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Unread 08-15-2012, 02:12 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to get some feedback on a finishing schedule that I have been trying out - I know many here are incredibly skilled and might be able to help me refine it before I go ruin more wood :P

I did my first build with spray nitro and as lovely as it looks it really is not an option (cost and facilities) so I have decided to try out a shellac + wipe on poly finish on the below schedule;

Aniline Dye Drying - 2-3 days

Shellac sealing coat *(all shellac coats are ultra blonde 1lb cut's from LMII diluted in 95% ethanol/5% water methylated spirits)

1 hour cure time

Shellac building coat

1 hour cure

Shellac building coat

24 hour dry

400 grit (metric) sanding (dry) level

Shellac Coat 3

1 hour

Shellac coat 4

72 hours cure

400 grit (metric) sanding (dry) level

Poly coat 1

4 hours dry time

Poly coat 2

4 hours dry

poly coat 3

4 hours dry

Level sand with 400 grit (wet sand, methylated spirits)

Final Poly coat

1 week cure time.

Buff and polish!


I know there is not much use of wipe on poly's due to its tone dampening characteristics but I have seen some members use it with great success and it is quite indestructible and easy to use (my test piece is fantastic) and the minwax wipe on layers ultra thin.

Is there any holes anyone can poke in my strategy? My current build is just curing (shellac) which is eagerly awaiting some level sanding as I got my fair share of uneveness/runs but they should sand out fine.

Thanks to anyone who feels like chiming in - if anything I will report back as to how this goes for those aspiring builders looking for a poly alternative :P

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Unread 08-15-2012, 10:46 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

I'm no finishing expert, but I am sure one of the more experienced members will chime in soon enough.

Do you have spray equipment, or will this all be applied by hand?

My initial thoughts:

1. Shellac doesn't take all that long to dry, so I think 30 minutes in between would be fine.

2. If you plan to apply a poly finish over the shellac, then I wouldn't go through the effort to apply so many layers of shellac, although it's not going to hurt anything by applying a few extra coats so do what makes you feel comfortable.

I don't know if you are spraying or rubbing on your shellac, but I assume it's a rub on plan. I just wanted to say that since it will burn into itself, it will take you a lot longer to build thickness by rubbing, than it would spraying. But both are fine methods.

3. What it your plan for wet sanding and buffing? I ask because I don't think that 3 coats of poly will give you a thick enough surface to be able to wet sand and buff, without burning through to the shellac. Of course this all depends on thickness of coats, but it will be hard to achieve a thick wipe on layer without getting a lot of runs. You may want to consider adding more coats to be safe.
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Unread 08-15-2012, 07:51 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

Shorty - Its all wipe on baby :P I don't have spray equipment so I thought this schedule would work with a wipe on application.

Good advice on the build up! I just feel more comfortable with a little depth in my sealing coat as sand through killed my last build but I have learned a lot since then so hopefully I wont fall into the same pitfall. I might put on a couple more poly coats just to be sure - get it up around 5 or 6. I think some people even use up to 12 but ideally Id like to keep the finish thin to keep as much tone in tact as possible.
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Unread 08-15-2012, 11:33 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

4 hrs seems like a very short time for the poly to dry... I dont know the difference in wipe on but I know when I was spraying it I had to wait 24hrs between a coat (and lightly scuffing each time). If I did it any sooner it would peel. I personally hated poly, but the wipe on stuff might be better. Also, it may have been the poly I used... in which case if this is unusual then everyone avoid British Paints Poly
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Unread 08-15-2012, 11:51 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

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4 hrs seems like a very short time for the poly to dry... I dont know the difference in wipe on but I know when I was spraying it I had to wait 24hrs between a coat (and lightly scuffing each time). If I did it any sooner it would peel. I personally hated poly, but the wipe on stuff might be better. Also, it may have been the poly I used... in which case if this is unusual then everyone avoid British Paints Poly
4 hours is recommended by the manufacturer - apparently poly labelled 'wipe on' is thinner than anything else!

That being said - there is no such thing as too much time when drying stuff. I did my test piece with 12-24 hours as I just did one coat per evening and it turned out beautiful. I think a lot of really good luthiers dislike poly which I can totally understand, In a perfect world I wouldn't use it either...but In a perfect world I would probably play something made by Barnaby :P
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Unread 08-16-2012, 12:16 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

Are you simply wiping on the shellac, or are you french polishing? Your schedule seems good, but wiping shellac and french polish produce two very different looking finishes.
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Unread 08-16-2012, 12:20 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

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...but In a perfect world I would probably play something made by Barnaby :P


Blimey! That was an unexpected sentence to come across all of a sudden. Here I was, enjoying a pleasant thread about finishing techniques...
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Unread 08-16-2012, 01:02 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

I'm no expert, but I've done a few guitars with shellac and wipe-on-poly. Definitely let each shellac coat dry for an hour and don't do too many coats in one day. I had a mishap where a big sheet of shellac wiped off my body! I used steel wool level each coat, but I think 400 grit paper would be fine. It's easy to sand through, so be careful.

Also, I think I did 6 coats of wipe -on-poly. It goes on pretty thin and probably should have 8-10 coats.

This one I did with garnet shellac flakes and wipe-on-poly

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Unread 08-16-2012, 02:24 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

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Originally Posted by Barnaby View Post


Blimey! That was an unexpected sentence to come across all of a sudden. Here I was, enjoying a pleasant thread about finishing techniques...
I dunno man I just really enjoy the hand tool thing and how each of your guitars is brought into the world, I found em all to be really inspiring

BUT ENOUGH FLATTERY ITS TIME FOR FINISHING

Defiantly not French polishing for this bad boy - I am really using the shellac as a barrier coat and sanding sealer.

Good point by Schoolie regarding coats and such - I reckon I will probably sand through my sealer on the top so I might consider levelling it with some 800 grit instead and just take it really slow.



How are you finding the poly finish?
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Unread 08-16-2012, 12:32 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

I like the poly finish. I've been playing this guitar for four years and it has help up well, just a few dings on the edges of the body. This is great finish for maple necks. It give pale wood some color and it feels really smooth--not sticky at all.
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Unread 08-16-2012, 08:16 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

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I like the poly finish. I've been playing this guitar for four years and it has help up well, just a few dings on the edges of the body. This is great finish for maple necks. It give pale wood some color and it feels really smooth--not sticky at all.
Good to know! I found my test piece to be really sticky for the first day or so then after a week it was smooth and glossy I didn't even have to level sand it :O but it was a perfectly flat square to begin with.
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Unread 08-22-2012, 01:52 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

Just an update for those of you interested -

I am up to 8 coats on the guitar top and 3 on the back. Since I am applying this one side at a time I have to do one side then the other but it keeps me going slow with the application.

The headstock requires a bit of fixing as the veneer is peeling away from the wood at the edges and I need to super glue it down before adding any poly so the finish currently extends over the entire back of the guitar but not the sides and face of the headstock.

I have found a couple really important quirks;

1. make sure your sealer, wood or whatever is underneath the coat is super smooth, the poly builds up with some real depth to it so any aberrations in the wood or (in my case) shellac sealer become very visible after coat 3-4, I like it but in future I will make more of an effort in getting my sealer's much more level and even before applying poly.

- I think this is a given for any finish but I only really realized how shoddy my shellac coat was when applying the poly.

2. use #0000 steel wool between coats, it works wonders for levelling this stuff but use a respirator, inhaling poly dust is defs not good for you.
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Unread 08-22-2012, 09:13 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

Yes, the old rule is," The end result of a finish is reflected in the surface preparation beneath."
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Unread 08-22-2012, 07:16 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

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Yes, the old rule is," The end result of a finish is reflected in the surface preparation beneath."
I think I have learned that the hard way haha, I just can never tell what the wood will look like under the clear before i apply it
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Unread 08-24-2012, 07:21 AM   #15 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

an interesting thing I just came across - I read that it could be more effective to apply the poly with makeup removal pads inserted into knee high pantyhoes as it leaves zero residual cloth fiber. I have considered using makeup removal pads as they are 100% cotton and i am running out of rags - they tend to leave behind fibers anyway.

Might just have to give this a shot!
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Unread 08-27-2012, 07:19 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

Another note/Update to using Poly ( I know most of these are probably common sense but apparently I am lacking in that :P)

When sanding between coats - I have found that metric 600 grit on a block works great for scuff sanding however never sand near sharp edges! the finish is thin, and even thinner on areas like headstock contours and the neck/tennon area, quite a few 'relic' marks around that area where I have gone through to near bare wood on this one.
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Unread 09-05-2012, 10:21 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

Another update - Filled with tragedy.

I managed to get 12 coats on the entire guitar and let cure a couple days. When I rubbed out my finish I noticed that i went straight through the poly on the top into the shellac even after four times the recommended amount of coats. Why? Because as I later learned, wipe on poly does not rub out like lacquer! applying the same principal to both was a fools errand! As poly dries in layers, rubbing out the finish with progressive grits only serves to cut layers and leave witness marks.

The recommendation for getting that high gloss is actually making double sure your prep work is done perfectly and wood is well smoothed and sanded as well as only hitting each second or third coat lightly! with steel wool or equivalent abrasive as your goal is to remove dust and create a surface for adhesion for the next coat.

Unwilling to make my previous mistake on my last build I stripped the top and re-stained, and managed to cause friction damage to the back of the guitar at the same time.

Am now working on re-applying my layers properly but I thought it wise to put out a bit of a warning for anyone trying this method even if it might be common sense to most

I think my all-in -fast-and-furious approach to lutherie is showing here...Still learning!
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Unread 10-04-2012, 08:49 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Re: Shellac/Minwax Wipe on Poly finishing

Its been a while since I chucked an update here - It took me a bout 15 days to re-apply the poly which I now feel like I have down to quite an art form.

The poly was given 12 days to cure - roughly the time of my japan trip :P

Contrary to my original thoughts the poly does rub out quite nicely, I started with 800 grit wet then 1200 wet. once completed I hand buffed it with meguiars fine cut cleaner and show car glaze.



this photo doesnt really do the finish real world justice - I think that If I can see my reflection and colours in the finish its probably done :P

overall I am exceedingly happy with the final result, so easy to work with and I managed to have zero sandthroughs at the end

some things I would change is bringing it up to 2k grit before buffing and polishing, unfortunately 2k grit is a bit hard to find and I didnt have any handy, which made the polishing stage all the more difficult and time consuming.

the poly surface is also incredibly tough, I had a razor blade slip when cleaning the back cavities and it barely left a mark

ill try to get some better photos up from my big camera over the weekend to provide a better example but I hope this helps anyone who is keen to use wipe on poly as an alternative to nitro

let me know if anyone has any questions or things they would like to know about the process that I might have left out.
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