How to Prevent Ghosting and Cloudiness in a CA Finish

Sep 25, 2014 by

So you’ve spent a lot of time turning your pen perfectly, sanding it, and preparing it for your finish. You’re going step-by-step on a CA finish and feel like everything is going fine. You sand with micromesh down to 12,000 and, wait, WHAT THE HELL?! What’s this cloudiness/ghosting I’m seeing in my CA finish?!

Preventing ghosting and clouding on a CA finish

I’ve been there many-a-time, unfortunately, and each time it happened took everything in my being to not blow a gasket. Over the years I’ve picked up a few tips/tricks that will significantly decrease the odds of this ever happening again.

Make Sure You’re Using the Right Paper Towels

I know it sounds simple, but this can really cause your CA finish to take a turn for the worst. Some people use Viva, others use blue shop towels, I’ve heard tall tales of guys using Bounty, etc… Brand names don’t matter, here’s what does.

Fold one of your paper towels up and drip 5-10 drops of thin CA on it, then wait a few seconds. If it begins to smoke (even just a little bit), don’t EVER use those paper towels for your CA finish again, and make sure find a paper towel that passes this test.

Don’t Use Too Much CA Activator/Accelerant

Spraying your CA finish too closely or too heavily with activator will cause it to bubble and go white, creating a nasty clouding/ghosting effect that you can’t recover from without sanding it all off and starting over.

Make sure you hold the accelerant at least 6-8 inches away, and if you’re still encountering this problem and working with an aerosol activator back up to about 12-14 inches. Spray a VERY light mist and let it spin out for a few seconds. If it looks like it needs a bit more, give it another very light misting, but be careful, this is one of the most common problems people encounter when applying CA finishes.

You don’t HAVE to use activator with a CA finish either. You can find a thin CA glue that almost instantly cures like this one and completely cut this risky step out.

Avoid Moisture in Your Pen Blanks

Sometimes you can get moisture caught in the wood on your pen blanks that will cloud the CA finish over time. You may not see this one instantly when it comes off the lathe, but usually within 1-2 days after some cloudiness will start to appear and, again, a perfectly beautiful pen is ruined.

The obvious thing to do here is just let the blanks sit and dry out before you apply your CA finish if you’re seeing this happen regularly. If the blanks get moist or you’re using wood that you picked up or cut down yourself, it’ll need some time to dry out before you can apply your finish.

Applying the Finish Too Slowly

Applying CA is a fast process, and if you’re going too slow the fibers from the paper towel can get caught up in the CA glue causing them to be permanently embedded and clouding your finish.

Again, the solution is pretty simple – practice more and apply your CA finish faster and more smoothly.

Adding Another Layer Before Dry

If you start adding another layer of CA glue before the previous layer has cured completely, you can get small fibers from the paper towel stuck to the non-dry layer and permanently encase them with your new layers. Slow down, take your time, and don’t let there be any chance that the previous layer hasn’t cured before applying a new layer. You’ve spent too much time turning this pen and making it perfect to hastily apply more CA glue instead of waiting another 30-50 seconds.

Still Having Problems with Ghosting or Clouding in Your CA Finish?

Comment below and describe your problem. I’ll do everything I can to help. Also, if you’ve found this piece of content helpful, please leave a comment below and say “thanks!”. It really makes my day to know this stuff is helping people and not just fading silently into the internet 🙂

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  1. Steven

    Thanks! I am a newly found wood worker and have been at it for about a year now. I am current chained to pens, I enjoy them, but I like turning bowls and other things more, but my current source of cash flow to increase my shop is from pens. Regardless of that, I’ve been getting orders for glass like finishes and I have been avoiding doing this, but I appreciate this information a lot and I think It will help in the current orders I need to fill.

    • Ian

      Hmm… Did you recently start using a different glue or accelerator? I’ve found that some combinations absolutely destroy any shot at a good CA finish, so if you were using something different before you may consider switching back.

      Lathe speed may also be a factor here, or the environment that you’re turning in (too humid, too cold, etc.). Try to recreate the conditions when you were getting good finishes as closely as possible, and hopefully that’ll solve the problem.

  2. Thomas Hanson

    It’s not fading off into the internet sunset quite yet. Nice that you care to do this.
    Thanks, Thomas

  3. Ian,

    Pen turning is a new hobby of mine. As a complete beginner I was constantly looking for information on all the various
    procedures to follow. My research constantly came up with different “rules” on the same item. Your website is the only place where I have found information on all the areas of turning, complete with explanations and pictures. I now no longer have to search around for answers. You have ” covered the waterfront all in one site”. I constantly refer back to your site as I develop my skills.

    As an 87 year old beginner you have made this new hobby very satisfying. My Christmas presents to all my family were very well received and I have requests for more specific items. Thank you very much.

  4. Steven

    occationally I get bubbles in my finish when I haven’t ever before. typically the bubbles form around the ends of it where it connects with the bushing, or in the center of it. the ends are clear that it’s from where I break the bushing, or when I press the blank into place before the glue is completely dried through (not sticky but you can still indent with a fingernail). the center bubbles I’m not so sure of why those surface though. D: help?

  5. Dan

    Hi – When I finish my CA application, everything looks great. As I work through the micromesh, though, the ghosting appears. If I only do the first few pads, it’s fine. It seems really weird, but it’s happened on my last 4 pens. Any suggestions?

  6. Jade

    I just worked through my first CA finish. I had to sand it off twice before I figured out what I was doing wrong. Wish I had read this article first, it covered exactly what I was going wrong. Thank you for writing it.

  7. Jack

    Thanks Ian, great information.

    Question: What is your take on wipe-on accelerator? Would it be any safer than pump spray or aerosol?

  8. jim

    Thank you I will try ca glue again with some of your hints

  9. Ian.
    I live in Argentina and i have beeing doing pens for some time.
    I found your tutorial was so clear that i still learnet a lot from it.
    Carlos Menendez Behety

  10. Robert

    Thank you so much. I am a very new turner, and have only turned 20 or so pens. So far my CA finishes have been really good. But, as life would have it, the one pen I have a time frame on gets cloudiness. I thought I had botched the pen, and I didn’t have a replacement blank. But, thanks to your webpage, I can retry. Thanks again!

  11. Michael Holden

    Hi im still having problems with my red malle blanks ive tried another piece and im still getting cloudiness not over the entire piece more towards the ends but it seems to be all over this time ive changed my ca glue to a new bottle to rule out the glue it happens when ive done 10 coats of glue allowed it to dry between each coat then left it overnight to completely dry
    sanded it through all the different grit sand papers and it seems fine i then used the micro meshes with water and then thats when i notice the clodiness could it be laminating i dont know

  12. James beal

    Great article. Thank you so much. Backing off the accelerator was just the trick!

  13. Hello Ian,
    I have been pen turning for about 8 years and with regards to cloudy spots I have someyimes found that if I apply the CA too hastily or guess wrong when I touch it and the coat is not actually fully cured it pulls in that spot causing cloudiness in that spot.

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