Guitar Making Tip No. 219 is all about steaming out a dent. It’s painful when you accidentally dent your lovely Spruce guitar top. It’s even more so when you think you can’t fix it without sanding too deep. Here is what you do instead.
Steaming Out a Dent
Spruce is a very soft wood. When you are building your guitar, you need to pay extra attention to how your board is handled. This includes tools, touching the bench, and any contact with small debris.
All of these things can cause imperfections in the surface. Sometimes, they are easy to remove by sanding. Other times, they can be a nightmare.
The severity of the damage is what will help you decide how to remove it. If the damage is lighter, and you can sand it out, then just sand it out. If you can’t, or you know that the fibers have been compressed too far, it’s time for some steam power.
Using Steam on a Guitar Top
Since Spruce is so soft, it will also take on water easily. This is perfect for steaming out a dent, because the water will get into the surface where it needs to go. The basics of the process is that steam causes the fibers to swell, effectively raising the dent.
There is not a lot of magic. Steam and heat make wood fibers swell. Much like bending wood, the heated fibers can move past one another more easily, and you can pull the dent right out in a matter of a few seconds.
Make sure that you are being realistic though. A small dent can be steamed out. A hammer head size dent, or a broken piece are not going to be repaired with this method. However, if you have a small ding, this is what you do.
Taking Out the Dent
To start, you will need a wet rag, and a heat source like a soldering iron or wood burning tool. Drip a little water into the dent, and allow it to be absorbed. Then drip a little more. The goal is to get some water into the wood fibers that are going to be heated.
Next, cover the area with the wet rag, one layer thick. Now, carefully touch the heat source to the top of the rag, right over the dent. Go carefully, and don’t press so hard that you burn through the rag. Repeat this a couple times, making steam and hearing the sizzle.
Touching the iron to the rag is going to vaporize the water, creating steam, and pushing up the dented wood. You might have to do this a few times to get the dent to rise enough, but you will see an improvement.
How to Tell When You are Done
After you raise the dent, give the piece a little time to dry. Wipe off the excess water, and leave it somewhere for the rest to evaporate away. Once you have a dry piece of wood again, you can not inspect the repair.
You should see at lease some movement in the dent. For some, it will be nearly flush to the surface. For others, it may only have come up partially. Either way, the decision that you have to make now will determine your next step.
If the dent is high enough to sand out the rest of the way, then sand it. If not, repeat the steaming process over again. Sometimes, if you don’t get it on the first round, a second try can pull more of the dent upwards.
What Not to do when Steaming a Dent
If you are brand new to steaming out a dent, there are a couple things that you need to avoid in order to be successful. The process itself is not that difficult, but knowing the common mistakes will make it even easier.
First, don’t touch the tip of the soldering iron directly to the wood surface. If you do this, you will transfer gunk to the wood, and it will be hard to remove. Clean your soldering iron or wood burning tool tip before you use it, and never touch the wood directly.
Next, don’t hold the iron against the rag too long. A quick touch to create steam is all you need, and you will see by the color changes in the wood when you are holding it there too long. The last thing you want to do is burn the wood trying to remove a dent.
Steaming Out a Dent Wrap-Up
Sometimes you will get a dent on the Spruce top that will not come out by sanding alone, so you need to do something different. This is where steaming comes in. With steaming, the dent is swollen through heat and steam, pushing it upwards.
The process is as easy as wetting the area, covering it with a rag, and applying heat from a soldering iron or wood burning tool. The heat causes the water inside the wood surface to steam, popping up the dent.
Once you are done, allow the piece to dry and check your work. If the dent has come up enough to sand, then sand it the rest of the way. If not, steam it once more and then check again. Once the dent is flush, you are done, and your guitar will look great.
1,001 Acoustic Guitar Making Tips for Beginners
Tip No. 219 is from my book, 1,001 Acoustic Guitar Making Tips for Beginners, which has a thousand more great tips to get your first few builds on the right track.
There is no secret to guitar making, just lots of small things that you need to get right. These tips will help you on your way to making better guitars.
If you have any questions on Guitar Making Tip No. 219 – Steaming Out a Dent, please leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Happy building.