Gold leafed Hardtail Stratocaster. Extra prep before gilding.

As an experiment – the body already looks pretty good. But it’s not quite what I was looking for. If I had endless resources, I might well just store this one away somewhere, until I found a use for it. Instead, I want to push on with my original plans – to go over the gold varnish with some roughly applied, imitation gold leaf.

Hardtail body, finished with Liberon “Antique Gold” Gilt Varnish

Since the gilt varnish is a solvent based finish – it’s actually quite delicate, and it’s likely that the finish will be easily damaged by the over application of another, solvent based product. Gold size, (Mixtion, or Oil Size), is really just another type of varnish. It’s quite sticky, and I can envisage a possible scenario where the application might drag a little, and so disturb the underlying gilt colouration.

Mask off the neck pocket before applying spray finishes

To minimise the chances that different layers might affect each other – it’s usually routine to apply a kind of barrier layer between each critical layer of finish. Shellac is the usual barrier of choice for gilding. Shellac is still soluble with alcohol – so there’s a possibility certain over-applications might eventually affect even a shellac layer – but a thin layer here should offer enough of a barrier to be able to lay the oil size down quickly and smoothly, without disturbing the gilt varnish below.

Another advantage of applying the shellac, is that the body can then be wet polished a little bit more – in order to provide a virtually glass-like substrate, on which the gold can then be laid. I’ve already prepped the body up to a high level of finish, but I should now be able to take that even further, before beginning the gilding.

To get a really thin, but smooth coat of shellac – the best results come with a spray. I’ll be using a small Badger airbrush, so it’s important that the neck pocket is protected with some masking tape. It doesn’t matter if the other body routs get a bit of overspray. In fact, a little shellac over the edges of the routs will help bind the undercoat, and will hopefullly eliminate any possibility of the finish flaking off at sharp corners.

Let the shellac cure properly, before gently flatting back

The shellac is applied thinly, with just two or three fine coats – leaving approximately an hour between each coat. The shellac goes off quite quickly, so it’s possible to lay the body flat on a bench – rather than having to hang it. You do need to adjust the spray carefully so that the shellac doesn’t immediately turn to dust on exiting the airbrush nozzle – so get your settings right first. A thin, even coating of shellac dulls and roughens the surface slightly with overspray – but this will be polished up later. Make sure the rounded edges get a good, even application. It helps to apply the separate coats from different angles – with the edges getting a coating, as each of the faces are dealt with, in turn.

To develop its’ full strength – shellac needs to cure properly. I leave the body hung in a warm, dry place overnight. Once the shellac is fully cured – the body is ready for final polishing.

Make sure string grommets fit properly before you gild

Before polishing however, it’s probably wise to make sure that the through-body string ferruless fit properly. The body was supplied with the ferrule holes pre-drilled and countersunk, and I’m using some Fender, Vintage style, nickel ferrules to do the job. I’d like them to sit, fully-recessed – but tight enough so that they don’t fall out all the time. I’ve only tried to fit string ferrules once before, and discovered that small differences in tolerance led to some very unpredictable, and varying results. (In the end – the ferrules had to stand proud of the surface, instead of recessing into their countersinks). The problem is – if you push the ferrule in hard, and it doesn’t quite fit – then it can be really difficult to get it out again without damaging the surrounding finish.

The solution, I’ve found, is to test-fit the ferrules first – but upside down. That way, only the outer rim of the ferrule is wedged in there, and you can always use a screw through the small string opening on the back of the ferrule, to provide a straight pull extraction – rather than levering or twisting. Furthermore – If I check the fit now, then if I should, accidentally, damage the finish around the holes – I should be able to cover any slight damage with the over-application of gold leaf. (Of course – any more nticeable damage will telegraph through the thin, metal leaf – so the idea is to leave things as neat as possible).

In checking the ferrules on the Hardtail – I find that four of the six holes are tight, and two are slightly too small. As it is – all will need a slight clean out, since the crispness of the countersinks has been reduced by the various applications of finish. Even the smallest amounts of primer or basecoat in the recesses can make all the difference. A dedicated workshop might have developed a sort of reaming tool to clean up the edges of the ferrule seats neatly – but I have to improvise. I have a drill bit which matches the width of the neck of the openings exactly – but I need to build out a bit of a grinding surface – to clean back the vertical edges of the countersinks. I experiment with winding small lengths of 240 grit paper around the drill bit until I get just the right length to fit properly. I use the plain end of the drill bit to sit in the holes, and this helps locate the bit centrally. The extra windings of grit paper are then eased into place, and the paper turned gently within theledge of the countersink. Turning the grit paper against the direction of winding, appears to exert just enough pressure to clean out the angle and, where the fit is too tight, just gradually enlarge the opening slightly. Enough to be just able to seat the ferrules properly.

The results aren’t too bad. In three of the holes – things worked out perfectly. On the last of the “OK” holes – the end of the paper lifted, and scratched the top surface slightly. The same thing happened on the two “tight” countersinks, (and since a little extra cutting was required here – the paper slipped a couple of times). In all cases however, the scratches are only to the gilt varnish coat, which is very, very thin. They should cover over easily with metal leaf, and should prove too fine to telegraph through. If the damage were more severe, (into the basecoat, or down to the wood), I might have had to consider small, drop-fill-type applications of shellac – in order to build up a smooth, flat finish again. Fortunately – I think I’ve got away with it, this time.

All that is left to do, before gilding, is to give the body a final polish. We’re now into Micro-mesh territory and a light, gentle wet sand with a backing block and very fine grade mesh, cleans off any hardened shellac overspray. It also produces an emerging, albeit still slightly dull, liquid shine. This should now be ideal to receive the imitation metal leaf.

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