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Headstock Inlay


I consider myself one of the world's worst inlay artists.  Not something I particularly enjoy doing, especially with a name like mine.  So, I get someone else to cut the "Coombe" logo in Paua Abalone for me.  Also that is all the inlay I do on the headstock, which is fine for simple snakehead headstocks on oval hole mandolins.  I don't believe in over decorating.


First the abalone is glued in place on the headstock with liquid hide glue.  This glue is used because it is not a permanent join, and hide glue is easily cleaned up with warm water.


Once the glue is dry, I scribe around the abalone with a sharp steel scribe.


Now we need to unglue the abalone.  This can be done just with a knife, but usually it will need assistance in the form of warm water.


The glue is cleaned off with a cloth soaked in warm water.


Oops, damn, I broke the abalone.  Unfortunately real abalone shell is very brittle and this is not all that unusual, it happens often, although it is very annoying when it does happen.  Glue it back together with some superglue.  This could have some flow on affects because the pattern has already been scribed on the headstock, but no matter, we shall see how it goes.  So, carry on.


Now I apply chalk across the scribed area.


Wipe the chalk off with a finger (or thumb).


Now we have a clear outline of the "Coombe" logo.


The headstock is then clamped to the bench and the ebony is routed out using my Dremel and a Stew Mac Dremel routing adapter.


Lets see how it fits.  Mmm, doesn't fit will need more routing.  Looks like the break may have moved the abalone logo a bit.


OK, now we have a fit.  A bit looser than I would like because of the break, but no matter.


Mixing epoxy glue with ebony dust.  I have found Ebony dust to be the least visible of colourants.


Most of the chalk is cleaned off and the abalone logo is glued in with the epoxy and ebony dust..


Here I am warming the epoxy with a hair dryer.  Since taking this picture I have purchased a heat gun which works much better.  The purpose of warming the epoxy is to try and get all the bubbles out of the epoxy. Usually works, but not always.


Once the epoxy has thoroughly cured, the headstock is sanded flat.


Here is the result.  Not so good, but should be Ok once the varnish is applied..


This is more like it.  A much better one from another mandolin.  This is what I aim for, but if the abalone breaks it is much more difficult to get a really good fit.


Applying shellac.  The rest here is a bit out of sequence.  Usually finishing is done much later after the mandolin has been assembled, bound and sanded.  However, I thought I would show the finishing process of the headstock here because it is a little different from the rest of the mandolin.


Here the shellac has been applied and has dried.  See, the glue lines are no longer visible.  The sloppy fit no longer is visible.  Successfully recovered from a minor disaster.  Minor disasters are not all that uncommon when making musical instruments, and it is important not to panic when they happen.  Minor disasters are recoverable, but major ones may not be.  Fortunately the major ones are usually rare.  I have had plenty of minor disasters, but very few major ones.


After the shellac I use a clear filler.  Target Coatings clear filler is the only one I have found that really works as a clear filler.


The filler is sanded flat.  Usually 2 coats of filler are applied, sanding between coats.


Now the varnish (Target Coatings brushing varnish) is applied with a brush.


Sanding between coats.  A relatively thick coat of varnish (thicker than the rest of the mandolin) is built up and sanded back with sandpaper.


A final sanding with 2400 wet/dry sandpaper to get a perfectly flat and smooth surface of varnish.


The varnish surface is then buffed to a low gloss with Olive Oil and Rottenstone to match the low gloss of the french polish on the rest of the instrument.