Jul. 4th, 2011

elhoff: (Guitar)
As I approach the end of this first guitar finishing episode, I am able to reflect back on my decision to use lacquer.

I wanted to avoid using lacquer for several reasons:

- Lacquer is not exactly environmentally friendly. Lacquer thinner contains a variety of nasty solvents, all of which ends up in the atmosphere. I try to live in a manner such that I do not intentionally destroy the planet.

- Lacquer is illegal to sell in southern California. It will eventually be illegal in other locations. Large commercial shops are not allowed to use it in most states. I did not want to put the energy into learning to spray a medium that could be banned anytime soon. I want to build guitars, not learn to spray new materials!

- Given the nastiness of the solvents, a fairly robust respirator is mandatory, even when spraying outdoors.

Now that I am almost done, I am glad I used lacquer because:

+ I can probably build about 4 guitars a year, at most. It's not like I am going to shoot a gallon of lacquer thinner into the atmosphere each day! My operation is small by any standard, and the impact has to be minimal.

+ Lacquer is fairly standardized. There is the question of thinning, but there is a wealth of information available on how to spray, what went wrong, how to fix issues, etc. This is not true with most of the newer lacquer alternatives.

+ Lacquer is easy to spray. Given the way lacquer flashes dry in a matter of seconds, it is very easy to spray, minimizes runs, and bugs have to be fast to get stuck in it.

+ Lacquer is forgiving to spray. There is little that you can do wrong that cannot be repaired.

+ Lacquer is easy to repair. In this guitar, I have repaired dirt specs, bugs, air bubbles, and runs. Many of these would have been virtually impossible to repair in a different finish. Bugs and dirt can be scraped out and the divot filled with a drop of lacquer on the end of a toothpick. At one point I found hundreds of air bubbles in the finish on theguitar back. I was able to reflow the lacquer by spraying pure lacquer thinner on it. The bubbles float to the top, and no more issue.

+ Lacquer is forgiving of an inconsistent spraying schedule. Cross-linking finishes require that you spray each new coat less the 24 hours after the prior coat. My full-time job does not necessarily allow that. With lacquer I can come back after several days and add coats, do repairs, reflow, etc. This is impossible with most other finishes.

To me the biggest benefit of the lacquer is the ease of repair. I would love to think that I could spray a perfect finish coat, but that is just not realistic in my conditions. Spraying outdoors involves wind, sun, dirt, bugs, etc. It is certainly less than ideal. With lacquer I was able to fix each defect I found. With the alternative modern cross-linking finishes these repairs would have been impossible. I would have had to achieve a flawless finish in the final coat. If I would have chosen a finish that could not be readily repaired, I think I would have given up in despair before I completed the finish! I do not believe that I would have been able to complete this project if I was not able to do repairs.

I will continue to watch for alternative finishes that work like lacquer. I still do not consider lacquer to be ideal by any means. But this is one more reason thaqt I am glad I am not living in southern California.

September 2011

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