Gold leafed Hardtail Stratocaster. Another quick update. 2nd clearcoat.

Stratocaster body after first coats of lacquer

The first coats of lacquer are now fully cured. The coverage looks good, although I can feel a fine tracery of little ridges which seem to correspond with the edges of individual, irregular pieces of leaf. It’s almost as if the edges of the leaf have lifted slightly, and then been solidified within the lacquer coating. Everything should polish out – but I need to make doubly sure there’s enough of a lacquer coat to deal with any eventual flat-sanding and polishing process. Although I want the visual detail of the gold to be rough – I want the feel of a polished, glossy, liquid nitro coat.

Flat sanding with 600 grit and naptha

Any further layers of lacquer should, ideally, be sprayed after the existing coats have been keyed. Hopefully – I can smooth out the fine tracery of ridges at the same time. I use some 600 grit paper, and gently flat the surface back. I start on the sides, and work my way around the shape of the body. Then – using a small piece of grit paper wrapped around my fingers – I gently smooth the radiused edges, and feather them in. The flat faces of the body are then rubbed over, with the grit paper held against a cork backing block.

Lacquered leaf surface

It doesn’t take too much work to smooth the first coats. As usual – I try to test progress, as much as possible, with my fingers. It also helps to work into a light source. The surface dulls as it is rubbed back, and any low spots continue to show as shiny. The lacquer needs to be flattened back until it is consistently dull, all over. The lacquer coat now feels almost totally smooth – although on close visual inspection, the surface has dulled significantly and there is some evidence that the gold leaf has dried onto the oil size with a kind of “orange peel” effect in places. This is presumably a consequence of laying the gold in a random, and hap-hazard manner. It could probably have been avoided by laying the gold flatter – but then I wouldn’t have the fine detail which I set out to achieve in the first place. The surface irregularities are, however, so shallow – that they are already levelled out under the first coats of lacquer. They’re more visible under certain lighting conditions, and then only under very close inspection. The general effect is one of a unique and fine landscape of tiny details – rather than a contiguous, homogenised coverage of gold paint. That’s pretty close to what I set out to do.

Back to the spray booth

The year is turning towards it’s end, and there are only rare chances to spray nitro under ideal conditions. Today is sunny – but cold. I warm the workshop with a fan heater, and at the same time – I warm up a new can of clearcoat nitro lacquer. The lacquer sprays so much easier if conditions are warm and dry. The body is gently cleaned down with naptha, and a painting stick screwed on. It’s then hung in the spray area.

Always keep in mind – that nitro lacquer is nasty stuff. I can’t afford to have any sources of sparks when spraying – so the fan heater is turned off and isolated. The spray booth is only illuminated from outside – through a perspex sheet. Wearing a respirator – I spray the body with a single, light, “mist” coat at first. This should slightly melt into the keyed surface, and will help subsequent coats adhere properly.

Allowing an hour between coats, I then spray three more coats over the entire body – leaving a good hour between each coat for the lacquer to become touch dry. The first coat is slightly heavier than the initial mist coat, and subsequent coats get heavier as the day progresses. I make sure there’s an even application over the edges, and make sure the neck cutaways get a proper coating too.

Body after second coats of lacquer – before curing and polishing

There’s a few hours left in the day to let the body hang, and the lacquer dry enough for the body to be handled. After checking the coverage, and taking the photo above – the body is then hung to dry fully, for 24 hours.

After another 24 hours – the surface is dry, but I know that lacquer stays in a gel-like state for a while. The new coats are fairly thin, however, and should be firm enough to lightly sand. I go over the entire body carefully, with a grey, (fine grade) Scotchbrite pad. This dulls the surface back evenly – but when I check over the whole body with my fingers, I can still detect a few areas which have a distinct texture. These seem to correspond to darker areas where the gold leaf has taken on a heavy texture, and where there seems to be excessive rippling in the leaf. I sand over these areas individually, using 600 wet and dry with a cork block backing block. Using naptha to lubricate the cut helps to polish the surface, although it’s important to ensure that the grit doesn’t wear away the lacquer all the way down to the metal leaf. Once the naptha has evaporated off completely – I give the entire body another light keying with a grey Scothbrite.

Then it’s back to the spraying cabinet – and another three coats of lacquer. Once again – a light coat first, an hour between coats, and then a good 24 hours to fully dry.

Because the surface was originally well prepared – because the first lacquer coats were already reasonably smooth, and because I’ve flat sanded and uniformly keyed the lacquer throughout the process – these last coats appear glossy and liquid already. So far – I can’t detect any rough areas – but I’ll have to check again once the lacquer has fully shrunk back. I should be able to pick up the polishing process at 800 grit, and then work my way up to a full gloss polish. But this can’t be rushed – the lacquer needs to shrink back first. You can only polish lacquer well, when it’s properly cured.

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