish came out really really nicely.  It has a great clarity to the finish and gives enough colour to really warm it up with a nice amber tone, but without going over the top.  I hate those necks that look like they've been covered in fake tan.  The finish is very very smooth but with none of the 'squeakyness' that you get with gloss finishes which I hate.  I think this may well now be my go-to neck finish.  It's really hard to fault. 

The process was as follows:

1.  Sand to 400. 

2.  Two seal coats, 24 hours apart, wiped on with cotton rag. 

3.  Slurry sanding using either wet/dry paper or Abralon pads (I had a mixture of grits), sanding with the grain.  Wiping off really carefully with kitchen paper. Grits were 400, 600, 800 & 1000, 24 hrs apart.  The last couple of grits you have to be really careful to wipe off the excess pretty quickly (no more than a few minutes max) and make sure you get all of it off, or you'll get ridges that are impossbile to sand away with the higher grits. 

And that was it.  Because maple is closed grain wood, the whole process is much much quicker than the body as no grain fill was necessary. 

For my logo I waited 7 days for the Tru Oil to be really dry then I applied a water-slide decal - I get mine from Rothko & Frost, they are really expensive but worth it.  The paper they use is very thin and can be buried in many fewer coats than previously when I've used decals I've printed myself on paper bought off t'internet.  Once the logo was on, I waited overnight for it to dry then sprayed 4 coats of General Finishes High Performance top coat, which is a water based polyurethane.  GFHP works really well being sprayed over Tru Oil (in the past I've finished entire necks in this way).  I think I did them all in one day, then the next day I lightly dry- sanded with 1000 and then 1500 Abralon.  I taped off round the face of the headstock, so the join (ie where the polyurethane started) was right on the roundover.  Because GFHP is crystal clear, it's really hard to tell that the face of the headstock isn't finished in exactly the same way as the rest of the neck.  Again, this is now my standard finishing procedure for headstocks & logos. 

As you can see, the finish is consistent with the rest of the neck, and no lines at all round the edge of the logo:

logo-tele.jpg

Finally, a quick word about the fretboard, which was a lovely piece of pau ferro:

IMG-20181106-144318.jpg

I've started doing all of my fretboard finishing before fretting.  Trying to do anything once the frets are in is really really hard, almost impossible to get a consistent finish.  So for this one I sanded to 1000 before fretting, then applied 3 coats of Liberon Finishing Oil, just wiping on with a rag, once per day.  I used this rather than Tru Oil mostly because it's a lot thinner, which allows it to sink down really easily into the quite open grain.  It's a lovely combination of browns, reds and oranges that is brought to life by an oil finish. 

And that's it.  A Tru Oil guitar, apart from the fretboard done with Liberon Finishing Oil, and a polyurethan clear top coat to hide the logo. Job done. 

Fabulous job :)

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On 06/11/2018 at 22:06, honza992 said:

3.  Smoothing.  I find it usefull to seperate in my head the process of grain fill, and sanding smooth.  The process is much the same as above - using wet/dry paper on a sanding block, sanding with the grain then throroughly wiping off the excess.  I did the following grits:

600, 800, 1000, 1200, 1500, 2000. 

It was really at 1500 where there was a sudden change in lustre, from what I would call satin to a low gloss.  The great thing about tru oil is that you really just keep going until either your arms fall off, or you've got the appearance you want.  It is quite a physical process - from 800 and above I would vigorously rub off the excess oil (again, in the direction of the grain), pressing hard to generate a tiny bit of heat.  I did only one grit per day, but I'm told doing 2 per day is no problem. 

This process, number 3, is also done wet with Tru-Oil slurry?  The same process as grain filler but with finer grades of wet/dry?

What sort of wet/dry do you use, the normal car body repair stuff?

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23 hours ago, Si600 said:

This process, number 3, is also done wet with Tru-Oil slurry?  The same process as grain filler but with finer grades of wet/dry?

What sort of wet/dry do you use, the normal car body repair stuff?

I assume the line "wiping off the excess" implies oil is still used at this stage.

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That was my assumption as well, but it doesn't hurt to get clarification before I make a hash of it.

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On 03/01/2019 at 15:11, Si600 said:

This process, number 3, is also done wet with Tru-Oil slurry?  The same process as grain filler but with finer grades of wet/dry?

What sort of wet/dry do you use, the normal car body repair stuff?

Yes, wet sanded with tru oil as a lubricant.  I didn't dry sand at all.  The difference is that as you go up the grits you need to get more and more (and then more) careful that you don't leave any wet tru oil on the surface - wipe off really thoroughly.  If you don't it will dry in ridges which the finer grits won't shift.  

I either used Matador Wet & dry (bought from Amazon) or Mirka Abralon (which is a foam back abrasive).  Both worked fine. 

Good luck, post your pics here!

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On 07/11/2018 at 08:06, honza992 said:

Finally I manage to update this thread.  Albeit I'm going to cut it into a few different posts. I'll cover the body first, then the neck in another post. 

I took the guitar home and took a couple of photos in natural light coming in through the window.  By some bizarre, never-to-be-repeated, quirk of fate, Nottingham wasn't grey and overcast. This is what the Tru Oil finish looks like in natural light, really nice colour and chatoyance:

IMG-20181106-144243.jpg

I would describe the finish as being a high satin, or very low gloss.  I'm sure it could be polished to a much higher gloss, but it's not the look I was after.  It's 90% grain filled, meaning it feels incredibly smooth and shiny, but has a tiny bit of texture to it.  It's lush!  I could have gone for a complete grain fill...but again, not the look I was after.  There's definitely a time and a place for a dipped-in-glass type high-gloss finish (Mmmm....sadowsky), but not when I was asked to create a Bruce Springsteen inspired guitar.  Anyway, here's the lustre:

IMG-20181106-144712.jpg

Here's my finishing schedule. 

1.  Sand to 400, 600 on the end grain.  Obviously, sanding is critical.  All scratches have to be gone otherwise they get amplified by the oil.  The end grain is always difficult, especially on baseball-bat ash (which this was).  Wetting the body with a sponge helps identify scratches (and raises the grain prior to finishing) as does going outside into natural light where the scratches are easier to see.  

2.  Seal the wood.  I applied two coats of Tru Oil using a cotton rag.  There's no science to this bit.  Squirt some oil on the rag or the guitar then rub it in.  I wiped off any excess after 5 minutes.  I did this twice, 24 hours apart. 

3.  Grain fill using the slurry method.  Using wet/dry paper on the back of a sanding block (a bit of scrap MDF) I sanded with the grain using Tru Oil as the lubricant.  I know other people sand in circles (including the chap who made the video above, and his results look great) but that just makes me nervous - I don't ever like sanding other than with the grain.  The idea is that the sanding dust/slurry gets trapped in the grain.  I found that sanding with the grain, then using my finger to 'swirl' the slurry around worked well, and there was no danger of visible sanding scratches (which is the danger when using a circular motion).  I found the best way was to divide the body up into sections and move from one section to the next (the top for example I would divide into 4), rather than trying to do the whole thing in one go.  You then want to wipe across the grain to get rid of the excess.  You do want to make sure you wipe off all the excess, otherwise you find that you end up with ridges or streaks, which can then be hard to sand away when you move up to the finer grits.  If you are anythnig like me you'll find it a pretty messy business - always dripping down the sides, or onto the top you've just wiped, and onto your work surface which then get's smudged onto you newly wiped guitar top etc etc.  None of which is a problem, just wipe.  I wiped off with standard kitchen paper.  Keep lots and lots to hand.  I repeated this process twice, both times using 400 wet/dry and seperated by 24 hrs.  I found that his filled the grain to a bout 90%, which was the look I was after.  A third time would probably have been enough to get the grain completely filled, if you were wanting a completely smooth surface on which to build a high gloss finish. I found the slurry was very happy to stay in the grain, wiping with the kitchen paper took the oil off the surface but leaving the grain nicely filled. 

3.  Smoothing.  I find it usefull to seperate in my head the process of grain fill, and sanding smooth.  The process is much the same as above - using wet/dry paper on a sanding block, sanding with the grain then throroughly wiping off the excess.  I did the following grits:

600, 800, 1000, 1200, 1500, 2000. 

It was really at 1500 where there was a sudden change in lustre, from what I would call satin to a low gloss.  The great thing about tru oil is that you really just keep going until either your arms fall off, or you've got the appearance you want.  It is quite a physical process - from 800 and above I would vigorously rub off the excess oil (again, in the direction of the grain), pressing hard to generate a tiny bit of heat.  I did only one grit per day, but I'm told doing 2 per day is no problem. 

Another thing I tried was using Mirka Abralon sanding pads rather than wet/dry paper.  It worked really well, and was definitely less messy as the oil gets absorved into the foam of the pad.  It did, though, use a lot more oil.  I'm not sure the effect was any different though, both worked just as well. 

I left it at that, ie my last coast was sanded with 2000 grit.  For a higher gloss (without buffing) I understand you can just apply a very thin coat with a cotton rag as your final coat.  I didin't as I liked the finish as it was. 

4.  Waiting.......I wait at least a week before putting the guitar together.  I think Tru Oil takes that long to harden sufficiently. 

Overall, I'm very happy with how it turned out.  Using Tru Oil on ash is not an easy option.  Then again, ash is never an easy option whatever the finish you're using, the grain is just so open.  But if you don't want to spray then it's a finish you can apply on the kitchen table.  Just make sure that you have wiped away every trace of oil at the end of each session or you'll have to go back down the grits to get out the ridges.  

 

I'll go through the process for the neck tomorrow.  

Cheers all. 

And thanks very much to @Andyjr1515 for his help and advice re Tru Oil (amongst many other things!)

 

Hi. This is a great breakdown. Thankyou. Can I just ask, when you're smoothing, going through the grits, is that done with Tru oil as the lube or are you sanding to that grit, then applying the Tru oil? 

Thanks!

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13 minutes ago, moberts said:

Hi. This is a great breakdown. Thankyou. Can I just ask, when you're smoothing, going through the grits, is that done with Tru oil as the lube or are you sanding to that grit, then applying the Tru oil? 

Thanks!

I can answer that.  Yes - using Tru-oil as the lube.

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