FB and PH Inlaying

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FINGERBOARD AND PEGHEAD PATTERN TRANSFER AND INLAYING

Today's project will be to transfer the paper pattern to the peghead and fingerboard and will use the preprinted pattern and double stick tape it to the peghead and fingerboard, however I wasn't happy with a couple ebony peghead overlays that I had purchased and decided to dig one out that I had stuck back since the mid 1970s. Pixs below:

You will notice that on the upper left pix, one piece of overlay looks like the color of rosewood, however it could be stained black and the overlay below it was darker but wanted to warp and turn up like a boat when removed from between a couple scrap boards I used to keep it flat.  The second pix is a piece of Gaboon ebony with streaks but the grain is very tight and still remained pretty flat after all these years of which it was stored in a file folder.  I removed the mother of pearl fern inlays and had used the script Gibson when I mounted some of my master inlay patterns under glass and had no use for the fern pattern since it was done in mother of pearl instead of abalone for a camera ready pattern only.  I glued all three pieces of the peghead overlays (7/32") total thickness securing them with a heavy drop of Titebond glue in each corner and placed between a couple flat boards, clamped and allowed to dry overnight.

Gibson prior to WWII used dyed pear wood veneer around .035 inches thickness (approximately 1/28 of an inch) which was fairly generic in thickness as their standard peghead overlay material.  Around 1925 to 1927, they used the dyed pear wood in shades of brown without the black lacquer but more commonly sprayed the peghead overlay with black lacquer and later scraped the black lacquer from the inlays only prior to finishing the instrument.  The thickness of their precut inlays were flush with the peghead overlay material and I had in my possession one of their inlaid pegheads that was never installed on a banjo and the peghead still had the paper backing glued to the front side of the peghead material and the filler was applied from the rear.  I am pretty sure it was Gibson's peghead but not absolutely sure due to being so far back in time but it was their identical method of inlaying and it could have been from Bacon & Day, nevertheless, it was the identical Gibson technique!  Gibson and/or their vendors stacked up a dozen or more dyed pear wood veneers and glued and/or pinned the corners and cut the entire stack the way I am cutting the peghead overlays on this project.  I have no concrete evidence from George Hall, Gibson pre-war employee from 1927 to 1933 to support that Gibson stacked and cut fingerboard inlays since their fingerboard mother of pearl inlays had the poplar wood veneer backing and it would be about impossible to stack inlays glued to the substrate poplar wood with enough precision.  I have personally cut multiple inlays glued together and it just doesn't work that well with a jewelers saw blade.  On the larger block inlays for guitar fingerboards and even on the RB7, 12 and 18, it is easy to stack and actually band saw those patterns because their design lends itself to such but not with a jewelers saw blade.   I have known several post-war companies that have supplied mother of pearl, precut and inlaid to Gibson using a variety of techniques.  They were using the post-war inlay designs and later when the RB800 came on scene, they supplied Gibson with the "cookie cutter" looking inlays to mimic the pre-war inlay patterns which is ok if you have never experienced and owned the real deal!  So much for the history lesson....grin if you must!    

 

After the glue was allowed to dry overnight, double stick tape was placed on the peghead and fingerboard with the pattern affixed in place.  Next,  I drilled a 1/16 inch diameter hole in each inlay design element and on the peghead there were several inlays that were directly connect and required only one hole to be drilled.  My small drill press has a 1/2 inch diameter chuck capacity and had to do a Rube Goldberg quick fix by wrapping masking tape around the drill shank so the chuck would close on the small drill bit.  I do not have a chuck adapter for the smaller drill and had to make do with what I had....no precision drilling but not needed in this case.

Above pixs are straight forward showing drilling the hole in the peghead and fingerboard to allow access entry for the jewelers saw blade.

The left pix depicts the peghead overlay material after cutting the inlay pattern out.  It is not necessary to do all the back cutting as with cutting the inlays since you need some clearance for the inlays....if you were able to cut a one to one perfect pattern, it simply would not go into cut out area because it would require forcing the inlay into the cut out and would break a fragile design.   You want to leave some clearance between the inlay and the cut out, but definitely not as much as the pre-war Gibson instruments normally have.  I used the larger # 6 jewelers saw blades, Laser brand but I really couldn't tell any difference.  I guess I got spoiled to the Vigor brand blades and after looking very close at the Laser blades, the blade teeth are definitely not as long as the old Vigor brand and the angle seems a little different also.  The second pix from the left is removing the cutting pattern from the peghead overlays. I band sawed the glued portion of the corners from the pegheads and separated them and used the top peghead inlay material for this inlay project.  The third pix from left shows the precut inlays being "dry fitted" into the cut outs.  It has been ten (10) years since I inlayed using this technique and must say that fitting the pre-cut inlays into the peghead was very laborious, time consuming requiring a tremendous amount of adjusting the cut-out holes with tool and die makers needle files which was very, very tedious.  I took many breaks through the course of the day fitting those inlays and should have cut with more tolerance since the ebony material hides the epoxy/filler mix very well.  I left the balsa wood backing on the pre-cut inlays while drying fitting and would hold the material up to the light to see where I needed to make an adjustment.   The last pix on the right shows the mother of pearl pre-cut inlays after they all have been dry fitted into the cut outs in the peghead and the excess balsa wood is being trimmed flush to the thickness of the ebony peghead.  I am using an old kitchen paring knife which has a very thin blade and try and keep it razor sharp.  When cutting the balsa wood, press down on top of each balsa wood inlay backing with your non knife yielding hand and make a smooth clean cut keeping the knife flat and tight against the peghead material using a lot of finesse.  Don't aggressively cut into the material "Like a bull in a china shop", otherwise you might break a delicate inlay design.   

  

Above pix on left shows the balsa wood inlay backing cut flush with the peghead.  Before proceeding to the next step, make certain that no small piece of balsa wood backing has worked its way between the inlay and adjoining peghead material, otherwise it will show up when you fill the void spaces between the inlay and peghead.  Using a piece of flat material, lay on top of the dry fitted inlays and flip the entire piece over and check that all the inlays are flush the peghead as in pix two from the left.  Use regular mailing labels or a good strong masking tape and place it on top of the peghead making sure to cover the entire inlay pattern. 

 

Use a J rubber roller and in my case I used a roll of 2 inch wide masking tape as a roller and pressed the mailing labels to adhere to the inlay and the peghead.  The purpose of this is two fold; 1)  It keeps the inlays flush with the peghead material and 2) keeps the epoxy glue/filler trapped where it is supposed to be.  In the pix above left, the peghead can now be flipped over without any extra support since the pressure sensitive mailing labels have adequately secured the inlays in place.  In pix two from upper left, press each individual inlay downward tightly against the mailing label backing to ensure the inlay is flush with the peghead material.  I used the tip of a small needle file to accomplish this.  Transfer the peghead onto a flat clean piece of aluminum or other flat material with the balsa wood backing side facing upward and secure with clamps to make certain the peghead and inlays are flat.  Now comes the filling of the voids between the pre-cut inlay pattern and the peghead material and this also will secure the inlays in place.

My all-time favorite epoxy for use as a filler is Epoxy 330 manufactured by Hughes Associates and available from most Hobby/Craft shops that deal with lapidary equipment and also jewelry suppliers.  This epoxy is crystal clear, has a 15 minute pot life and when unopened,  packages have lasted for decades without the short shelf life as some of the newer epoxies.  I  planned to use a current epoxy product called Kwik-Set manufactured by Sig Manufacturing Co, Inc., Montezuma, IA and available from most hobby shops that sell model airplanes and parts.  David Nichols at Custom Pearl Inlay, has this product for sale also.   The Kwik-Set epoxy that I had on hand had part A set up hard as a rock even in the unopened container and failed to read a small tag affixed to the label stating, "If product hardens, put in microwave till liquid state approximately 5 to 15 seconds", so much for reading instructions.  I dug around in my shop until I found some of the Epoxy 330 that I must have had on hand for 35 years that was still unopened.  I did a test run on a scrap piece of wood yesterday evening and let it sit overnight and checked it this morning and it set-up perfectly and filed it down to be sure and it was still good after all those years which is amazing!  Right hand pix above shows the one to one mixing of a small amount and I am using the Mohawk brand of Blendal Powder stain product M370-2241 Black which is a dry fine ground powder and mixes well with clear epoxy for inlaying into ebony wood.  Mix only small amounts of the epoxy because it begins to thicken in 15 minutes (Epoxy 330)  and the Sig Kwik-Set has a pot life of only 4 minutes in 1 oz. mass and begins to set in approximately 4 to 5 minutes.  I mixed at least three batches of the above Epoxy 330 on a piece of scrap cedar wood, although cardboard works extremely well and used the thin paring knife to work the epoxy/filler mix into the peghead.

After working the epoxy/filler into each inlay of the peghead, a couple extra clamps were used to secure the center portion of the peghead to make sure it remained flat.

The disadvantage to this inlay technique, sawing versus routing the inlay pocket; it is very easy to get an inlay that is not flush with the peghead veneer and/or fingerboard and if bad enough, you will have to drill out the below level inlay which is time consuming to repair.  I have seen at least one Gibson inlay on a pre-war Mastertone banjo peghead #3 late that had the inlay slightly below the level of the dyed pear wood overlay and they did not remove the black lacquer from the inlay because of their production environment and/or it could have been one of those Mondays we are all familiar with....grin if you must!

I will allow the epoxy/filler dry for a couple days, although you can sand it within 10 hours but the longer the better as you can have a very miniscule amount of shrinkage but in most cases, the fingerboard inlays want to rise above the fingerboard a few thousands as crazy as it may sound. 

In the next segment, I will inlay the fingerboard using the same basic procedure above with a few modifications and apply epoxy/filler mix to the front side of the above peghead.

PS  I obtained a regular height bar stool with padded seat at no cost, courtesy of Jennifer Johnson, Permanet Solutions Salon that allowed better posture and view of the working using the scroll saw.   Until then.....Bill aka Mickey Porter  03-07-10.

The upper pix third from left has the mailing labels removed exposing the inlays on 03-08-10.  Using the white mailing labels by Avery product # 18160 was very difficult to remove from the peghead after the epoxy filler mix had dried for 24 hours.  The original mailing labels I used back in the 1970s were about three times as thick as these and would simply peel off with ease.  I had to scrape the mailing labels off the peghead due to their thinness and epoxy filler mix absorbed into the labels which is not good.  For the fingerboard inlaying, I will use a good quality masking tape to keep the inlays flush with the fingerboard.  If your inlays are tight enough fit, they will remain flush with the wood and the masking tape only serves to contain the epoxy filler mix.  On the above peghead, the four inlays around the 1st and 4th tuners were loose and the mailing labels were definitely needed to ensure the inlays were flush with the peghead.  I will let the peghead sit for another day or two and sand the back side of the peghead down with a 1 inch by 42 inch length 80 grit aluminum oxide belt band sander and then wash the front down with thinner to remove any residue of the mailing labels and apply additional epoxy filler mix as needed and allow to cure a few days.  There were only a few places that actually will need filler since the epoxy filler mix worked its way to the front side of the inlays and peghead.  The Porter "Flaming Claw" inlay design will be more photogenic once it is sanded down and cleaned up but want to take as many pixs along the way as needed. 

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