Mahogany bookcase - finish help needed

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I'm getting ready to make some built-in bookcases out of mahogany I had some questions. Should the bookcase be finished (stained, etc.) before I put it together, or should I do it in parts before it's assembled.
My other question is what kind of finish should I put on it? It's going to see some good use (i.e. lots of books, etc.) but it's not going to be battered and bruised like a table would be. And I'm looking for something that's not extremely labor intensive or complicated. I was thinking something clear (or clearish) to allow the wood to be seen and appreciated.
Thoughts? Suggestions? Ideas?
Thanks!
Shawn
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Bookcases generally use both solid stock and veneered plywood. The hardest part is to get all of the pieces the same shade. Pick carefully the plywood before you choose the solid stock. A gel stain will also get uniformity in color before applying the finish.
Dave
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I'm not using vaneered plywood (except for the back). I know it'll be more expensive, but I think it will look better and I'll be happier with it if I use all hardwood.
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Yes, you will be happier, however, even the back needs to match. Post pictures when you're done. Dave
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Yeah, I'll post pictures. But I still need advice on the finish.
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You might first think about what you want. Wet the wood and you'll see the natural color under a clear finish. Do you want the grain depth enhanced (ala. oil), grain visible on the surface or filled grain for a smooth surface? Do you want the color enhanced or changed, ala. dyes, pigment stains, colored shellac, etc.
What type of surface sheen? A high gloss, low, flat? How much and type of use? Big books often moved around, of occasionally moving light books? Most likely, you'll need little protection, but better to ask. Along that line, consider what it would take to repair any of the suggestions you consider.
Finallly, think of how much work you're willing to put in here. From your question, everybody will just come back with their own favorite. I just don't happen to have one, as I use a solution to fit the problem. GerryG

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www.homesteadfinishing.com and search for Selecting a finish or words close to that.

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wrote:

In parts. These might be quite large parts, but a whole bookcase is far too big to work on. The parts should be small enough to transport in and out of the finishing workshop without damage and also small enough to allow access into corners etc.

Depends on the timber. Central American mahogany is much nicer timber than African "mahogany".
If it's figured, then you'll want to begin with an oil. Then over this you can apply shellac. Oil is pretty much essential for starters, because it shows the "depth" in the timber in a wax that few other finishes can.
For particularly tactile pieces, wax over oil is an even nicer finish. Shellac over oil is less work though. Because the shellac forms a glossy film, then the oil work is less. Wax over oil is a _lot_ of work in rubbing the oil out first, a process involving fine abrasive as well as applying oil.
Shellac over oil isn't french polishing. French polishing is a thick shellac layer built up with many thin coats and abrasion between or during coats. It really needs big flat surface to show itself off to the best, so it's rather wasted for a bookcase full of books.
There are also varnish finishes; plain varnish, varnish over oil, or danish oils (mixed oil and varnish). Only varnish over oil gives that initial coating of plain oil that you need to bring out the depth. If you're going to use a "varnish" over this, then the best to use is shellac, rather than a curing resin.
Central American mahogany shouldnt be stained or coloured. You're spending so much to buy it because it doesn't need this treatment. There are a few times when it can be improved by subtle colouring, but this is rare and highly specialised.
If the timber is African mahogany, then it may or may not have a good colour, but it will have a boringly bland texture. Shellac over oil still works, but you want just give a simple oil finish and allow a thicker coating of darker shellac to improve the colour.
--
Smert' spamionam

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I wouldn't stain Mahogany if it has even a passable color. it should look fine with just a clear film finish. If you do stain it, staining before assembly can be an advantage over having seams absorb stain then wick it back out after you walk away. Just don't put stain on any surface that will get glued.
Depending on what equipment you have on hand depends on what finish you are to use. If you can spray, I'd use a flat or semi gloss lacquer. Spray it. Wait an hour. Lightly Hand sand w/400-600. Spray again. Wait a day. Wax with 0000 steel wool.
Another option is wiping on Poly (I post this advice about weekly). I love doing it. Take standard oil based poly, mix 50% with mineral spirits. Brush it on with a foam brush and wipe it down with semi saturated rag. Three coats with a sanding between the last two. I prefer 24 hrs between coats but I've heard you can go 4 hours.
Again, wax.
I'd stay away from Shellac, another wipeable finish. I love it on Mahogany but I really shy away from it on anything that is a "serviceable" unit like a table, bookcase, case work with drawers. This just comes from experience. Others will disagree but reserve Shellac for picture/mirror frames, less used tables like console/sofa tables, little boxes, etc.
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?? Not sure I understand the difference between "before" and "before"... In any event, finish what you can before assembly. My bookcases are pretty simple and pretty simple to stain after assembly, but there are always nooks/crannys/door panels/ that should'a been finished before.

I don't care for the red's in mahogany. In the hounduran mahogany chest and table I just finished, I prefer I dark brown and use Rockler's Mission Stain. It's a gel and I like the control I get over the final tone. That's the color. For protection, so far, I've only used General Finishes Arm-R-Seal over the stain. I don't fill the pores.
You might want to try this Arm-R-Seal over the bare wood and see if you like the effect. It's a Tung Oil/Poly/Something else combo.
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    Check out FWW issue 164 page 36 for an excellent article by Jeff Jewitt. I followed his advice for my bookshelves (Honduran mahogany structure, mahogany veneer ply shelves with edging where needed, and cherry veneer ply (blonde shellac only) for side and back panels).     Jeff pushes his own coloring agents, among others, but what the hey. Here's the sequence: water based bottom stain, colored linseed oil to seal, and shellac and wax to finish. It takes a while, but most of the time is waiting for the oil to dry enough.     He stains because (1) he wants the look of mahogany you can't get any more (Cuban/Santo Domingo - a different species they used back in the 1700-1800s) and (2) to even out the color variations from board to board. I know most people don't want to stain, and I hate any extra steps, but the mahogany I had looked like it came from three different planets and the furniture would have looked way too busy with a clear finish. Plus the dark mahog. and the light cherry (for the next few years anyway) looked great.
    I finished everything before assembly. It's much easier to prevent streaks when you don't have odd shaped corners to futz with. It's very easy to mask the places you don't want finished (mortices and tenons for me). A shellac coat repels the glue that may squeeze out during assembly, so don't worry about that. Just scrape it off gently and touch up with more shellac (I used garnet).
    I am now making the last component in the shelving project and the remaining wood looks like it comes from *four* planets! I've got rose-colored burl, I swear, along with more normal brown mahogany. The only way it will match the other units is with the same stain. ====Those are my principles. If you don't like them I have others. ===={remove curly brackets for email}
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Thanks for all the great advice. Let me clarify some things. I would prefer to not stain the mahogany, but since I haven't actually bought the mahogany yet, I can't tell you the quality of the wood. I think I prefer some sort of clear finish, so I'm thinking of staying away from staining it.

before
That should read, "Should the bookcase be finished (stained, etc.) before I put it together, or should I do it in parts AFTER it's assembled."
I don't have a "finishing station" or anything of the sort. It would be more convenient for me to finish it after it's assembled, but, of course, that leads to lots of problems, like all the awkward angles trying to apply the finish. Plus, if it's assembled before finishing, then I won't be able to do any sanding (if required).
Honestly, I'd like something that is relatively simple without too many steps. I'd prefer to only apply one finish, but if I have to do something like an oil and then a clearcoat on top of that, then I'll do it. I'm trying to find a good balance point between ultimate beauty and ease of application.
Thanks everyone, and keep the suggestions coming.
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wrote:

Number of finishes makes little difference. You're going to need more than one _coat_, whatever you use, and changing materials once between coats is very little extra work.
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Good point. My mistake.
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Finishing before/after assembly depends on _both_ the finishing schedule, and the construction method. In some cases, you might even apply all but the final finishing step before assembly, then a final topcoat after. Some construction methods will require taping many joints in order to finish before assembly. In some cases you'll also expect to be doing some final trimming/planing/sanding after assembly, which could mess us the finish (or not; would mess up stain, but oil can be more easily touched up).
I'm just starting on several large units, some 8'hx8'w. Large enough to pretty much fill my finishing room when assembled. However, most of the construction will be either biscuits or confirmet screws (mdf core harwood ply), so I can finish most everything before assembly of the carcass, without bothering to mask, except that all the edging has to be attached first.
Point is you can't get a good answer until you can think through all the steps involved. But keep poking and discussing, and you may get there.
GerryG

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Well, one of my problems is that I don't have a workshop. Or a garage. Or a basement. So most of the construction will take place in the actual room in which the shelves will be installed (spare bedroom). But since that room is just a bunch of stacked boxes and books, I don't mind constructing it in there. At least the wood will be quite acclimatized prior to construction. It would probably be easier for me to finish it once it's in place.
But I'm still trying to figure out what that finish will be.
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Mahogany, being an open grain wood, benefits from filling the open pores with a filler first. Unless the wood is all color-matched it will probably be in different shades of mahogany from a light to dark. A "dye" instead of a stain will bring it all together.
Lacqer would be my choice for finishing mahogany. Fifteen minute dry time, self-leveling and looks like glass on mahogany. Not only that but scratches can be touched up with more lacquer.
William Gingerbread Keepsake Wood Crafting

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Mahogany, being an open grain wood, benefits from filling the open pores with a filler first. Unless the wood is all color-matched it will probably be in different shades of mahogany from a light to dark. A "dye" instead of a stain will bring it all together.
Lacqer would be my choice for finishing mahogany. Fifteen minute dry time, self-leveling and looks like glass on mahogany. Not only that but scratches can be touched up with more lacquer.
William Gingerbread Keepsake Wood Crafting

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Does anyone else have some good finishing tips for my mahogany bookshelves?
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Watco Danish Oil Natural....
Let it dry SEVERAL days
Put on a good wax...rub to a nice sheen.
or
Cut a solution of poly by 50% with mineral spirits and put on several liberal coats. Sand "lightly" between coats.
or
Find a nice bookcase on sale at the local furniture store.
swinter wrote:

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