Finishing your mandolin is a crucial part of making your own homemade instrument. According to Stan Miller, an experienced mandolin-maker, finishing a homemade instrument is a third of the overall effort. Finishing your mandolin qualifies you to put your own individual mark on the instrument and know that nobody in the world has one quite like yours.
Set up a well-ventilated area in which you will perform your mandolin finishing. Lay down old newspaper on the floor and work bench or table that you will use for your project. Often, you will complete your mandolin finishing shortly after you have stained your mandolin's body, so you can carry this out in the same workshop.
Fill the mandolin's f-holes with as much paper towel as possible; press the paper down into the holes to pack it out and protect the inside of the mandolin from the finishing spray.
Make up a finishing spray by combining 1 tsp. of rubbing alcohol with a handful of shellac and other natural resins, such as sandarac and mastic, in a mortar bowl and crushing it down into a liquid using a pestle. Apply a concerted effort to crushing your shellac and resins so you are left with a consistent liquid that's free of any solids.
Strain the contents of the mortar into a spray bottle, which you can fashion by cleaning out an old spray bottle of bacterial or household cleaner and filling it with the shellac. Apply an even covering of your finishing spray over the body of the mandolin. Rub the finishing spray into the mandolin's body using a piece of muslin cloth until it becomes saturated --- this usually requires at least two and possibly three such pieces of cloth.
Apply several coats of the spray to get an even, shiny, glossy finish that makes your mandolin look very smart. Use the needle-nose pliers to remove the paper towels from the instrument's f-holes once you have concluded finishing.
Tips & Warnings
- Don't try to cut corners when staining and finishing your mandolin. It is a project that takes both time and effort, but the results are very rewarding when done correctly.
- Hang up any cloths that you have used for wiping the finish spray into the mandolin body in a well-ventilated area, as once they are doused in the spray, they become inflammable.
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