Experiences With Cherry

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Samuel Hartpence
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Experiences With Cherry

Post by Samuel Hartpence »

I'm going to be putting on the finishing touches to one on my first complete guitars! It's a deep red colored cherry tele with a maple neck. I have no sophisticated equipment, and am looking for a natural finish with a bit of shine, but don't particularly like high-gloss finishes. Do any of you have any recommendations for a finish, and perhaps a sample photo of the end-result of your process?

I was thinking about doing an oil-based finish like Tru Oil, but I hear Cherry can 'take' those finishes inconsistently and end up being a bit blotchy. I'm actually okay with, and maybe even prefer some 'character' but I'm not sure how bad it can get. Would sealing the wood first help, or are those warnings a little overblown?

The picture below is the most current one I have. I have since got the neck pocket routed, all of the electronic/bridge holes drilled and rounded over the edges a bit.
Attachments
201306_CherryTele-PreFinish.JPG

Chuck Tweedy
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Re: Experiences With Cherry

Post by Chuck Tweedy »

That's a nice piece of cherry!
I would try 2 things with the offcuts to see what you like. Sand the offcuts like you would for the real body then:
1) Oil one with linseed oil to see if that accentuates any blotchiness
2) Seal the other with shellac (flood it and wipe off excess)

The shellac will show you what it will look like sealed with a film finish.
Dyes/stains directly on cherry will really show a lot of blotchiness, and it's really not a great look, so I would warn against that.
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Alan Carruth
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Re: Experiences With Cherry

Post by Alan Carruth »

I've never had problems with cherry giving a blotchy finish with oils. If there's any end grain it will soak in, of course, and maybe that's what people are talking about. The best solutions there are to seal with a film forming finish, and patience.

One of my favorite finishes on cherry is something my dad saw in a magazine years ago, called 'old timer's finish'. You start by wiping down the wood with a very mild lye solution after you finish sanding. If you're using commercial lye a teaspoon to a quart of water should do, or even less; it should just feel 'soapy'. Better than commercial lye is a solution you make yourself from wood ashes, filtering it through a cloth; the added minerals seem to enhance the color. What this does is raise the grain, which you would want to do anyway, and bring up the natural color of the wood. It will most likely increase the contrast between the heartwood and sapwood. I like to use a few applications of a weak solution to get better control over the color.

Once you've got the color you like, and have it all sanded back smooth, the finish is a mix of equal parts of varnish, linseed or other drying oil, and turps or paint thinner, as indicated by the varnish. This works very much like some of the 'Danish oil' type finishes: it soaks in but also builds a film (slowly). Wipe on fairly wet coats, and wipe off as much as you can, giving it a day or more to dry in between coats.

Samuel Hartpence
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Re: Experiences With Cherry

Post by Samuel Hartpence »

Alan Carruth wrote:I've never had problems with cherry giving a blotchy finish with oils. If there's any end grain it will soak in, of course, and maybe that's what people are talking about. The best solutions there are to seal with a film forming finish, and patience.

One of my favorite finishes on cherry is something my dad saw in a magazine years ago, called 'old timer's finish'. You start by wiping down the wood with a very mild lye solution after you finish sanding. If you're using commercial lye a teaspoon to a quart of water should do, or even less; it should just feel 'soapy'. Better than commercial lye is a solution you make yourself from wood ashes, filtering it through a cloth; the added minerals seem to enhance the color. What this does is raise the grain, which you would want to do anyway, and bring up the natural color of the wood. It will most likely increase the contrast between the heartwood and sapwood. I like to use a few applications of a weak solution to get better control over the color.

Once you've got the color you like, and have it all sanded back smooth, the finish is a mix of equal parts of varnish, linseed or other drying oil, and turps or paint thinner, as indicated by the varnish. This works very much like some of the 'Danish oil' type finishes: it soaks in but also builds a film (slowly). Wipe on fairly wet coats, and wipe off as much as you can, giving it a day or more to dry in between coats.
Do you have any sample photos of that finish. I'm intrigued.

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Bryan Bear
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Re: Experiences With Cherry

Post by Bryan Bear »

Alan, this is interesting. Is there something inherent in an oil finish that pairs well with this technique? What I am asking is would this treatment also work well with a shellac finish, or even a shellac sealer with something over it?
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Alan Carruth
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Re: Experiences With Cherry

Post by Alan Carruth »

The lye wash works well to color the wood no matter what finish you use, but the oil finish seems to let the air in, so that the color deepens more over time. BTW, this also works well on maple, although, obviously, there's not as much pigment there to work with. I'd avoid it on very acid woods: it can make oak look downright peculiar.

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Bryan Bear
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Re: Experiences With Cherry

Post by Bryan Bear »

Thanks Alan, I bet it also has a nice effect on sycamore. Sorry to ask so many questions but. . . Waht is the wood ash procedure? Or is this one of those things that is just better to buy due to the mess and time?
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Alan Carruth
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Re: Experiences With Cherry

Post by Alan Carruth »

Making lye from wood ash is about as simple as it gets: you just pass some cold water through the ashes, and get rid of the solids. You can do that either by filtering or by allowing them to settle out, and decanting the clear stuff. I usually make a 'tea bag' of wood ashes in a piece of old t-shirt material, and put that in a container of water. I like to use hardwood ashes, because that's traditional, and I have them, but soft wood ashes might work. Pick out any hardware from the ashes first. Glass jars work OK to store the ash water, but metal lids might show some effects.

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Bryan Bear
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Re: Experiences With Cherry

Post by Bryan Bear »

Thanks! Basically use the same trick you taught me for dissolving shellac eh :) I thought I remembered something about multiple containers and gravel and whatnot for making lye. Sounds much simpler than all that. Thanks again.
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Samuel Hartpence
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Re: Experiences With Cherry

Post by Samuel Hartpence »

It's been years ago now, but my family would once and awhile make soap the old fashioned way, and we'd leach our own lye. Granted this was a little bit more of a honed process because you needed a bit more control of your pH and chemistry so the soap would be safe to use, but I recall the process being a bit more involved. If I recall we had a barrel that we lined the lower part with hay and a few layers of cheesecloth over the top of that. We had a tap in the barrel with a valve at the bottom of the 'filter' layer. The barrel must have been close to 30-40 gallons and was made of wood. I think we used ashes from a specific tree as well. Some white bark tree, but I can't recall the exact species. We would let the ashes and water sit in the barrel, and you knew you were ready to filter the solids out by opening up the tap when an egg would float with the exposed surface being the approximate size of a silver dollar. Granted, all of this took place nearly 25 years ago, and I was quite young at the time, but I believe that was the process (with some holes).

For a lye wash, perhaps the tolerances aren't as tight and there is some more 'wiggle' room in the process and outcome so you can use nearly any kind of ash. Either way, I do recall my dad having some burly PPE when he was going through the leaching process, so use precaution. Particularly if you don't know the strength of the Lye at the end.

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Bryan Bear
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Re: Experiences With Cherry

Post by Bryan Bear »

Samuel, I think I was remembering instructions for soap making too. Probably more involved than what is necessary for this treatment. I hope I remember this thread when I get around to using the cherry I have set aside.
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Samuel Hartpence
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Re: Experiences With Cherry

Post by Samuel Hartpence »

I'm working woefully slow on my project, but I'll use this method and be sure to start a finish thread on it.

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