Deadwood finish

I am uninspired with the way lime-sulphur finish looks on some trees and doesn’t stay consistent anyway.
Is anyone experimenting with alternatives for this finish? Ryan?
And if you found something workable, how would it be accepted at shows?

Keep in mind that lime sulphur helps keep the wood from rotting as well, so it’s not completely just for aesthetic reasons. Have you looked into mixing sumi ink or some kind of dye/coloring into your lime sulphur for a different look? I know some people do this at least for certain species where the stark white deadwood is not as desirable.

I have been experimenting with different finishes including a pickling stain from minwax that leaves a beautiful white/grey finish.
I am just wondering if anyone feels the same about the false white that sulphur provides. In nature, it is usually a grey that you see and the white is way high in the mountains where the weather is harsh and the air thin…
First I will sandblast with walnut shells and then carve to accentuate grain lines. After that I use a form of white wash and then clear epoxy brushed over all to preserve the finish.

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What do you mean by inconsistent?

Meaning some wood takes it readily and equally to give a nice even color spread and other woods a blotchy and take more prep to look more natural and not looking painted on ( maybe has to do with the density or resin in the wood? ).

Aloha Leonard

A homemade pickling stain can be easily made by adding vinegar to steel wool in a glass jar (and waiting a day or two); sumi ink or coffee grounds can also be added to the mix. I was looking for a weathered look whilst building a cigar box guitar (if anyone is looking for another hobby) and got some ideas from a simple Pinterest search.

Cigar box!? My tpye of hobby!

I spend a tremendous amount of time soaking my deadwood before I apply lime sulfer. Literally hours and I have a high degree of even color success.

I saturated the deadwood, also I try to place the tree in s shaded spot for a slow dry and promoted absorption.


I have used that method in the past and found it dark and unpredictable ( the resultant color relies greatly on the tannin of the wood you are pickling ). Some oak woods actually can turn a bluish color which then needsd to be washed out with spirits ( what a hassle! ).
The pickling stain from Minwax I have been experimenting with has given a consistent color and with some nice grey and white accents. I follow up with a satin transparent urethane for lasting protection ( which is staying even well past the one year since treatment ). Time will validate or reject my new method.

I usually do my treatment in the basement so I am pretty sure it dries slowly enough. And presaturation with water is standard but I do think that the irregularities of wood are a factor
In the wild, the pulp wood will pretty much be gone and the wood that is left is generally hardwood ( and much, much older than nursery material that we bonsai. I wonder how many variables add to the color variations that I have noted ( and of course, some have mastered that procedure better than others ).


Unpredictable is the correct word; thank you for providing more info and context. Will look for the Minwax the next time I shop.

Make sure to start with small pieces to master the finish. I treated over 5 pieces before I started the 25# driftwood piece that I had carved and prepped for many hours ( and still had to touch up nooks and crannies ).
Good luck with your guitar.

Hi LeonardB,

I’ve seen Harry Harrington from England burn a piece of paper, and then grind up the ashes to mix with his lime sulphur. That gives it a more weathered and natural gray look. Worth a try maybe.


U can also use a drop or 2 of Sumi ink instead of burning paper. I have heard of others using soot from fireplaces.


Very good points but what I have been referring to are alternatives to the lime-sulphur treatment.
My discussion is whether anyone else had been experimenting with different treatments and what was their success/failure?

I have seen Harry work on those types of projects and have been very impressed. Once again, he has access to yamadori I can only dream of and cleaning and lime-sulphur treatment on these pieces are a joy to watch.
I am just trying to improve my ability to make younger, newly created shari and jinn give the impression of much older deadwood.

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Yeah his work is amazing. I’m trying to work on younger trees, too, and I agree with you, it takes a lot of practice to figure out how to make old looking deadwood.

The best way - i find- is to take pictures of deadwood from nature and then try to copy it. Not easy at all, but it will give you ideas.
I came across a book by Francois Jeker - all about deadwood and how to create some effects.
Another thing to do is to “steal” ideas from bonsai professionals, like Graham Potted (he has loads of videos), Graham’s mentor Kevin Willson and a few others.


Thanks for the tip. I have seen Graham’s work but again he has a much greater yamadori exposure and his work reflects that I think. I have never seen anything by Kevin Wilson so I will definitely check that out.

Thanks again.

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I have been looking closely at your juniper and the deadwood looks fairly old ( drier, and more receptive to the lime-sulfur? ).
My reference was mainly how to make newer jin and shari look older and different treatments to do so. My impression was that the lime-sulfur was more of an anti fungal to slow the wood form rotting more than a preservative. Maybe the resultant calcium ( the white finish ) is the actual preservative?
The other half of my inquiry was just curiosity about new finish options and members experiences with them.