grain fill, swamp ash-- SQA

nathan a

Hero Member
Stupid Question Alert

Having never done a finish that started off as bare wood (in this case, swamp ash), what happens if you don't grain fill? Is it just that you'll be able to feel the grain when you run your hand along the body?

It'll be taking a bit of stain, and then tung oil.
Not a stupid question mate, if you ain't done it before you can't really know. Without grain filling the swamp ash like you say you 'll be able to feel the bumps of the grain. Heres a pic of a tele from another forum I go on, this guy just tung oilled it, he did no filling. The light kind of shows the uneveness of it. Personally I would say grain fill it, properly filled swamp ash looks absolutely class to me. On the other hand its so pourous you probably need to do 3 fills which is a hell of a lot of work time and Loads of sanding but hey, worth it in my opinion.


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Also check out "Natural swamp ash tele" in the finished tele section. That has no grain filling and hes done a nice job (although that ain't tung oil- its Liberon finishing oil)

Good luck.
TIME - TIME - TIME..... a decent finish takes a bit of time.  DON'T get in a hurry!  Its worth the time to do it right, and will make the difference between "just a guitar" and one that "drops jaws".  The beginners pitfall, every time.... is rushing things.  Patience is a virtue.

Ash, swamp ash, is particularly rough.  God chose to mimic swamp ash when he created the Grand Canyon.....

What happens if you don't grain fill.  Well the final finish will about as rough as using a cheese grater for toilet paper.  So unless you got titanium 'roids, fill that grain!~

Grain filling is not a bad deal to do, its cheap, the result is well worth it, but it does take a bit of time.  I was amazed that I could get a pretty easy mirror finish on the ash body I just did,  with only 3 sessions of grain fill.

I think the key for grain filling is to keep the application VERY thin, just do multiple applications.  I used a credit card (sample card) to "scrape" the filler into the grain while it was still wet, trying to spread and remove as much filler as possible with the card, before the filler started to "set".  That made sanding much more enjoyable.  USE A SANDING BLOCK (from 3m, Home Depot).  The StewMac water based filler dries rather quickly, but give it over night to dry and shrink in.

After several filling sessions, you'll see that the grain is all filled.  At that point, you can stain it, then oil finish it.  The key to oil finishes... TIME TIME TIME TIME.... once again, don't rush.  DO NOT TRY to build a finish on the wood with oil.  Wipe every last bit of oil possible off the wood.  Let it dry a week... ten days.  Another oiling... take it ALL off... dry.  Keep going.  It is going to take time.  Results can be spectacular.

I still think of a rifle I did.  It was a BSA .22 Martini, target rifle.  Made in Birmingham, England, 1957.  It got probably 12 applications of linseed oil, over a six month period.  Another month to dry the last application.  Then I buffed it out using a new cloth wheel, no compound.  My GAW-D (the Rush way).  Amazing results on English Walnut... light in color, but nice figure.  Just amazing.

Take your time with it.  Do yerself a favor, do the guitar a favor, and you'll really be glad you did later on, and not "be wanting" for a better finish on it.
Don't worry, nobody's rushing. I ain't even cut the body yet (yeah I decided to just get a swamp ash body blank). Standard blackguard tele, I just felt like doing more of it myself.

I wasn't asking in order to cut time out of the finishing process, more just curious whether or not something would go terribly wrong if grain filler were left out. I'm 90% sure I'm gonna grain fill, but sometimes I like the really natural looking/feeling finishes where the grain is right under your fingertips.

Soloshchenko, thanks for those pictures, I didn't realize that tele in the gallery was sans-filler.

CD, thanks for the tutorial, combined with all the others from you and Tonar, I should be all set. Throw up pictures of that rifle!
I bought that rifle for $150, and sold it for $575 - to get a Kimber "All American Match" .22 target rifle.  The Kimber is the better shooter, but the BSA won me more beer money, and hands down was king of the "cool" factor.
It was quite similar to this, but with the thinner forearm

and had pretty wood.

Not suggesting you were trying to rush, its just that the tendency is to do so, not from intent, but through improper technique.  Oil finishes must be, by their design, very thin, and they "air cure".  The thinner you can get them, the better they are, and the faster they dry.  But one must allow adequate drying time for the application to cure, or the next application will half the curing and the whole thing goes downhill from there with each successive coat.

There's a post here from a fellow who talks about the finish of pure tung oil building up in the fret edges of his maple neck, not feeling right etc.  This is the result of too much oil, inadequate removal of all excess, and proceeding at too rapid a pace.

With ash - you're going to have oil down in the pores.  You're not going to be able to really get it out of there.  More oil will be added as you proceed with the finish..... Grain fill, man.  Trust me.
-CB- said:
With ash - you're going to have oil down in the pores.  You're not going to be able to really get it out of there.  More oil will be added as you proceed with the finish..... Grain fill, man.  Trust me.

Hadn't thought of that... completely makes sense. Thanks-- grain fill it is, then.
I don't think it's all a patience issue, though, it might be preference. Roscoe did a limited run of basses that were ash with transparent stains and no fill. It was something in particular that they were going for; though the overwhelming majority of opinions would still favor filling on most projects.
I can tell you that if you don't grainfill ash the grain will show up in a BIG way. Ash grain is very open. Think of this as Oak (which looks similar...). You might get away with mahogany if you sprayed a lot of coats of lacquer and sanded flat, but the grain will still show after a while as the lacquer shrinks. I "grain filled" an ash body with lacquer before and 2 months later the gloss is gone from the shrinking into the grain. Second time around I grainfilled with a water based filler, works better this time but the grain still shows because I think the heat from the buffing caused the lacquer to shrink a little more. However the shrinking wasn't as bad as the first time around. I can tolerate a little bit of grain... it brings character to the wood. There are poly finished guitar with ash grain showing through as well.
FWIW my ten year old Warmoth body - mahogany and wild maple, shows grain against a reflection.  The finish has "shrunken" into it.  Vic's Tele also shows the same effect, and at the binding as well.  This took only a few years to show, and hasn't gotten any more pronounced.

I've seen LPs and SG's that had severely shrunken/grainy lacquer.  My old Guild S-100 (SG type) shows it, but its subtle.

52ri Tele is 11 years old, but no grain marks yet.  The BFG I did... Vic's BFT, even the SG I did... I took pains on the top, and let the backs go a bit - on purpose - since they take most of the abuse anyway.  On the BFG and BFT, I left them "as shot".  On the SG, I buffed it, but didn't do any final leveling (I can do that I guess... any ol' time I got an extra few hours).

On the Mudwog Weap, the top and back are glossed, but the sides are left shiny but a bit duller.  Again, I can do them... but I don't know if I want to.  Same with neck.  Face of headstock full gloss.  Rest is "as shot" after a sanding of 2nd to last coat.
If you're curious, the Gibson 'faded' series appears to have no grain fill (mahogany of course).  Very obvious on a TV yellow DC faded that I just played. They actually look as if someone used a roller brush and matte housepaint.  Guy tried to convince me that was a good thing. Sounded/played great, gibson p90s, under $500...