I have come to my least favorite part of the project, and that is finishing the banjo. This part of it has no instant gratification at all, in fact it always seems to move at a glacial pace. Oh, joy!
Fortunately, there is a finish that truly is easy to apply. I now use Tru-Oil on my banjo projects. I am not selling this product, and I have no business relationship with Birchwood-Casey. I simply enjoy using their oil finish.
Tru-Oil is an oil finish that is designed to be applied to gunstocks. It is made of linseed oil which has been chemically modified to aid its drying characteristics. I have done a lot of oil finishes using both linseed oil and tung oil, and the Tru-Oil finish really is easier. Since the oil is designed to be put on gunstocks, it results in a very robust finish that is resistant to wear and water. When I mount the skin head on this banjo, there will be water involved, and it will be good to have a water resistant finish on the wood. Here is a photo of my bottle of Tru-Oil
I paid just less than $5.00 (in 2006 dollars) for the bottle of oil, but it is plenty of oil to finish the entire banjo, and the convenience of it is worth the cost.
Before I applied the finish, I got out the 800 grit crocus cloth that I had rejected before (because it was leaving a red residue on the wood) and I used it to put a final, really fine finish on the wood. Given the color of the wood now, I figured that the red color would not be visible and I wondered why I had worried about it in the first place.
Applying the finish is easy. I wear rubber gloves to do it because the smell of the oil will remain on my hands for days if I put it on with my bare hands. I just take a small piece of a paper towel and put a little oil on it. Then I just wipe the oil onto the wood.
I do not have any photos of me putting on the oil because I need both hands to do the finish. I have to work fairly fast since the oil sets up quickly. You do not want to keep working the oil once it gets tacky or you will make a mess. You simply wipe it on quickly and then take a dry paper towel and wipe off the excess before it gets tacky.
Here is a photo of the banjo before I put any oil on it at all.
One thing you must keep in mind when finishing a musical instrument is to keep your workbench neat and clean at all times. HAR HAR! I crack myself up!
Well, I did clean off a space at the front of the bench to make room for the banjo parts.
After the first coat of oil, the banjo looks like this:
You can see that the wood is slightly more shiny than it was. You can also see that I left the tuning pegs in their holes as recommended by the kit instructions. This is to keep the finish from getting into the holes and making the instrument difficult to tune. Unfortunately, this gets finish all over the pegs. I am not sure what the outcome of this will be, but I guess that getting finish on the pegs will be less trouble than getting finish in the holes. We shall see after I get it all strung up and try to tune it.
After the first two coats of oil I stopped wiping off any excess oil after application. I just put the oil on and left it. It smooths itself out somewhat to make a glossy finish. The Tru-Oil builds up a glossy finish rather quickly, and wiping the oil off after the later coats seems to remove most of the oil that I just put on.
Between the coats of oil I quickly sanded the neck with the 800 grid crocus cloth just to rough up the previous coat for better adhesion.
Jump ahead a few days, and here is a photo of the banjo with three coats of oil on it:
You can see that it is much more polished. In fact, I decided to stop at three coats. The finish is almost glossy at this point. I do not want to make it look plastic. Tru-Oil is fast. This kind of finish would require 30 coats of plain linseed oil.
So, since I am keeping track of the time I spend on the kit, how long did it take to finish it? That is difficult to say. I spent about four days, but most of that time was just waiting for the oil to dry. Added all together, I probably spent around one hour actually doing it. I will just call it one hour.
Now I can go put the banjo together.