Guitar Purfling

Purfling strips are shorter than normal binding, and are used for adding a decorative inlay either inside of binding, or as part of the rosette around the soundhole in acoustic guitars. Available materials include long pieces of plastic (celluloid, ABS and PVC), wood, and sets of natural pearl and abalone.

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Purfling is a thin strip of inlay which sits in a channel to add a decorative accent or outline.

Our range includes plastic and shell purfling strips. Plastic is a general term and in fact we stock 3 different varieties which are available in their own patterns, colours and sizes.  Shell strips are solid natural pieces of shell, precision cut to the same dimensions, which are available in both straight and curved versions. These materials differ in size, pattern and how they can be used The following table should help:

 ABSCelluloidPVCShell
Full nameAcrylonitrile butadiene styreneCellulose nitratePoly vinyl chlorideAbalone
Mother of pearl
PatternsPlain colours

Plain colours
Multi-ply
Shell
Pearloid
Tortoiseshell
Ivory

Multi-ply

Green abalone
Paua abalone
White mother of pearl
Gold mother of pearl
Black mother of pearl
Recommended glues

Acetone
Binding cement (UHU Hart)

Acetone
Binding cement (UHU Hart)

Binding cement (UHU Hart)

Binding cement (UHU Hart)
Superglue (cyanoacrylate)
Epoxy

Dissolves in acetone?YesYesNoNo
Can be lacquered over?YesYesYesYes
Shape with

Scraper
Sandpaper

Scraper
Sandpaper

Scraper
Sandpaper

Sandpaper
Bending tipsHeat gently for tight radiiBrittle when cold - heat very gently for tighter bendsVery flexible, heating not recommendedWon't bend
Straight strips can be cracked around small radii
For tighter radiii, for example soundhold rosettes, use pre-curved strips

To glue guitar purfling we recommend UHU Hart, which is a clear cement that is compatible with wood, shell and all of these plastics. ABS, CAB and celluloid can also be adhered to wood (and to each other, for laminating) using acetone, which dissolves the surface of the plastic which will adhere to a surface when it then dries. Superglue (cyanoacrylate) works well for adhering shell to wood, but should not be used in conjunction with plastic inlays due to its reactivity.

The two most common scenarios and fitting methods for purfling are:

Soundhole rosettes, where the channel of suitable diameter should be cut out using a router jig, into which curved shell pieces or flexible plastic purfling can be inlaid.

Edges inside of binding, which is a slightly more complex process:

  • Rout out shallow channel far enough in to the guitar top to account for the width of purfling + binding
  • Rout out the outside channel deep enough for the binding
  • Fit the binding; a teflon strip can be useful here to put in place of the purfling and ensure the binding is flush and upright
  • Fit the purfling into the channel which is formed by the first channel routed and the binding fitted to the edge
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