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Swirl Finishing


Haydz
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Hello,

I have got a 'not-so-special' bass guitar and i want to refinish it.

I have sanded it down to bare wood and am now ready to finish.

I would like someone to give me a full on description on how to swirl finish my guitar. including the below points:

-Sealing holes?

-Primer?

-What paints?

-A substitute to borax?

-Temp. of water

-ECT...

I know that there is lots of tutorials and stuff...but i would like all of this information in one place.

If someone could do this for me!-Much appreciated.

Cheers Haydz

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You're asking all the right questions, which makes me think you've already researched the topic and you already know the answers ;)

I've tried (and failed) to done swirling once...three times, if you count trying to swirl the same body three times over. And that was after several months of testing. IME it's very difficult to get good results based off the common tutorials seen floating around, which makes me think that the guys who made/make a living off the process don't do the borax + enamels method at all.

 

1 hour ago, Haydz said:

-Sealing holes?

Bluetack or insert screws partway into holes to seal them up. Bear in mind that bluetack will sit over the edges of the hole you're trying to fill so the paint will not reach the edges covered by the bluetack. Use screws for holes that may be visible from the outside (strap buttons, pickguards etc). Save the bluetack for stuff that won't be visible (wiring channels, neck screws etc).

 

2 hours ago, Haydz said:

-Primer?

Gloss or flat, but sanded to level and smooth out. I found that using a flat primer without sanding made the paint shrink back around the slightly roughened surface texture, leaving the swirl full of tiny pinholes.

 

2 hours ago, Haydz said:

-What paints?

This is the real tricky bit. Officially, no-one knows, and those that do know aren't telling. The commonly available information suggests enamel. Humbrol modellers enamels are often quoted, but I had good success with cheap no-name enamels from the car parts outlet. Certain colours work better than others. Certain brands work better than others. Experiment to see what works for you. Unfortunately that's the best advice I've ever seen anyone say, and unless somebody is willing to give away their trade secrets, that's the only advice I can give.

I will say:

  • Use gloss instead of flat - the flattening agent in matte paint tends to separate while sitting on the surface of the water leaving behind a powdery residue. Metallics were also problematic.
  • Some paints may require thinning in order for them to spread out adequately on the surface of the water. Exact ratios can only be determined by trial and error, but the consistency of full cream milk seems to be about right.
  • If the paint doesn't want to spread on the water and forms thick clumps, do not proceed any further - I guarantee the result will be poor.
  • The swirl is extremely thin and fragile once dried and will require a clear coat of some kind to offer protection from scratches and chips. Experiment with finding a compatible clear coat before you perform the final swirl on your guitar. Just ask me why.
  • Make sure your container is deep and large enough to fully submerge the guitar without it coming into contact with the sides or bottom. Dip slowly into the water container. Have somebody else nearby to remove the skin of swirled paint from the surface of the water once the object is fully submerged, either by swiping away the excess with a rag or blowing away with a hairdryer.

 

2 hours ago, Haydz said:

-A substitute to borax?

Interesting that this question doesn't appear to come up much, but while I was researching the process I found a patent that suggested cream of tartar was a less toxic substitute for borax (at a similar ratio of borax/water - 1.5tbsp per gallon). Based on my experimentation it did work, but I was able to find larger quantities of borax at less cost. My brother in law is an industrial chemist who suggested that borax makes the water slightly alkaline, while cream of tartar goes the other way and makes it acidic, so what the additive is actually doing to the water that is essential to the swirling process is unclear. Increasing the pH of water (more borax) makes the water feel slightly greasy, which you would think should make the paint want to spread out more. Reducing the pH (more cream of tartar) should do the opposite, so why it made no difference in my swirling experiments is not obvious. Other people have claimed they get good results by just using plain tap water, so perhaps what is really required is pH neutrality, and the borax is merely making some people's hard water more compatible with the process?

 

2 hours ago, Haydz said:

-Temp. of water

70 - 80 degF seems to be commonly suggested. My gut feel is too warm makes the paint dry too quickly on the surface of the water before you can dip. Cold water straight from the tap is fine, which is probably more like 65 - 75 degF...at least where I live. Again, experiment.

If all you want is immediate results, then dispense with all this hoo-hah, and just get yourself a set of Magic Marble paints. They're not that much more expensive than Humbrols, they don't require water additives, they work in cold water and they have a long working time once added to the water. Just make sure you find a compatible clear coat beforehand and practice, practice, practice.

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  • 3 weeks later...
On 3/2/2017 at 1:23 AM, curtisa said:

Interesting that this question doesn't appear to come up much, but while I was researching the process I found a patent that suggested cream of tartar was a less toxic substitute for borax (at a similar ratio of borax/water - 1.5tbsp per gallon). Based on my experimentation it did work, but I was able to find larger quantities of borax at less cost. My brother in law is an industrial chemist who suggested that borax makes the water slightly alkaline, while cream of tartar goes the other way and makes it acidic, so what the additive is actually doing to the water that is essential to the swirling process is unclear. Increasing the pH of water (more borax) makes the water feel slightly greasy, which you would think should make the paint want to spread out more. Reducing the pH (more cream of tartar) should do the opposite, so why it made no difference in my swirling experiments is not obvious. Other people have claimed they get good results by just using plain tap water, so perhaps what is really required is pH neutrality, and the borax is merely making some people's hard water more compatible with the process?

 

Borax alters the surface tension of the water, which is intended to help the paint flow out. I'm unsure as to whether the pH is a factor in anything, since the water does not combine or react with the paint in anything other than holding it on the surface. I would suspect that Borax lowers the surface tension, since it's used (was used?) as a basic detergent; I presume that lowering surface tension would allows the water to penetrate fabrics more easily.

The greasiness might be an indication of the increased wetting capability of a water-Borax solution. I'd suspect that this be more of a physics thing than chemistry? Thinning the enamels (or whatever secret voodoo paints) down seems to be a good idea in terms of encouraging flow.

I'm sure that better people than us have discussed this to the nth degree already and come up with more knowledgeable contradictions than we can hope to. ;)

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3 hours ago, Prostheta said:

Borax alters the surface tension of the water, which is intended to help the paint flow out. I'm unsure as to whether the pH is a factor in anything, since the water does not combine or react with the paint in anything other than holding it on the surface. I would suspect that Borax lowers the surface tension, since it's used (was used?) as a basic detergent; I presume that lowering surface tension would allows the water to penetrate fabrics more easily.

If all we want to do is lower water surface tension then why not use soap, detergent or fabric softener? Borax is always mentioned in the process but I've never seen a reasonable explanation as to why it's preferred over anything else.

At the opposite end of the scale, Turkish Ebru art actually relies on thickening the water so that paints sit on the surface.

I suspect that the process used by people like Darren Johansen and Herc Fede doesn't use the same ingredients and methods that are mentioned when DIY swirling guitar bodies. Darren originally got his start by swirling fabrics, and Herc's later work didn't have the erratic quality that Humbrol + Borax seems to always exhibit.

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I'm using "thickening" as a relative term. "Thickened" as in full cream milk, as opposed to "thickened" as in gelatin. Thick enough to support the weight of the paint on the surface of the water and allow it to be transferred to a piece of paper or fabric, while still allowing a degree of "move-ability".

Japanese Suminagashi is similar in principle, but inks are used floating on the surface of plain water. I guess the relative thickness and weight of the ink allows it to float without having to alter the consistency of water to support it.

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