Jimmy Page Tribute “Dragoncaster”. Clearcoating – Progress update 3.

The Telecaster body has had slightly longer than a week this time, to sit and let the clear lacquer do it’s stuff. Overall, the surface is looking more consistent, although the face of the guitar is looking much more “glassy” due to the extra number of coats applied. On the one hand – this should give me plenty of scope to flat down the latest layers, without the risk of digging down too far, and hitting the paint layers. On the other hand – I’ll have to try and reduce the overall thickness of the lacquer coat, if I want to reduce the danger of cracks and chips when I drill into it, later.

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The small areas were I’m testing out a drop-fill technique have shrunk back too. What were small droplets sitting on the surface – are now slightly raised blisters. A couple of them are showing signs that they, too, have developed their own pin-holes. Hopefully – this is where the sanding sealer has shrunk down, and into the holes I was trying to fill in the first place. There’s still a bit of excess material left on the surface, and I should get rid of this before I flat sand. If I set about flatting these blisters with a sanding block, as they are, I’ll risk digging into the surrounding lacquer – leaving a bit of an uneven mess. It’s better to reduce the level of the blisters first – so that they’re at roughly the same level as the surrounding lacquer.

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To do this – I use a tip I saw online, from Dan Erlewine at StewMac. The StewMac website is the kind of resource I really value, here in the UK. There’s nowhere in the UK with such a wide range of specialist tools and equipment. What’s more, Dan’s video’s – which are an exceptionally useful tool for people trying to pick up tips – are clear and concise. If he happened to live down the road, Dan comes across like the kind of bloke you could drop in on and learn a lot just by spending a few hours in his company. I saw a video he did about drop-filling small pin-holes and imperfections in lacquer finishes a year or two ago – and it’s helped me greatly in both my guitar, and general, wood finishing.

The trick is to get those dried blisters of drop-fill, shaved down to a level – just above the surrounding lacquer. Dan recommends taking a razor blade, and striking it down the edge of a piece of cast iron. I’ve got a 220 pound Morso guillotine sitting in the corner of the workshop, which has a perfect, heavy, horizontal edge. That does the job nicely. If you strike the razor blade down the edge, evenly, the very edge of the razor blade curls over to form a very slight “L” shape. Effectively – this is now a tiny little, flat spoke shave. If you take a couple of pieces of paper tape, and stick them around each edge of the blade, you can create a tool between the paper which shaves down the droplets within a very precise area. The paper acts as asimple but effective depth stop. I use a thick Japanese paper tape for framing work, which is perfect – although masking tape or sellotape do just as well.

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If you make a few shaving passes with the blade over the drop-filled area – the excess starts to come away like thin shavings of wax. If you change the angle of attack every couple of passes – it helps to make sure things stay level. The razor blade I used was quite flexible – it’s important to try and keep it straight, and not to let it curve and gouge into the surface. If the blade flexes too much, it’ll dig in. If you keep the blade straight, and don’t try to take too much lacquer off at once – it’s possible to gradually pare the blisters back until just a slight thickness of filler is left sitting proud of the surrounding lacquer. This is now at a level where it’s much easier to blend in, when you flat everything back.

I usually flat sand the lacquer with 400 grit – but there are a couple of problem areas where the lacquer over the paint coat is still sitting a little bit too proud. I can even detect a slight edge with my fingertips. There are also the drop-fills to flat back, and I really need to try and thin the overall lacquer coat a little. The whole surface looks glassy and I should, therefore, have a nice thick coat to work with. So I make a general pass – but this time with 320 grit, lubricated as usual with a little naptha to help keep the paper from clogging. This grit has a bit more tooth and, using a quite heavy backing block, it’s possible to gently matte the surface back – letting just the weight of the flat block do pretty much all of the work. I can feel it cut, and see a film of tiny scratches develop over the shiny lacquer. When it comes to the problem areas, I occasionally switch to a smaller block – so as to focus the cutting edge of the paper directly onto the edges of the area in question. I check the work as I go, visually, by working into the light – but also by feeling the way with my fingertips. It’s amazing how sensitive fingertips are, to texture and level change. You can often feel slight imperfections before you can see them.

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Once the whole body has had a general rub down with 320 grit – it’s obvious where the problem low-spots remain. Here, the lacquer still shines bright when you view the work looking into a light source. I’m slowly getting there though – and there aren’t too many of these low spots left. I’m pleased to see that the pin-hole drop-fill test area is looking smooth and flat, and the pin-holes appear to have gone. I won’t know for sure if it’s worked, until I see how the surface reacts to another coat of lacquer on top – but it looks promising.

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I clean the body off with naptha and, once it’s dried – the body is ready for the next coats of clear lacquer. The first coat of the day is a thin one – just to try and key the new layers into the old. I want to make sure the lacquer adheres properly over the shellac in the drop-fills. After the first, flash coat has dried – I lay down a second, slightly thicker coat – before letting that, too, go off and become touch dry.

After an hour, I spray a couple of thick, wet, liquid coats – each made up of four passes. each pass with the body laid in a different direction. I leave the body for an hour to dry, between each coat. Looks like I’m heading towards finishing off a third can of clearcoat. That was my target for the whole guitar, and I’ve still got a bit more flatting to do before I can spray the final coats for polishing. I’d better get a few more cans in stock.

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Once the latest lacquer coats are dry – I put the body back in the drying cupboard for another week. I’ll have a look then, to double check that the drop-fills have worked, and to make sure the lacquer in those places, has properly blended-in and adhered to the sealer. If it looks OK, then I’ll drop fill any further problem areas which become visible next time, and hope that I can eliminate all of the low spots and pin holes. However, there will likely be a few more clearcoat updates in this series. Finishing the “Dragoncaster” still seems a good way off.

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