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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

Instructions:

  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.

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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.

  • PaulH

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

    Thanks, Paul

    • http://www.woodworkerssource.com 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

    • http://www.woodworkerssource.com 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 orders@woodworkerssource.com
      Thanks for your patience.

      Mark Stephens

    • http://www.woodworkerssource.com 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.

    • http://www.woodworkerssource.com 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 orders@woodworkerssource.com
      Thanks for your patience.

      Mark Stephens

    • http://www.woodworkerssource.com 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.

    • http://www.woodworkerssource.com 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.
      .

      • http://www.woodworkerssource.com Mark Stephens

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