The next stages of the gilding process are very much identical to the first. The body is given a good wipe over with a clean, lint-free cloth. Actually – I use one of those new type of Fender cleaning cloths – the yellow, microfibre ones. Somehow, they feel a little bit “sticky” when new, and I find they offer just enough gentle abrasive to help clean off any remaing flakes of loose leaf, without scratching up the finish. After that – I usually give the work a final wipe over with one of the soft pile, window cleaning, sort of velvety microfibre cloths. Again – it’s worth checking there’s absolutely no dust or loose material in those pickup routs.
The size is applied carefully and consistently, as before. This time to the rear of the guitar body. Having the surface laid flat is a little more forgiving, since if you do lay the size on a bit thick, it will often self-level without forming sags. You still have to watch the edges however, and it helps to feather the size application over the edges of the previous day’s gilding – both to reduce the thickness of the size here, as well as to help form an invisible, seamless transition from one application of leaf to the other. Once the size is laid – double check that there are no runs down the side. If there are – brush them out, (if it’s not too late), and remember to lay some leaf over, later on.
Since today, I’m working on the back of the guitar – there’s an opportunity to gild around the string ferrules at the same time as they’re fitted. If I get it right, I can actually help make the end result really tidy – in an almost effortless way. As I brush out the size over the openings, I let a little extra size ooze down around the edges of the openings. (If a little size does happen to work its’ way further down and block the string paths – it doesn’t matter, I can always clear it out again later. Once it has dried). With the size laid – I leave it to tack up, as usual.
Today, the size seems to take a little while longer to reach open. Perhaps it’s cooler today, or perhaps laying the body flat has meant I’ve applied a slightly thicker coat. I test the size for open, and about 10 minutes before I think the rest of the body is going to be ready – I start work around the ferrule openings.
I want to try and use the, still sticky, size to help secure the ferrules in their openings – using the pooling size around the inside rims of the countersinks to act as a glue. But there’s also an opportunity to use the ferrules themselves to help form and tidy the gilding around the edges to the openings. If I get it right, I can fix the ferrules in place, and have them help me finish the gilding off – both at the same time.
I begin by laying some metal leaf around the openings – using the same, rough drape, approach as before. I give the leaf a gentle push down with a soft brush – but only just enough to help locate the edges of each opening. I then lay a fresh piece of leaf over each opening in turn, and drop a ferrule into position. Using a straight dowel, or something similar, (I have a cross head screwdriver which fits perfectly), I can then push the ferrules firmly into place. I’ve already checked each opening for size and, although the ferrules already fit quite snugly, the actual leaf isn’t thick enough to change things. Pushing home the ferrules, actually helps push the leaf into place. The first layer tends to split around the very edges of the hole as the ferrule goes in – but the second piece of leaf follows straight behind and adheres to any exposed size caused by the faulting of the first layer. Then, as I push the ferrules onto their seats – the ferrules squeeze into the small amount of sticky, excess size pooled around the edges – and that’s enough to glue them into place. As long as the top surfaces of the ferrules themselves remain uncontaminated by size – the edges around them should clean up very nicely.
I’ve given myself 10 minutes to fit the ferrules, and it doesn’t take any longer than that – so I’m able to continue gilding the rest of the back of the guitar at the ideal open time. As before, the leaf is laid roughly, all over the body – and is then pressed gently down with a soft brush, using a fresh leaf to help plug up any faults. The leaf is then gently pressed-in, using some waxed or chalked paper, and then carefully burnished with a soft brush, as before.
The end result at the string ferrules is especially pleasing. The technique works really well. I can’t imagine trying to gild around the ferrules – especially with my vision problems. However, checking over the rest of the rear of the body – I notice I’ve actually managed to completely miss an area about the size of a postage stamp. I started the day’s gilding nice and early in the day – so I have time to let the size dry, (for about six hours in total), before I brush on a little fresh size to cover the missed area. After another hour – I drop a little patch of crumpled leaf into place, and press down gently.
Just to make sure the late-applied size has completely cured, (and also to give the whole rear side a good chance to harden up), I leave the guitar to dry for an extra 24 hours this time. (So it gets about 36 hours in total). Since I’ll be laying the body on it’s back to gild the front face next – I want to make absolutely sure there’s no chance of damaging the newly-laid leaf. The surface will be that little bit more durable if it has a little extra time to dry. It’ll add a day to my gilding schedule, but I can live with that.