Minimum Fretting tools?

Discussion in 'The DIY Tool Shed' started by Slowtwitch, Apr 22, 2019.

  1. Slowtwitch

    Slowtwitch Tele-Meister

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    I'm about to start fretting my first neck and don't own any (special) tools for the job.

    What is the bare minimum required, or even better what can be used as alternatives?

    Like to bevel the fret edges, I can make a wood block to file the ends.

    Can I use normal pliers to cut the frets?

    Hammer to set the frets as oppose to a fret press

    What about using sandpaper instead of a crowning tool?

    Am I stuck without a machined straight edge beam?
     
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  2. G.Rotten

    G.Rotten Tele-Meister

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    My first re-fret I did with no special tools & before the internet was a thing everyone had. It had limited success. However, with a little more knowledge it still could have turned out fine.

    The very basic tools you'd need are;

    A modified Wire "end cutter", a hammer, wood, a large flat file, something to polish the frets with (fine steel wool) & patience.

    The modified end cutters will be used to pull old frets, cut new frets to size and possibly hand radius the new frets. I still have those cutters somewhere & when I find them I'll include a pic to show how they were altered.

    I used a wooden stir stick on top of the frets so the hammer didn't damage them. The large file to level & remove excess fret tang. Fine Steel wool to polish (fretboard taped off, so also tape).

    The only part of that first re-fret that didn't come out very good was the sharp fret ends (the file didn't do a very good job by itself).

    With a little more knowledge I would've known the file wasn't going to do good enough & used the wire cutters to pre-remove excess tang.
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2019
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  3. RickyRicardo

    RickyRicardo Friend of Leo's

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    To bevel the edges I use a smooth file that is wedged into a block of maple at about a 25 degree angle. For fret leveling I used a carpenters's level for quite a long time. I would cut strips of sandpaper the width of the flat edge and stick it on with a light coating of spray adhesive. Normal pliers will probably crush the ends of your frets so if you can get fret cutters. You can crown with a file like it was done originally before fret crowning tools. If your fret slots are good a hammer is all you need. Just make sure it's the right one..
     
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  4. G.Rotten

    G.Rotten Tele-Meister

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    The right tools do a better job or at least the same job but easier.

    However, where there's a will there's a way.
     
  5. Antmax

    Antmax Tele-Meister

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    I think I spent about $200 on everything for my first refret including a $70 Chinese drill press. Most of the rest from Philadelphia luthier tools. They were the best place for quality end nippers and pre radiused fret wire.

    The best cheap tool I got for crowning and fret ends on a budget was a nicholson 6 inch tapered triangle cross section file for about $4 from home depot. Use a dremel or whatever level thing you have to file of one side and an opposite edge and create safe edge and side and you can do a lot of the final fret work with that.

    Here's a link to the file I mentioned.

    https://www.homedepot.com/p/Nicholson-6-in-Slim-Taper-File-21866N/100188490

    I later got some extra tools, there's a small british company called Chris Alsop guitars on ebay that sells locally made diamond fret crowning files that work really well. About half the price of Stew Mac and that includes shipping.
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2019
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  6. beagle

    beagle Friend of Leo's

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    Me too. I still use the same basic tools, but have that extra little bit of knowledge now too. :)
     
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  7. Slowtwitch

    Slowtwitch Tele-Meister

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    came across this from Brad to crown frets. Looks like guys like it
     
  8. TimTam

    TimTam Tele-Holic

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    For most jobs you can get buy with less-than-ideal tools if you have the skill. If you don't have the skill, the right tool can allow you to do good work. You just don't have to pay a lot for all of those tools.

    You can make a decent fret press from a cheap arbor press and fret caul parts.
    https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=fret+press+caul
    http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/711-5...0001&campid=5338148343&icep_item=173819279844
    Or use a drill press as already suggested. Those can get you close to this for a lot less money ...
    https://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Too...retting/Pressing/Fret_Arbor_Press_System.html
    That should get you a better fret install than a hammer. Which will mean less leveling required.

    The Stewmac fret pullers are highly regarded (if you're doing a refret). But they come from 3-Peaks and can often be got more cheaply without the re-branding.
    https://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Too...rs_sizing/StewMac_Precision_Fret_Pullers.html

    So that's 2 Stewmac tools that you don't have to get from Stewmac. This one you do. I think for your first crowning job, the Z-file (centered or original) is the most fool-proof tool ..
    https://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Too...wning/StewMac_Z-File_Fret_Crowning_Files.html

    You can get a good levelling beam from countertop stone scrap as suggested by Ron Kirn.
    http://www.tdpri.com/threads/fret-leveling-yer-tele-101.201556/
    Otherwise a 25x50mm (1"x2") aluminium section from the hardware store can also do the job. In both cases it is best to ensure that they are dead flat, rather than just assuming that they are.

    Notched straight edges and fret rockers can also be found for reasonable money ...
    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O6KT5HO/?tag=tdpri-20
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2019
  9. guitarbuilder

    guitarbuilder Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    Minimum: Fret fret slotting saw, triangular file for slot chamfer and reshaping fret wire after leveling, hammer, wire cutters, mill file, and spokeshave. People did this stuff without specialty tools for decades and that's what you saw in the first building and repair books.



    When I started out, I had no tools of any sort, but access to a wood shop. WWII era machines that were beat. The best machine of the bunch was a Craftsman 6 x 48 belt sander.

    I didn't have a saw to cut fret slots, so I ordered one from LMII when I ordered a couple fingerboard blanks. My first couple necks involved sanding and scraping a radius into the surface of a rosewood blank. Slots were made with the saw in a homemade miter box tailored to the saw. I positioned the miter box in the light and moved the fretboard until the mark was in front of the miter box slot. The fretboard got clamped and sawn...repeat 21 more times. The neck got carved with a spokeshave, flat and round files, and sanding blocks with abrasive. Holes were drilled with a wobbly old drill press. My router was a greenish plastic 5/8 HP black and decker that took a couple bits from Sears.

    Fret lines were drawn on the rosewood blank with a sharp pencil. A regular hammer pounded the frets. Pliers cut the fretwire and a mill file filed it to the edge of the fretboard. I show this block of wood every time I do a neck thread as it's the only one I needed to make. (Thank you Don Teeter)

    It soon became apparent that a machined straight edge would make my necks better. I had an old framing square as a precision straight edge. LMII sold machined aluminum straight edges. That was my next purchase.

    I had this brilliant idea to make a curved sanding block to fit the radius....( radius blocks weren't a thing yet) of which I made from gluing segments of the outer waste of a round tabletop- like shape, stacked together. I got buzzing here and there because of a couple high frets, but nothing like the first couple necks. As far as necks go, the more you do, the better they get.


    My opinion is that these days a radius beam, slotting system, machined straight edge, arbor press, and end nippers make the whole thing a lot easier, faster, and more accurate. Initial costs are part of any hobby investment if you plan on doing it for years. This stuff will cost 500 dollars US or so.

    Compare the cost of specialty tools to a set of golf clubs, decent bicycle, or whatever you like. A kitchen Aid mixer is about 400 dollars if you like to cook.



    Modern float glass is supposedly dead flat. Marble isn't from what I hear.

    This is what flat looks like:


    https://www.grizzly.com/products/Gr...MI5N7C8Lbj4QIVELbACh39gQ_CEAQYBCABEgJSDPD_BwE


    I've never seen a need for a notched straight edge on a new build. You make sure the fretboard is straight before fretting.

    You could make a fretting caul for a drill press or Vise grips.

    Not the best nippers but usable:

    https://www.harborfreight.com/4-inch-end-nipper-pliers-39531.html


    I think a Disston #68 dovetail saw is in the ball park of fret saws if you have access to old tools, but this is one tool I would not try to work around. They are worth the investment in your sanity.


    Click on A look inside above the photo of the cover for the "tools of a luthier" on the left of this link:



    https://www.amazon.com/dp/0525120025/?tag=tdpri-20


    So to conclude if you have slots cut, you'll need a hammer, cutters, and a couple files, with maybe a new sharpening stone or float glass to level the frets and a permanent marker and masking tape.

    The sharpening stone gets loaded up with fret wire dust, so the float glass with abrasive is a better option. Finer abrasives and 0000 steel wool will get the frets nice and smooth and bright after you flatten and recrown them.
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2019
  10. rogb

    rogb Tele-Holic

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    This video will show you a lot of good tips from a pro luthier, if you can ignore Dan's incessant "wow" and "wowie" - ing!
    I have done a load of fretwork over the years, the Ron Kirn thread above is really useful too!
    Tools: A simple squeezy or G clamp with a plywood fret caul will get you going, it works the same as Johnny uses in the video more or less. Watch his tips for seating frets!
    Cheapest diamond crowning file - I've had one for years from eBay, does the job still.
    Triangle file with ground edges makes shaping ends so much easier and limits damage to fretboard.
    A piece of polished granite from kitchen top fabricator. Perfect with a strip abrasive stuck on. 15x 2" is a good size.
    Notched straight edge you need to get that board flat for levelling. They are cheap from eBay or Amazon.
    A bunch of Micromesh for fret polishing, say 9 grades to 12000. Small pieces are reasonably priced.
    End cutters ground flat to nip the frets close.

     
  11. jvin248

    jvin248 Poster Extraordinaire

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    .

    Find a 'flush cut trim saw' and hammer the kerf down so it cuts just wide enough for the frets (test on scrap as you go)

    Buy pre-bent fret wire.

    Small fine toothed flat or triangular file with th edges ground and polished smooth for doing fret ends and crowning

    6inch by 1inch fine flat file, glued to a wood block with no handle to level the fret tops.

    6 inch board with 20deg angle cut in it to fit the file for trimming back fret ends prior to crowning.

    If you can find a fake marble door threshold at the hardware store cut that to 18inches or so and attach 240grit paper as your leveling beam

    strip of steel/aluminum like a ruler that you notch for frets and then level with sandpaper on a granite counter top, or your leveling beam.

    don't use steel wool -- it gets picked up by magnets in piickups and will destroy them eventually.

    Use 400, 600, sandpaper on a small flat face block that spans three frets to remove leveling marks, go cross-wise of the neck (in the direction of the frets)
    Use 800, 1500 grit sandpaper to polish frets with your fingers.

    Masking tape to cover the fretboard before you start working on the frets.

    .
     
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  12. Musekatcher

    Musekatcher Tele-Afflicted

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  13. TimTam

    TimTam Tele-Holic

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    Surface plates like that are surprisingly useful and surprisingly inexpensive. A set of inexpensive gauge blocks and dial test indicator gauge make it even more useful ..
    www.youtube.com/watch?v=onE7QwJ6t2A
    (turn captioning on)

    Not exactly a necessity, but answers most "Is it really flat / straight ?" questions for your tools.
     
  14. Slowtwitch

    Slowtwitch Tele-Meister

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  15. philosofriend

    philosofriend Tele-Holic

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    You can use a fine tooth flat file or flat sharpening stones to level frets, but the beam does a better, faster job. A beam can be just the edge of a cheap aluminum carpenter's level. Glue sandpaper on it with spray glue.

    You can crown frets with a triangular file. It is much easier if the file is a "safe file" with the teeth ground off the corners. With a regular file you put scratches on the fretboard. I don't see how you could do a good job crowning the frets with sandpaper. A purpose-made convex fret file helps get all the frets consistent with each other. Nothing says "quality fret job" better than the way light reflects off the polished frets when they are all crowned to the same shape.

    Get a hammer only for fret work, the reason being that the face of the hammer has to be smooth. Any scratches in the face of the hammer will appear on the frets and make extra work filing. Don't use your fretting hammer to drive nails.
    I did fret work for years with a hammer, a triangular file with the teeth ground off the edges, a two sided fret crowning file, and a long straight sharp fine tooth file. Somewhere I found a wire cutter that had its cutting teeth fairly close to the edge (saves a lot of filing). You can polish the frets with 320 through 2000 grit wet and dry sandpaper.

    If you have a grinder you can take the scratches out of any old hammer. Take the grinder scratches out with sandpaper. You could also take a cheap triangular file and grind the corner teeth off it and save a few bucks. Keep dipping it in water because if it gets hot the teeth will lose their temper and go dull quickly.
     
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  16. old wrench

    old wrench Tele-Holic

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    Some of the best and most important tools are not usually considered tools -

    Real good lighting, and whatever it takes to get your vision to 20/20 or better :).



    Best Regards,
    Geo.
     
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  17. LuckyJinx

    LuckyJinx TDPRI Member

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    I've done that. I used a sloped piece of lego ( :D) and way too heavy grit sandpaper (something like old 240 grit). It still worked pretty well, the frets ended up as decently shaped as my half arsed attempt at seating frets would allow (I don't think I cleaned the slots properly before hammering the new frets in, or the slots just weren't quite deep enough, or something).

    If you're planning on setting frets on a previously shaped neck, some proper support for the neck under the fret is pretty important. You don't want your hammer blows to rattle the whole neck. Also, a caul to spread the blow over the whole fret would push it down more evenly and save you some levelling due to warped frets.
     
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  18. LuckyJinx

    LuckyJinx TDPRI Member

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    That said, Dan Thompson (the guy Brad there got the idea from) was then converted to a cheap fret crowning file from Amazon. Slightly easier to use, and doesn't spend sandpaper.
     
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  19. Rev Rhythm

    Rev Rhythm Tele-Meister

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    A cheap crowning file makes the work super easy. Now that I've used one I couldn't see crowning the frets any other way.
     
  20. Silverface

    Silverface Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

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    One of these with a notch ground in the tip - and various grits of paper - is what I use after crowning (with a diamond crowning file of the proper gage for the fret size) and before final polishing. It not only smoothes the crowning job, but does preliminary rounding of the fret ends.

    But in absence of a fret file at all you can use it as a substitute after roughing-in a bit of an angle on each side of each fret.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0039ZCQAK/?tag=tdpri-20

    After that you can use 3M pads for polishing.

    But IMO I would spend $50 or so on a Gurian-style 3-in one crowning file. It will save you so much time and help void irreversible problems (short of yanking a blown fret and replacing it) it and the notched belt hand sander are worth the expense.

    This is the other tool you need for fret ends - and it's just as cheap to buy as make yourself:

    http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/711-5...0001&campid=5338148343&icep_item=350667278683

    You can find "T" shaped straightedges on eBay for $15 or so that are also used for self-adhesive sandpaper for fret leveling. The cheapest/oldest toll for that job is the mill bastard file, but cheap diamond 4-sided knife sharpener from Harbor Freight makes a great leveling file set!

    But to me the minimum tools needed - especially for a first fret job - are low-tack/heavy masking tape or fret guard; a fret rocker (absolutely essential. you can't do the job properly at all without one or a precise substitute); black Sharpies (so you'll know what you're filing!); straightedge; leveling file; crowning file; fret end file; polishing materials.

    But I have a question. After you fret the neck, how are you going to make the nut? Do you have the gaged nut files and a feeler gage? If not how do you plan to notch the nut properly and measure/set the action at the 1st fret? That's one of the most critical parts of a refret or fret dressing.
     
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