Cutting and Shaping a Nut Blank

bgmacaw

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What's your method for cutting and shaping a bone nut blank? So, if you start with this...

20220812_074449.jpg


...what do you do to get it into its final form?

My method, so far, has been to trim the blank to the length I want by placing it in a vise and using a flush cut saw. I then use a sander to shape it further, such as rounding over the top for a non-Fender style nut. I usually mark it with a Sharpie so that I don't over-sand. Once I've got the shape like I want it, I cut the slots with a nut file. I've put together some templates for standard nut slot positions, including ones for my cigar box builds with 2 to 4 strings. I try to cut the slots to less than their final level so that I can remove additional material once it's mounted on the target guitar.
 

guitarbuilder

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I cut bone nuts out of bleached pet mart bone. I saw off a hunk and sand two edges square, then sand the third side close. Then I run the bone though either the ROSS or the drum sander to thickness it. I stick it on to a jig or use double sided tape. To keep fingers intact when sanding by hand, I hold the blank with pliers. To sand the arch at an angle, I put a pencil line on where the fretboard radius meets the bone, when it fits into the slot. Then I put an arc in pencil about 1/16" above that, and finally hold the nut at the desired angle and sand to the pencil line. I then pre slot it with nut files and fine tune after it is in the neck.

You can see it here at post 197



and here in 226


and here at 357

 
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Telekarster

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I pretty much do what @guitarbuilder does, including the pet chew bone. It's harder than buying a premade blank like you have pictured, but I just sort of like the process of cutting em from scratch. I rough it down to the basic dimensions and, in the case of a Fender guitar, fine fit it to the slot until I get it perfectly set, to include the neck radius. Once it's fit snug into the slot, I mark it with a 1/2 pencil that I made from a #2, sliding across frets 1-4, to give me the basic height and arch I need onto the nut. I then cut it down to that line, hand file the back break/arch, hide glue her in place, and proceed to mark/file the grooves.
 

bgmacaw

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I cut bone nuts out of bleached pet mart bone.

I have to fight for those PetSmart bones around here. Maybe I can trade an antler for one.

20190914_233230.jpg


To keep fingers intact when sanding by hand, I hold the blank with pliars.

I do that as well although sometimes the bone is so slick it slips out of the pliers and flies across the garage. I may have get a good small vise grip pliers to do this and hold other small workpieces. I have a cheap Chinese one that doesn't grip too well.
 

gb Custom Shop

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I start with blanks like you have pictured.
First I thickness the majority with the ROSS. Then, I'll attach some sandpaper to my router table fence, and creep up to the final thickness at a higher grit. I'll also flip the blank on its side, and get the bottom perfectly flattened and 90⁰ to the sides. Install nut into slot.

Take a 'half-round' pencil, place on first few frets, and draw the arc on the nut, keeping parallel to center line. Also mark overhang on sides of the nut.

Then, double stick tape the nut to a piece of scrap, and it's back to the ROSS. That helps keep your fingers in a safer position. follow the arc, and get approx 1/16" to the line. Also do the sides here about 90% of the way

I file the nut slots at this point. I use a string spacing ruler to mark the positions. File each slot, and install strings. If it's a new neck, I'll let it get used to the string tension for a few days before taking the nut slots to their final depth.

Once the slots are filed, take the nut out, and I put it in the Stewmac nut vise. I file in more nut slot fall away here, and do the last bit of shaping (angling the back of the nut blank, and clean up the sides perfectly flush ), final sanding at ~320+, and polishing. Last thing I'll do on the slots is finesse with a bit of Mitchell abrasive cords. Lastly, it gets installed with 2 drops of wood glue, and clamped down with the strings.
 

Peegoo

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I shape the blank to fit in the slot, and cut and polish both ends. Then I glue it in. When the glue is cured, I mark and cut preliminary slots with a .010" slotting file to establish their positions. I string up the guitar and work each slot down to proper action (.018" - .020") over the 1st fret.

When all the strings are where I like them, I use a large flat file to plane off the top of the nut so the wound strings are halfway in the slot, and the plain strings are about 80% in the slot. Then I shape the nut ends and all hard edges with a small triangle file to make for a smooth hand feel, followed by light sanding and polishing to a mirror shine.

Nuts.jpg
 

Telekarster

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I shape the blank to fit in the slot, and cut and polish both ends. Then I glue it in. When the glue is cured, I mark and cut preliminary slots with a .010" slotting file to establish their positions. I string up the guitar and work each slot down to proper action (.018" - .020") over the 1st fret.

When all the strings are where I like them, I use a large flat file to plane off the top of the nut so the wound strings are halfway in the slot, and the plain strings are about 80% in the slot. Then I shape the nut ends and all hard edges with a small triangle file to make for a smooth hand feel, followed by light sanding and polishing to a mirror shine.

Nuts.jpg

Very nice work man! I aspire to make mine as clean as yours ;)
 

dsutton24

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I haven't used bone since I discovered Tusq. It works very much the same but it smells so much better.
 

Peegoo

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Very nice work man! I aspire to make mine as clean as yours ;)

Wanna know a real cool pro tip?

Once you get the nut sanded smooth to 600 grit, flip the sandpaper over and use the paper backing under your fingertip to polish the nut. Build up a little heat in the process. It will put a mirror shine on bone, TUSQ, Nylon, Melamine/Cyclovac, Delrin, Corian, ebony, etc. The critical thing here is to use a portion of the backing that has no printing on it; any ink on the paper can transfer to the nut and get rubbed into the material.

Lastly: in my previous post, I neglected to mention that I tape off all the way around the nut before I start shaping/sanding/polishing with it in place on the neck. The tape protects the neck from any unintentional wear, scratches, etc.
 

Boreas

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What's your method for cutting and shaping a bone nut blank? So, if you start with this...

View attachment 1016118

...what do you do to get it into its final form?

My method, so far, has been to trim the blank to the length I want by placing it in a vise and using a flush cut saw. I then use a sander to shape it further, such as rounding over the top for a non-Fender style nut. I usually mark it with a Sharpie so that I don't over-sand. Once I've got the shape like I want it, I cut the slots with a nut file. I've put together some templates for standard nut slot positions, including ones for my cigar box builds with 2 to 4 strings. I try to cut the slots to less than their final level so that I can remove additional material once it's mounted on the target guitar.
Sounds to me you have a pretty good handle on the process. Dozens of different techniques can be found in the Googleverse. Depends a lot on the tools at your disposal. The more you make, the more efficient you become.

WRT shaping, some people strive for factory-correct shapes, while others, like myself, prefer the smoothest, lowest-profile possible that doesn't catch on my flabby hands.
 

rand z

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I shape the blank to fit in the slot, and cut and polish both ends. Then I glue it in. When the glue is cured, I mark and cut preliminary slots with a .010" slotting file to establish their positions. I string up the guitar and work each slot down to proper action (.018" - .020") over the 1st fret.

When all the strings are where I like them, I use a large flat file to plane off the top of the nut so the wound strings are halfway in the slot, and the plain strings are about 80% in the slot. Then I shape the nut ends and all hard edges with a small triangle file to make for a smooth hand feel, followed by light sanding and polishing to a mirror shine.

Nuts.jpg

THIS. ^
 

Telekarster

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flip the sandpaper over and use the paper backing under your fingertip to polish the nut. Build up a little heat in the process. It will put a mirror shine on bone, TUSQ, Nylon, Melamine/Cyclovac, Delrin, Corian, ebony, etc.

Well how bout that!!! Huh!!! Thanks man!!! Next time I make one I'll be sure to try this. Much appreciated!
 

schmee

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I put a new bone nut on a new neck I got recently. I tried something different and really like how it worked. I beveled the back side of the nut heavily before slotting at all. I Usually bevel them a bit but went to a big bevel this time. I'm always fussing with trying to make slots have very short contact area like a zero fret would be. This helped do that and looks nice also.
Publication6.jpg
 

MickM

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This is from TDPRI 2011 and contains clear concise instructions for cutting a new nut. I haven't seen a better one to date.
 

Skydog1010

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What fun is that?

It does take some time to learn. That's one reason I like building cigar box style guitars as a learning exercise. It's a lot more forgiving in some ways, especially financially speaking.
Well I got tired of throwing my money into the educational curve that was burning a hole in my wallet, I never mastered the art, I admire those that can. I play my two Strats more than anything, and anyone that has had one and started an A-Z setup for action height, string size change, or bridge and/or saddle swap (complete soup to nuts (pun intended) Stratocaster "professional" setup) will attest to the fact that nut replacement is often involved in doing so, they will likely back me up on this, cutting bone or XL Graph TEC material can start turning into a freaking expensive nightmare real quick.
 




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