To Be Perfectly Clear...
The instruments that Woody builds are (unless the client insists) finished without wood stain or toners. That is, they are "in the white", with only clear sealer and lacquer on top. As a result, the various woods appear in their natural colors. The result is that the instrument is somewhat easier for the luthier to finish, however, every hand-tooled joint and/or cosmetic imperfection is 'clearly' visible. For some people, slight cosmetic issues would not be acceptable, for others, it is further verification that the instrument is unique and hand made.
Most mandolins have a traditional sunburst toner applied which can give the instrument a stylish and interesting appearance. However, toners can be (and are) used to cover imperfections in the wood or in the manufacturing process. On some of the less expensive mandolins there is so much color and polyurethane that one cannot tell if the instrument is made of wood or plastic. Woody would rather not go there.
Woody instruments have enough lacquer applied to create a clear, durable finish. This clear finish could, in the hands of an accomplished finisher, easily have traditional sunburst coloring applied on top... owner's choice...luthier's discretion advised.
Finishing ... The Wait
Finishing requires the application of several coats of instrument-grade lacquer. Woody applies two coats of sanding sealer wet sanded between coats. Then, 3-4 coats of lacquer are applied in order to build up a hard, durable finish. As the Woody shop is producing only a few instruments each year, I can afford to wait 12 to 24 hours between coats. This allows more than enough time complete the chemical adhesion between coats. The worst thing one can do is to put on too much finish too fast. As I am only applying, maybe, a total of 6 coats, I allow a week to apply the finish.
Then the hard part... waiting. One should allow the lacquer to cure for a month before returning the hardware to the instrument. Remember, at Woody Strings we always set up the instrument completely before finishing. With the setup hardware in place, the instrument is played for about a week in order to fine tune the setup. Once satisfied with the set up, the mandolin (in this case) is stripped of the strings, bridge and hardware and made ready for the finishing process.
First, the instrument is given a thorough cosmetic inspection and cleaning. It is very important to remember that the rosewood still has oil in it which will bleed color into the spruce and maple if acetone is applied. Avoid rosewood when cleaning and prepping the surfaces of the instrument for finishing.
The are numerous sites on line that explain the complete finishing process of lacquer on wood. As to spraying lacquer, I will offer only this. Go light rather than heavy as you can always apply another coat. If you see tiny air bubbles or drips in the lacquer after you spray... you've put on too much. That's a problem. How much is enough?.... Enough is one coat less than too much. When learning, or unsure... go light.
Now it is April and I have the mandolin strung up to pitch and tuned. The client comes to pick it up next week. I hope that she likes it.
The next challenge is the re-build of an instrument that was brought to me with a severely damaged top. As the neck angle also needed resetting (before the top damage), the project also includes removing the neck from the guitar and resetting the neck angle. The neck will be replaced with the neck angle corrected and a new fingerboard. The top and the top bindings will be replaced with new. Then, the entire instrument will be re-finished.
Needless to say, this guitar was a favorite of the owner.
The month of March concluded the building of the A-style mandolin. The month's work was to apply a lacquer finish and complete the set up of the mandolin. Before applying the finish, a preliminary set up had been undertaken in order to ensure that the bridge, neck, frets, nut, tailpiece and tuners were all working together to make a playable instrument. Some photos from the month of March are below.
More Next Month... keep the music playing!