Store Locations (Mon - Sat: 8:00 am - 5:00 pm)
Outside Arizona: 800-423-2450    |   Phoenix: 602-504-1931    |   Tempe: 480-355-5090   |   Tucson: 520-745-8301
email newsletter

How to Finish Mahogany: 3 Great Tips for Finishing Your Woodworking Projects

by Mark Stephens | June 23rd, 2014

You have dozens, maybe hundreds, of ways to finish mahogany for your woodworking projects. That’s one of the best aspects of the wood; you can do just about anything to it and it’ll look wonderful. So there’s no way to make a definitive declaration about the best finish for mahogany. But I can pass you a few tips, ideas, and tried-and-true techniques that have served woodworkers for many years.

Absorb these three techniques, you might find them useful for your woodworking projects. The video above demonstrates how to fill grain, stain and dye to achieve the following looks and colors in mahogany.

1. How to Make a Deep Red Antique Mahogany Finish Using Dye, Stain, and Filler

deep red mahogany finish on genuine mahogany dye stain

Want a visual? This video demonstrates every step, click to watch:

Of the three process we’ll show you here, this one is the most sophisticated, but it also has the most interesting result of the three. While there are a few steps, it’s a straightforward process that’s not hard to pull off. Even though I’m going to list the exact brands and products I used to create this finish, they’re less important than understanding the process. Other brands will work just fine, too. In short: dye the wood to make it the overall color you want, seal it, fill the grain with something dark (aside from the filler I used, there are several other options too), apply a protective finish on top and polish it.

Products Used:

  1. Solar Lux aniline dye, medium brown walnut color (it dries with a maroon red color)
  2. Old Masters Woodgrain filler
  3. Zar oil stain, Early American color
  4. Denatured alcohol
  5. Zinsser SealCoat
  6. Spray lacquer


  1. Prepare the wood surface as you normally would by sanding to 180 or 220 grit
  2. Prepare the dye by diluting it by 50% with denatured alcohol in a mixing container. Apply the dye, either with a pad or by spraying
  3. Let it dry, then apply another coat of dye. Repeat until you’re happy with the color
  4. Apply a coat of Zinsser Sealcoat after the dye is dry. Work quickly and do not let it drip or pool.
  5. After it has dried, you may lightly and carefully sand the sealer if it developed nibs or bumps. Be cautious not to sand through the dye.
  6. Mix Old Masters Woodgrain Filler with a dark brown oil stain. In this example that’s Zar Early American. Use a 2:1 ratio, 2 parts filler to one part stain.
  7. Apply this tinted Woodgrain Filler with a rag, brush, or scraper to work it into the pores of the wood. Follow directions on the can. Let it dry for about 5 minutes, the wipe it off moving across the grain.
  8. Allow the filler to dry about 4 hours. Do another application if the grain is not filled to your satisfaction.
  9. Apply the topcoat of choice. The sample above is finished off with another 3 coats of Zinsser SealCoat, sanded between each one with 220 grit. And then it’s sprayed with 3 coats of lacquer, also sanded between each coat.
  10. Buff and polish when the top coat is ready.

2. Staining Mahogany The Easy Way

staining mahogany is easy to do

Left to right: Zar oil stain “Merlot” color; Old Masters Penetrating Oil Stain ‘Dark Mahogany” color; Old Masters Gel Stain “Cherry” color.

Coloring mahogany doesn’t need to be as involved as that first process. You’re allowed to just open a can of wood stain and put it on the wood. The results, of course, are far less dramatic and less nuanced, but they’ll still look nice. There are a lot of kinds of oil stains to choose from, but basic penetrating oil stains seem to bring the nicest results from the bunch. Opinion, of course. But the pigment builds up in the pores, darkening them more than the surface wood which highlights the character in the wood.

Not all oil stains are engineered the same way. Gel stain, for example, is most often suited for creating a wood grain appearance on fiberglass doors. That’s why if you were to get up close to the stained piece of mahogany on the right you’d notice that the color appears to be almost like a translucent layer of color riding on top of the wood rather than getting into it. The gel stain has muddied the grain of that piece of mahogany. Gel stain has its place — on a piece of raw mahogany is, arguably, not it.

Genuine mahogany also accepts water based stains just fine. As usual, raise the grain and sand it back before applying the water based stain. If you do want to use a water based stain, I suggest filling the grain with a darker water based filler first. Perhaps Timbermate’s walnut colored filler.

After staining mahogany (and after it dries!), protect it with your preferred top coat like varnish, shellac, lacquer or polyurethane.

Take a closer look at stained mahogany examples:

3. Fill the grain to get a perfectly smooth finish

Harder to see in pictures, but the piece on the left has the grain filled with a mahogany colored filler, the piece on the right does not. Both have a lacquer topcoat.

Harder to see in pictures, but the piece on the left has the grain filled with a mahogany colored filler, the piece on the right does not. Both have a lacquer topcoat.

Your mahogany woodworking project will benefit greatly if you fill the grain first, and you’ll notice the difference between a finish with the grain filled and one without the grain filled. So how do you do it? There is more than one way to skin this cat, so here are two.

1. Woodgrain Filler or another paste filler

We already brought up Old Masters Woodgrain Filler in the first process above. So that’s one product you can use, and it’s easy to work with. The trick with it is that you’re supposed to tint it with an oil based stain because out of the can it’s an off white or cream color. So you tint it, apply it, wipe it off, and once it dries sand it smooth. The sanding could be optional if you wipe it down well enough and you approve of the color that it leaves. Naturally, the stain you tinted the filler with will color your wood — the sanding will clear it up though. If you still want to stain your mahogany a darker color, you can do so. So you get the benefit of darkened pores, filled pores, and the choice of keeping your mahogany its natural color or staining it.

Another way to keep the stain in the filler from darkening your mahogany is to put down a washcoat (a coat of sealer) before the filler.

2. Timbermate, or another water based wood filler

The benefits of a water based wood filler is that it dries much faster and clean up is much simpler than the oil based filler above. You also don’t have to tint it, as it frequently is available in numerous colors. The brand Timbermate offers a mahogany color filler, which is what I’ve used in the sample in the picture above. A darker filler might prove to be a little more interesting, darkening the pores more, but the point is that the filler helps you achieve a glassy smooth finish quickly.



In this post, we share several tips for finishing mahogany in a way that gets you to the color you want and with a glass-smooth protective top coat.

In this post, we share several tips for finishing mahogany in a way that gets you to the color you want and with a glass-smooth protective top coat.

Tags: , , , ,

This entry was posted on Monday, June 23rd, 2014 at 12:37 am and is filed under Tips and Tricks, Wood Finishing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

  • Matt Survilo

    Hey Mark, I’m building a lap steel that is going to have a lacewood fretboard… I really want to make the mahogany pop next to the fretboard, but don’t want to apply stain etc to the lacewood. How would you suggest I go about doing this?

  • Jay Wilson

    Mark, l am building several pieces of furniture with premium Mahogony. I was intrigued that you recommend the Zar “Early American” stain color in lieu of a standard “Red Mahogony” oil stain in addition to the medium brown Walnut Dye in lieu of a deep red Mahogony dye if there is one, (I haven’t checked the website yet). Why is this so? What is your opinion of Minwax oil-based stain products I can purchase at Home Depot and/or Sherwin Williams ? And finally, what do you think about “spray applied” Minwax satin finish polyurethane in lieu of varnishes and/or shelaque?

    Can this same method be used with ash, cherry, red oak and cypress?

    Jay Wilson
    Madison, MS

    • Mark Stephens WWS

      Jay, I chose the “Early American”color only because it’s a very dark brown and it’s what I had in my stash at the time. Any color will work – just other colors may have a different effect, some slight, some drastic. In this process, the point of the stain step is only to put a little contrasting color in the pores. It’s more of an effect than it is a coloring, which I think is quite noticeable in the photo above. You can choose a redder color or even a blacker color to lessen or amplify the contrast. Of the tests I ran, I preferred the dark brown color on top of the Medium Brown Walnut dye and that’s why I used it here.

      I’ve never used Minwax products before, so I can’t provide any feedback. As for spraying polyurethane, I’d rather not. Primarily, I prefer a lacquer finish. But if there’s some overriding reason to use polyurethane (oil based), I’d rather use a wipe-on kind, not a spray. The trouble with spraying is that oil varnishes dry slowly and can produce an excessive mess from overspray. And you need pretty good technique for sprayed polyurethane to come out well. Wiping poly is virtually foolproof as far as achieving a nice, beautiful poly finish. But spraying has its advantages on projects that have tight corners or nooks where they’d be hard to cover with a brush or rag. Then again, I also prefer to do as much of the finishing as I can before assembly, avoiding the troubles of finishing tight nooks and crannies all together. Some projects that’s not always possible, obviously. Everything comes with give and take!

  • nwood

    We have just got Meranty Mahogony skirting boards cut and are now fixed to the wall. It is obvious that some of the wood is slightly lighter than the others. What can we stain the wood with to give a uniform colour. We do not want it go much darker than it is.

  • jlg

    I have a mahogany wood door the guy at the paint store told me to use clear stain that the wood is dark naturally but after applying the stain the wood looks different colors..How can I fix that?

    • Mark Stephens WWS

      I need more info. What is the clear stain? Brand, product? Oil based or water based? Did you notice anything about the color before applying the clear stain, was it what you wanted? What kind of a color do you want?

      While it’s true that mahogany is naturally dark-ish, it can be inconsistent in shade from board to board. Plus when you work with the wood either by cutting or sanding, it lightens up and needs time/exposure to “age” back to its darker color. In turn, any mahogany project can look like it has different shades and colors when its ready for the finish. That’s partly why it’s advisable to dye mahogany to a consistent color, then seal/protect it.

      It may be simplest to sand off that clear stain and start over, but it depends.
      If you have a picture of the door that shows the differing colors, please post it. That would help.

  • jimd

    Your video on three methods for finishing mahogany was really helpful. Thanks much. I’m planning to try your deep red antique finish on a furniture project and would like your advice as to finishing it before assembly. It’s a small plant stand consisting of an octagonal top and octagonal lower shelf, both about 12″ in diameter, connected to 4 legs about 33″ high, joined via dado joints into the legs. I’m considering masking off the surfaces to be joined and finishing all 6 individual parts before gluing them together. Before gluing I would mask off the areas adjacent to the unfinished joints to catch the glue squeeze-out. It seems to me this method would be easier, and would allow me more control to do a better job. Do you see any down side or have any recommendations?

    • Mark Stephens WWS

      Generally if you can knock out any steps of the finishing process before assembly, I’d recommend it. Just as you say, it’s easier to manage the dye job when it’s in several parts. Doing the finish before assembly comes with some trade-offs, of course. Such as scratches or damage during assembly. If I were shooting it with lacquer for a topcoat, I’d save the last coat until after it was all assembled in case the finish gets scratched and dinged during the assembly. Then the final rub out and polish. Or maybe save the topcoat process for after assembly — it’s up to you if you feel like you’d get a better result that way. You’ll need to be very careful not to get the grain filler or the shellac in the glue joint. If dye gets into the glue joint, it won’t affect the glue bond.

      • jimd

        Thanks very much. Saving the topcoat process until after assembly makes a lot of sense.

  • typo

    Repost: Tom – I am refinishing an old “solid mahogany colonial” writing desk and the wood has a few different shades. One shade is much whiter than the other and I wanted to get your thoughts on what steps I need to take to ensure a consistent shade. Thanks

    see more 0 You must sign in to down-vote this post.

    • Mark Stephens WWS

      Hmmm. Probably need to use dye to create a uniform shade of color. But I’d like to see it before committing to giving out specific advice.

      • typo

        Attached is the picture of the desk top. Your advice is appreciated.

        • Mark Stephens WWS

          Yes, that left wing is substantially lighter, but it might not be too big of a problem. Nevertheless, you have a lot of options. A lot. I’ll give you just a few. What kind of finish did plan to put on it? Do you have spray equipment, or are you doing the finish “by hand”? The approach you take sort of depends on the color you wanted to achieve, and the techniques/products you’re comfortable with.

          Since it’s a desk top, I’d recommend filling the grain, and you have plenty of choices there,too.

          With that, here are two ideas:

          First approach:
          Fill the grain with water based filler such as Timbermate. Use the mahogany color filler. Sand it off, then wipe mineral spirits on the area of your top where the mahogany color is contrasty. See how the color looks to you now that the grain is filled and while the mineral spirits simulates a finish. It might be good at this point. If so, move on to your favorite clear topcoat (just opinion, but I’d avoid a water-based finish). If the color is still too different or you want a different color, hit it with a dye. Water based or alcohol based, doesn’t matter the filler will take either. Alcohol based dyes are best applied by spraying when you have a big broad surface like your desk. They dry substantially faster than water-based which presents a challenge on big areas, so spraying provides better control. Water based is friendlier when doing it by hand, but there are techniques for getting a good alcohol-based dye job without spraying, too. More on that later.

          Second approach:
          Use dye, sealer, woodgrain filler and a clear topcoat as demonstrated above for the “deep red” finish. Your choice in dye color and grain filler color is totally up to you if you don’t care for the color I demonstrated. It’s the process that will even out the color, and give you a beautiful look.

          • typo

            Thanks for the quick response. I plan on finishing it by hand and am considering the merlot shade of oil stain. I will also follow the tips you outlined in the article.

          • typo

            So that I understand; in your example you mixed the wood grain filler with Zar oil stain, however, if I use the mahogany wood grain filler I would skip on the Zar? Also, will the solar lux medium brown dye should give me the color that you achieved in your video?

            • Mark Stephens WWS

              Correct, you don’t mix Timbermate wood filler with stain. Two reasons. First, it comes in 12 or so different colors. Second, it’s a wood filler that will accept stain and dye after it’s applied to your project. So you could use this filler instead of the one I demonstrated that requires mixing with stain. The two fillers do the same thing (fill grain) but they just behave a little differently.

              The Solar Lux color you want is Medium Brown Walnut. Believe it or not, it comes out nice and red on mahogany, and it’s the color I used above. Beware, Solar Lux also has a Medium Brown Mahogany, but this is a very dark purple color. You might not want that.

  • Tom H

    I have an exterior door that was trimmed in mahogany, but the trim was left raw and unfinished for over 1 year. It is on a covered porch, but nonetheless was exposed to the elements. I now want to stain and finish the trim, along with the fiberglass door it surrounds. I plan to use the manufacturer’s gel stain (ThermaTru) on both the fiberglass door and the wood trim, hoping to get them to match. What would you recommend I do to prep the wood trim prior to applying the gel stain? Thanks.

    • Mark Stephens WWS

      Without knowing more, I’d say you need to sand or strip the trim down to bare wood, then apply the stain.

  • typo

    I am refinishing an old “solid mahogany colonial” writing desk and the wood has a few different shades. One shade is much whiter than the other and I wanted to get your thoughts on what steps I need to take to ensure a consistent shade. Thanks

  • Once Upon a Time in America

    Mark, I order the Solar Lux but it does not say ‘Dye, it says ‘Stain’. It does contain water but also acetone is the main ingredient and it is highly combustible. Do I have the correct dye you used to do the ‘sophisticated’ mahogany board at the end? Also do I dilute it 50% with water or one of the other main ingredients? Also what are the ‘dry’ times between dye/ seal coat/ wood grain filler/ seal coat/ varnish? Thanks

    • Mark Stephens WWS

      Sorry for the delay, but yes, that dye “stain” is the correct stuff.

      • Once Upon a Time in America

        Thanks! Looking forward to the product arrivals to get goin’. Will post the outcome. Thanks.

  • Once Upon a Time in America

    Thank you for posting this blog and the sample photos! I was finally able to understand the ‘wood filling process’ and “See” the final results of filled vs not filled to understand what to expect in my own project. Again, thanks for taking the time to help enlighten the masses!

  • PaulH

    Your spoke alternately of “genuine mahogany” and “mahogany.” Do your techniques also apply to “African Mahogany”?

    Thanks, Paul

    • Mark Stephens WWS

      You bet, the finishing techniques will work on African. It should go without saying, though, that the exact color results on African mahogany can be a little bit different (but probably not drastic). Nevertheless, African mahogany is a wood that looks much better with the grain filled, and it takes the dyes and stains virtually just as easily as genuine mahogany.

  • Exctyengr

    I am an old wooden boat owner and finish keeper-upper and work a lot with mahogany. I like to oil-sand it using progressively finer grades of wet or dry sandpaper using teak oil as a medium. It makes a fine mess (but smells great) then, using burlap I wipe across the grain. The sanding dust, suspended in the oil medium, fills the pores and becomes a wood filler. The advantage is that you will automatically have the correct color since you are using the wood as the filler. Then let dry overnight or longer. A light finish sand with 320 grit or their a bouts. Then two coats of shellac to seal the wood with a final sand after the last coat. Then varnish. Minwax makes a wiping varnish that works well, dries flat and looks great I do three coats. For outdoors, use six coats of spar varnish.
    Personally, I don’t care for water based varnishes, they are costly, raise the grain and don’t seem to have the depth that I think is the hallmark of good work. But then, I probably have not had the experience with them that others have.
    Been doing the oil-sand method for 50 years and it has not failed me yet.
    Couple of words of caution. Do not use linseed oil – it works well but is too slow in drying. It will take two weeks for the oil to dry and the rags are susceptible to spontaneous combustion. Use a good grade of tung or teak oil, one that will dry in 12 – 24 hours.
    Best to all…..mike

    • Mark Stephens WWS

      Thanks for your email. I’m out of town until Monday July 21. I will reply to your email then.
      Or you can reach customer service at 800-423-2450 or
      Thanks for your patience.

      Mark Stephens

    • Mark Stephens WWS

      Agreed, wet sanding with an oil is a wonderful way to fill the grain and get a beautiful finish at the same time.

  • Andy Pensavalle

    Mark….I love to watch your videos and learn a lot from them, BUT………..finishing a nicely prepared board is quite different than trying to finish a completed project with corners, offsets, sharp angles and adjoining surfaces. I always end up with, what I like to call “Character Flaws” in the finished product; especially at those corners, offsets, sharp angles and adjoining surfaces. Here is a challenge. How about finishing a completed project for us and give us some hints on eliminating some of those “Character Flaws”. I’ve just about given up on doing any staining or coloring of the wood. I just use clear finishes and let the beauty of the wood speak for itself. …………………..Take care. You know you will always be my favorite, if not my only wood source.

    • Mark Stephens WWS

      Thanks for your email. I’m out of town until Monday July 21. I will reply to your email then.
      Or you can reach customer service at 800-423-2450 or
      Thanks for your patience.

      Mark Stephens

    • Mark Stephens WWS

      Agreed! I’ll do that.

  • Tiredasz

    What kind of wood are the boards you are using in the video? They don’t appear to be mahogany.

    • Mark Stephens WWS

      They’re genuine mahogany, actually. Freshly planed and sanded, so they do look light.

  • Rob R.

    Timely article. I am starting a Mahogany bow front chest for my wife and needed to know how to best finish it. Great tips and ideas. I will deifinately use them.

  • Dean Humphrey

    I really liked your article on Mahogany finishing.

    In 1963 Mr. Foslin, my Jr. High shop teacher required us to build a footstool using Pine or Mahogany. After graduating college with a degree in Industrial Education I began my teaching career in 1973 as a “shop” teacher teaching woodworking to high school students who did not “fit” in regular classes. At that time Mahogany was very inexpensive and we often received boards 12″ and more in width. In fact back then it was not uncommon to find pallets made from Philippine Mahogany. My students built many projects using Mahogany and I still have my Mahogany footstool Mr. Foslin required us to build. It was finished with wood filler, red stain, and lacquer and it looks great except where a puppy chewed on the corner. Thanks for reading.

    • Andy Pensavalle

      Dean, you brought back a lot of memories. Mr. Bales was my woodshop teacher at Washington High in Los Angeles. Quite a bit earlier than 1963….LOL. Our foot stool was made from Douglas Fir and finished with Shellac. I too had mine for many, many years. Then I made a mistake…….I got married, had kids and one of them left it behind the rear wheels of my wife’s car. That was too much for the glued up panel top and the mortise and tenon joinery.

      Great blog, Mark. I can’t believe that little girl is in the First Grade already.

      • Mark Stephens

        You’re telling me! When “they” say time flies, they’re not lying.