First Time Finish Project


Senior Member
I'm (hopefully) pretty much through with my first finishing project.  The guitar is a cheap foreign job that I bought to get some experience.  It's an alder body which I've had to do a fair amount of work to.  In any event, my latest exercise has been to finish the guitar.  I decide to stain the guitar orange and ran into some issues as described in the following post:

After sanding back and restraining, I was pretty happy with the result so I started the clear coat process.  With no good place to spray a finish and with no experience, I opted to use the wipe on clear coat process outlined by Rob DiStefano at the following location:

Before going any further, I should point out that all I'm doing is documenting what I've done.  I am not recommending anyone follow what I did.  I think it worked reasonably well given I have never done this before, but given that this is the first finish I've ever put on anything, I doubt that anything I might suggest is to be taken seriously.

Also, I should note that I used Watco wipe on poly and not Minwax.  The only reason for not using Minwax was that I bought the poly at WoodCraft which I suspect doesn't carry Minwax and thus, directed me to the Watco product.

I started by taking a rattle can of Minwax spray poly and applied three light coats.  Since all my previous rattle can spray painting results were really bad, I was really worried this would be awful.  It actually worked out fine.  No runs and good coverage.

I then started Rob's approach of buffing down with 000 steel wool, then buff with a paper towel and then wipe on a thin coat of poly using an old T-shirt.  I quickly stopped using the steel wool (which required running a magnet over the body to remove the fibers) and opted to use a Scotch Brite pad.  I also was frustrated by the amount of lint that the T-shirt left after wiping on the poly.  I tried buying some paint rags from Home Depot which ended up being just cut up T-shirts which were probably not old and as a result ended up with more lint.  Next, I tried a micro fiber staining rag that I got a WoodCraft.  That was even worse.

My better half suggested I use her foam cosmetic pads.  I figured it was worth a try and ended up kind of liking them.  There was no lint at all, so that was good.  I think these are kind of frowned on because they can leave bubbles, but the ones I used had fairly dense foam and I found that I only really had bubble issues if I wasn't careful.  Specifically, picking up the pad in the middle of the body would sometimes cause bubbles.  I would rub the poly all the way to the edges in smooth strokes and kept the coats thin and really only got a very few bubbles through 20+ coats.  Of course, the bubbles are easy to deal with if you see them before they dry.

With a 3 to 4 hour dry time between coats, I was only able to apply two coats a night and three or four on Saturday and Sunday.  When I started, I poured a fair amount of poly into a plastic container.  The first few coast went on fairly well but after a couple of days, I started having trouble.  In short, the poly was drying out in a matter of about a minute (this is in 100 degree weather).  It was difficult to get a coat on the top, inspect it and have any chance of fixing any issues before the poly became to dry to work with.  So, after about three days, I poured a lesser amount into another container and added mineral spirits (about half and half).  This improved the process tremendously.  I tried to only pour about as much as I would use in three days into my plastic containers.  Anymore, and the poly would start to get hard to work with.

Despite my best efforts, I did end up with problem areas.  For the most part these were just places where I wasn't careful.  The biggest issue was around any edges.  After some experience with making sure that I wiped the pad from the center and then off the edge, I really didn't have too many problems, but it's hard to spot a missed spot that may have some excess poly on it and didn't get properly wiped (even though I have pretty good eye site).  The buffing with the Scotch Brite pad helped with some of the early mistakes I made, but it didn't get rid of all my problems.  Maybe I wasn't aggressive enough with the buffing, but after about the 6th coat, I tried to fix an issue and buffed right through the clear coat causing a small area of stain to lighten up.  After that I backed off the buffing.

All in all, the process worked pretty well.  It is now "gassing off" and I'll soon be moving on to the next step.  I bought some wet sand paper and will probably try doing a light (1000 grit) sanding job before polishing.  Despite the fact that I have 33 coats on the body (11 on the neck), the clear coat looks really thin, but I feel that there's got to be enough on there to support a light sanding.  I actually don't think Rob's process is suppose to require the clear coat to be sanded, but I'd like to fix a couple of the problem areas.


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Just my two cents...

You may want to start with something a little more aggressive than 1000 grit, as the surface looks pretty uneven. Maybe 600 grit. Just be very careful to stay away from the high points of the carved top, as well as any severe edges. You'll cut through those surprisingly fast. Also, be sure to lubricate the water - 3 or 4 drops of dishsoap in 8 ounces of water is probably about right. Finally, be patient! Only sand small areas at a time, and keep plenty of clean towel nearby to wipe the surface so you can see how much you've cut it. Once you're all over the thing, then move on to the 1000 grit and do it all over again, then to 1500, then to 2000. At that point, you'll be ready to start the polishing.
Thanks for the advice. I'd have probably not lubricated the water without your input. It's funny that the pic actually looks rougher then it actually appears in person. When I look at the pic it looks pretty rough but when I look at it directly it doesn't look nearly as bad. In any event, I can certainly start at 600. Going all the way to 2000 means I'll have to get some more sandpaper as the place I got my sandpaper from didn't have any.

I've read to polish to use McGuires swirl remover. Is that enough or do I need a compound first?
I've gone through the whole schedule of Micromesh abrasive cloths on three guitars, and then followed with the Meguiar's swirl remover - that's done just fine, without any more aggressive cutting compounds.
Johnny said:
It's funny that the pic actually looks rougher then it actually appears in person. When I look at the pic it looks pretty rough but when I look at it directly it doesn't look nearly as bad.

I've read to polish to use McGuires swirl remover. Is that enough or do I need a compound first?

Don't discount what the camera sees. Your eyes/brain will make compensations that the camera won't, so what it sees is often a more accurate representation of reality.

Swirl remover is a super fine abrasive, meant to remove the swirls left after you're done with the polishing compounds. It may even look unnecessary, but lighting is very important during the final stages of polishing as many defects can hide from you. Then you take the thing out in the sun or bright light or oblique light and find out it looks like kukka. Following the sequences called for by the manufacturers is important. Each successive grit removes the scratches left by the previous grit. It's slow work - you'll spend hours at it - but you have to do it if you want the top finish. So, again - patience! Follow the steps, and you'll have a finish to be proud of.