The Art of Nitrocellulose: Part 7 - Best Practices for Painting

The Art of Nitrocellulose: Part 7 - Best Practices for Painting

Mastering Nitrocellulose: Best Practices for Painting Your Guitar

When it comes to guitar finishing, nitrocellulose stands out as a classic choice, renowned for its aesthetic appeal and vintage charm. Used by iconic guitar makers in the early days, this finish remains popular today. However, achieving a flawless nitrocellulose finish requires understanding its nuances and adhering to best practices. Let's delve into the intricate process of painting a guitar with nitrocellulose. 

1. Pre warming Aerosols

Benefits of Warming Nitrocellulose Aerosols Prior to Use:

  • Improved Flow and Atomization: A slightly warmed aerosol can allow the nitrocellulose lacquer to thin out a bit, which can result in a more consistent and smoother spray. This ensures a more uniform coverage.
  • Reduced Viscosity: Cold lacquer can be more viscous and may not spray as evenly. A warmed can reduces this viscosity, facilitating a finer mist and better atomization.
  • Better Mixing: The propellants and solvents in the aerosol can mix more uniformly when the can is at a slightly warmer temperature, ensuring consistency in the spray.
  • Mitigate Cold-Weather Issues: If you're working in a cold environment, warming the can may help combat issues related to cold temperatures affecting the spray quality.

        Consequences of Warming Nitrocellulose Aerosols Prior to Use:

        • Overheating Risks: If warmed excessively, the internal pressure of the aerosol can increase dramatically, which poses the risk of the can bursting or the valve malfunctioning.
        • Rapid Drying: Warming the aerosol might cause the lacquer to dry much faster than intended. This rapid drying can lead to potential issues, like the inability for underlying moisture to escape, which might cause "blooming" or cloudiness in the finish.
        • Uneven Finish: If not warmed uniformly or if the can is too hot, it can lead to an uneven finish, with some areas drying faster than others.
        • Safety Concerns: Using direct heat or an open flame to warm the can is dangerous and can lead to fires or the can exploding.

          Although numerous online sources recommend pre-heating aerosols, we don't advocate for this approach. Our aerosol products contain fast-drying binders that aren't designed to be warmed. Heating the aerosol accelerates the drying process beyond normal conditions, potentially trapping moisture before the paint fully dries, leading to a flawed, 'blooming' finish

          2. Application: Light, Thin Coats

          Always begin with light, thin coats. Applying nitrocellulose in this manner ensures an even finish, reduces the risk of runs or drips, and allows for a gradual build-up. This method provides better control, letting you achieve the desired thickness and opacity over multiple applications.

          3. Drying Time: Swift and Efficient

          One of the advantages of nitrocellulose is its rapid drying time. Within about 20 minutes, it becomes touch-dry, allowing for multiple coats to be applied in a single session if needed.

          4. Sanding Between Coats: Not Always Necessary

          Contrary to many other paint finishes, nitrocellulose doesn't demand sanding between coats. Being solvent-based, the fresh coat "melts" into the one beneath, ensuring a smooth overlay.

          However, for those seeking a near-perfect finish with minimal orange peel effect (a texture resembling the skin of an orange), a light buffing with 000 grade wire wool between coats can be advantageous. This smoothens the finish and reduces the amount of sanding required at the end. Remember, though, to meticulously remove any residue from the wire wool before applying the next coat to prevent contamination.

          5. Transitioning Between Products

          Moving from one type of nitrocellulose product to another, such as from a primer to a solid topcoat, is refreshingly straightforward. There's no need for a rigorous sanding process in between. Simply wait for 24 hours to ensure that the underlying layer is fully dry, and then you can proceed with the next product.

          6. Patience After Completion

          Once you've applied the final coat and achieved the desired look, the waiting game begins. Allow the guitar to rest for at least two weeks. This ensures the nitrocellulose finish fully hardens, setting the stage for a final sanding and polishing. This patience pays dividends, allowing for a smooth, high-quality finish that'll be both visually striking and durable.

          In Conclusion

          Painting a guitar with nitrocellulose might seem daunting at first, but with the right technqiues and patience, the process becomes less of a challenge and more of an art form. Adhering to these best practices will not only result in a beautiful instrument, but also one that carries the legacy and tradition of iconic guitars from yesteryears. Whether you're a seasoned luthier or an enthusiast giving your cherished instrument a new look, these guidelines will ensure your guitar stands out both on and off stage.

          Read part 8

          Back to blog