Antique Mahogany Finish

Article - April 27, 2009

This Viewer Question come from Rob. He writes:

Hey Marc, thought I’d take advantage of my Guild membership “red phone” for the first time. I’m building a wine cabinet out of Honduran mahogany, and would like the finish to mimic the antique mahogany pieces in the same room. I am testing out a bunch of different finishing layers right now, and was wondering if you have any special recipe you’ve used. I have a whole assortment of water-based dyes, stains, shellac, oil, pore filler, and even asphaltum at my disposal for this experiment, so give me your best shot. Thanks in advance.

Hey Rob. Oddly enough, every time I have tried a finish that’s in the ballpark of that sort of “classic mahogany” look, I have tried something different. And each time the results were acceptable. So I don’t really have a favorite. But some of the techniques I used involved toners and lacquers, and it doesn’t sound like you have those on hand so I will skip them for now.

I would start the process with a dye or stain that gets your color at least 90% there. A good mahogany gel stain would be my choice (like General Finishes). Test on scraps until you determine which product gives you the best color. As an alternative, you can play with different dye ratios and make your own water-based dye stain. Once you apply your color, seal it in with some dewaxed shellac. That will lock the color in and protect the color from the next step, which is pore-filling. I would use an oil-based pore filler that has some color added to it. Something in the dark dark brown/red arena. Use Transtint or even a mix of UTC pigments (if you have them on hand), to achieve the dark intense color you need. Its also a good idea to let a small sample of the pore filler dry so you can see what color it takes on. In general, I like to match the wood color and possibly go slightly darker. I don’t like bringing too much attention to the pores.

When you apply the pore-filler, do like you normally would for any other piece. Apply it across the grain and wipe off the excess, let it set for a couple minutes, then buff it out using burlap if you can find it. Get as much of the excess up as possible. Then let it sit over night. Come back with a very light 320 sanding to clean up any remaining filler that might still be on the surface (but be careful not to cut through the shellac).

Now you can seal in the filler using another good coat of shellac. By this time, the color should be pretty much where you want it to be. You can always add some dye to your shellac sealer coat to tone the color one way or the other.

At this point, some people will even take things a step further an use a mahogany glaze to further deepen to intensity of the color. But if you got the right amount of color in step 1, this won’t be necessary. So just throw down several coats of your favorite finish and you should be good to go. I suppose you could also skip the pore-filling step but then I would recommend going with a matte finish. Maybe its just me but I hate the way a gloss finish looks on un-filled open pore wood. Good luck!