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Thread: Finish options on new work

  1. #1
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    Default Finish options on new work

    After reading through a very informative thread on repairability of finishes I thought it would be appropriate for a new thread that outlined some options for finishes on new work.

    Being one of the lone Australian builders here my product choices are different to whats available to many of you. The one that I've settled on is a pre-catalyzed lacquer made by Mirotone over a pore fill of WEST Systems epoxy. It works well and I get a mirror gloss that I'm happy with.

    There is the problem of toxicity and the smell from the lacquer that I'd like to reduce or eliminate. A mention by Rick Turner on his preferred method of hand finishing got my interest and hoped he would elaborate a bit on it here.

    Others with finishing experience please jump in too. If you don't have any experience then please refrain from offering advice that you aren't qualified to make. Some grumpy old luthiers might jump all over you otherwise.

  2. #2
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    I, too share your concerns over the toxicity of nitro. I've been riding the nitro train too long and just doing what everybody used to. Other finishes I've tried (FP, Target 6000, Tru-oil) have been fussier to work with and the finished result lacking in one are or another. Perhaps a little to late, I am now taking the precautions I should always have but I'm afraid that years of exposure to this junk may have already taken it's toll. From the research I've done (Yes! I did some!) even the water borne finishes aren't 100% safe. Thanks for bringing up the topic Allen. It's time for a change and I will be following this thread closely.
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    Chuck Moore
    Moore Bettah Ukuleles
    http://www.moorebettahukes.com

  3. #3
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    The good folks from Cardinal (a finish manufacturer making really good products) just turned me on to System 3 epoxies. They make one formula that is specifically used as a sealer/coating and has very, very low amine blush issues. I'm about to try it, and I'll report in.

    The amine blush issue is a big deal with epoxies. It can prevent subsequent coats of finish from adhering well, and it also acts as an anti-catalyst for polyesters. You can deal with it by washing the amines off of cured epoxy with water...yes, water, not any kind of chemical solvent. I've been doing that with WEST epoxy used as a sealer...light sand, scuff with ScotchBrite, and then do a wash with a damp paper towel.

    I have had really good results pre-sealing and pore filling with two coats of epoxy. It does a pretty good job of filling pores, and the great thing is that once cured, there's no further shrinkage. It' NOT the traditional dyed pore filler look as per Martin, but I'm not trying to do that.

    Over the epoxy I'm using either Simtec's "Adhesion Promoter" or now the Cardinal equivalent urethane. These are "isolator" coats...sealers...particularly needed over rosewood or cedar, both of which have oils that are also "anti-catalysts" for the polyesters I like as build and top coats. They are also superior sealers under nitro, as Addam Stark is finding out.

    The real key here is getting great adhesion, and sometimes you have to graduate from one material to another to another to get this. It's like the very best chrome plating over steel. It has to be copper, then nickel, then chrome to really get fantastic grip and the great look.

    For those who want to try varnish, take a look at the Epifanes line. They have a formula that does not need to be sanded between coats as do normal spar varnishes. Behlen's Rock Hard is also favored by some American luthiers. I see no reason why these varnishes would not work really well over epoxy, and the finish could be brushed on in a simple clean room.

    Another nice look is Waterlox tung oil (really a long oil varnish) directly over epoxy sealer/pore filler. It's not the music store finish glossy finish that so many expect, but it's a really superior take on an "oil" finish.

    Yes, I'm a big fan of epoxy as the basic sealer. It adds a level of moisture resistance that no other coating can, it works nicely over a lot of stains (Behlen's SolarLux or US Cellulose MEK soluble dyes), and I do believe that it makes for the best adhesion of subsequent coats of anything that you can do. The thin epoxies also have fantastic wetting out properties and will really pop grain figure and natural wood colors. They'll also find any hidden flaws in the wood and help keep it together.

    A number of American luthiers do a whole inside and outside treatment on Brazilian rosewood stump wood which can be problematic using epoxy on the joined but raw parts and then run the wood through a drum or wide belt sander. The epoxy penetrates well and helps to stabilize the wood. Look inside the guitar, and you cannot tell that this was done. The Smith CPES epoxy is practically water thin and is great for this.

    I also know that a number of high end classical guitar makers are epoxy sealing guitars under French polish...and they aren't talking about it. It cuts down the FP time by at least 50% because all the basic wood prep and pore filling is done and stable in two days, and the FP can be less than half the number of coats.

    Another more traditional technique comes from Romanillos who uses egg whites as a ground (sealer) particularly on tops underneath FP.

  4. #4
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    All the finishes that i've tried have been simple low tech. Tru-oil, Danish Oil, French Polish, Violin Oil Varnish, Violin Spirit Varnish and Behlens Rockhard - a modern type of Oil varnish.
    The only one on the list that I would call tough and durable (in the modern Guitar sense) is the Rockhard. Doesn't really require much in the way of equipment although a simple light cabinet is useful. I wasn't a fan of the smell - has a Chemical odour that I didn't like. I doubt that brushing it on would cause much in the way of toxicity. It also gives a slight Green caste that is visible on very light coloured inlays.
    There are other similar Varnishes that don't give the caste - or at least that's what I have heard.
    These days I just stick to the Danish Oil and a brushed on Spirit Varnish. Not the toughest or hardest of finishes but old Martins supposedly had it. High end Mandolin makers use it but many Guitar makers think it too soft.

  5. #5
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    Thank you all for this thread. It's come at just the right time. When signing on I actually was going to find some previous threads to help me with some finish problems I am having with Tru-oil over a Macassar Ebony headplate.

    I appreciate your detailed reply Rick. I will try some of the other varnishes you have recommended. I only have a small shop and no room for a spray booth so I am trying to do it by hand but i am having a heck of a time. I get so discouraged.

    Thanks again for all your time in addressing this issue!
    Last edited by ukegirl13; 09-18-2011 at 06:00 PM.

  6. #6
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    I have worked with Waterlox Sealers for cabinet work. http://www.waterlox.com/products-ite...or-finish.aspx Is that what you are referring to? It does a nice job but I didn't feel it has the ability to stand up to hard use like Nitro does.

    (Hope I didn't piss off any cranky luthiers...)


    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Turner View Post
    The good folks from Cardinal (a finish manufacturer making really good products) just turned me on to System 3 epoxies. They make one formula that is specifically used as a sealer/coating and has very, very low amine blush issues. I'm about to try it, and I'll report in.

    The amine blush issue is a big deal with epoxies. It can prevent subsequent coats of finish from adhering well, and it also acts as an anti-catalyst for polyesters. You can deal with it by washing the amines off of cured epoxy with water...yes, water, not any kind of chemical solvent. I've been doing that with WEST epoxy used as a sealer...light sand, scuff with ScotchBrite, and then do a wash with a damp paper towel.

    I have had really good results pre-sealing and pore filling with two coats of epoxy. It does a pretty good job of filling pores, and the great thing is that once cured, there's no further shrinkage. It' NOT the traditional dyed pore filler look as per Martin, but I'm not trying to do that.

    Over the epoxy I'm using either Simtec's "Adhesion Promoter" or now the Cardinal equivalent urethane. These are "isolator" coats...sealers...particularly needed over rosewood or cedar, both of which have oils that are also "anti-catalysts" for the polyesters I like as build and top coats. They are also superior sealers under nitro, as Addam Stark is finding out.

    The real key here is getting great adhesion, and sometimes you have to graduate from one material to another to another to get this. It's like the very best chrome plating over steel. It has to be copper, then nickel, then chrome to really get fantastic grip and the great look.

    For those who want to try varnish, take a look at the Epifanes line. They have a formula that does not need to be sanded between coats as do normal spar varnishes. Behlen's Rock Hard is also favored by some American luthiers. I see no reason why these varnishes would not work really well over epoxy, and the finish could be brushed on in a simple clean room.

    Another nice look is Waterlox tung oil (really a long oil varnish) directly over epoxy sealer/pore filler. It's not the music store finish glossy finish that so many expect, but it's a really superior take on an "oil" finish.

    Yes, I'm a big fan of epoxy as the basic sealer. It adds a level of moisture resistance that no other coating can, it works nicely over a lot of stains (Behlen's SolarLux or US Cellulose MEK soluble dyes), and I do believe that it makes for the best adhesion of subsequent coats of anything that you can do. The thin epoxies also have fantastic wetting out properties and will really pop grain figure and natural wood colors. They'll also find any hidden flaws in the wood and help keep it together.

    A number of American luthiers do a whole inside and outside treatment on Brazilian rosewood stump wood which can be problematic using epoxy on the joined but raw parts and then run the wood through a drum or wide belt sander. The epoxy penetrates well and helps to stabilize the wood. Look inside the guitar, and you cannot tell that this was done. The Smith CPES epoxy is practically water thin and is great for this.

    I also know that a number of high end classical guitar makers are epoxy sealing guitars under French polish...and they aren't talking about it. It cuts down the FP time by at least 50% because all the basic wood prep and pore filling is done and stable in two days, and the FP can be less than half the number of coats.

    Another more traditional technique comes from Romanillos who uses egg whites as a ground (sealer) particularly on tops underneath FP.
    Mainland Mango Concert and Red Cedar Soprano, Kala KA-ASKS Soprano, KoAloha Concert, Boat Paddle Tenor, Moore Bettah Tenor, Boat Paddle Mseries Baritone

  7. #7
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    No, Waterlox is no where near as hard and tough as other film finishes, but it has the advantage of being easy to do with minimal gear, and it's really easy to touch up with another coat. There are trade-offs with this simple finish thing. However, Waterlox is about the best I've tried of the so-called "oil finishes"...along with TruOil.

    But try these over epoxy for a much tougher take on the oil finish look. No, it won't rival the glassy surface for nearly forever of higher tech sprayed finishes, but that's the trade-off.

  8. #8
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    I'm currently using up my last stash of McFadden's, and anxiously awaiting a shipping quote from Mac at Cardinal. Off the top, its insane - we need to get a distributor here in Hawai`i. In speaking with him (BTW, thanks Eric for bringing this up in another thread), seems my elusive 2-day finish (with lacquer) is not far away, once I'm done with West Systems (thanks Rick) pore fill.

    One of the nicest finishes I've used is McFadden's polyurethane, which is different from their polyester. Of course, moot point, but I believe Cardinal has it as well. Problem is that I don't have the volume to support using urethane - the catalyst hardens in time (might help if I used bloxygen. . . ). Urethane over Epoxy, that was great. BUT, to me, just as, if not more, toxic than lacquer.

    Personally, Nitro Lacquer is mild compared to the stuff I used to spray on my Motorcycles - urethanes, acrylic enamels, etc. . . and MUCH easier to spray.

    Allen, I think one of the light bulbs that need to be lit for you is an HVLP conversion gun (if you haven't already). I know you like the compressor, so a nice Sata should do fine. You won't eliminate it, but you'll certainly see a reduction in the smell. Once the gun is set properly, if it doesn't hit the instrument, it usually falls to the ground (that's the LP part that prevents lift in the overspray). Of course, that's a $300 experiment should you wish to try it, but I don't think anyone whose gone to a gravity feed HVLP (a good one anyway) has ever looked back. I think Chuck may have used one, but switched to a full on HVLP system (as seen in his pic). I still like the convenience of the cleanup with Gravity Feeds, and I think that HVLP systems are now available with those guns...

    Time to mix some West System - guess you know what I'll be doing this week. . .

    Speaking of Tru-Oil over Epoxy - that's currently on my personal bass, and I love it. I purposely didn't gloss the finish, but its filled nicely. Completely different feel from a lacquer neck.

    Aaron
    Last edited by Kekani; 09-18-2011 at 06:09 PM.

  9. #9
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    Chuck, I notice that you are not using the 6' whip attachment on the Fuji. Do you have any problem with the air being too warm for nitro? I have the Fuji w/ the whip and gravity feed gun and have not had any problems.

  10. #10
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    My basic system for finishing for years has been an epoxy filler, one thin coat of shellac or nitro lacquer sealer, then six to eight coats of nitro lacquer for a uke, 8-10 coats for a guitar. After curing for one to two weeks I sand with 400, then 600 wet/dry and rub out with 0000 steel wool and Wool Lube. Since I don't like high gloss glassy finishes, the rub out brings the finish to a soft satin sheen that looks almost vintage and has a velvet smooth touch. This finish is always well received.

    The ukes I have been building lately have been on the very simple side, that is, no binding or fancy inlays, just a good quality playing uke at a very reasonable cost. For these instruments I just give them one sealer coat and 3 coats of lacquer and then rub them out with the lube and wool. I don't use any filler. This leaves the open pores to show through, but I kind of like the look and again they have been well received.

    For violins I use a combination of an oil varnish, pure Tung oil, turps and a small amount of cobalt drier. This finish is padded on like a French polish, it builds great yet remains very thin and is easy to touch up or renew. You can build the sheen to a high gloss or keep it at a softer satin patina. I may even use it on ukes in the future. The only problem I am having is finding a high quality oil-based varnish on the store shelves in my area. Most varnishes are now solvent-based or urethane products and I am not interested in any of those.

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