View Full Version : Staining Question

Feb-07-2004, 5:22pm
I would like to stain my mandolin, when its ready, so that it has that classic Loar dark color and sunburst. What I'm interested in is:

What colors and types of stain should I use?

What supplier do you recommend?

I think I have enough info to do the staining itself. I'm just not sure which colors to order, so any suggestions would be a great help.


Al Carmichael

Feb-07-2004, 10:36pm
I believe you have to experment with several colors to do this. Yellow of course and then different shades of browns (tabacco) and reds envolved. I would think you need a loar or a good photo of one that is colored the way you like and then mix stains until you get it right. heres some colors from S.M.

Feb-07-2004, 11:51pm
Thanks Yonkie. I am thinking tobacco brown and amber are most predominant and maybe mixing a touch of black with the tobacco for the really dark shaded areas, but I'm just guessing. Unless I get more information, thats the direction I'll probably go in.

Feb-09-2004, 7:27pm
Yonkle's right, you have to experiment. The Loar mandolins had rubbed sunbursts whereas a lot of other mandolins have sprayed sunbursts. At this point in my life I estimate I have stained 2 to 5 hundred instruments with a sunburst finish, (mostly banjos), and sometimes I still get a surprise color. I have mandolins made of the same wood and stained with stain out of the same bottles that aren't the same color.
If you have access to a Loar that sure would help you match the color.
Practice on scraps of maple and spruce sanded the same as your mandolin. Don't skip any sanding steps preparing your practice pieces or you wont get the same results on your mandolin. The color you end up with after you apply your finish will look like the stain while it is still wet, not after it's dry.
The old Siminoff book has a pretty good lesson on sunbursting. I don't do it exactly like he describes, but pretty similar.

As for stain recomendations, I use alcohol soluable aniline stains from Luthiers Merchantile. I used to use stains from Star Chemical, but when they were bought by Mohawk, all the colors changed. When that happened, I was faced with learning to use different colors, so I researched what was available. Most stain colors have names like "radio walnut", "cordovan cherry", and names like that that don't really tell you what color they are. The Luthiers Merchantile stains are black, brown, amber, yellow, red, and blue. That's all you need. With those colors, some knowledge of color theory and an artists color wheel, you can mix any color you want, and you don't have to buy a lot of colors you'll never use in order to experiment.
I use yellow, brown, a dark reddish brown that I mixed from the colors above, and sometimes amber. If the sunburst starts to look too green, for example, I can "push" it back to where I want it by giving it a wash with dilute red. If it's too yellow, Mix some dilute violet, and so forth like that.
If you can get someone to show you how, do so. Otherwise, practice and ask questions here or wherever until your ready to tackle your mando.

Feb-09-2004, 8:37pm
Sunburst--Hey, my friend--thank you for that excellent and in-depth reply. That really helps me. I did order those exact stains last night because I wanted an alcohol based, non grain raising stain. LMI seems to have the finishing products down so I went with them.

Very interesting about using contrasting colors to change a shade too--I never thought of that! I do have the old Siminoff book and will begin by trying his approach. Seems like it should work.

I certainly don't have a Loar to check out--just pictures, but thats OK. At this point, I'm not really trying to do a pinpoint replica or anything. I just like that deep chocolate brown to brown to amber sort of scheme. I think it looks great.

500 instruments? Wow. You HAVE been busy! Anyway, thanks again for taking the time to reply.

Al Carmichael

jim simpson
Feb-09-2004, 8:40pm
I was working on a repair project mandolin and I didn't like the way the repair looked so I decided to strip and refinish. I used a dark brown leather die with the idea of a dark stain look. Something spilled on the surface lightening up an area so I steel wooled the area with restaining in mind. Suddenly the area I steel wooled started looking like a sunburst. I continued to steel wool the center of the top to get a sunburst effect. I liked the way it looked so I left it that way. Too bad the top sunk after stringing it up. I think it was thin to begin with and I probably removed too much additonal. I do plan to retop it and will try my primitive sunburst technique on the new top!

Feb-10-2004, 12:59am
Yes Staining gets very High tech, as you can see in this photo! This is my unique "water bottle mix and match" system. I knocked one of the bottles on the wall! What a mess, my wife was so pleased with me...not! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Feb-10-2004, 1:32am
I guess they call it stain for a reason, eh, Yonkie! That stuff doesn't really come off of walls does it? LOL! Maybe if you shellac the wall and repaint you might have a chance!

After all this scientific talk about plates and nodes and measurements, its nice to see a more hands on appraoch to something that even I can understand! I think you and I would get along very well!

Seems that I saw a pic of your wall a while back....

Darryl Wolfe
Feb-10-2004, 10:21am
This one is 90% art markers and 10% aniline/alchohol. I used paint thinner as a blending media.

Darryl Wolfe
Feb-10-2004, 10:29am
And a shot of it in the background next to Lloyd

Feb-10-2004, 3:52pm
Art markers? No kidding! Are they colorfast over time?

Whatever, it looks fantastic...wow...and you have a Loar to compare up close. Well, thats definitely the look I would like right there.

Feb-10-2004, 3:57pm
What's the consensus for staining before or after joining the neck and body? I saw on the Dude's pics that he has the whole thing together in the white; f5journal's pics show staining before putting together (and a fantastic job, by the looks of it). Looks easier to do it in pieces (don't have the fingerboard ext in the way) but maybe harder to match colors at the joints. Any comments?

Darryl Wolfe
Feb-10-2004, 4:28pm
I'll probably not do it in pieces again. I just got overzelous with wanting to experiment around. I haven't applied any sealer of finish in those pics. The brown did not remain as color fast as the rest and I applied some more later of a different brand. For what it's worth the juice in art markers is available by the ounce from Graphic Marker

Darryl Wolfe
Feb-10-2004, 4:44pm
Here's a more recent picture. #As you can see it has turned a bit redder...(it is in the sun here though)...now it looks like an April Loar instead of a July '23 (one of these days I'll finish this one)

Darryl Wolfe
Feb-10-2004, 4:49pm
Here's the back...it picked up a couple of spots from laying on a piece of rubber...it'll fix

Feb-10-2004, 5:12pm
...You mean when the bottle hit the wall, you couldn't convince your wife to let you go ahead and sunburst the wall?http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif

Feb-10-2004, 11:39pm
I too was wondering about the staining before the neck was on. If you glue the neck in, it seems like it would be next to impossible to finish under the fingerboard extension, especially French polish.

Luthier Vandross
Feb-11-2004, 12:57am
Exactly, the extension area has very little, to no finish at all. This is the way it's been done since it's been done.

Do it in one piece.


Michael Lewis
Feb-12-2004, 2:48am
If you really want finish under the fingerboard extension you can put it on before the fingerboard and support go on, after the neck is on. It's a fiddly process that requires considerable touch up to the mating edges of the neck/extension support, but it can be done.

Feb-26-2004, 2:42pm
My question is about staining so hope someone is monitoring the topic who knows. I just saw a picture yesterday of a nugget mando and it was called a blonde. It didn't look all that light to me but that was the most beautiful color I've seen and I'm hoping to achieve it on mine. It looks like a very light brown and doesn't appear to have much sunburst. Anyone know the mandolin I'm talking about? Formula ideas? - Pat Harrell