Wet sanding and buffing the lacquer

September 27, 2011

After the lacquer has cured for several weeks it is dry enough and hard enough to be leveled and buffed to a high shine.  The entire instrument is sanded, first with 320-grit paper, then 400-, 600- and finally 1,000-grit.  Mineral spirits are used as a lubricant in the sanding process to help float particles off the surface of the lacquer.  Soapy water is also a good lubrucant, but I have gotten used to working with mineral spirits so that is what I prefer.

Some areas, such as along the heel and next to the fretboard on the body, require extra attention.


 The goal is to sand the lacquer perfectly flat but, of course, not break through the finish back to the bare wood.  This is always a difficult process because I apply only enough lacquer to allow me to achieve a level surface.  I don’t use any more than necessary because it would have a dampening effect on the sound.   With this minimalist approach, only a few misplaced strokes of the sandpaper can result in a breakthrough, which requires application of more lacquer and a delay in completion.

After the instrument is sanded, it is buffed for many hours on muslin wheels with two different grits of compound.  The buffing process reduces large, deep scratches in the lacquer surface to small shallow scratches.   The more buffing that is done, the smaller the scratches become.  Eventually the scratches become so small that they are no longer visible and that is when the instrument appears to be smooth and uniformly glossy.



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