Natural finish on Mahogany

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Forum topic by Andrew714 posted 11-28-2014 06:52 PM 1232 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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22 posts in 1269 days

11-28-2014 06:52 PM

Topic tags/keywords: mahogany teak oil finishing natural

I am making some small shelves from mahogany (approximately 2.25” x 1.75”, 3’ and 5’ long), and I am wondering if anyone can lend some advice on finishing. I am not necessarily skilled at woodworking or finishing, so I think that I’ll be able to produce a better result with a simpler process.

I also love the way the raw wood looks, so I really don’t want to end up with a high gloss lacquered look. I also don’t plan on filling the pores, as I would even prefer the slightly rougher look. I have thought about just putting teak oil on it or something like that, as it would likely end up with a matte or satin finish, and enhance/darken the color just slightly. I have read a lot online about how oiling mahogany won’t last long and needs to be re-done frequently, but most of those forum posts were talking about boat decking, or other outdoor applications, so I’m not sure if the same applies here? I may want to do something other than oil though, if it will enhance the contrast in the grain without too much extra effort.

Thanks in advance for the advice.


15 replies so far

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4928 posts in 3954 days

#1 posted 11-28-2014 07:34 PM

Apply some shellac. Dewaxed Seal Coat will do.
After the application, rub out with some 0000 (4 ought) steel wool. Wax if you like.


View ElChe's profile


630 posts in 1330 days

#2 posted 11-28-2014 08:06 PM

+1 on shellac. Use a nice natural bristle brush. Shellac is very forgiving and can be thinned with denatured alcohol.

-- Tom - Measure twice cut once. Then measure again. Curse. Fudge.

View Andrew714's profile


22 posts in 1269 days

#3 posted 11-28-2014 08:10 PM

Thanks for the responses. Will shellac also leave a fairly matte finish then, or is that finish achieved after the steel wool?

View ElChe's profile


630 posts in 1330 days

#4 posted 11-28-2014 09:08 PM

00 or 000 wool will get you there. Try 000 first then go to 00 if still too satiny. I’ve also had great success with pumice powder carried in mineral oil rubbed on with a felt rubbing block.

-- Tom - Measure twice cut once. Then measure again. Curse. Fudge.

View Andrew714's profile


22 posts in 1269 days

#5 posted 11-28-2014 09:57 PM

All great info, thanks much. Do you have any particular brand preference for the shellac? I was looking at Zinsser so far, and it looks like they have a clear and amber version. If I use Zinsser, I’m leaning towards the amber one, as I wouldn’t mind a little more reddish or warmer color to the wood.

View bondogaposis's profile


4717 posts in 2344 days

#6 posted 11-28-2014 10:20 PM

General Finishes Arm R Seal is about as easy as you can get.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View ElChe's profile


630 posts in 1330 days

#7 posted 11-29-2014 08:27 AM

Zinsser dewaxed shellac works great but it is too thick for me out of the can. I cut it with denatured alcohol 1 part alcohol to 3 parts shellac. Easier to brush on and reduces sags.

-- Tom - Measure twice cut once. Then measure again. Curse. Fudge.

View OSU55's profile


1664 posts in 1983 days

#8 posted 11-29-2014 02:06 PM

Zinsser is the only mass marketed brand of liquid shellac I’m aware of. Zinsser has 3 shellac products – Sealcoat which is unwaxed, and amber and orange which do not have the wax removed. Orange is not orange – it is a darker amber and “warmer”. As a final finish any will work. Do not topcoat the waxed shellac versions with anything else – the topcoat won’t adhere properly. Any polyurethane will work also.

Shellac sets quickly and can be a challenge for the novice. Poly provides long open time and is much easier to apply but takes much longer to dry. I prefer to use taklon bristled brushes with either because the ultrafine bristles make brush marks a non issue. Thinning either finish makes them easier to apply.

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3159 posts in 3102 days

#9 posted 11-30-2014 01:15 AM

I agree with OSU55 about the sealcoat. I also love how nitrocellulose lacquer slowly yellows. I made some drawers recently for a computer hutch I turned into an armoire, and finished them with amber shellac to match the carcase. Got a few sags, as I was using a brush. Don’t remember what kind at the moment. To avoid issues with sags in the finish, I usually spray both, but didn’t do it this time. Just be sure to do it where it won’t make you sick.

I’ll have to try those Taklon brushes. I despise how my finishes turn out if they have brush marks and/or sags.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View CL810's profile


3784 posts in 2981 days

#10 posted 11-30-2014 03:49 AM

Andrew, here is a chest I made with mahogany. I used Watco’s teak oil and Renaissance wax.

-- "The only limits to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." - FDR

View DrTebi's profile


265 posts in 3260 days

#11 posted 11-30-2014 12:40 PM

+1 for shellac and wax.

However, I always apply a coat of Linseed oil first.

I have a large Cherry built-in in my livingroom, that was only treated with shellac. Next to it is a coffee table that I made that had Linseed oil, shellac, and wax. The difference is amazing. The coffee table glows, appears three-dimensional, it’s really a big difference.

Try it on a small test piece. This is how I proceed. It takes a bit of time, but the results are rewarding:
- sand the wood to 220
- wipe on a coat of linseed oil
- let dry 24 hours
- wipe on a coat of shellac, let it dry briefly, apply another coat… I usually do this about 4-5 times, or until the finish starts to feel tacky
- let it dry 24 hours
- very lightly sand the shellac finish
- wipe on another coat of shellac, again about 4-5 “layers”
- let it dry 24 hours
- apply a coat of carnauba wax with 0000 steel wool
- wipe off access wax
- after the wax has cured a bit, or gotten “hazy”, polish the coat

I mix my own shellac. It’s really easy, there are charts online that tell you the right mixture, I use a “2 lb cut” mix. It’s cheaper, and you don’t have to worry about the shellac shelf life so much, as you can always just mix what you need.

I know my method is time consuming, and I must be crazy using this for all trim work in my apartment remodel, but I just love it… you may get away with just one-time shellacing, and maybe without the light sanding. Harder woods usually take on shellac much better than softwoods. Oak is especially shellac friendly.

View Neptuno's profile


32 posts in 1311 days

#12 posted 11-30-2014 10:54 PM

I work with Brazilian mahogany frequently. My favorite finish is rubbing varnish. I mix it myself, for it is not available ready to use in my country. Depending on the amount of solids the varnish chosen has, I add from 30 to 50% thinner. I apply generously with a brush, wait a minute and take the excess away with a rag. Usually iI do 6-8 coats.


-- We must all cross the line.

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5653 posts in 2807 days

#13 posted 12-01-2014 05:04 AM

Shellac is a good choice.
But if you want stone cold simple, try a product called Howards Butcher Block Conditioner. It is an oil and wax blend that leaves a clean matte finish. It is not enough protection for projects that will see water or heavy use, but for your project it would work fine. The Howards is available at Home Depot. Try some sample boards to see which finish you like best.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View Andrew714's profile


22 posts in 1269 days

#14 posted 12-07-2014 05:36 AM

Thanks everyone for all the input. DrTebi, I have decided to use your method. I bought some WatCo Danish Oil (the dark walnut color), and some Zinsser shellac. So far, I have applied some of the oil, so here’s a photo of the progress so far. I’ll post another photo once it’s done. Thanks again!

View DrTebi's profile


265 posts in 3260 days

#15 posted 12-07-2014 09:24 AM

Andrew, I am glad to see that we have convinced you to use oil and shellac.

I have never used Zinsser shellac, but I have heard some good things about it.

Danish oil is not exactly what I use… danish oil is a mixture of oil and varnish. I have tried it once, and wasn’t too excited about it. It brought out the grain in the wood nicely, but it also raised the grain more than other oils I have used (which means you will definitely have to do some sanding after applying it… well at least I did have to). But I think what put me off the most was the smell—I much rather smell denaturated alcohol (from shellac) than danish oil :)

Anyway, I keep us posted, I would like to know how this combination worked and what it looked like.

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