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exquisite-mahogany-finishes

Each of these finished samples is 8″x20″ and cut from the same board – yet, you can get vastly different (and beautiful) results with a very simple technique, demonstrated below.

 

If you’ve seen our other tutorial on three tips for finishing mahogany, you’ll start to notice a basic four-step formula I like to employ to arrive at certain colors and characteristics:

  1. Dye
  2. Sealer
  3. Glaze
  4. Clear finish

That’s it.

Does it seem like an arsenal of chemicals? Believe it or not, the steps go quickly, and it’s actually a watered down version of what many professional furniture finishers do. So, don’t worry – this is not an uncommon practice, plus the steps you see here can be pulled off by any hobbyist woodworker with supplies found at a retail woodworking store.

There’s nothing especially proprietary with the brands and products I’ve used in the tutorial below. You can use similar colors by other brands. These just happen to be my choice because they work well and I’m accustomed to them.

I’ve performed these finishes on genuine Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) from Belize. But they’ll work on other types of wood such as African mahogany.

1. Classic Aged Mahogany

It’s one of the certainties when working with mahogany that once you cut it, plane it or sand it, the freshly revealed wood is disappointingly light. Mahogany needs to oxidize to its naturally coppery bronze color. Or you do this instead. Age it with a little bit of dye and a soothing, yet light, glaze of brown. The result is a wonderful and consistent warm mahogany color that very few would believe .

Products used:

  • Behlen Solar-Lux NGR Dye “Golden Fruitwood”
  • Zinsser SealCoat (dewaxed shellac)
  • Old Masters Dark Walnut gel stain

How to do it:

 

2. Cognac Mahogany (Greene and Greene Style)

If you want less gold and more brown in your mahogany, try this. It’s a variation on the Greene and Greene style recipe by Darrel Peart that begins by mixing 7 parts orange to 4 parts medium brown dye, then diluting the mixture and applying it in a series of coats. (Applying dye in several diluted coats is a good practice). Instead, this mix is 5 parts orange to 4 parts brown. The only difference between this finish and the “Classic Aged Mahogany” above is the addition of the brown dye.

Products used:

  • Behlen Solar-Lux NGR Dye “Golden Fruitwood”
  • Behlen Solar-Lux NGR Dye “Brown Maple”
  • Zinsser SealCoat (dewaxed shellac)
  • Old Masters Dark Walnut gel stain

How to do it

Start by mixing a batch of dye in a mixing cup. Try a 5:4 ratio of Golden Fruitwood to Brown Maple. Then move on to these steps, which are essentially the same as above.

 

3. Burgundy Red Mahogany

Going further, you can take that same mix of dye that’s used in the cognac color above and just add a little bit of reddish purple to arrive at a starkly different color.

Products used:

  • Behlen Solar-Lux NGR Dye “Golden Fruitwood”
  • Behlen Solar-Lux NGR Dye “Brown Maple”
  • Belen Solar-Lux NGR Dye “Medium Red Mahogany”
  • Zinsser SealCoat (dewaxed shellac)
  • Old Masters Dark Walnut gel stain

How to do it

Start by mixing a batch of dye in a mixing cup. Use 5:4:2 ratio of the dyes in this order Golden Fruitwood:Brown Maple:Medium Red Mahogany  Then do the same application process.

 

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


  • Scott

    Hello, I’m planning to refinish an 18th century Philadelphia mahogany tall chest and this article has provided me with some great options to experiment with for the deep rich reddish brown color I am looking for. Thanks!!
    I do have a couple questions …… Are you diluting the dyes, and if so, what percentage? Also, it mentions that you are using a “thinned” coat of Zinnser sealcoat? Again what amount of reduction? Thanks for the very simple and useful article……..

    • Yes, the dyes are diluted. Usually about 50%. I like to dilute with both a little bit of water and denatured alcohol. The water slows down the drying, giving you more time to work with it. The downside, of course, water will raise the grain. But it’s manageable by doing a “pre-raise” with a damp rag after your final sanding but before applying the dye. Then, once the water dries, lightly sand down the raised grain with the same grit you just finished with. Additionally, I like to use soft fine grit sanding sponge to sand between coats of dye, too. This does two things: first, it knocks down stray raised wood fibers from the water in the dye, and second it helps to even out the color in the dye because frequently you’ll make a lap mark here and there if you’re applying by hand. Don’t sand too much, just a few swipes. The do another coat of diluted dye; repeat as necessary.

      That’s the other reason for diluting the dye. Applying in 2-4 diluted coats really helps achieve an even, consistent color. It gives you a chance to fix / hide lap marks along the way. Conversely, if you apply it in one regular strength coat and create lap marks, the’re a lot more difficult to fix and hide.

      The sealcoat is less picky. You can use it right out of the can if you want. It’s already pretty thin, but for what ever reason I’ve gotten accustomed to thinning it a little bit usually about 10%. With shellac you usually speak in terms of lb-cut to describe its density (pounds of dry shellac flakes in a gallon of solvent; Sealcoat is a 2 lb-cut), but truth is I’m just not that considerate with precision when thinning sealcoat.

  • Daniel Cassells

    i know this is an old post but i was hoping for some help. I cant seem to find any Behlen dyes here in Canada, or at least where i live. i tried to find it online and no one will ship it here either. is there any else i could substitute for it? im pretty new at woodworking and finishing so any help would be really appreciated

    • Any brand of dye will do fine, I’m sure. What kinds can you find at a woodworking store near you?
      On another note, I find it strange you can’t get Behlen’s. We get it from Mohawk, who has distribution in Canada.

  • Keith Etheredge

    Thanks for the finishing tips! I’m looking into the best source for those behlen dyes now… but I have one question. Do you recommend the use of the grain filler with these techniques like you have shown on other mahogany finishing videos? Or will that cause issues with these finishing schedules? Thanks in advance!

    • Sure thing, the grain filler will work in place of the gel stain here. You don’t introduce any new issues other than it takes a little more work (and time) because grain filler usually needs 2 or 3 applications to get a perfectly filled grain. And I’d advise maybe two coats of sealer before applying the oil based filler.

      • Keith Etheredge

        Thanks for the reply Mark…but I think I’m still a bit confused. Is the gel stain not being relied on for any color in this case? You say that grain filler would work in place of the gel stain, but in my head using the grain filler is what should result in a glassy smooth surface. I’ve never used gel stain before, but it sounds like there would be some grain filling effect, but not a complete fill. Assuming that gel stain is needed for color, order of operations would be apply grain filler, then sand smooth and follow all the steps in #3 above. Sound right, or am I still off base?

        • Hmmm… sorry about that! But I’m glad you asked. Sometimes I’m not as clear as I am in my head.

          1. Yes, in the above examples the gel stain is used to apply a shade of color that just barely coats the sealer and also lodges down into the wood pores – coloring the pores and, yes, probably filling them a bit. I think the effect on the color is gentle and pleasing. Even though it’ll get into the pores, gel stain is really not viscous enough to totally fill the grain.

          2. Yes, grain filler can be used instead of the gel stain. That is if we’re talking about a tintable, oil based grain filler (aka paste wood filler) that’s more or less the same color as a gel stain. And the purpose of doing so is to get the same color effect as the gel stain while also packing the pores 100% full so you get a perfectly baby-bottom smooth surface to lay down a glass-like top coat. Make sense? Oil based grain filler performs two roles. Gel stain performs one.

          3. If you wanted to use a water based grain filler such as Timbermate, the sequence of events will be a little bit different. That’s because even though they’re both grain fillers they have to be applied in a different order. For now I’ll leave it out . . . unless you ask about it.

          4. So if you want to get the grain totally filled use the grain filler instead of gel stain. Keep the same sequence as the descriptions above. The filler you’ve seen demo’d in my other videos is by Old Masters, you mix a little bit of oil stain with it to get the dark brown color (or any color) you want. However, you’ll really want to avoid sanding it off after it dries because you don’t want to risk damaging the dye job underneath it — instead, use a squeegee to scrape off the excess after about 10 or 15 minutes after applying. Go across the grain, not with it. Use some blue shop paper towels to gently (gently!) wipe/blend streak marks you left behind. Let dry, repeat.

          5. It should go without saying that 100% grain filling is really only necessary on certain parts of projects. Such as a table top, but not the table legs or aprons. Grain filling is unnecessary on “secondary” parts like those that won’t be seen the same way as a table top. But since you might want the color effect of the filler provides, you can use the gel stain on those parts instead. It goes much faster. Also easier to control in tight corners and moldings, etc.

          • Keith Etheredge

            Once again, thank you! I’ll keep hijacking this thread with more questions. I did buy the timbermate water based grain filler in mahogany color, but I’m still in the planning phase of the finishing, so nothing has happened just yet. I’ll give you some details of exactly what I’m up to, so my questions have some background.

            My project is a 3 piece set of home theater speakers (see attached picture), so the surfaces I care about are essentially all 4 sides and the top. All surfaces will be veneered with African Mahogany (flat cut, 10mil paperbacked, installed with heat lock glue and the iron-on method). The two tower speakers are 39″ x 10″ x 14″ (LxWxD), and the center channel is 21″ x 9″ x 13″. Having said that, there’s a lot of surface area to cover if I want a glassy smooth appearance.

            So, when you’ve got a minute, please do go into detail on the timbermate wood-filler path. You may convince me that gel-stain only would be the way to go…or convince me to buy a few more jars of grain filler!

          • Keith Etheredge

            Hey Mark, just a reminder here. I’d like to hear more about the timbermate wood grain filler option when you have a minute. Thanks!

            • Oops, sorry about the wait! Thanks for the reminder, though.

              Here’s the overview:
              Prep your work > apply Timbermate > Scrape off excess > Sand it smooth > Repeat application and sanding if needed > Apply dye > Apply Sealer > Apply gel stain if needed to tone the color > Apply top coat finish > Buff and wax as desired

              In more detail, like this:
              1. Prep your work (sand to 220 or so)

              2. Prep some Timbermate. It needs to be thinned with some water in order for it to work as a grain filler. You’re aiming for the consistency of ketchup, which doesn’t take a lot of water maybe 1:10 ratio (water:timbermate). Water needs to be heated up as the warmth helps loosen the timbermate. Use a mixing container, but it’ll take awhile, 10 or 15 minutes probably, for the mix to loosen enough that the “chunks” of timbermate can be stirred. Add more water or timbermate as needed, but once it’s thinned down you’re ready to apply it. I also suggest using a container with a lid, just in case you don’t get around to filling all the grain in one session and need to come back to the project later. But water can be added to Timbermate any time, even if it hardens up, to bring it back to the consistency you need.

              3. Apply the Timbermate. This is when it get messy! I’ve had the best results by applying it with a cotton rag balled into a pad much like a shellac pad. Wad up a cotton rag, then wrap another rag around it; it should fit into your palm comfortably. Dump or scoop a puddle of timbermate onto your work area and use the pad in a circular motion to spread it on and pack it into the grain. It dries pretty quickly, so you’ll need to work in small-ish sections at a time, probably about 2-3 square feet.

              4. Before the Timbermate dries, use a scraper (putty knife, credit card edge, etc.) to scrape off the excess Timbermate. Work across the grain and/or at a 45-degree angle to the grain. Avoid going with the grain as that might pull it out of the pores. The better job you do at scraping the less you’ll need to sand.

              5. Once it’s 100% dry, which could be as soon as an hour, sand your project to get the rest of the dried Timbermate off. Fortunately, it sands fast. I suggest using the same grit you ended with before doing the filler.

              6. If needed, do another application of filler.

              7. Apply the dye. For the speaker boxes, get a big sponge with a linen side. It’s a great applicator for large flat areas. Just as outlined in other tutorials on Solar Lux, dilute the dye and apply it in 2 or 3 coats – it’s easier to control the color and fix lap marks this way. However, this gets a little more sensitive. I’ve probably suggested in other places that you dilute the Solar Lux dye with water to help extend it’s open time. Since Timbermate is water soluble, you do risk softening the filler as you apply the dye, but the risk is very small as long as you make a pass with the dye and just let it be; you don’t want to rub it in one spot for example. Otherwise, you can just dilute the dye with denatured alcohol instead of water — but the downside will be how quickly the dye flashes, which opens you up to creating more lap marks.

              8. Fix lap marks in the dye. Between coats of dye is a good time to even out the lap marks. Use a rag dampened with denatured alcohol and work the offending area to blend it in. You may or may not get it perfect, but that’s okay if not. You can also sand the area a little bit, and then take a rag dampened with denatured alcohol and a little bit of your dye and do some light touch and go fixes if needed. Your next coat of dye will also help hide the mistake.

              9. Add additional coats of dye until you’re happy with the color intensity.

              10. Apply Sealer

              11. Apply gel stain if you want to tone the color (test the whole process with and without gel stain to determine this before doing so on your project)

              12. Top coat with lacquer or polyurethane.

              It’s extremely important that you take some cut offs from your project and run this sequence on a test piece (or two or three!) to see how it goes and get acquainted with the steps. You’ll discover what to watch out for when putting the dye over the Timbermate, and you’ll also figure out if you want to add the gel stain or not. Also, dyes look very different after they get a finish on top (they’re pretty ugly right after they dry, but don’t be alarmed. Keep going), so it’s important that you do all steps to the end and then make a judgement about the final result.

  • Dr Bob

    Very good article and certainly worth keeping in the archives.
    We use similar technics but use different products. The important thing is to get the results you are looking for.
    Cheers