Finished with 12 coats of sealer.

Back view after the sealer has been sprayed.

Back view after the sealer has been sprayed.

After three days of spraying the sealer (and after one quart),  I will let the guitar cure overnight and then lightly sand it using 400 grit sandpaper and a felt sanding block. Then it will be time to spray the topcoat lacquer for another twelve coats. 
The Ziricote explodes with figure when sprayed but is nothing now – wait until the buffing is completed! The quilted Mahogany binding is beginning to look like shimmering gold. The Cedar top is… well it is simply beautiful!

The Cedar top and neck after the first 12 coats of spraying.

The Cedar top and neck after the first 12 coats of spraying.

MDR-

Muriel Anderson

This post is not directly related to Dan’s guitar but I have to share meeting with Muriel Anderson, an internationally known guitarist and recording artist. She was actually booked in a small independent music store near Tampa for a workshop and concert last week. We attended this wonderful evening and spent a great deal of time talking to her about music and harp guitars.

Muriel and her harp guitar built by Mike Doolin.

Muriel and her harp guitar built by Mike Doolin.

A peak inside her harp guitar while changing the battery - fan bracing for a nylon string instrument.

A peak inside her harp guitar while changing the battery – fan bracing for a nylon string instrument.

Muriel graciously signed all CDs and books and gave every attendee a set of guitar strings.Muriel has recorded a CD with flamenco duo Tierra Negra. It is called New World Flamenco and it is awesome - highly recommended!

Muriel graciously signed all CDs and books and gave every attendee a set of guitar strings.

Muriel has recorded a CD with flamenco duo Tierra Negra. It is called New World Flamenco and it is awesome – highly recommended!

Finishing the guitar with lacquer.

Most custom guitars are finished with either nitrocellulose lacquer, UV-cured polyester, French Polish (shellac) or a polymerized oil varnish. With the exception of shellac, all of these finishes are harmful to your health and to the environment. The last six or seven years has seen the maturing of water-based lacquers that are durable and safe. I have been using a water-based lacquer from Crystalac for many years now. Although it is much safer than almost any other finish, I still take precautions to protect my lungs from any micro-particles or chemicals.

My name is Darth Vader and I am your father!

My name is Darth Vader and I am your father!

I have built a portable spray booth that I use for finishing. It sits on top of a table and has a powerful fan that sucks the overspray into a common A/C filter and has special braces for securing the body and neck.

The spray booth collects all the overspray and the fan sucks it into a filter. The plastic allows light to come through.

The spray booth collects all the overspray and the fan sucks it into a filter. The plastic allows light to come through.

My spray schedule will consist of 12 thin coats of sealer (commonly known as sanding sealer) which is just thinned lacquer and then 12 coats of top coat lacquer. I will try to spray four coats per day three hours apart. After all the lacquer is applied, it will need to cure for one week before buffing.

I use an HVLP spray gun (high volume low pressure) and set my compressor at 50 psi.

I use an HVLP spray gun (high volume low pressure) and set my compressor at 50 psi.

I use a horizontal motion as I spray and overlap 1/3 of each spray.

I use a horizontal motion as I spray and overlap 1/3 of each spray.

Water-based lacquer sprays tiny beads on the guitar. Within seconds they spread out to form a solid coat. The build-up of 24 coats will result in a solid protective finish without adding much weight or damping to the top.

The daily spraying will continue for the next four days.

MDR-

Pore filling the Mahogany.

Many species of hardwoods have open pores in their grain. This presents a challenge when trying to finish them with a lacquer or varnish because these finishes do not fill the open pores very well and this leaves tiny voids that do not appear smooth in certain light. Ziricote and Ebony are closed-pore woods so nothing has to be done to prepare them for final finishing. Mahogany on the other hand is an open-pore wood and needs to have the pores filled before finishing. Many different kinds of fillers are used but the process is similar: force the filler in the pores with different strokes from different angle. I am currently using Zpoxy, an epoxy-based substance that does a great job at filling pores.

Preparing the neck for pore filling - the Ebony is taped off.

Preparing the neck for pore filling – the Ebony is taped off.

I mix the Zpoxy in mixing cups and spread some on the neck and work the filler in the pores using a thin plastic tool that I have shaped to conform to the neck radius.

I mix 1/2 part resin with 1/ 2 part hardener.

I mix 1/2 part resin with 1/ 2 part hardener.

The Zpoxy is spread on the neck with a popsicle stick.

The Zpoxy is spread on the neck with a popsicle stick.

The plastic tool forces the Zpoxy in the pores.

The plastic tool forces the Zpoxy in the pores.

After the pores stop accepting any more filler I do a final smoothing out so there are no peaks in the Zpoxy and I hang it up to dry.

The Zpoxy already gives the neck a finished look but it will be sanded off.

The Zpoxy already gives the neck a finished look but it will be sanded off.

Once the Zpoxy dries, I will sand it back to the wood leaving only the filler in the pores. Sometimes I have to repeat this process to completely fill the pores (especially with Rosewoods) but a close inspection with the magnifying glass reveals the pores are sufficiently filled.

The guitar construction is now finished and ready for the lacquer. I must first clean the shop of excess sawdust and debris and then I will set up my spray booth.

MDR-

The heelcap on the neck.

The heelcap is the decorative hardwood on the heel of the neck where it joins the body. It is frequently an artistic statement by the guitarbuilder. Froggy Bottom Guitars has a wilderness scene on their heelcaps. I visited them years ago in rural Vermont where they have been building beautiful guitars for 40 years. My heelcaps, on the other hand, match the back’s wood and purfling to create continuity between the neck and body. I laminate thin Ebony and Maple veneers with Ziricote and glue them to the heel with a single clamp.

The heelcap laminates are clamped to the heel of the neck.

The heelcap laminates are clamped to the heel of the neck.

I leave slight overhangs around the perimeter of the heelcap and they will be sanded even with the heel after the glue dries.

The overhands will be sanded even using sandpaper and wood files.

The overhands will be sanded even using sandpaper and wood files.

After the sanding is finished, the neck is smooth all the way to the end of the heel.

The heelcap will butt against the Mahogany binding and the Ziricote grain will match the back.

The heelcap will butt against the Mahogany binding and the Ziricote grain will match the back.

One last task with the neck – the headstock. I mentioned the angling of the string channels in the slots of the headstock. I finished sanding them using sandpaper wrapped around dowels and now the wood veneers are exposed and are elegant.

A touch of color among all the natural wood tones. When the bronze strings pass over the channel the effect should be: well, effective!

A touch of color among all the natural wood tones. When the bronze strings pass over the channel the effect should be: well, effective!

MDR-

Raising the grain and final sanding – Part 2.

During the building of a guitar, it is not unusual for the body to experience scratches, scrapes, and nicks. This is especially true with softwoods like the Cedar top. I use a magnifying glass and bright light to go over every inch of the guitar before the final sanding.

Examining the guitar with a magnifying glass from several angles identifies any scratches or nicks.

Examining the guitar with a magnifying glass from several angles identifies any scratches or nicks.

Nicks and scratches can usually be sanded out. Deep nicks must be filled first and then sanded. I use a mixture of luthiers glue and sawdust of the wood needing filling. Fortunately there were only two small nicks needing filling so this process only took a few minutes to complete. On the the other hand there were several scratches in the Cedar. A scratch is caused by a compression of the wood grain when focused pressure is exerted on it. To reverse the compression, steam is applied to decompress the wood and raise the grain back to its natural state.

I wet a shop rag and use my 40 watt soldering iron to create steam over the scratch.

I wet a shop rag and use my 40 watt soldering iron to create steam over the scratch.

As the steam reaches the compressed grain, it raises the grain until it's even with the rest of the surface.

As the steam reaches the compressed grain, it raises the grain until it’s even with the rest of the surface.

A proper angle of the soldering iron must be maintained in order to avert any burning of the top. I remember my old wood burning set when I was a kid – a lot of damage can be done in a few seconds!

After the body dries completely from the steam and sawdust filling, I do the final sanding using 220, 320, and 400 grit sandpaper.

The completed guitar with the bridge set in place.

The completed guitar with the bridge set in place.

One last task is to glue on the neck heel cap. I will use a lamination of Ebony, Maple, and Ziricote. I had set aside a piece of Ziricote for this purpose because I want to continue the grain pattern from the back to the heel cap.

MDR-

Final shaping of the neck.

Now back to the neck. Dan’s hands are not large (but they are very fine hands) so we need to shape the neck for comfort and maximum playability for him. We already have a shorter scale length so the distance between frets will be shorter than a larger scale instrument. I have elected to shape the neck similar to a James Goodall Grand Concert model. It is similar to a Taylor neck  – I have used both templates and I really think Dan’s fingerstyle guitar suits the Goodall best.

My approach to carving the neck is using facets – carving to lines to eventually arrive at a “C” shaped neck. I first measure the neck blank width and depth and plot it on paper. I then use a compass to draw the “C” within the dimensions. I draw intersecting lines and measure from the center, ends, and top and then I transfer these dimensions to create facet lines on the neck.

Facet lines transfered from my drawing to the neck.

Facet lines transfered from my drawing to the neck.

I use a hand plane, a spokeshave, and a cabinetmakers rasp to remove wood between the lines.

This process is repeated until there is a rounding of the neck. This hand plane removes the most wood and it is only used to “hog off” the initial facet.

I then use my neck template to start comparing to the shape at the first and tenth frets.

As the shape starts to conform to the template, I use 80 grit sandpaper sheets and use a “shoe shining” motion to round the neck.

The 80 grit paper and the back-and-forth sanding motion works the wood to the template shape.

When the initial shaping is accomplished, it is time to check the neck angle and orintation and to glue on the heel cap. First I need to finish the headstock. The bottoms of the slots in the headstock need to be angled toward the fretboard so the strings have a path to the tuners.

This hand plane removes the most wood and it is only used to "hog off" the initial facet.

This hand plane removes the most wood and it is only used to “hog off” the initial facet.

I wrap 100 grit sandpaper around a 3/8″ dowel and work the angle until completed. Pictures to follow in the next post.

As the neck becomes rounded, I start using the template to monitor my progress.

As the neck becomes rounded, I start using the template to monitor my progress.

The 80 grit paper and the back-and-forth sanding motion works the wood to the template shape.

The 80 grit paper and the back-and-forth sanding motion works the wood to the template shape.

I draw the basic outline of the angle on the headstock.

I draw the basic outline of the angle on the headstock.

MDR-

The match test!

After the binding is installed and the final sanding is started, it is tradition to check the movement of the top to “predict” how responsive it will be. When my father was alive, he looked forward to holding the match in front of the soundhole while I tapped on the top where the bridge will be. Legend has it if the match is blown out by the air within the first two or three taps then the top is sufficiently responsive and will produce beautiful, complex overtones.  I have passed the match-holding tradition to my youngest son Eric (who just graduated from Notre Dame). During the process he was Skyping his friend Shelly who happened to be in Mexico and could witness the process.

Eric is holding the match in the center of the soundhole while I tap.

Eric is holding the match in the center of the soundhole while I tap.

The match was blown out on the first tap – we have a very responsive top!

MDR-

Final sanding of the body.

In preparation for the topcoat finish, final sanding of the top, back and sides is accomplished in two phases. The first phase is to sand the binding even with all sides and I use a scraper first followed by a 100 grit sanding block. I then sand the backs and sides with a 150 grit sanding block. I use 220 on the top.

The back and cutaway after the first sanding. The Mahogany binding really compliments the Ziricote.

The back and cutaway after the first sanding. The Mahogany binding really compliments the Ziricote.

The second sanding phase will occur after I make sure all gaps are filled and all scratches are removed.

A view of the Cedar top and cutaway area.

A view of the Cedar top and cutaway area.

The Ziricote back in low light - it is striking no matter what angle you view it.

The Ziricote back in low light – it is striking no matter what angle you view it.

MDR-

Installing the fretwire in the Ebony fretboard.

I now switch from woodwork to metalwork to install and dress the fretwire. I have an arsenal of specialy tools to assist in this phase. A bound fretboard like Dan’s takes over twice the effort to fret because the fretwire does not extend to each end of the fretboard like it does in an unbound board. The part of the fretwire that is installed in the fret kerfs is called the tang. The tang must be cut to the total width of the opening and then the crown of the fretwire must extend to the ends of the fretboard, overhanging the binding.

My fretting tools: a fret hammer, a tang nipper, a tang crimper, a fret cutter ground flat, and a fret leveler.

My fretting tools: a fret hammer, a tang nipper, a tang crimper, a fret cutter ground flat, and a fret leveler.

The fretboard was radiused 14 degrees so the fretwire should also follow that radius. I built a little jig that gently bends the fretwire.

When all frets have a file mark on the top the first leveling is finished.

When all frets have a file mark on the top the first leveling is finished.

The fretboard was radiused 14 degrees so the fretwire should also follow that radius. I built a little jig that gentlly bends the fretwire.

I insert the fretwire upside down in one end of the jig and turn the handle to feed it through to the other end to create a radius.

I insert the fretwire upside down in one end of the jig and turn the handle to feed it through to the other end to create a radius.

I cut the fretwire to span the first fret kerf and nip off the tang to fit in the kerf.

The tangs need to fill the entire kerf to make sure the ends of the wire rest tightly over the binding.

The tangs need to fill the entire kerf to make sure the ends of the wire rest tightly over the binding.

I then run a bead of luthier’s glue on the bottom of the tang. The glue does not actually help much as an adhesive but the moisture in the glue slightly swells the Ebony in the kerf to help grip the tang.

Many luthiers do not use glue in the kerf but I prefer to use any method that helps the long term integrity of the frets.

Many luthiers do not use glue in the kerf but I prefer to use any method that helps the long term integrity of the frets.

I insert the fretwire in the kerf and use the copper end of the fret hammer to pound in the tang.

I hammer one end then swith to the other end and then hammer the middle.

I hammer one end then swith to the other end and then hammer the middle.

I repeat this process until all the frets are installed. Then I use the fret cutter to snip off the ends of each wire.

Care is taken with the last three or four frets because they are not over the neck; they will rest over the guitar top.

Care is taken with the last three or four frets because they are not over the neck; they will rest over the guitar top.

After the glue has had a day to set, I then angle the fretwire in about 35 degrees toward the center of the fretboard. I use a special fret file for this.

There is still about 1/2" of the Mahogany neck that extends beyond the fretboard and this serves as a guide for the fret file.

There is still about 1/2″ of the Mahogany neck that extends beyond the fretboard and this serves as a guide for the fret file.

In order for the strings to intone correctly, the frets must be perfectly level or else two adjacent frets will play the same note or there will be excessive buzzing. I use the fret leveling file to run across the tops of the frets.

When all frets have a file mark on the top the first leveling is finished.

When all frets have a file mark on the top the first leveling is finished.

I use a fret rocker to test the middle fret between the two adjacent frets. If it rocks even slightly I need to file down the middle fret. I do this across the entire fret. This process takes between one and two hours.

The fret rocker has four different lengths to span three frets down the fretboard.

The fret rocker has four different lengths to span three frets down the fretboard.

A small metal file is used to file down any fret that is higher than its adjacent frets.

A small metal file is used to file down any fret that is higher than its adjacent frets.

Many of the frets are no longer crowned so I must re-crown them. I have two crowning files that re-shape the top of the fretwire.

The crowning file has two sides, each having a different grit pattern - medium and fine.

The crowning file has two sides, each having a different grit pattern – medium and fine.

All this filing has left the edges rough and sharp. I don’t think Dan will want to run his talented fingers over sharp frets to I must dress the frets. I have chosen a nice polo shirt and khaki pants for this. OK, OK – I’ll stop with the stupid jokes and stick to guitar building.

Dressing the fret edge is done with a special fine file that is smooth on the the bottom so it won't damage the wood. I use a rounding motion.

Dressing the fret edge is done with a special fine file that is smooth on the the bottom so it won’t damage the wood. I use a rounding motion.

After the fret ends are smooth, I run sandpaper up and down the frets to remove the file marks and to polish the frets. I start with 150 grit, move to 220, 320, 400, 600, and end with 800. The frets look like new!

MDR-