Candy Apple Red H/H Fender Jaguar. Sealing and priming the body for nitro lacquer

Although I’ve had this one on the drawing board for ages, and I’ve managed to push on with a couple of my other Jaguar projects recently – I’ve really been waiting for the warmer weather to return, so I can get down to some lacquer spraying. My H/H Jaguar will use the Musikraft neck, which I painted the headstock for, a little over a year ago. This gives me the opportunity to match it, more closely, with a suitable body painted in exactly the same, semi-translucent, “candy apple” red colour. We’re finally heading into a warmer, dryer spell of weather at last. Time to prep the spray booth again…

Two-piece, “re-issue” Jaguar body in alder – by

I picked up the body for my H/H Jag project, back at the beginning of May. I’d had my eye on the same spec for a while – and snapped one up during a May Day “Flash” sale, which saved me 20% or so on the usual price. Apart from the quality of the bodies – it’s one of the reasons I keep going back to guitarbuild. The body is of two-piece alder construction, and weighs in at 2.1kg I think the seam is central on re-issue models – but it’s difficult to tell with the figuring. The body is routed for humbuckers, and I’m planning on eventually fitting PAF’s or Wide Range pickups – where the rectangular chrome covers will echo the block markings running down the length of the Musikraft neck. As usual – the body arrives well-packed, and already well-finished. Checking it over – it looks like it’s been smoothed to 320 grit, or so. With no particular “flaws” of concern anywhere – it’s pretty much ready to go, straight out of the box.

Wood…sanding sealer…primer…paint

The alder has a tight, fine grain, and really doesn’t require any serious amount of grain filling. A decent application of sanding sealer should do the job. I’m using Mylands Lacacote, as usual – and applying it with a brush, but I want to try and achieve an economical and effective seal this time – without necessarily leaving any obvious “coating” which might unnecessarily add to the eventual lacquer load. The important thing is that the grain is sealed – not that there’s a full and obvious coating, with sealer left lying on top of the wood. If the coat builds up too thick – it becomes difficult to apply more without the brush “dragging”, and surplus sealer can dry on the surface – leaving shiny patches which, I’m sure, won’t necessarily help subsequent paint coats to adhere to the wood properly. A patchy sealer coat requires more work to smooth over again.

So this time – I’m going to thin the first coat of Lacacote – so that the shellac is absorbed deeper into the grain, where it will take the sanding solids down with it. Once the first coating has been sanded back – I’ll look to apply additional, more viscous coats, on top. The Lacacote is stirred well – so that the solids are dispersed equally, and a little bit of the cloudy shellac is thinned – approximately one part sealer to one part meths. Although the spirit is coloured in the UK, the dye won’t affect the final job in any way.

Applying thinned sanding sealer to penetrate the grain of the wood

The first coat brushes on easily, and the wood drinks the sealer up. I’m using a varnishing brush – and am taking care not to overload the surface, and cause runs – especially down the sides. I’m also looking not to “flood” the surface too much, which might result in the Lacacote drying on the surface. The fact that the alder is changing colour tells me it’s absorbing the sealer. The gradual lightening of the wood again, with no apparent “glossiness” to the surface, suggests that the lacquer has been drawn right into the wood grain.

The body gets an even coating over the front surface – including over the roundover edges, and onto the sides – checking all the time that the application is soaking in, and not running down the sides anywhere. After ten minutes or so, the sealer is dry enough to flip the body over, where the process is repeated – finally feathering-in over the sides, to ensure a complete coat.

Rubbing-back, and “flatting” the surface

The lacquer is given a couple of hours to dry properly, and then the whole surface is knocked-back with some 320 grit paper, over a soft, but firm, backing block. The idea is to knock off any “texture”, and to check for low spots on the body. The thinned sealer has also done the job of raising any grain which remains after the body has been shaped and smoothed, and the raised “knap” been stiffened and held in place by the drying shellac. By gently sanding, with clean, sharp grit paper – the knap is cut off, and the end result appears much, much smoother than you’d expect with 320 grit. As I’m rubbing-back – I’m also on the look-out for any thin lines of grain, or slight indents which remain slightly shiny after sanding. Here, the lacquer won’t have been touched by the grit paper, because it’s lying slightly below the level of the sanded surface. There’s no real evidence of any problem areas here – but if you have any knocks or divots in the surface from manufacture – this is the first time you may spot them.

The body is gently rubbed down all over – treating the rolled edges with extreme care. The edges often tend to get a thinner coating of lacquer – and then also tend to catch the grit paper more than the flat surfaces. If you’re not careful – you can easily sand right through to the wood again, and cause flat-spots on the contours. I only give the radiused edges a very careful rub, with the paper wrapped lightly around my fingers only. Even then, the intention is just to lightly knock-off any shininess from the sealer, and to lightly “key” the surface for the next application. (Any areas, however, which do require “rubbing-through” to level, or which are accidentally “scalped” – should be gently smoothed and feathered-in to the rest of the coat. There will be more coats of sealer coming, to help take care of them).

Applying a second coat of lightly thinned sanding sealer

After rubbing-back – the body is scrupulously cleaned down with a soft, clean, dusting cloth. The sanding residue is extremely fine, and gets everywhere. Although it’s quite heavy – it’s not a bad idea to wear a mask when sanding. Since there’s more lacquer going on, and there will be more rubbing down to do as well – it’s not really a question of the fine residue potentially contaminating the finish. It’s more about trying to keep a tidy workplace, and gives a chance to examine the wood more carefully and closely. But then again – sticky surfaces can attract all sorts of floating dust, and keeping on top of the piece is essential.

Once the surface has been cleaned off – a second coat of sealer can be applied. This time, I’ve let the Lacacote down slightly less – two parts of sealer to one part of meths. Again – the sealer is applied with a soft-bristled brush, and quickly worked into the surface, following the lines of grain. This time – the wood is much less “absorbent” – so you need slightly less lacquer, and careful application to avoid pooling, or runs down the side. Once again – the colour darkens, but this time it doesn’t lighten again quite as much, as the lacquer dries. The finished coat is a little bit glossier. In fact – with a light application of wax – it wouldn’t be a bad result, on its’ own.

After both sides have had a second coating, and the body has had another couple of hours to properly dry – the surface is rubbed back once again – but this time with a red, coarse Mirka Mirlon sanding pad. Still checking for likely problem areas – I have a careful eye on a couple of “freckles” in the finish, which are like small “knots” in the grain. (One is visible in the image above. On the back of the body – right down on the edge of the tail). Knots like this can sometimes drink in a lot more lacquer, and even then, shrink back – leaving tell-tale pin-holes in the painted finish. If faults like this telegraph as persistent low-spots when flatting-back, or if they produce obvious pin-holes when drying – these will need to be properly filled and sealed before proceeding with the paint job. It’s always better to try and anticipate these, and deal with them early. So far, in this case – I think I may get away with this one.

Since there aren’t any other problems evident – (overall, the body looks and feels super-smooth) – I really only want to gently key the surface again, and knock off any apparent “shininess” from the second sealer coat. I back the pad with the soft sanding block on the flat faces, and work gently along the grain lines again, until the surface is completely matted-back and the surface of the wood looks dull and even – albeit with a slightly more golden tone than it originally had.

Sealed body, after applying a light, final coat of sanding sealer, and rubbing-back

After another good clean over, and a careful inspection – the surface is ready for a final application of sealer. This time, a light coat of un-thinned Lacacote. Because the wood is no longer “drinking-up” the sealer in quite the same way – any sealer needs to be quickly and lightly applied with the varnishing brush. No second applications over sticky “missed” areas, no scrubbing, no over-working and fussing. Just a careful, even application – working along the grain again. This time, the lacquer dries to an obviously shinier finish, and there is obviously a light coating of surplus lacquer now sitting on the surface. It looks like the approach of thinning and staging the lacquer application has, however, resulted in a well-sealed piece of wood without too much excess lacquer to remove. Plus – there are also far fewer obvious brush marks in the lacquer, which I might have expected, and which would only then require rubbing-off, all over again.

Priming the prepped Jaguar body

I’m shooting for a really thin, economical finish here. Partly because, as I’ve got better at applying lacquer finishes, I’ve realised there are many benefits in getting a good, thin, even lacquer load – and partly because I happen to have some quite limited supplies of some of the components required for my matching, candy apple red finish still in store. I’m keen not to have to buy-in additional stuff, the majority of which I may well not end up using. I’ve also found that if I have, say, half a can of lacquer – I’ll tend to apply it much more carefully, (often with better results), than if I have a full can to spare. I think it’s a case of thrift encouraging proper economy, and better technique. Sometimes, if you have a full can, there’s a tendency to find ways to use it all up regardless – “wether you need it or not”. I think this tendency has led, in the past, to some of my paint jobs ending up way thicker, (and consequently much more prone to chipping and flaking), than they may have actually needed to be. I think my original Olympic White Jag had something like two or three cans of paint for the colour coat alone. Nowadays – I can usually get proper coverage and a good, even colour coat, out of a single can.

All that said – the primer coat is important in conjunction with the sealer, to ensure that the grain of the wood is “flooded”. This covers up all of the little imperfections in the surface, and helps provide base for the smooth, glassy coat – typical of lacquered finishes. I’d usually have started with a slightly thicker, “obvious” application of sealer, and then probably used a full can of primer over the top. Here, I’ve already got a much more subtle sealer coat, and I have about two-thirds of a can of primer spare from previous jobs. If I’m careful – I might be able to get away without buying another can.

Of course – the risk is, that I move onto the colour coats with the surface “underprimed”. This potentially leaves the possibility that I may ultimately have to apply thicker colour or clear coats, to provide the fully-smooth finish I’m looking for. However – surely it’s more economical to use additional clear coat to iron out any fine surface irregularities, rather than over-loading early on, and then having to apply the clear coat anyway – since the body will always still require a certain amount of flatting-back and polishing with the final coats? With this example – I’m going to see what happens if I try and stick to a thinner primer coat, and just use the bit I have in store. I’ll find out, along the way, just how effective my thinned sealer approach was. As long as I can get an even white primer coating over the whole body – I’ll be happy to move onto the colour coats. I’ll also be £15 or so better off, and well on the way to an ultra-thin lacquer load.

Applying the primer in economical “mist” coats

The body is hung in the spray booth, using my usual hanging stick. This effectively masks off the neck pocket, leaving the sharp edges slightly exposed – so I can shoot lacquer and not leave a vulnerable, straight, hard edge at the angles. I can manipulate the body with the stick to get into the cutaways – make sure the edges get a good coverage – and then hang it from the ceiling while I cover the flat faces. I’ve cleaned out the spray booth and then set the fan to run for a while beforehand, to draw out any, already airborne, dust or fluff.

Using the primer economically means I’m effectively applying few, light, even, overlapping “mist” coats – but that’s not a bad thing. Any initial coats of lacquer should always be applied as “mist” coats, since this aids adhesion. Each light pass of over-spayed lacquer is allowed to “burn-in” to the layers below. Misting the primer in a series of light passes might well take slightly longer – with approximately 15 minutes left between passes, for the surface to become “touch dry” – but the overlapping mist coats soon provide an even, thin, opaque coat of primer. After I’ve been all over the body twice with the primer – I have full coverage, and something under a quarter of a can left. I should be able to rub the primer back one time, and then shoot the rest of what I have in the can – to even-up any resultant, inconsistent patches.

Ultra-thin primer coat

After the primer’s had a couple of hours to dry properly, I take the body out of the booth and gently knock the surface back with another, clean, Mirka Mirlon pad. Again, a coarse, red pad, which should leave a light key, and remove any poorly-adhered overspray. However, I’m not looking to “flat” the surface back here at all – I’m hoping my sealer has already done most of that for me. Instead, I gently dull the surface so that the finish on the primer is dulled evenly all over. I don’t wantto cause obvious scratches on the surface – just a light key, which will be the base for my candy apple red colour. Once the surface is evened all over – I can’t really see anywhere where I might have rubbed-through – so that leaves me just under a quarter of a can to mist over the whole thing again. The surface isn’t totally smooth. I can still see a light graining in the wood underneath but hopefully, this will flood with the lacquer required for the colour coats. I might even get away without applying any more primer at all – but then again, I might as well make sure the exposed edges are well covered, and that the can is fully empty when I dispose of it.

With the last mistings of primer left to “burn-in” and then dry, for a couple of hours – I’ve still got time left in the day, and a half-can of Shoreline Gold left over from my last CAR job. A half-can might well not be sufficient to completely cover the white primer – so I have another can on order. However, I may as well use the remaining time to use up the half-can I have, and at least establish a “misted” base for the gold coat. After the primer is fully dry, I dust and clean the body off again, (checking the routs for loose overspray is essential), and then hang it back in the booth.

“Misting” the first colour coats for the Candy Apple red finish

Still working with an economical approach – the first layers of Shoreline Gold are applied – again, using a series of light, overlapping, “mist” coats. Carefully applied – the half-can gives me a reasonably even coverage all over, before it starts “sputtering”. Once the can starts to splash – ditch it. Uneven blobs can spit out onto the surface, and can subsequently create their own levelling problems. If possible – it’s good to lightly rub-back and key the surface between coats. This means you keep a good, overall eye on the developing finish, and you can nip any potential flaws that do show up, “right in the bud”. If the can creates spits – why give yourself more problems for the sake of a few millilitres of paint? Especially if there’s another fresh can in the post. Ditch it.

Once the Gold has had a couple of hours to dry – I lightly rub the body over with the coarse Mirlon pad once more. There aren’t any slubs or flaws, drips or runs in the finish at all, as far as I can see. I can still pick out a little bit of the grain structure through the surface, but I think it’ll gradually disappear under more lacquer. The gold coverage is quite even, and fairly opaque – although there are a few areas where the gold is clearly a light mist over a white background. Although it looks consistent to my eye – under close examination, and in good light – it obviously needs more coverage to complete a full coat. Only then will the gold have the correct depth of colour, to enable me to proceed with the red translucent coat over the top, and the clear coats after. The courier is due tomorrow with the other cans I’ll need – both for this, and the “anniversary” rebuild of my Olympic White ’62. More lacquer work. This warmer spell is supposed to last for a while yet – so I may as well make the most of it.

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