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Thread: Refinishing a mandolin?

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    Default Refinishing a mandolin?

    I have a Rover RM50 that Ibought from Eelderly a few weeks ago. The setup is top notch but I can't help to think it could sound better. I'm considering sanding down the thick polyurethane finish it has to free up the wood so it can really sing and replacing it with an oil finish. I'm no stranger to refinishing things so that's a non issue but has anyone done this and of so, what were your results?

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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    Perry Babasin has done some amazing work on some mandolins he's refinished.

    Jamie

    PS Welcome to the Cafe!
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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    Go for it, you have a solid top and it may make a difference. Cautionary words:
    1. Poly is super hard and is difficult to gloss up. Doesn't re-melt like nitro when buffed so you need to work through the grits carefully. It's almost like polishing glass or stone.
    2. be ready to mess up the color coats underneath
    3. Starting with 320 will remove material but not add deep sanding scratches. Poly sands well, clap out your felt block often. Work through the grits carefully, well into micro-mesh land if you want to go gloss. 2400 or 3200 can make for a nice satin look.
    4. Concentrate on the recurve areas. Feel the vibrations of the back as you go, maybe use your voice or background music to excite the plates.
    5. Wear a mask, poly is nasty.
    6. Maybe work the back first. Then you can leave the strings on and hear the difference as you go.

    Good luck!

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  6. #4
    Wood and Wire Perry Babasin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    If you look at the other thread about the Michael Kelly Oval refinish, it tells the story. I took off the hardware and sanded off a lot of the finish particularly on the top and back (definitely the recurve area). It actually helped the sound a lot, so much so that a year later I decided to take all the finish off. Sanzone has it right, that Poly is bullet-proof hard stuff, very difficult to sand off and no chemicals touch it. If you are talking about going to bare wood, it is a process. The Poly finish almost scrapes off easier than sanding although there will be plenty of sanding also. If you carefully start in the seam and corner areas where there is a rounded pool of finish and chip it out, catch the leading edge and scrape. I think it would be more encouraging if you had an instrument to play while you are refinishing.

    Disclaimer time... do this at your own risk. You might end up with valuable experience, and a hunk of useless wood, or as we like to call them around here - wall hangers. Also I would stress again that in the mean time you could be putting energy into playing and learning to play well (which frankly, also improves tone). When I decided to refinish mine, I had already bought a better sounding mandolin and this one was sitting in the case unused. The process was so successful (to my ears) now it's my go-to player, although last night I strung up my latest project a "The Loar" 600, and I'm still setting it up, but man, it sounds amazing. Now I have great sounding oval, and ff hole instruments!

    I forgot to add, after reading this and my previous post, if you still feel compelled to do it, what the heck... do it! It is actually very fun!
    Last edited by Perry Babasin; Dec-11-2013 at 12:10pm. Reason: clarity!
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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    Thanks for all the responses so far!

    I'm fine with removing the poly. I actually restore furniture on the side for a hobby/extra income and once removed an 1/8" layer of the stuff from a large tabletop at on time. It took me about 8 hours of work to get to bare wood on that thing. I used everything from belt sanders to chisels to a power plane to get through the stuff.

    I don't care about the color coat. I don't like sunburst on mandolins anyway. Save that for your Les Paul or Strat. I want to go to bare wood and maybe a cherry stain on the spruce top followed by something like Tru Oil or maybe even just some lemon oil. The main objective is to maximize the sound of the all-wood construction. Aesthetics are clearly secondary for me. Still undecided on the finish. I don't want anything that will restrict vibration at all. I actually saw a suggestion on a violin forum to use a single, light coat of water-based poly and sand it to a satin finish. Not sure about that one though. Anyone have other suggestions for a finish? I know finishing, but not so much what is good for sound production on instruments.

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  9. #6
    Wood and Wire Perry Babasin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    I think Tru-oil is perfect for this purpose. I sprayed a very light coat of wax free shellac over the dye to seal it, leveled it with wet dry or 0000 steel wool and mineral spirits. Then coming back with very light wiped on coats of Tru-oil until you like the finish with light rubbing with white 3m pads between coats. Maybe 3 or 4 "coats" (I say coats but you are barely wetting the surface) and it's ready to go. Depending on the weather where you live it can dry to a very hard fairly resilient surface very quickly, here in CA I can do a couple of coats a day. Check out this other thread about a "The Loar" 700 refinish.

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...C+The%2C+White

    This guy just took off the finish and rubbed on the Tru-oil.

    Here is my latest project mando, just strung it up last night!

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...to-a-blackface
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  10. #7

    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    Well if you want to "maximize the sound of the all-wood construction" don't put lemon oil on it. That would be a sound killer much worse than the poly finish that is on it now.
    Bill Snyder
    Vintage Tools, etc

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    Default Re: Refinishing a mandolin?

    No lemon oil... Got it!

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