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28 March 2016

I've started, so I'll finish

The attentive amongst you will have no doubt realised that I am on a mission to build a small-bodied archtop guitar. Note to self: I really need to give this project a better name.

There are about a million things that I'm going to have to master if I'm going to pull this off. It's all in the preparation. I'm not usually not one for trial runs, but I'm absolutely certain that I'm not going to nail everything first time round.

One thing that has been a bit of a mystery to me ever since I began Lutherie has been finishing. I really need to understand more about this before I have to do it in anger on the Archtop. Today's post is a sort of round-up of where I am in the process.

I hinted yesterday that I was in the middle of ruining by new mandolin. Here's what I was talking about. In an attempt to sort out the scratches and scuffs on the back of the Eros, I decided to re-lacquer. This photo shows me sanding it back down again for the 19th time.

I can do sanding, no bother. The bit that I struggle with is knowing what lacquer to use and how to get the best out of it. Enter Z-Poxy Finishing Resin in my latest experiment.

Here's a little tune to help you through this post. I want to play like this.

I've seen people using various flavours of ZAP's Z-Poxy as a finishing lacquer on bare wood. It's not a lacquer really, but a glue. The "Finishing Resin" version I have is made up of two bottles: the Resin; and the Hardener. You mix the two together in equal parts to form a sticky glue that can be spread on whatever it is that you're finishing. It takes 30 minutes to start setting and then about 4 hours to cure. Once cured it can be sanded and polished just like any other lacquer.

You can see in the photo that I've been spreading with a small rubber spatula of the sort you use on transfers and everything cleans up with a drop of Turps.

There's no magic to applying Z-Poxy; I've tried many thin coats and thicker ones and all approaches seem to pretty much end up with the same state. I've never managed to do it so neatly that it didn't need sanding.

My sanding routine has been to sand with ever finer grit paper: 600, 1200, 1500, 2000, 3000, 5000 and 7000. I wouldn't usually go through as many grades, or to such a fine grit, but this is an experiment in search of super-glossy loveliness.

Having got to a smooth surface (several times) I had already learnt a lot about Z-Poxy; It's tougher than lacquer, not scratching as easily. I was finding it also prone to orange peel and blemishes where little holes would open up in the coat while drying. Long story short... I was finding it a real sod to get a "perfect" finish. Getting it flat was pretty much only possible by almost sanding the bugger off again. Perhaps I was trying too hard?

Even so, I wanted to polish it up and see how it looked.

I bought some Guitar Scratch Remover for part two in my experiment. The polish comes in two expensive little bottles: The RED, which is pretty much the polish; The BLUE, which seems to be a scourer. You start with the RED, move to the BLUE and backwards and forwards until you get the finish you want. A microfibre cloth is provided to rub in and buff. It seemed to work well. It brought out a nice glossy shine, but unfortunately this only served to highlight the blemishes in my Z-Poxy finish.

From a distance everything looks great. Up close, there are little scratches and blemishes which give it an aged look... which unfortunately isn't what I was going for.

I'm also suspicious that the microfibre cloth was scratching the surface too.

I sanded it back and had another go. I was curious to know how the new Guitar Scratch Remover compared against my usual method of T-Cut followed by G3 Superwax.

As you can see, the finish was no better or worse. It seems that polish really is just polish at the end of the day. Back to lacquer... 

I finish with a close-up of the Z-Poxy finished with G3 Superwax. It doesn't come out too well on camera, but I think you can see the blotchy blemishes and aged look I've been talking about.

My next experiment will be with Nitrocellulose Lacquer which is probably where I should have started in the first place ;-P

I've used Nitrocellulose before, but in aerosol form. This time, I'm going to do it the hard way... with a brush. Will I get the look I'm aiming for? I'll let you know...

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