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Converting an arbor to a fret press?

Discussion in 'The DIY Tool Shed' started by scubadoo, Jan 27, 2021.

  1. scubadoo

    scubadoo Tele-Afflicted

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    Hi there, I've been away for a while but am thinking of doing a couple of builds to break the lockdown boredom here in the UK and am looking to add some tools. So a hefty order to Stewmac is on the cards. There still aren't great options in the UK, even less now we're no longer in the EU.

    I've always been tempted by the Stewmac fret press but the cost of the arbor is a bit high and it seems mad to ship something that heavy all this way + import duties. The necks I've done have all been hammered and I just feel pressing would be more consistent and make levelling easier and quicker.

    How easy or feasible would it be to adapt a standard arbor to use the stewmac caul?

    Having never seen one i'm not sure how the caul is fitted. Is it a case of removing the rectangular bit the moves up and down and drilling out the end to take the caul? If so I'm not sure if that would be possible without a mill - does that part remove easily from an arbor?

    Would you guys just recommend the Stewmac one?

    Thanks in advance for any advice.

    Dave
     
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  2. ale.istotle

    ale.istotle Tele-Holic Silver Supporter

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    No personal experience with the stewmac setup. From their site the shaft is 3/8" and it has an indent for the arbor ram's set screw (both circled below). That seems a fairly common small arbor press bore size too. The ram is the part of the arbor press that does the pushing and it has a bore that accepts tools.
    Stewmac's page also say you can use it in a drill press if you have access to one of those.
    Anyway, seems fairly straightforward.


    upload_2021-1-27_15-32-36.png upload_2021-1-27_15-33-13.png
     
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  3. lathoto

    lathoto Tele-Meister

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    It's three things. The press, the tooling, and the fixtures.
     
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  4. JuneauMike

    JuneauMike Poster Extraordinaire

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    The quill (is that the right word for it?) should be able to withstand the downward force of a fret install. It's really not that much force. I always thought a press was overkill.

    I've always been told that lateral force is the thing to watch out for on a drill press, for instance using it as a spindle sander.

    Don't forget to shop around. I like the prices and selection at Philadelphia Luthiers, but YMMV.
     
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  5. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Poster Extraordinaire

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    After using the StewMac caul in my drill press for way too many years, each time fearing that I was going to break the quill or the table I finally broke down and both a real arbor press. This was the smallest and cheapest one I could find at Harbor Freight, don't remember the rating (5 tons?) or the cost but decided it was worth it.

    The StewMac caul is definitely worth it - I have fretted and refretted many necks with it and it works wonderfully. To make it work with my new arbor press I took the "quill" out and took it to a machine shop who drilled a hole in the end and a set screw to hold the caul in place. I had a brain fart an put the set screw hole on the inside - it works but is awkward to get to. This really does need to be done accurately - you could chuck the quill thing in a lathe and drill it that way but I wouldn't try it by hand,

    IMG_6123.JPG

    In use I clamp the thing to my work bench (not shown in the picture). Also a couple of important things - I always fret my boards before gluing them to the neck. That means I can simply put a piece of wood under the board as in the picture. On refrets I still hammer. I also use a drop of CA in the fret slot - most of my boards are bound and I like the security of the glue on the ends
     
  6. JuneauMike

    JuneauMike Poster Extraordinaire

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    How many refrets would you estimate you did on your drill press? Did it hurt the drill press in anyway?
     
  7. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Poster Extraordinaire

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    Just to make a liar out of myself, here I am pressing frets into a fretboard that is glued to a tele style neck using my drill press. I've got a padded caul under the neck and you can't see in the picture but the table has been brought down tight onto a piece of of wood so it won't break under the pressure

    IMG_4720.JPG
     
  8. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Poster Extraordinaire

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    Probably 20 or so. I hammered the first few and almost all the refrets. My drill press is pretty cheap and watching the table flex each time I pressed made me shutter. I finally thought of putting a little block of wood under the table (duh) and as far as I can tell there was no damage to the quill
     
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  9. JuneauMike

    JuneauMike Poster Extraordinaire

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    These guys are in your neighborhood, right?
    https://tonetechluthiersupplies.co.uk/summit-luthier-fret-press.html
     
  10. scubadoo

    scubadoo Tele-Afflicted

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  11. Peegoo

    Peegoo Poster Extraordinaire

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    You can also make a really simple but effective fret press from wood or metal--depending on the tools you have in the shop. Like this:

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2021
  12. Davecam48

    Davecam48 Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    My fret press is very similar to what Freeman showed and the Stew Mac Caul fitted perfectly after a small excursion to the drill press to drill the aperture to perfect size.

    When I press in a fret, when it is fully seated into the finger-board, I hold it down under pressure with one hand and tap the end of the fret lightly with a small hammer, just enough to move the fret tangs along to an unbroken section of the neck wood. This seems to work for me, never had a failure yet!

    DC
     
  13. SparkleFart

    SparkleFart Tele-Meister Silver Supporter

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    Oh man, before I knew better I made this huge, brutal "fret press" that features a cold chisel that I painstakingly filed a groove in. It's like some kind of medieval torture apparatus. :lol:
    press.jpg

    It kinda works, but has been added to my ever-growing pile of shop-shame & has since been replaced by an arbor press & caul. It's destined for the woodstove. :lol::lol::lol:
     
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  14. JuneauMike

    JuneauMike Poster Extraordinaire

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    Wow, that is impressive. Honestly.

    (and LOL, I've got one of those "shop-shame piles" as well. But hey, wanna make an omelet ... )
     
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  15. eallen

    eallen Friend of Leo's

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    That is actually quite impressive! Put a solid shaft metal where the chisel is at with a stew style caul holder and you got all you need.

    My caul holder and cauls are from Philadelphia Luthier I believe for quite a bit cheaper.
     
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  16. John Nicholas

    John Nicholas Friend of Leo's

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    The StewMac fret press looks amazing, but I'm too cheap to buy it. Couldn't image how expensive it would be after shipping and Import duties to the UK!!

    I built mine using a 1/2 ton arbor press from Harbor Freight. I don't know if you have an equivalent in the U.K. or not, but hopefully you can get a arbor press for less than $50.00 USD, I'm pretty sure with a coupon I paid just about $20.00 for mine.

    Yes the Stew Mac caul is great, but I bought mine from a user on the forum, Brainy quite a few years ago. He got it from someplace in Europe and it was much less expensive than the StewMac one and it works perfectly fine. Pretty sure it was from this place...
    https://guitarsandwoods.com/fretting-888189120/fret-press-insert-caul-637496332.html

    Since my solution is a modified arbor press, it seemed very important to have at least a light duty return spring. Why? Without one, the caul can and will slam into your fretboard! Included some photos of how I set up the return spring. If you want additional photos of how I modified the press, please let me know.

    IMG_1768.JPG

    IMG_0936.JPG

    IMG_0937.JPG
     
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  17. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Poster Extraordinaire

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    That is the arbor press that I used, I don't have a return spring (yet). I think it is important to bolt or clamp it to the work bench, like John I put a piece of flat wood on it to support the neck.
     
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  18. scubadoo

    scubadoo Tele-Afflicted

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    Thanks John, presumably you had to drill out the end of the ram? I'm a bit unsure how to clamp that safely on the drill press. I have a plywood table on mine and don't have a milling vice.

    Thanks for the pictures of the return spring, that's really cool.
     
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  19. John Nicholas

    John Nicholas Friend of Leo's

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    I bought a cheap drill press vise, probably from Harbor Freight.
    https://www.harborfreight.com/4-inch-jaw-capacity-drill-press-vise-30999.html

    Then marked the RAM and drilled the hole, using oil to keep the drill bit cool. The metal the RAM is made from is pretty soft. So it was pretty easy to drill. I also drilled another hole at a 45 degree angle, which I used a tap to thread and put a grub screw in to hold the caul in place.

    IMG_1770.JPG

    IMG_1771.JPG

    IMG_1772.JPG

    IMG_1773.JPG

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    I hope this helps!!

    Glad I took these photos when I was modifying my arbor press!
     
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  20. Jim_in_PA

    Jim_in_PA Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    I've been considering picking up an inexpensive arbor press and doing exactly this. I use my DP now for the purpose, but having the reconfigured arbor press would make the task more pleasant. I'd be doing exactly what John shows in the previous post. I already have the Elmer version of the fret pressing attachment for a DP and brass radius inserts.
     
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