How to Give Mahogany an Awesome Wood Finish with Tung Oil Varnish + Polyurethane

4-Step Recipe Makes Mahogany Woodworking Projects Look and Feel Great

Why This Finish?

I arrived at this set of products because I like how the tung oil varnish gives this wood a beautiful, warm glow – but I figured a table top might benefit from the added toughness of a polyurethane. Here’s how to get the best of both worlds.

In short, this recipe handles the essentials –

  1. Brings out the natural beauty in the rusty-red color
  2. Adds some tough protection
  3. It’s easy to do

To understand a little more, let’s walk through each product and why I used it.

The tung oil varnish brings out the warm, deep reddish brown color, and it’s super simple to apply by wiping it on and off with a shop towel.  Except, I also “wet sanded” the tung oil varnish, which is an optional technique. I like the way the wet sanding action fills the grain with mahogany dust which helps accentuate the nuances in the grain patterns. Notice, too, that this isn’t 100% tung oil. Instead, this is a tung-oil-with-varnish blend, and that simply means it’s easier to work with, dries faster, and contains a bit of varnish that dries hard. 

Dewaxed shellac simply seals the tung oil varnish and ensures compatibility for the gel polyurethane. Admittedly, you might be able to forfeit this step. I used it just to make sure the gel polyurethane would adhere to the project. Why? Because there’s a chance that it may not adhere to the tung oil varnish even after it’s cured. So, to be safe, I sealed it with dewaxed shellac because it’s essentially a universal sealer that’s compatible with virtually all top coat wood finishes.

Likewise, the gel polyurethane isn’t absolutely necessary, either. But it is a tougher top coat than the tung oil varnish by itself. Likewise, you could skip this and simply apply only the Tung Oil Varnish, perhaps building up 8 to 10 coats or so. That’s perfectly acceptable to do, especially on projects like a decorative box, shelving, a chest of drawers, etc, that don’t need the water and abrasion resistance that polyurethane offers.

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