Jimmy Page Tribute “Dragoncaster”. Clearcoating – Progress update 2.

The Telecaster body has had another week to allow the latest coats of clear lacquer to dry and cure. Looking at it into the light – there’s still quite a bit of irrregularity and relief in the paint / lacquer finish. The orange areas still sit a little higher than the other colours – and the narrow tramlines in between each coloured area, are noticeably lower here and there. I also seem to have made things a bit more difficult in a few other areas, by apparently pressing too hard when transferring the guide design. (Using a ball-point pen to press through the carbon paper). There are a couple of places where the wood must have been softer. This has resulted in visible groove lines etched into the wood. These will probably take a lot of work to properly bury in lacquer. (Note to self: “Don’t do that again”.

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Nevertheless – the process for this week is the same as before, and will, pretty much, probably be the same next week, and the week after that too. Taking some 400 grit over a flat, backing block – I slowly and gently work across the full face of the guitar body. The idea is to remove the high spots, and so I’m constantly checking the work into the light, to watch the shine of the lacquer get knocked back to matte. This indicates that the high points have been taken off. Low points continue to show as shiny, and so the task is to level as many of the high lying areas – leaving as few low points as possible. Of course, I should only take off the top layers of lacquer. Sanding too much risks sanding into the actual painted design. Because the orange paint sits highest – I generally watch until I start to get some orange tinted lacquer dust on the wet and dry paper.

I use naptha to lubricate the grit while I’m flat sanding – this helps stop the paper from clogging. It’s always sensible to check the paper regularly, and to remove clogs if you find them. Because I’m always checking for signs of sanding into the paint layer too – the minute the colour of the sanded dust begins to change – it’s time to stop.

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I’ve taken off as much as I dare. There are clearly a few areas where there is still some relief between lower and higher areas in the lacquer coat. I’m pretty sure it’ll take a few more, weekly, sanding sessions like this to begin to resolve some of the worst cases. Looks like I’ll need to order some more clearcoat after all. So much for the three-can plan.

The worst places seem to lie around the red and orange “heart” detail – just behind the bridge. Elsewhere, a lot of the red and green areas are beginning to look nice and flat now, and you can tell you’re getting there when the sanded design looks to sit almost “within the finish”, rather than “on” it. The colour begins to look more like a stain, rather than like a “plastic” coat sitting on top of the wood. You can still see slight details of wood graining within the solid areas of colour, and the painting marks left by the brush are beginning to fade. In some places – the main irregularity in the lacquer coat is now the familiar “orange peel” texture. This is due to how the lacquer coats dry on top of each other, and will be flattened back during the final flat-sanding and polishing stages

A couple of especially troublesome areas will, eventually, hide under the scratchplate – and so they don’t need quite the level of attention as other, more visible, areas. While I’m cleaning the levelled face of the guitar with naptha and a paper towel, it’s a good opportunity to inspect the whole face closely – to note how things are going, and even to begin to plan next week’s session.

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Once the guitar body is thoroughly cleaned and dried, it’s placed in the spraying booth on a home-made version of a “lazy susan”. It is then coated with clear lacquer again. As usual, I take three passes to lay down one complete coat. After an hour of drying, the guitar body is rotated 90 degrees anti-clockwise. After checking for dust contamination, and after removing or knocking back any problem areas – another three passes lays down the next coat… and so on, until the body has been rotated the full, 360 degrees. After a final hour’s drying, it’s ready to go back in the drying cupboard for another week.

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Checking the body over for a final time – I notice a few more pin holes in the lacquer. These happen where the sanding sealer has either missed the grain, or where it has been sanded out. In these cases, it looks like the very ends of some of the emerging tubules within the wood are actually so fine that they’ve not taken the sanding sealer well enough. They’re so hard to spot – but tiny faults like this will always show themselves once the lacquer coats begin to build up.

It’s even possible that these might gradually fill in as I continue to build up the lacquer – but since each coat practically melts the layers of lacquer below – there’s also a likelihood that they’ll pop through as the lacquer shrinks back. Lacquer continues to shrink for a long time – and it’s entirely possible that the pin-holes will disappear for a time, only to re-appear months later, as the lacquer gets tighter.

I should be able to eliminate these tiny pin-holes by drop-filling, once the piece is polished up – but I might as well see if I can drop-fill the areas as I go. There’s one, small area which will eventually be covered over by the scratchplate. It’ll make a good test area to see if my technique works before I commit to anything more visible. If I foul anything up – it’ll be hidden from view.

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To drop-fill pin-holes, I normally take a sharp cocktail stick, and dip it in lacquer. I can then accurately drip a small amount into each pin-hole. (It helps to cover over the rest of the body, to protect it from accidents. Any dropped lacquer will melt into the rest of the lacquer coats, and it can easily ruin non-problem areas). I’ve drop filled with lacquer – even superglue – before, but here, I wonder if trying sanding sealer instead might, more quickly, fill in the holes. (Sanding sealer has some solid particles held within the lacquer). I decide to try a fill with Mylands Lacacote Sanding Sealer, which is shellac based. I’m hoping there isn’t a chemical mismatch between the lacquer and the shellac, and that the sanding sealer will bond-in sufficiently. Shellac is normally a good barrier layer, and all sorts of finish usually bond well. Furthermore, shellac also uses the same solvent, (alcohol) as lacquer – so I’m hoping it’ll be compatible.

The sanding sealer drops take a while to dry properly. As the shellac dries, it shrinks back on itself, leaving sunken tops to the slightly domed droplets. (One pin-hole filling droplet has, itself, developed its’ very own pin-hole). I’m hoping that the lacquer will flow down into the original pin-holes, and that I can level the surface evenly. I’ll discover, next week.

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