Monday, September 21, 2009

Staining the Soundboard and Learning A Lesson

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ah, the never ending learning curve. Sometimes I wonder if I am on it or under it. You work so hard at something, read up on it, do tests and trials, and then turn around and mess it up.

But enough on that - I will come back to it soon enough.

Yesterday, as I said I would, I took the plunge and applied my stain to the front - and I really liked the results.

As you can see, not only was I able to achieve a nice balance between the dark-to-light transition in my sunburst, but I was also able to get the outside edge pretty dark without leaving the light-colored ring like I did on my test pieces. Here is how I did it:

First I set myself up with four clean glass cups, plenty of water (I’m using water-based dye, as you will recall), four swabs and plenty of clean rags. In three of the four cups, I will be mixing stains, from left to right, dark Tobacco Brown, Amber, and a Tobacco Brown with just a little bit of Cherry Red. In the fourth cup I will leave plain water. A swab is dedicated for each cup.

After preparing all three stain mixtures, I started by staining the entire soundboard Amber.

Next, I added a ring of Tobacco Brown around the outside edge and feathered it in toward the center. Because the wood was a bit wet from the Amber, the Brown did not soak in very deeply, but this is ok since all I want is for it to act as a transition to the dark Red/Brown I will apply next.

Finally, I applied the Red/Brown and, again, feathered it in toward the center, but not as far in as I did the Brown.

Once all the stains was applied, I touched up a little by using plain water and working outward from the center to push back some of the darkness and to lighten the Amber a bit. I also found that letting the swab with the Red/Brown dry out so that it only marked lightly on the wood gave me a great medium for applying minor color touch-ups without having to work very hard to blend afterward.

At this point (about the point where I took the composite photos above), I realized I needed to do some additional staining on the back and sides in order to make them more readily match the front. I did that and by that time it was about mid-day, so I decided to let the whole instrument dry for the afternoon.

Just before bed-time I decided to apply a coat of Shellac as a sealer, let that dry overnight, and then come back today to begin applying my finish coats of lacquer.

And here is where I got bit.

When I bought my can of shellac, I also bought some of those sponge-type paint brushes to use to apply it. I figures this should be a pretty straight-forward process, take only a few minutes, and that these brushes would work just fine.


Not only was it a mistake to think that sponge brushes were the way to apply this stuff, but shellac from a can, I quickly learned, is also quite thin (read “runny”) and it dries in a matter of minutes. So now I am working with a substance that is almost impossible for a beginner to get in all the right places, in all the right thicknesses, in anything like a timely manner. And furthermore, if you put it on too thick, it lifts the stain and redistributes it for you. Really.

I’m here to tell you, this is no way to end your day, especially when the next thing on the agenda is to climb into bed. It makes for a really hard time trying to fall asleep and then when you do, I assure you, you will not have the very best of dreams.

Clearly, the only thing to do - short of using it as kindling - is to strip off all of the shellac and stain and try again. Assuming of coarse that I can.

So today on my way home from work, I stopped by Lowe’s again and picked up a can of denatured alcohol. According to the blurb on the can, this is the right stuff for removing shellac from brushes so, surely, its the right stuff for removing from my mandolin.

I also picked up a new can of spray-on shellac.

This evening then, using generous quantities of the alcohol and a bunch of rags, I was able to remove pretty much all of the shellac and stain from the soundboard. Here is how it looks as of tonight.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that when removing the shellac from the back and the sides, almost none of the stain was removed with it. In fact, whatever stain might have been removed seems to have improved the appearance.

That’s it for tonight. I plan to let everything air-out until tomorrow evening when I will attempt to stain to the soundboard again and then, should that go well, on Wednesday (not just before bedtime on Tuesday) I will spray on thin coat of shellac as a sealer.

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