Finishing a steel wool-and-vinegar application

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Padge Navonod

Finishing a steel wool-and-vinegar application

Post by Padge Navonod »

Hello all,

I began a baritone electric with a swamp ash body that is going to have as somewhat "celtic theme" to its appearance and appointments. For the "stain" I'm primarily going to use steel wool-in-vinegar for an aged look.

I really like the look that it gives the swamp ash but, so far every finish I've tried radically changes the look and color/tint of the steel wool in vinegar application. Not all finishes have been tried but so far I've tried Tru-oil and Shellac. They both severely darken and brown the look. Prior to applying finish, the steel wool/vinegar has this nice light to medium greyish color and you can control the color density with diluting the solution.

I was curious if anyone had found a finish that maintains the color/tint of the steel/wool application? I haven't tried poly or lacquer yet.

If anyone has found a finish that doesn't radically change the look of the steel/wool application I'd sure be interested in getting some and experimenting right away. And I learned quickly that the steel wool/vinegar is not really a stain at all. Its more of a chemical reaction with the wood and perhaps any say, tea pre-applications to add some tannins to the wood. I was surprised when after a week the solution looked completely clear. I thought I was doing something wrong but then applied it to the swamp ash and behold, the wood over a few minutes looked 300 years old, and looked good to boot. It would be nice to keep it that way.

Thank you!
Best,
Padge

Marshall Dixon
Posts: 160
Joined: Tue May 21, 2019 8:58 pm
Location: SW Oregon

Re: Finishing a steel wool-and-vinegar application

Post by Marshall Dixon »

Padge Navonod wrote:
Wed Sep 14, 2022 9:31 am
Hello all,

I was curious if anyone had found a finish that maintains the color/tint of the steel/wool application? I haven't tried poly or lacquer yet.

You're right, it's a dye as opposed to a stain. I've used a "gunstock" finish in the past which is a two step dye combining the vinegar/iron dye with potassium dichromate. In the past I sprayed a waterborne acrylic lacquer (Emtec 6000) over it which is pretty clear.

The Emtec was $100 per gallon though and the partially used can sits around too long as I don't make enough guitars. So I opted to try Verathane Ultimate polyurethane waterborne (glossy) which I can buy locally for $25 per quart. Sprayed it on as I would lacquer, right out of the can. It is just as clear, perhaps more so. Dries faster which is a plus. When sanding go in one direction pushing the dust off the edge and clean the paper and surface frequently, like every 2 or three strokes. 300 grit for rough leveling then 400, 600, 1500 and buff out with an arbor wheel and medium then fine Menzerna.

You can get the Verathane in rattle cans but the spray pattern is thicker and in my hands sloppier. No doubt the fault of my index finger getting in the way of the nozzle.

I tried brushing it on too. It went down thick and with streaks that had to be sanded out. Not a huge problem unless you sand through a dyed surface. Touch up is the proverbial mother of dog dilemma. So I make sure to have a thick enough coat to level without going through.

Padge Navonod

Re: Finishing a steel wool-and-vinegar application

Post by Padge Navonod »

Thanks for stopping by Marshall, I'll grab a can of the Verathane and give that a try. I'm not too concern about the quality of the surface as this guitar is meant to look old, worn, and imperfect. My only concern is that whatever finish goes on that it doesn't darken up and change the color and tint of the steel wool/vinegar application. What I'd really like to have happen is to apply strong tea to the outer 1/4" radius of the body. That way, the outline of the guitar would get almost a black color and the interior of the body could stay more greyish. That will take finding the right finish. Perhaps I'll just to through the on the shelf Home Depot finished and see what happens with them, and it no luck, go to Woodcraft over in the next town. They seem to have a much greater variety of things to try.

Thanks Marshall,
Best,

Phil D.

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Peter Wilcox
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Location: Northeastern California

Re: Finishing a steel wool-and-vinegar application

Post by Peter Wilcox »

I was very disappointed in a polyurethane water based clear gloss finish I used several years ago that hardly changed the contrast on a maple top. It might be what you need for this.
Maybe I can't fix it, but I can fix it so no one can fix it

Marshall Dixon
Posts: 160
Joined: Tue May 21, 2019 8:58 pm
Location: SW Oregon

Re: Finishing a steel wool-and-vinegar application

Post by Marshall Dixon »

Yes the waterborne finishes are noted for muting the coloration of the wood grain. Typically I'll use a sealer coat of shellac to emphasize the texture before their use.

Recently though I finished a top of sugar pine, which has many resin channels. Previously I had tried to fill with epoxy, shellac/pumice, CA glue, and StewMac waterbased neutral grain filler alone and in combo. The resins seem to bleed into the epoxy and shellac over time. The grain filler didn't really match. Most recently I used the Verathane for the initial fill. My thinking was that the waterborne product would be a better barrier to the resin migration. It's only been several months but looks promising. Hard to say with certainty because I also started scrubbing the resin channels with a toothbrush and acetone to clean them up, and instead the waterbase fill just sprayed and leveled the Verathane with 320 until the filling got done. Then 3 coats leveled with 600 between and a final 1500 grit before buffing out.

A good resource for waterbased finishes here. This links to page 83 for an overview by the OP. Go down to thread number 1648:

https://www.talkbass.com/threads/using- ... 68/page-83

In short the conclusion is Verathane Ultra is the clearest of the bunch. Interesting reading nevertheless. Especially concerning the mixing of color to the finish.

Alan Carruth
Posts: 1189
Joined: Sun Jan 15, 2012 1:11 pm

Re: Finishing a steel wool-and-vinegar application

Post by Alan Carruth »

Vinegar and iron, along with tannin, is the traditional permanent black dye. Depending on the strength of the various solutions you might get that, or just a 'sad' version of the wood color. Almost any finish over that will increase the color saturation, and end up darker. Water base finishes do that less, in my experience. If you're staining under finish coats then I'd try to find something closer to the color you want. I've had good luck in the past with a stain made by boiling walnut hulls in water. You can get anything from a light brown to full walnut color, even on hard maple simply by using a fairly weak mix and repeating until you like it.

Padge Navonod

Re: Finishing a steel wool-and-vinegar application

Post by Padge Navonod »

Thank you everyone for coming by on this topic.

I will definitely be trying some of the ideas here. So far, I'm under a strong impression that something fairly different happens with many finishes over the steel wool/vinegar. Its not that the Tru-oil and Shellac tinted the steel wool/vinegar application, it was more like a reaction and changed it into something totally different. I've never had this happen with any other stain or dye, but then again, I may not have tried enough.

Lets see what happens with some of these other ideas and clear coats.

Thank you!

Best
Phil D

Alan Carruth
Posts: 1189
Joined: Sun Jan 15, 2012 1:11 pm

Re: Finishing a steel wool-and-vinegar application

Post by Alan Carruth »

It's hardly surprising that this would work differently from other stains. Most stains are dyes or pigments that you apply to the surface. This works by a chemical reaction; the ferric acetate reacts with tannin to produce a black iron oxide within the wood itself. Various finishes could well alter the pH and affect it.

Clay Schaeffer
Posts: 1635
Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 12:04 pm

Re: Finishing a steel wool-and-vinegar application

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

Here is a neck that was darkened by dipping steel wool in vinegar and rubbing it on the neck - no premade solution. The wood in the heel reacted differently than the neck shaft. different woods will react differently (probably depending on tannins in the wood). It didn't darken the wood as much as I hoped, but might be worth experimenting with if you want to achieve a lighter effect.
Attachments
steelwool vinegar neck.jpg

Padge Navonod

Re: Finishing a steel wool-and-vinegar application

Post by Padge Navonod »

That is another thing I was surprised about, how extremely differently various woods reacted to the application of steel wool/vinegar, everything from a mild greying to total black. The swamp ash body I am using for this build made for a light to medium grey that was rather nice. I was hoping that pre-applying tea to various sections of the body would give the body a variety of different gray's to blacks for visual interest.
Someone put up a decently comprehensive youtube vid of the steel wool/vinegar application showing the wide and extreme reactions different woods had to the same app of the steel wool/vinegar. Id like to keep much of the gray that was produced because it would make good contrast to the intended dark wood that the pickup mounting wood and other wooden appointments were to be.

Yes, its clear how the SW/V reacted diffently at the heel of that neck. What kind of wood was that?

Thanks,
Phil D

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