How to Install Abalone Purfling

Purfling Detail

Tools and Materials:

Duco Cement
Dremel Router
Dremel Binding Cutter
Dremel Bit
Masking Tape
25 mm or 1″ Abalone Strips
Sanding Surface or File
N95 Rated Respirator

How to Install Abalone Purfling:

Abalone purfling installation can be time consuming, if not frustrating process when installing it on an instrument, but it is sure rewarding once the instrument is buffed out and the iridescence of the Abalone strips makes for an incredible effect.

Most luthiers¬†purchase their Abalone from luthier supply houses such as Luthier’s Merchantile, or Steward McDonald. If you are inclined, you can make your own Abalone strips, but you need specialized equipment to do this.

Plan Your Binding/Purfling Configuration:

Before you do any purfling channel routing, you should have your purfling/binding design complete and have all of the purfling and binding material on hand to do the job.

Take a look at the diagram at the beginning of this article. This is only an example and your detail will probably be different, but it does give you an idea of what I mean when I say, “plan ahead and know exactly what you are going to detail your guitar”.

Next you should make a test mock-up by actually laminating the assorted purling, Abalone and binding strips you intend to make.

Cut the Purfling Channel Depth:

The first thing you need to do is cut the proper purfling for the abalone strips. Carefully measure the width and depth of your strips. If all of your strips are consistently the same depth, you can make your purfling channel exactly this depth.

If the abalone strips vary slightly, you can compromise on the depth a bit or you can sort the strips and use all like depth strips. Another options is so shim the low strips up a bit to match the other strips.

You can do this with thin veneer strips of wood. I would use this method only as a last resort, for instance, if you do not have enough strips to do the job.

Cut the Purfling Channel Width:

The width of the channel can be the exact width of the shell width, plus the thickness of any wood or plastic purfling you will be installing after or before the Abalone strips. There will be a bit of shell overhang, but more on that later in this article.

Gluing The Feature Strip:

If you have a feature strip to accent the Abalone strip against the top or back plate, you should install that first. It will most likely be a very thin strip of wood, wood fiber, or plastic, perhaps .040″ in width. Simply glue it into place with Titebond for wood or wood fiber, or Duco cement for plastic.

Hold the feature strip in place with strips of masking tape. Set the tape against the vertical face of the purfling and burnish it with your fingernail slightly and pull the tape across the guitar top to secure it. Do this around the perimeter of the guitar.

Now follow this same procedure for the opposite side of the guitar.

Installing the Abalone Strips:

Place a line of Duco Cement into the Abalone purfling channel – about enough to do 2 or 3 Abalone strips. You can do more as you become more experienced with the process.

Set the first Abalone strip into the channel. This may seem a bit crude, but the manner in which you make the Abalone conform to the guitar curvature is to set the Abalone in place in the channel and crack the strip in several places to make it conform to the shape of the curvature.

Obviously, you will have to crack it more often as you go around sharper curves, like the waist and the upper bout.

Continue around the perimeter of the guitar and finish the entire guitar. Let the strips dry overnight.

A small problem you will encounter with this method is that you will have a slightly segmented outer surface of the Abalone strips that you have to take care of.

The best way to deal with this is to take a small sanding stick and carefully sand the perimeter of the Abalone until you have a nice smooth contour. You have to be attentive that the sanding stick is kept perfectly vertical during this step. You can use 180 grit garnet paper for this step.

Usually the sanding does not take too much effort, but be sure to wear the proper N95 rated Dust Mask to protect your lungs.

You are now ready to install your wood or plastic binding materials.

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