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Finish on Oily wood


Well-Known Member
If you are going to create a set of scales like the Cocobolo ones below, and want a gloss finish, you need to consider the oil that is constantly released by the wood. Cocobolo, Rosewood, Ebony and a few other woods, generally will not take a gloss finish with products like lacquer or polyurethane. The reason is the oil infused in the wood is always working its way to the surface and will pop the finish off. These woods do, however, take oil finishes nicely and definately have there place in scale finishing.
To get the gloss finish, I used CA Glue and boiled linseed oil. The finish locks itself into the grain of the wood and, as you can see, polishes up really well.

Hey, thanks for that Ray. Looks perfect.
Can you be more precise about the recipe?

I am working on some new scales right now. What I intend to do is start a series here to show and explain the process to everyone. Then everyone will have an idea what is involved in producing custom scales.

While I don't work with wood, I find this very interesting. Had no idea the oils in wood could "lift" the finish, thanks for sharing.

I may post a plastic scale-making thread to compliment if anyone is interested.
Smythe said:
While I don't work with wood, I find this very interesting. Had no idea the oils in wood could "lift" the finish, thanks for sharing.

I may post a plastic scale-making thread to compliment if anyone is interested.

I for one would like to see this. I am working with some G-10 and Micarta right now and your plastic would fit in just great.

Indeed, this will be a fun project Ray.
I’ve only worked with Acrylic and Polycarbonate, and though I hear G-10 is harder stuff (could you confirm that?) I suppose they would work the same…

Here is a photo of a pair of scales from transparent Polycarbonate I did for someone some time ago.
Those Polycarbonate scales look great. Clear plastics don't leave any room for mistakes do they? This material is fairly easy to work with and readily available at your local Wal-mart for just a few bucks. Very good choice for a starter project.

The G-10 and Micarta are not as bad to work with as you might think. Most of the sanding I do with belts, both 4" and 1". The balance of the finish is done with hand sanding and buffing. Since both these materials are made from multi-layer components, the hardest part of the process seems to be getting a symetrical pattern on each side. Sanding angles become very important with this stuff and it can look uneven fool you into sanding, when you don't have to. Very nice product for scales and are extremely durable.

Thanks Ray, I did these scales a few months ago and just now looking at the photos I can not help feeling some pride.

Transparent scales can be tricky but the only concern is the side of the stock that will be on the inside of the scales. The outside will be sanded anyway to get the contours so I make every effort to keep the factory protective film attached to what will be the inside of the scales until ready for pinning. As it left the factory, through the forming of the scales, polishing, assembly and finally using the razor, the inside of the scales will remain spotless. You may polish the outside of the scales as much as you like and be assured the inside will never need polishing.

Indeed, polycarbonate is very “forgiving”, and in my opinion is excellent material for anyone interested in scale making to start with. In fact, it is virtually indestructible and will take quite a beating. While pinning or tightening the pivot, if the hammer should miss the pin altogether and hit the scales will not cause poly to crack or shatter.

Polycarbonate has one disadvantage but it’s only cosmetic… it cannot be polished “glass smooth” like other plastics (such as acrylic and vintage celluloid), there will always be fine “swirl-marks” on the surface. In fact if you remove the protective film and then brush even so much as soft cotton or a fingerprint, the marks cannot be removed mechanically without leaving swirl-marks. To put it into perspective, it can only be successfully polished chemically. But the swirl-marks are (in my opinion) not at all bad, they are not scratches that will easily become “dirty”, you will only see them if looking from an angle in the right light… its like looking at a painted wall, you only see brush strokes if you closely examine the wall.

But I will surly give G-10 a try, for some reason I had the impression it was most difficult to work (must have been some thread I read on some other forum some time ago). Sadly I cannot work with wood at his time as I have no space in my “New York Broom Closet” and also because of the dust that wood creates when worked, plastic on the other hand can be sanded wet. But as soon as I get my act together and move out of the city and into the suburbs (or win the lotto) I will have no problem with wood.

Yes, when hand-sanding scales, getting a symmetrical pattern on each side can be tricky, especially if making the vintage style rounded scales, this is because we mostly have one dominant hand doing the sanding while the non-dominant hand is holding the paper, add to that, the scales need to be curved (banana-shaped)… yup, when you look at the butt end of the scales, one side is higher then the other and the whole thing looks lopsided.

Good contrasting material glued between the scales helps a whole lot, so you can see all along the length of the scales what parts need more work to get the scales in symmetry.
Also the when rough sanding if you are right handed try to “mirror” the same motion that your left hand would do for the same stroke. In other words; if you were ambidextrous it would be much easier to get the scales in symmetry because both hands would alternately abrade the work at the roughly the same spots on each half of the scales (remember one half of the pair of scales is just a mirror of the other), but most of us may find this challenging, so you may need to do with your dominant hand what your other hand would do in reverse. Your dominant hand may feel “uncomfortable” doing that mirrored stroke but this you must do unless you are ambidextrous.