SHELL VENEERS - "FEATHERS"

These are sold as 10-piece sets only. Made from single pieces of shell .006” - .008” (.15 - .20mm) thick, sizes listed on the “Buy Product” page are nominal and may vary between batches depending on the shell that's available for processing. Pieces may have irregular edges or contain minor blemishes, but any junk material has been sorted out. Perfect for making guitar, banjo, and mandolin truss-rod covers!

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Relatively new to the U.S. but used for centuries in the Orient, this amazing material is quickly finding important uses in a number of industries where inlay as such would be impractical, larger areas need to be covered, or costs lowered without compromising existing quality. Traditionally referred to as “feathers” in the 1800's, these materials are very thinly sawn pieces of shell about .006”-.013” thick (we can supply as thin as .004”), which are moderately flexible and often transparent enough to allow very effective use of various materials directly beneath them. Often the veneers will display their deepest colors if placed over a black substrate, but overall tone can be greatly influenced by the use of colored backgrounds, painting color on the backside, or sizing and leafing the reverse with gold, silver, aluminum, Dutch metal, copper, or even thicker foil materials. Not really thick enough to use as an inlay material, feathers are intended for “overlay” work and are so thin that lacquer or enamel finishes can be built up flush with the shell and then buffed down level.

Uses include covering or capping banjo pots and resonators, as well as applications on pegheads, heel caps, truss-rod cover plates, furniture, fishing lures, boxtops and sides, nameplates, picture frames, and many other items. “Artistic” sign makers and automotive pinstripers often use feather veneers in combination with gold leaf and other techniques to fill or outline ornate lettering or designs, often behind glass (“reverse glass” work). Shell decals are also a possibility! To cover plastic tuning knobs on stringed instruments, the shell is super-glued to both faces of the knob, the edges dressed off, and the knob’s perimeter wrapped with shell and dressed off. To keep veneer from breaking apart while being forced onto a curved shape, it helps to first cover one side of the feather with heavy clear packaging tape, which is then removed once the shell is glued down. This is a trick developed by the Custom Shop at Fender Musical Instruments, and is how the knobs are made as sold by Harvey Leach (14281 Bertino Rd., Grass Valley, Ca., 95945; 530-477-2938; website at http://www.leachguitars.com).

Trimming can be done on simple shapes using a razor or even a sharp scissors; or feathers can be temporarily bonded to a thin backing material, cut with a saw, and then released by soaking in water or other solvent. For producing intricate shapes, several methods have been used: computer (CNC) cutting of glued-down veneers; cutting a glued stack of feathers that are later separated; or masking and then sandblasting. For sandblasting, the veneer is glued to a piece of scrap window glass (available free at any glass shop) using “textile table adhesive” (available through a sign maker’s supplier), covered with vinyl mask (“frisket paper”, also a sign shop material), the pattern being drawn or transferred onto the frisket, and the frisket cut along the pattern lines with a knife or razor (or computer-cut frisket patterns can be used). The background paper is then removed (“weeded out”), and the shell blasted with a very fine sand until glass is reached. Use a citrus based glue or label remover to release the veneer from the glass, then soak about one hour in water to remove the frisket from the shell.

Veneers can also be painted or silkscreened with a design that leaves exposed the areas to be seen as shell, then protected with a clear finish. We can supply further advice or sources on any of these methods.