This is the time to get all the rough stuff off. All of the file and saw marks must go. Take your work out into the sunshine and have a good long close look at all of its surfaces. Look inside the rim, and everywhere else that a scuff might try to hide. Get out the elbow grease for this one. I start with 120 grit sandpaper, if I have a very rough area then 80 grit. Some sanding can be done with machines as long as you are very careful and mindful of the wood you are removing. Before I move on to each successive grit of sandpaper I like to take a good look at the work under a strong light. The sun is the best.
Dye stains tend to leave the grain more visible than pigment stains. There are some very good dye stains on the market today. Some are both water and alcohol soluble. I use alcohol to dilute my stain because it does not raise the grain. I tend to go pretty light with stain as I like to accent the grain, not hide it. It’s okay to get creative with your choice of stain. I’ve heard stories of some strange things being used as stain as well as some more normal stuff like black tea. If any water base material is used the grain will raise and will have to be knocked back down with steel wool or very fine sandpaper.
Oil finishes are easy to apply by hand and require no special equipment. I also like the satin luster that they provide. Linseed oil is a great stand alone finish, but it will take forever to dry. Put on a coat and let it set for a day, then do another the next day, and the next day. After 3 coats let it dry for a week or until the finish is no longer sticky. I like to use one coat of linseed oil as a sealer, and then top coat with tung oil. There is also a great gun stock finish out there that I like very much called True-Oil. It is a stand alone finish that dries quick and yields a lovely finish.
Nitro-cellulose lacquer is also a fine finish. It is a sprayed on finish that is the standard for commercial instrument producers and is the same finish that graces the surfaces of the great instruments from the 40’s. Some special equipment is necessary as well as a very well ventilated area. Lacquers leave a lovely warmth that is really tough and ages beautifully.
After applying one coat of whatever finish you have chosen take a good look at your work, if there are any bumps, dings, or high spots work them down with some steel wool or a scraper. Keep putting on successive coats until you have reached the desired level of shine. After the final coat you may wish to use some very fine sand paper or steel wool to knock a little of the shine off. In the case of an oil finish, you might give it some time to cure before buffing. Oil finishes take a long time to cure, it will look a lot different in a couple of months.