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You have dozens, maybe hundreds, of ways to finish mahogany for your woodworking projects. That’s part of the beauty of the wood; you can apply nearly any finish 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

This deep red mahogany finish might look like a far cry from the light orange or light brown color you’ll find in natural, unfinished mahogany. But don’t worry, achieving this color isn’t as hard as it may seem.


Products Used:

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.

  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 water in a mixing container. Apply the dye. If by hand, use a big sponge so you can work fast and cover a lot of area. Try not to let the dye pool up anywhere (wipe it if does pool)
  3. Let it dry, then lightly sand with a fine grit sanding sponge to knock down raised grain and to even out the color a bit
  4. Repeat dye & sanding until you’re happy with the shade. Two key things: First, dried dye looks dull and ugly – don’t be alarmed, keep going. Second, rest of the finishing process will darken the dye color, so don’t go too dark. Test.
  5. Apply a coat of Zinsser Sealcoat after the dye is dry. Work quickly and do not let it drip or pool.
  6. After it has dried, you may lightly and carefully scuff sand the sealer if it developed nibs or bumps. Be cautious not to sand through the dye. TIP: instead of sandpaper, try a synthetic abrasive finishing pad, also known as synthetic steel wool.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 scrape it off moving across or diagonal to the grain.
  9. Allow the filler to dry about 4 hours. Do another application if the grain is not filled to your satisfaction. It can also be sanded if necessary.
  10. 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.
  11. Buff and polish when the top coat is ready.

2. Staining Mahogany The Right 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 there are legitimate reasons for staining mahogany, such as making the color of a whole project look even and homogenous. The results, of course, are far less dramatic and less nuanced than the first method (above), but stains can 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. You’ll know this kind of a stain by how thin and watery they are. Because of that, they only just kiss the wood with a bit of color. The pigment builds up in the pores, darkening them more than the surface wood which highlights the character in the wood rather than obscuring it. And some stain colors look very natural on mahogany like Old Masters “Dark Mahogany” color.

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 film 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. Oil Based 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, let it set up, wipe/scrape 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. A light, thinned coat of your preferred clear finish works just fine, or go for a padded-on coat of SealCoat.

2. Timbermate, or Another Water Based 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.

This kind of filler should be applied to bare wood. The usual wood finishes apply right on top (after it dries), and that goes for shellac, polyurethane, varnish, lacquer and water borne top coats.


Want a Few More Ideas?

If none of these suit your tastes, don’t worry. We’ve got three more recipes for you, too.

See our post “3 More Easy & Exquisite Finishes for Mahogany” with step-by-step instructions.

Vice President of Operations – Woodworkers Source
We’re a family-owned lumber & woodworking supply retailer with 3 delightful stores in Arizona, and 35 friendly employees.
Mark oversees the company and creates tutorials on wood finishing and woodworking tips for hardwood lumber.

Discussion, Questions & Answers

  • Mark Heatherly

    Aloha Mark,
    Many thanks for your very professional and informative instructional videos.

    My next project is a series of large quarter-sawn (ribbon) Sapele (over LVL core) doors – see attached jpg for an example of 2 such doors. Though we have roof overhang, the bottoms of these 10′ tall doors will catch our (Honolulu) afternoon sun at about 45 degrees. As such, we need a durable UV resistant finish, that we can hopefully refresh each year or two. We would like that finish to resemble your “deep red antique mahogany” in satin. Here’s a finishing process that hopefully makes sense:

    – Sand to 220 grit & raise grain with water
    – Sand again to 220 & apply a water-based grain filler, probably Timbermate dark walnut
    – We plan to test for blotchy-ness, but would you expect a pre-stain conditioner to be required for Sapele (if so, any product recommendations)?
    – Test dyes, sand to 320, & spray aniline (brown / red) dye cut with water using HVLP rig
    – Sand with 400 grit foam pad and repeat dye until desired color is achieved
    – I would love to spray a couple of coats of fast dry SealCoat shellac to lock this all down, but based on your Waterlox response to Mr. Herrara last year (below) assume it better to apply finish directly to the wood? So….
    – Spray 1 coat of thinned clear high-gloss spar varnish / BLO blend with HVLP. I am guessing that since the first coat is ostensibly replacing SealCoat, that it should be thinned to say: 2 parts Naptha, 1 part each spar varnish and BLO. Does this make sense?
    – Sand between coats with 320 grit and apply say 5? coats of 1/3 hi-gloss spar varnish, 1/3 BLO, and 1/3 naptha.
    – Final topcoat with un-thinned 1 part satin spar varnish, 1 part oil blend? By not thinning, I am hoping to get some thickness in my last coat in case I need to rub it out for appearance.
    – What varnish product would you recommend for maximum UV protection and refinish-ability (Epifanes, Waterlox, etc.)?

    Thank you and warmest Aloha,


    • I don’t have any experience with marine varnishes myself, so I can’t provide much assistance for which brand to pick.
      Otherwise, I think your process looks fine.

      The downside to dyeing and staining an exterior door is that it adds some complexity to repairing the finish in a couple of years if you let it go too long. If water gets in and damages a small area, it’ll add some headaches to fix and blend the colored area.

      • Mark Heatherly

        Thank you for the very quick reply and your expert input. I expect to refresh the varnish each year to maintain these doors, and understand how much easier that is than waiting for it to fail.

        By the way, I ran across a gentleman that had a refinishing and maintenance business for the yachts in Waikiki. This is what he had to say:
        – Most of the brightwork (varnished exterior wood) they finished was teak
        – Starting with bare wood, they would sand up to 220, apply straight spar varnish – he liked Man O’ War. They always brushed on and always built mils using clear gloss. Also, his experience was that satin did not sand as well as gloss.
        – To prevent sanding through the first 3 or so coats, they would very lightly scuff between coats, took extreme care at the corners, and always waited 2 days between coats.
        – Their typical new finish was 9 or 10 coats and they would then apply another one or two coats each 6-12 months as maintenance.

        Thanks again,

  • George Ranks

    Hello Mark,
    I guess you get lots of questions but can I please add to your list? 😉
    I have renovated an old plant stand – removed about 8 coats of varnish from way back when (I am guessing the piece is about 70 or 80 years old) and I am down to the bare wood. I am guessing its a Brazilian Mahogany or of the mahogany family. Its left a kind of white residue in the grain and I was wondering what was the best way to remove it? Also I would just like to wax / oil the wood without staining. I am a big oak fan and this is my first try at restoring mahogany, in future I will stick to oak – its far more forgiving. Any help you can offer would be truly appreciated. I cant find any UK resources to help.

    • Hi George, sorry for my late reply. This somewhat depends on what you did to remove the varnish?

      1. You might try wiping down with naptha. That might clean it out.
      2. The new finish might mask the white residue. Try a test on the underside or in a small area. Let it dry and see.
      3. Did you try sanding the bare wood yet?

  • Doc

    Have purchased a 1996 Henkel Harris breakfront. Unfortunately, those assembling the china cabinet top on the buffet bottom, have made scratches, some shallow, others moderately deep into the solid mahogany top of the buffet. Am not sure how to proceed,…please advise. I’m prepared to clean with naphtha, then sand with about 220 grit to get down the scratches as there are about 30 spaced across the surface of the buffet top. I’m not sure if that is the correct approach. any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

    • I would be inclined to take pictures of the scratches and send to the crew at Henkel Harris. I bet they can provide good assistance.

      Basically there are two choices. Repair or refinish. Need to see the problem areas and need to understand more about the kind of finish that’s on it before making a suggestion.

      • Doc

        Mark, is there anyway I can send you pictures of the breakfront issues I have to deal with? Or would you think approaching HH would be better…..

      • Doc

        Mark, contacted Henkel Harris, but they refused to pass on my question to anyone in the “shop” as it “would affect production (?????) – they wouldn’t even tell me what approximate color their mahogany #29 might be commercially. Is there a way I can send a pic to you and get some advise on refinishing at least the buffet surface?

  • Beth Benoit

    We are refinishing an antique mahogany dining table that was accidentally damaged with glue residue. We have used denatured alcohol and fine steel wool. After that we used and environmentally friendly product called “E Z Strip” which is a paint and varhish stripper that contains dimethyl adipate and triethyl phosphate. The next step we are doing is sanding. My question is if we can use aniline dye on this project. Even though we are trying to go down to the bare wood there is probably going to be some original stain. Is it possible to use this dye and get good results. If not, what would you recommend.

    • As long as you get down to bare wood, it will work even if there’s a bit of stain in the grain. It will be fine. Test a section about 6″ square. If you don’t like it, you can remove a 6″ test area a lot easier than you can from the whole piece.

  • Bob

    I am making a narrow counter-top in the red antique finish; do you think the spray lacquer will be sufficient as the final step? Will it hold up to the moderate abuse a counter-top takes (rough treatments, heat, etc.)? Is there anything else you would recommend for this use? I was considering doing a CA finish, but would really appreciate your thoughts.

    • Cured aerosol lacquer is fairly tough, and it’s easier to repair than a varnish or polyurethane. But it’s not as resistant to heat and water. So it’s in question if it’s the right thing for your project.
      If you have spray equipment, consider a pre-catalyzed lacquer. Much better resistance to abrasion and use.
      Otherwise, if you’re applying by hand, check out gel polyurethane as an easy-to-apply finish that’s very protective.

      • Bob

        Thank you so much for replying to me. I really appreciate it. Thanks for the info on aerosol lacquer, but water from cooking is a definite concern. I don’t have a sprayer, so I don’t think I can do the PCL. By CA, I meant cyano acrylate; I’ve used it on small projects, but read about a technique that would allow it to be used on a larger scale. Any thoughts on that? Do you think Gel Poly is a good way to protect from things like a hot cookie sheet, not direct contact mind, but placed on a towel or trivet? I’m pretty good with tools, but an amateur with finishing. I’ll be doing several practice pieces for the red antique finish.

        • I’m only familiar with cyanoacrylate as a finish on small turnings. It’s definitely hard. However for this project I can’t see the advantage to using it. For one, it’ll probably be a rather costly way to protect it. Especially when good ol’ tried-and-true varnishes or polyurethane will be just fine. Admittedly, they’ll have their limits but so will CA. Anyway, every day all across the world people are finishing counter tops with urethane products – good abrasion resistance, water repelling, and can handle a lot of heat.

          I should point out that there is no coating that will give you perfect protection and last forever. Eventually, they all need attention after some time in use.

          The gel polyurethane I mentioned gives you a balance here. It’s really very easy to apply, looks good with very little effort, and it’ll give you really good protection for at least a few years. However, one day it will start to show water damage and/or scratches, and repairing this finish is less than desirable. It should be stripped off and re-done. That’s a consideration you should make.
          On the other hand you can instead choose a tung oil varnish or Danish oil. (Watco, Arm-R-Seal, Waterlox are common brands) These are effectively oil-varnish blends that dry hard, but they’re a lot easier to repair down the road. Lightly sand the offending area, then re-coat.

          • Bob

            Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a thorough reply. It is extremely appreciated. I’ve used CA on turned objects in the past with good outcomes, so that’s why the potential to use it intrigued me, but I’ll definitely take your guidance to heart.
            Could you possibly recommend a good Urethane product as the final step for the antique red technique? Despite being a finish-amateur, I decided to try it because you gave such great, clear “Step 1: Product A, Step 2 Product B” instructions. I’ve already bought the exact products you mentioned for every other step!
            Does tung-oil varnish or Danish oil provide surface protection? Do they build up a film like urethane?I thought they soaked in and wouldn’t protect wood as effectively because they didn’t stay on top.
            ugh… so much to learn…. so many projects to ruin while trying to learn haha

            • Wonderful. I’m glad it helped.

              Generally, yes, those products (oil-varnish blends) do provide a some surprisingly good surface protection. It’s the varnish and/or urethane in those products that allows them to build up a coating, so numerous coats required, though. You don’t really start to notice the build until 3 or 4 coats. The first coat basically soaks in and seals the wood. The subsequent coats are thin, but they build on top.

              A really good brand for this kind of application is Waterlox. https://waterlox.com/solutions/finishing-wood-countertops

            • Bob

              I have (hopefully) one more question, if you don’t mind- I did a practice piece of the countertop, and it looked beautiful, but I had trouble with the polyurethane coating (couldn’t prevent bubbles). So I decided to use the waterlox you suggested. Does the waterlox just replace the polyurethane in the final step or do I need to change other steps as well? If I use the waterlox, which says it is a “sealer and finish” should I still use the Sealcoat before the wood-grain filler? What about after the grain-filler? The waterlox needs to penetrate to harden the top layer of wood, right? Will the sealcoat interfere with the penetration? Unfortunately, I didn’t have any more wood to practice on, so this is being applied to the actual countertop, so I wanted to ask an expert rather than just try it out. Thank you very much for helping.

            • Yes, you can use Waterlox instead of the polyurethane. I would also use it as the sealer instead of Sealcoat for simplicity. I

  • David DeVries

    We have a room in our house with mahogany ceilings and walls. The wood was installed and stained before we bought the house (1994), Since 1994, we have applied orange oil to it a few times to protect the wood from drying out. The coloring is reddish-brown which form what understand is normal for mahogany. My wife wants to go over it with a grey “wash” to change the coloring since the adjoining portions of our house have grey tones in them (also, she is leaning towards grey furniture etc.).
    My question is: Do you recommend “grey-washing” over previously stained mahogany? If you could elaborate on why you recommend against it or for it that would be great.

    • It’s a perfectly acceptable way to tone the color of existing woodwork. You’ll need to scuff sand the existing wood to give the new stain something to grab on to.

  • Lew

    I like to use a wiping finish of equal parts polyurethane/BLO/mineral spirits. Can this be used in your last technique instead of spray lacquer?

    • Yes, definitely.

      • Lew

        The reason I like my blended finish is because it penetrates and makes an impermeable finish that’s pretty tough. I wondering if I should leave off using the SealCoat after the wood filler so my finish can penetrate. What would you advise?

        • I’m with you. Probably no need for the SealCoat. In fact, you can use that blended finish instead of the SealCoat before the grain filler too. Your blended finish is thin enough that it will do the same job of just sealing the surface prior to the filler.

          EDIT: that is if we’re talking about the oil based filler. Conversely, the water based filler (timbermate) should be applied right to bare wood….. then finished.

  • Lew


  • John Quist

    I have a new Sapele Mahogany door that has a water marks at the bottom. Is there a way to clean this off so it won’t affect the stain? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/aa630dc8e9c0f6c36eb4d615725ac04acf93fdeee6043dbeb015643665ee5105.jpg

    • Sanding or scraping are the only ways that immediately come to mind. But I don’t think you need to worry much about the wood finish as you should be able touch up that area with a coat of finish to blend it in. Do you know What kind if finish is on it? Is it an exterior door? That would be helpful info.

      • John Quist

        The door is still raw. No finish has been applied, but the veneer is the standard 1/16″ and I’m concerned about sanding through the veneer.

        • I would still try just sanding with maybe 220 grit. Probably a few swipes will start to hide/blend/remove the major offending area. It would take a lot to sand all the way though with 220 grit.

  • David Chambers

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4392fe7ac7ce7d22356a6001b7eb9051fb490e53102fb0679b0f783870eef7d4.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cbb75f1509606fef06e6a594347272acaf1a19c54fc5836e339b5b5f2c5f539d.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/48698f79c6e3dbf431901aefb268d6c9b209424fdc68e798396b0bc4c2b619f1.jpg
    Woodworkers Source EARNED MY TRUST, ALL THE WAY FROM KANSAS: I am not a trained, credentialed or otherwise bona fide woodworker (just a DIY guy), and never finished furniture before other than maybe carelessly brushing poly on some home projects years ago..

    But, in August 2015, Mark’s clear instructions on how a first-timer can finish Mahogany like a professional contributed directly to my winning first prize in woodworking competition at the Kansas State Fair that year: (photo: “Thunder,”
    the all-Mahogany Cowboy Rocking Horse).

    And I gained enough from that experience to compete again this year, and won first place again, plus Best of Show. And, because the finish is especially important to the judges, I attribute both these wins largely to the
    Mahogany article, and the confidence that it instilled, even though, of course, I did not use the Mahogany steps on this Poplar project: (photos: “Lightning,” the all-Poplar American Indian War Pony Rocking Horse; Enamel colors over otherwise clear lacquer finish, then clear enamel over the colors.

  • Peter C.

    Hi, I have a residential project that has an exterior front door, t&g bead board ceiling and four columns that are mahogany. The owner would like them to look a little more consistent color wise, probably more on the darker side. For the most part they are out of the weather except the columns. I live in the northeast. Any suggestions

  • Ethan

    Hi, do you need to thin the washcoat or apply directly from the Zinsser can?

  • Jackie Burdick

    I took my grandmother’s Duncan Fife couch to a wood restorer. It needed a leg repaired and there were scratches and nicks in the wood. He has decided to put a polyurethane finish on it. Do you think this is the right finish, or do you think it should be finished in a varnish or lacquar? This couch will be exposed to a southern sunny exposure in my livingroom.

  • michael

    I am talking about bare wood. I cannot expect Behlen’s to defend your recommendation rather than their own. I had hoped you would either explain or modify your recommendation when informed that it varies from the manufacturer’s. In the meantime, I have made some tests on some scrap pieces and find little difference in result between the 2 methods. Either way, however, I am getting some little spots on the faces of the wood, as if the dye had been sprayed on with a bad sprayer rather than having been rubbed in by hand. Any suggestions how to deal with that?

    • Couple of suggestions In regard to those spots you described. First is to dilute the dye with water rather than denatured alcohol. Over the years I’ve discovered water has a couple of advantages. I have experienced those spots, but not when I dilute with water. Second, sometimes it pays to wipe down the work after applying dye, wiping with a rag dampened with denatured alcohol. Third, always try to apply briskly to prevent the dye from pooling up anywhere. And if it does pool, wipe it soon.

      Also, I like to sand with a fine grit foam sanding sponge after each coat of dye dries, as that too helps even out any inconsistencies as you do a couple layers of dye. I may take it for granted that that’s assumed.

      Now, regarding conditioner. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not recommending that Behlen’s wood condtioner is neither necessary nor useful. It’s really that I’m totally unaware of the product. I’ve never been exposed to the idea of using conditioner for anything other than to control oil based stains on difficult-to-stain woods. Being that dye is not the same thing as an oil stain and mahogany is not a difficult wood, I’m puzzled. Nothing more, nothing less.

      • michael

        Thank you for the additional! suggestion. To be sure I understand, you’re suggesting I dilute the dye 50% with water only, rather than 50% with a 50/50 mix of water and denatured alcohol?

        • Yes, exactly. Water has its downsides, of course, that you’ll have to deal with the raising grain thanks to the water. A little pre-raising will work (wipe project with damp rag & let dry before doing one final sanding with your final grit). But you’ll also be doing a little light sanding between coats which will do the job, too.
          Or . . . instead of water use Behlen’s reducer and retarder if you’re more comfortable with the idea of a product out of a can. I found that water works pretty well, though.
          If I sound a little imprecise that’s only because this stuff is both art & science! There’s a lot of ways to skin the same cat.

          • michael

            Thanks again for responding to me. I really appreciate your kindness in this regard. I am not at all concerned about grain raising and will do a test with the water-only dilution before using it on my sculpture. I’ll let you know how it works out.

  • michael

    Mark, your instructions say nothing about applying wood conditioner before the Behlen’s dye, yet the Behlen’s bottle clearly says to apply wood conditioner before the dye. I will be staining a 4′ long mahogany sculpture made up of laminated panels and am particularly concerned about end grain looking much darker than other areas. Should I really eliminate the pre-conditioning?
    Michael Lerner

    • This is a reasonable question, but I think it’s better directed to Behlen. I’m only familiar with using conditioner on bare wood or *after* dye to control oil based pigment stain. Behlen’s conditioner may very well be a different animal. I’ve never used it. My older bottles of dye don’t mention conditioner, but the newer ones do …. I just don’t know if it’s the magic ingredient to controlling the end grain color. I tend to just accept the shade difference, but I can understand if you don’t want to.
      You can control the end grain color by wiping the end grain with a water-dampened rag right before applying the dye. It takes some artistry, and you’ll need to do a little sanding after it dries. In my experience I usually have to sand after dye anyway to even out the color a bit and to knock down the few stray fibers.

  • Jack Trantham

    Mark I was able to duplicate your method and color. This is something that had avoided me for sometime until I came across your article. I am a second generation restorer and learn everyday. My question is; I am half way through a dining room suite in this color format and I am weary about changing a process but I have tired shoulders and arms from decades of rubbing; if I dilute my Sherwin Williams oil grain filler by 100% to spray instead of brush on? does my part stain double as well? Thanks

    • Jack, I really don’t know. Sherwin Williams should be able to give you a firm answer, though.

  • Ken Reigle

    Mark, great post and techniques!

    I did the dye and applied a layer of sealcoat. It seemed to dissolve the dye and raise it into pooled streaks. I was told not to use sealcoat over DNA based dyes. What’s you take on this? It obviously works for you.

    Any way to repair the sealcoat, remove the streaks, and press on?

    • Well, yes, regretfully, that’s something I tend to skip over is some of the “tricky things to know.” To a fault; sorry about that.

      You have to be careful if you’re going to pad or brush on the shellac. By “careful” mean two things. 1). let the dye dry for a day, and 2). don’t “work” the first coat of shellac. One pass, that’s it. Otherwise, yes, you’ll lift the color.

      Sometimes I do end up lifting the dye on my own projects, but fortunately only in spots. I’ve been successful with gently touching up the dye after the shellac dries. With a dye dampened rag you can touch up spots with quick “touch and go” action.

      In an ideal situation you’d actually spray the sealcoat instead. But that’s not always possible for most folks. A little care in the hand application works okay.

  • Chris Herrera

    Hi, great video! For the antique finish, do you think 3-4 coats of Waterlox would work well over the dewaxed shellac?

    • Waterlox needs to absorb into the wood. So skip the dewaxed shellac sealer step. Let the first coat of Waterlox act as the sealer coat.

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    I need a job
    I am from Serbia

  • D

    Hey Mark,

    How many times did you dye the wood in the very first photo? I’m building an African Mahogany mantle, and really love the color and tone you achieved with the dye/filler/stain combination used, I’d just like to know how many “coats” or how many times you applied the dye prior to sealing, filling the grain, etc.


    • That was 2 coats of diluted dye, and sanded between each a little bit. Sanding, if light enough, hardly lightens the color at all.

  • John

    Hi Mark
    Is the aniline dye labeled a stain? I can not find Solar Lux aniline dye.

    • Yes, it is actually labeled “stain” and I wish it wasn’t. It is confusing. Anyway, if you find solar lux, that’s the stuff.

  • MisterPotatoHeadToYou

    Mark – great tutorial. I am making a mahogany vanity and am following your methods. I did a test piece using the water dye, sealer, grain filler, etc. I raised the grain and re-sanded before applying the dye but again got the fuzzy raised fibers after applying the dye. Subsequent tests with just water also resulted in raised fibers twice. Do you suggest that I go for three or am I missing something? Thanks.

    • It’s going to happen. The initial grain raising you do with straight water before you apply the dye will only reduce the amount that raises as you move on to applying the dye. It won’t necessarily stop it. Here’s what I like to do, though:
      First, I dilute the dye with both water and denatured alcohol in an attempt to limit the amount of water in the mix – it’s a balancing act because denatured alcohol dries so fast that if I only dilute with that, then the dye becomes awfully difficult to apply. Second, after the coat of dye dries, I like to use a 220-grit sanding sponge to sand the project to remove the raised grain, if any happened. A sanding sponge instead of a sanding block or just sandpaper in-hand, in my experience, is a better tool to use here. The soft sponge lets me get rid of the grain burrs without removing *too much* color.

      Even if I do remove too much color, I apply another coat of dye, and sand down – ideally this last sanding brings the color tone down to where I want it.

      Admittedly, the dyes aren’t exactly simple to use straight out of the bottle in one application (if you’re doing it by hand . . . spraying is more ideal!) They take a little more finessing with diluting, and sanding between 2, 3 or 4 coats.

      I hope that helps!

      • MisterPotatoHeadToYou

        Thanks for the quick reply! I’ll try what you suggest and report back here. Cheers!

  • Irina Pasechnik

    Mark please help me!!! I have a mahogany antique card table and I decided as an experiment and because the table is not particularly precious to try and restore the top. Below are the photos of how it looked like and looks like now. It had a lot of stains, water and burn marks, scratches etc. I first used the Wax and Polish remover, didn’t fully work, then got the stain stripper which kinda did the job, then I sanded it and bleached the water stains which were still there and sanded some more. It wasn’t perfect like in the videos but felt I couldn’t do better. I was also sanding it with 80 sandpaper and finishing with 150 which is probably more coarse than it should be but the stains wouldn’t go away otherwise. Then I bought Ronseal Dark Oak woodstain from my local DIY store (he said the one for exterior wood will be more durable etc) and applied it on one flap. I didn’t remove the excess stain the way you do, but just let it dry. It looked ok but the colour just doesn’t match the legs and the rest of the table, it is too dark and it was only one layer. So now I’m trying to remove it and again sanding didn’t help and stripper didn’t work that well. All I want is a nice looking top, of the same colour as the legs, not too red but sort of how a mahogany card table should look like. Not particularly shiny and glossy too. How would you recommend to finish it? With what products and what colour?? On the third picture right flap is stained with dark oak and left is just wet. Im wondering if I need the stain or can just do clear varnish but if it comes out exactly like wet then it is too red. HELP!!!

    • I think you have two choices:

      1. Come to grips with the idea of making the top a color that slightly contrasts and complements the color of the legs/base. Or,

      2. Strip and sand the entire project, and then stain it and finish the whole piece the same way.

      Very few people would be able to make the top match the legs at this stage. Sadly, the best way to make them the same color is to start from bare wood on all the parts. It’s definitely no small amount of work, but that is the sure fire way to a consistent color and finish. Sanding and stripping takes a lot of time.

      Those old water stains might be pretty deep. My thought by looking at the pictures is just that you haven’t sanded enough or that it needs a skim pass through a planer to remove maybe 1/32″. Do you have the capability of planing the top? Are you hand sanding with 80 grit, or are you using a powered sander?

      To test your stain colors, I wouldn’t suggest using the top of the drop leaves – instead use the bottom of them. Or if you can remove the top (which I would try to do any way to do the sanding, stripping and refinishing), use the bottom of the top to test small areas.

  • larry

    I have an exterior mahogany deck what is the best product to preserve it

  • Pat Boyer

    Hi Mark, That mahogany looks beautiful. I am refinishing my late 1950’s kitchen cabinets and have some questions. I took a piece of the wood to one of your stores and was told it was either African mahogany or Lyptus, would they be refinished the same way? Also because of health reasons I cannot use spray lacquer, is there another option that you would recommend?

    • I’m out of town until Wednesday July 29, 2015. 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

    • Yes, the process would be the same for those woods too. No problem there. Spray lacquer is just my choice most of the time (the reasons why are multiple and diverse!), but there’s nothing special about it for this kind of an appearance in the tutorial. You can use any type of clear top coat you want. You could use a waterborne acrylic or water based urethane, too.

  • Dan

    Mark, Great video and explanation on establishing the deep red antique finish. I recently acquired (2) 1950 – 1960 mahogany (red wood) oversized end tables/coffee tables (3’x3’x3′) imported from Hong Kong and were stained BLACK. I stripped (4 days w/many techniques) a majority of the black stain off but still have some still visible in the grain and I think this will add to overall appearance. Because of the craftsmanship that went into these pieces I decided not to disassemble. I live in California to which I’m limited to certain products, I was unable to find any dyes within a reasonable driving distance. I settled on MiniWax products (Stainable Wood Filler, Sanding Sealer, Red Mahogany Stain, Dark Walnut Stain). Question 1: Can I substitute an oil base wood stain in lieu of dye to get the desired base color? Question 2: Will the sanding sealer work the same as the sealcoat you mentioned? Final Question: Can I still tint Wood Filler with an oil base stain and will it still provide the same results? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  • Kal

    Hi Mark, I was wondering if you could help suggest the best approach for lightening our solid mahogany floor? We’re trying to achieve a white / grey ash colour. It’s part of a house renovation, and will be sanded / buffed back first.
    We’re looking for the easiest and quickest was of doing it. I’ve been researching it, and am hoping some sort of dye may hold the answer? – can mahogany be dyed a lighter colour? We’ve looked at bleaching, and white washing and neither seem an attractive approach. Any help would be appreciated! We’re hoping to start on the weekend!

    • I don’t think a dye will get to the color you want, but sometimes a yellow dye can brighten the color. Sadly, you will need to test to be certain.

    • Catherine Cole

      Hello Mark,
      I found your post as I was searching for the same solution…. how to stain mahogany so it is an ash colour. I will be staining unfinished mahogany doors and want a light brownish-greyish tone. .
      Don’t know if you’ll see this post as your was 2 years ago. But if you do, can you please let me know how your mahogany floor came out and what your process was? And perhaps a photo? Many thanks.

      • Would you happen to have a picture that illustrates the kind of color you wish to achieve? I might be able to give you a couple of “recipes” to test if I had a more concrete idea.

  • Rich

    I am attempting to reproduce this process however want a very dark brown instead of a red tint. I am using Solar Lux American Walnut and the color is not dark enough. Any recommendations to achieve a darker brown? Should I add some black or use another set of colors to mix?

    • Yes. Three things I need to cover, though:
      1. You can make any dye darker by adding more coats. Did you try that?
      2. Be sure you test the entire finishing process before judging the color of the dye. If you’re going to add tinted grain filler or a gel stain on top, that will “brown” the color more. Plus, the final result with a top coat finish is drastically different compared to the dye right after it’s dried. Test all steps before making a conclusion.
      3. If none of that is satisfactory, yes, you can mix Solar Lux dyes with one another to get a custom color. In a measuring mixing container you can keep track of the ratio, then apply a test. You could try adding black, but just a weeee bit.

      • Rich

        Thanks Mark. I am testing the entire process with scraps as the end product does vary greatly.

        Now if I can find an online source to purchase some of my favorite old masters products (to have enough to do the whole project) I will be back in business. (Local store that carried it closed.)

  • Kevin Tuite

    Really great video, thanks. I just bought a mahogany front door, got a great deal and it is beautiful. Two things, there was a gouge on one side, I sanded it well and I doubt it will be noticeable but just wondered if you have any thoughts on filling it? Second, how should I finish the outside? It is under a porch overhang facing South so not too much direct sun/rain but it is Texas…

    • Hard to say what to do about the gouge without seeing it. If it’s small enough, you can steam it out with an iron and a damp rag. If it’s too large for that, I probably wouldn’t use a liquid or paste wood filler. Instead, it might be worth cutting a patch from a solid board with similar grain. It’s a little involved, though. Cut a somewhat irregular star-like shape trace it around the damaged part, chisel out the damage, glue in the patch, plane or sand it smooth.

      For the exterior finish, you have just a couple of choices. Paint, or an exterior wood finish. Let’s assume paint is out of the question. I’d consider an exterior oil finish, but you’ll need to give the door an inspection once or twice a year to see if it needs a new coat. Fortunately, it’s very easy to do. Clean the door, then wipe on the oil, and wipe off the excess. Or you can consider an exterior spar varnish. It’s more laborious to apply and repair, but arguably a longer-lasting coating.

      • Kevin Tuite

        Thanks for the reply, I will try the patch since the cut is too big, I’ve had success with that the before. I should have mentioned that I didn’t really want to paint. Do you have any specific exterior oil recommendations? Also, do you see any problems with using an oil on the exterior and something else on the interior?

        • Sure. Watch exterior oil wood finish. Widely available, I’ve seen it at home depot a few times. But we carry it too. You’ll know it by its green and white label. Sealers for outdoor wood decking does the job too.

  • Bob G

    We are replacing our kitchen countertop, backsplash, and 8′ island with 2″ thick mango slabs. We just got 3 slabs of 2 7/8″ thick x 10′ long with width varying from 40″ to 55″curly mango wood slabs which have natural color steaks( yellow, cherry red, purple, green, black heart) in them from the minerals/silicon takeup from the Big Island of Hawaii.
    I was told to use oil Waterlux on them as it shows the natural grain ,but gives it a slight amber color which really is suppose bring out the grain. I was told Waterlux is food safe and easy to repair if surface gets damaged from use. I know mango wood cannot be used as a cutting surface. I want to do it right the first time. We are going to match tne grain of countertop and backsplash which will go up to upper cabinet ( by adding a 2″ x 2″ spacer to countertop at back so grain will match.).

    • Mango will look fantastic with a grain filler, but you can knock out two birds with one stone here. Consider a Danish oil finish or a tung oil varnish. Food safe when dry, and it couldn’t be any easier to repair down the road. You’ll need about 6 coats, but wet sand the first 3 or 4. While the oil is wet, sand with fine grit sandpaper. The wood dust mixes with the oil, then packs into the pores to fill them. You’ll get the grain filled, a gorgeous finish, and one that’s Easy to repair. Waterlox may also work, but don’t know for sure. Never used it.

  • Charlie

    Hi Mark, you answered my question a few days ago about a large table top. Do the comments and procedure still apply if the top is mahogany plywoood?

    • Yes, same procedure. The thin veneer of plywood will probably take the dye darker than solid mahogany (yet another reason for applying it in multiple diluted coats!). So if your project has both plywood and solid, you *may* need one or two fewer coats on the plywood to get to the same color on the solid material.

  • Thanks so much for making these videos! I’m finishing a Les Paul style guitar, the back is sepele also called african mahogany. I used Mohawk Deep penetrating stain in medium brown walnut color, which I’m pretty sure is the same as as Solar lux. I followed your instructions and did several diluted coats until i got the color i was after. Anyway my question is why not use a wash coat of lacquer instead of dewaxed shellac? also how long do I need to let the dye dry before sealing? Thanks agian.

    • Forgot to mention, I sprayed it with an HVLP, mixed the dye with de natured alcohol 50/50 and a cap full of retarder.

      • I’d like to see this when you’re done!

        • Joe I

          I working on a guitar too so I would too.

    • Lacquer sanding sealer is just fine, too (as long as you’re going to put lacquer on top). I use dewaxed shellac in most of the demonstrations partly to expose folks to how universally useful it is. But any sealer is fine as long as it’s compatible with the rest of your finishing recipe.

      You probably only need to wait 4 or 5 hours before sealing your guitar. To be certain you could let it sit over night.

      • I just mixed my 1 part lacquer with 2 parts lacquer thinner to make a wash coat, then I will fill and seal the filler.

  • Charlie

    Mark, any suggestions for finishing a large table top? Should i apply the stain, fillers, etc over the entire surface before wiping off or do a section at a time? If a section at a time, any problems leaving marks between sections?

    • Good question. Let’s start by addressing the dye first. You’ll want to dye the entire top at once, which is difficult to do by hand. If you have spray gear, use it. If not, there are a few tricks to know to applying dye by hand.

      First, you’ll want to apply the dye in 3 or 4 diluted coats because it’s easier to control the end result that way.

      Second, dilute it with both denatured alcohol and water (if you’re using the same brand of dye I used in this demo). Water will make it dry slower and give you more time to work with it, which you’ll need on a large table top. A consequence to that is you’ll need to “raise the grain” of the mahogany beforehand. Do that by sanding your table as you normally would by working through the grits, and you shouldn’t need to go any finer than 220. When you’re done, use a water-dampened rag to wet the project. Let it dry, then lightly scuff sand with the last grit you used to knock down the raised fibers. Then move on to the dye.

      Third, apply the dye with a big foam sponge with a terry cloth side. The sponge soaks up a lot of dye, and the terry cloth somewhat controls the flow. It’s a good way to do a big area without spray equipment. Go as fast as possible, and yet as slow as necessary. Avoid applying wet dye on dry dye, as that’ll create a “lap mark.” But it’s not the end of the world if you do, it’s fixable.

      Fourth, a helper would be useful. Ideally, your helper would come behind you and wipe the dye while it’s still wet to help blend it in with a dry rag, especially if you managed to create lap marks. If you absolutely have to do it alone, just apply a coat of dye and immediately after wipe the whole piece with a slightly dampened rag with denatured alcohol, and work to blend any lap marks you may have created. This, plus your next coats will help make the color even out.

      As for the filler, you can (and should) apply that in smaller sections at a time. You won’t get overlapping color with that. You should be pretty good on sections about 2 feet square or smaller.

  • Lisa

    Hi Mark, I have a vintage/antique 36″ round mahogany foyer table that I took to a local refinisher. I like brown mahogany and have never been a fan of red mahogany. The guys refinishing it say there is so much red in the wood that they can’t get the brown mahogany finish I want. When I took it to them it definitely needed to refinished, but it was brown, not red. They said that was because it it was a very old finish that was faded by the sun. Is there a stain that can counteract the red mahogany so I can get the rich brown finish I am looking for? Thanks for your help! Lisa

    • I find that surprising! A refinisher should know how to control the color of the wood with dye – dye will do the job. There must me something I’m missing. Without knowing more about your table and the existing finish, I think it needs to be stripped and sanded then treated with a brown dye to the shade you desire. Then perhaps glazed or toned.

      Just for a visual, here’s a set of mahogany floating shelves I built with mahogany. Don’t mind the light colored contrasting maple panels, but see the darker sides and fronts. I used a dye to make the wood brown (specifically Solar Lux “Brown Maple”), then glazed it with a dark walnut gel. This may or may not be in the brown tone you’re looking for, but the point is a brown dye will make mahogany brown.

      • Lisa

        That is exactly the color I want!!! The first two pictures below are the before pictures. They completely stripped it, then finished it with a red mahogany stain because their partner didn’t tell them I expressly, in no uncertain terms, said I want a brown mahogany and didn’t like red. The next two pictures are the after with the red mahogany. I told them they had to refinish it the way I wanted. It has been stripped again, but when I went there to look at some test areas on the table skirt (which is the most reddish looking of the striped wood), all the brown stains dried with a clearly red base. Much redder than my before pictures. I’m very frustrated. I just want my table back looking brown, not red! PLEASE HELP

        • I see. I’m puzzled why they can’t achieve the color you want. Nevertheless, if it helps at all, pass on my suggestion for Behlen Solar-Lux Brown Maple dye under a dark brown glaze. It’s how I arrived at the brown color above.

          • Lisa

            That’s exactly what I am going to do. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! ;^)

  • 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?

    • I assume you made the neck out of mahogany? Do fretboards get a coat of finish, or are they left bare? To keep the lacewood free of whatever you apply on the mahogany, give the lacewood a thin coat of sealer if you can. If the two woods are already joined together you’ll just need to be careful at the joint; tape it off and/or use a small artist’s brush to go right up to the line. The two woods are pretty close in color tone, but I think you can get the mahogany to stand out from the lacewood just with a dark tinted grain filler. It gets packed into the mahogany grain, and with the lacewood coated in sealer you’ll be able to wipe it clean. That’s one idea.

      • Matt Survilo

        Hey mark, thanks for taking the time to respond! On normal guitars fretboards don’t get finish they just get oil, but on this particular type of guitar the frets aren’t actually pressed so they can get a coat of finish. Thanks a lot for the tips!

  • 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

    • 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.

    • To achieve a uniform color, dye is the way to go. But you don’t need to go very dark at all. You can do a very diluted coat of any color in the tone you’re after (reddish, yellowish, brownish….) and that will calm down the color differences for sure.

  • 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?

    • 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?

    • 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.

    • 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.

        • 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?

            • 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.

    • 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

    • 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

    • 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

    • 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

    • 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.

  • Tiredasz

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

    • 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.

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