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Thread: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

  1. #1

    Default needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    so first off this is a project i am trying on a mandolin kit you can buy as a kit and put together and finish yourself. i will say i dont have a sprayer or air gun or anything like that. the mandolin is just bare wood and what i want just one solid color like a dark brown or something maybe like a weber finish or something i dont want a shiny gloss finish...so with that info, my plan as of now is to buy leather dye in yellow and brown and cover the mandolin in yellow first, then brown and use denatured alchehol to blend till i come up with a color i seem to like, i have heard of people putting an oil on over the dye like tru oil or tung oil. ive seen this done on necks before but not the whole instrument so i wonder if anyone knows anything about that...im concerned maybe the dye will immediatly rub off on the skin or something like that. if it wears easier with time i get that bc its not got the hard protection but thats ok with me bc it just gives character to me but how will the sound be affected compared to a hard finish and will it rub off on the skin and transfer to my couch or anything it touches...any help at all would be awesome and greatly appriciated. its my first time doing anything like this so any help or suggestions are greatly appriciated. thank you.

  2. #2

    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    You can get dyes from Luthier's Mercantile (lmii.com) designed for use with wood. The leather dye probably would work but these are specifically intended for wood. They offer both water based as well as alcohol based. You should plan on putting a finish on afterward. The stain or dye does not protect the wood very well. Waterbased dyes are used if shellac or an alcohol based finish is put on afterward so it does not smear. The alcohol based dyes work with other finishes afterward.

    A lot of people recommend Tru Oil for being easy to use and getting a good result as a final finish. I have not used it but will probably try it in the future. I have used shellac which is more difficult to use. I have used Tung Oil over shellac with good results but Tung Oil by itself does not seem to offer a lot of protection to the instrument. All commercial and custom mandolins have a hard finish for protection. You just want to keep it fairly thin. Tru Oil or shellac will allow that.

  3. #3

    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    on thank you for the reply. i will look into other finishes, if i were to go with the dye and then several coats of tung oil or tru oil and leave it at that i can see how the instrument would be unprotected for sure but would the dye still come off on your hands and stuff do you think? i wonder about the dye rubbing off bc i habe seen necks left with just the dye and then tru or tung oil over it and nothing else bc people have made claims that it makes the neck smoother to play on so they leave it like that with no hard finish...but i definatly wouldnt want the dye comming off on my hands everytime i touch the neck but ive seen all kinds of videos of leaving the necks with just dye and the oil...whats your thoughts on that?

  4. #4

    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    People say the Tru Oil is an adequate finish. I have not used it personally but it is recommended quite a bit on here. Tung oil alone seems a bit lightweight to me but might be enough.

    Some people do a speed neck taking all the finish off of their neck. That would not be good on the body of the instrument.

  5. #5
    Registered User Greg Mirken's Avatar
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    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    The most important suggestion I can think of is to practice on other pieces of wood to refine your technique. Spruce is particularly easy to achieve a blotchy stain job on.
    You might consider a wipe-on polyurethane finish over your stain. A few coats will give you a low sheen and good protection.
    Shade Tree Fretted Instrument Repair
    Now located in Nevada City, California
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  6. #6

    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    ok. thank you so much, i really apriciate the help. i will practice and when i am working on it i will try to post some pics for you to see how it it is going if you would be curious. i cant believe i never knew about this site before now i mean i had heard of it but the knowledge you can get on here is incredible and people like me without a whole lot of funds to make mistakes and waste alot of money needs the tips at least i do and i an greatful you had the time to reply and help me out so thank you again.

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    Lurkist dhergert's Avatar
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    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    French polish comes to mind. I've never used it, my last finish work was in the late '70s using hand-rubbed alcohol stain, spray booth, sanding sealer and lacquer (in that order), but I've been curious about French polish.

    Can anyone describe that process here?
    -- Don

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  8. #8

    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    thank you all so much

  9. #9

    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    French polish comes to mind. I've never used it, my last finish work was in the late '70s using hand-rubbed alcohol stain, spray booth, sanding sealer and lacquer (in that order), but I've been curious about French polish.

    Can anyone describe that process here?
    There are a lot of videos demonstrating it on YouTube that do more justice than a word description. It is a process where shellac is gradually polished on to build up layers. It is similar to spit shining dress shoes or boots but more labor intensive and touchy. It is difficult to learn to do well and time consuming. It is not something you want to take on unless you are pretty serious about building.

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  11. #10
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    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    French polishing is a skill that has to be developed, but once you get the hang of it, it is really a pretty friendly way to finish an instrument.
    The biggest difficulties are learning when to stop for the day, and being patient enough to let it cure for a couple of days between coating sessions.

    Always use pure grain alcohol. Denatured alcohol can cause drying problems, clouding problems, and color changes when used with stains and dyes. Be careful not to use too much oil. Once the pad starts to stick, it's time to stop for a while.

    LMI has a good tutorial on the website. frets.com has an article or two. And there is an old book [19th or early 20th century] on varnishing that has a good discussion, but I can't remember the title.

    Everybody does it a little differently. You will develop your own techniques over time.

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  13. #11
    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    I've never finished a whole instrument, but I've done many speed necks after sanding down to raw wood. I've used leather dye that I diluted with grain alcohol to proper color level. And then I applied 3-4 levels of Tru-oil, allowing several hours between layers, and then smoothed the surface with 4-0 steel wool and sometimes micromesh if I wanted a smoother surface.

    So far, I've had NO problem with any dye coming off on fingers and the Tru-oil finish has shown no changes over at least the 4-5 years that I've observed them.

    Addendum: I think I would worry a little about technique of staining the spruce top. I bet it's really easy to get a splotchy looking stain.
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    Registered User amowry's Avatar
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    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    I've also done some stained speednecks with 3-4 coats of Tru-oil on them, and haven't heard of any problems with dye coming off on player's hands, though it was initially a concern. I'm sure at some point it will wear through, but it's easy enough to wipe on a few more coats of Tru-Oil if that happens.

  15. #13

    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    Quote Originally Posted by Philphool View Post
    I've never finished a whole instrument, but I've done many speed necks after sanding down to raw wood. I've used leather dye that I diluted with grain alcohol to proper color level. And then I applied 3-4 levels of Tru-oil, allowing several hours between layers, and then smoothed the surface with 4-0 steel wool and sometimes micromesh if I wanted a smoother surface.

    So far, I've had NO problem with any dye coming off on fingers and the Tru-oil finish has shown no changes over at least the 4-5 years that I've observed them.

    Addendum: I think I would worry a little about technique of staining the spruce top. I bet it's really easy to get a splotchy looking stain.
    What do you recommend to avoid a splotchy spruce stain? I thought of using a light wash coat of shellac prior to staining. Will the stain take over shellac?

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    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    I have used KEDA powdered dyes with good results. Tru Oil and shellac are both highly forgiving (and cheap) finishes that will produce high luster finishes. I use Tru Oil on the back and shellac on the top since there are some differences of opinion regarding Tru Oil on soundboards. However, whatever finish you use turns out only as good as the surface prep. The finish highlights every little imperfection.

  17. #15
    Registered User Greg Mirken's Avatar
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    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    A wash coat of shellac, wiped on, is often used for just this purpose. It will soak into the endgrain areas which also tend to absorb the most color, so helps to even things out.
    Again, practice on a piece other than the face of your kit.
    Shade Tree Fretted Instrument Repair
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  18. #16

    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    I would use a 1x4(6) test board and step finish it the way you plan for the mandolin. If you have a problem you’ll easily see which step is the cause. You’ll probably need 2 boards, one to match the soundboard and one for the back and sides. They’ll take dye differently.

    You want to know the finish result before you start the real thing.
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  19. #17

    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rdeane View Post
    What do you recommend to avoid a splotchy spruce stain? I thought of using a light wash coat of shellac prior to staining. Will the stain take over shellac?
    Yes, many people do this to get even color tones on spruce. You can scuff sand it back to smooth with say 400 or 600 grit before applying color. If sunbursting, it allows you to move the color around and blend colors for a longer time (without it sinking straight into the grain of the wood).

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  21. #18

    Default Re: needing help with using leather dyes on a finish. and help?

    Test on scrap is the major moto and despite the hassle its a good idea always. Wipe down your instrument with mineral spirits first and inspect it. If there is any residual glue on the wood surface, it will show up. Any residual glue will totally ruin the application of stain and ruin your day.

    For an easy no hassle finish, I use a product from Home Depot or Lowes called Formbys Tung Oil. It actually isn't really tung oil but a type of varnish mixture that has a little bit of tung oil in it. Its available in high gloss or satin. The directions on the can are totally correct for the best result. You can choose to build up the surface as much as you like from just a few coats for protection to a lot of coats for a mirror gloss. I have seen this product achieve a mirror finish that resembles that of polished lacquer. What I like best about this product is that damage and scratches are easy to repair.

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