Tuesday, May 20, 2014


The Beauty of the Thing...

Became apparent the minute Bruce Roper began to spread a thin layer of shellac on the surface. I knew it was going to be good. I didn't know it was going to be this good.

First a layer of shellac

Bruce, the luthier at Old Town School of Folk Music, has been working on this guitar since we picked out the wood at Owl Lumber in Des Plaines in February. We met Tuesday morning to go through the sanding process, which covered every inch of the guitar body, then some little repairs of things you might never see unless you were Bruce.

Using an edge on a binding repair
The problems are simple to describe. No matter how diligent you are about putting on binding (see the last blog) there will be places where some filling in is necessary. The sanding process, too, is not kind to binding. Bruce uses an orbital sander, first with an 80 grit paper to cut down the surface and then a 120 grit to finish everything off. But you don't want to use that sander on the actual binding.

Binding is something you see from the front. If you are not careful in sanding, you will cut into it and wreck the sense that its all the same size and all marching along the joint between the sides and the top, where it belongs. Just here, Bruce is using a scraper to more clearly define one part of the binding. No glue can protrude from the binding channel or it will leave a blob in the finish. So Bruce covers every inch looking for those kinds of flaws.

When he finds one, he turns to one of his best tools, Superglue, to fix it. He sprays on some hardener first, then applies the glue. After it dries, he sands it all down.

Cautious side sanding with an orbital sander

He is using a small orbital sander for the work. The good thing with this kind of a tool is that it is easy to control, easy to change paper grits on (sandpaper goes from fairly rough grits, down around 80, to very find grits up around 220) and, if it is kept moving, won't leave scratches. That's important because any scratch on the surface of the guitar will be amplified by the shellac and later the finish Bruce puts on the instrument. He doesn't want any of that showing through. It's not a time consuming process but it is fairly rigorous, with lots of stopping to check the surface by feel.

I have to admit I was a little anxious about the next step, the application of the initial coat of shellac, a finish made from the outsides of special beetles. It's a little bit magical, at least to me. I already showed you what it looked like with just one side of the back. Here's a series of photos
to show you how it went.

That's the back. Now for the front.

Shellac on the front
You can see from these photos that the wood has come alive under shellac. That means Bruce made just the right choice when we purchased that big block of Sapele at Owl early in the year.

Hanging the body to dry

Bruce and I just stood there and watched the thing rotate for a bit, making it quite clear what chatoyance will do for a guitar. I am well aware that it's going to take a long time for this instrument to "open up" and play at its best, but I do believe it will be beautiful from the point at which Bruce pronounces it completed.

Next week, we're going to start working on the headstock and neck of the guitar. How it all fits together will be of great interest to those of you who are afficiandos of styles of building.

Come back.


  1. Bruce has that satisfied look on his face while shellacing the front... what joy to produce such beauty!