Stubborn fret ends during installation

Discussion in 'Tele Home Depot' started by bunjamin, Nov 23, 2021.

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  1. bunjamin

    bunjamin TDPRI Member

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    Howdy folks, bit of a lurker here but was hoping someone who's been down this road could help me out. I've tried hammering in some pre-radiused fender frets into my "practice neck" and the ends aren't sitting down against the fingerboard. I've tried reinstalling a couple to see if my hammering technique was the problem. I've also tried using superglue and with a makeshift caul (radius block + trigger clamps). Neither gave me much success.

    What I think my options are
    1. Hammer in a new set of frets with a tighter radius and/or better technique (my board is already a hair flatter than 9.5")
    2. Suck it up and buy the $300 stew mac fret press
    The fret press would be used on another neck once I get this one down. Is there anything obvious I'm missing?

    [​IMG]
    https://imgur.com/a/XptiA6k
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2021
  2. guitarbuilder

    guitarbuilder Telefied Ad Free Member

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    After about 10 necks with the same issue...I bought a fret press. My advise is to overbend your fretwire some so that the ends go in first. Make sure the slot is deep enough to accomodate the tang and that you use a fretsaw that is the same size as the fret wire.
    .022 or .023 seems to be the norm now.

    Believe me when I say I tried everything before going to the press. I had the correct saw blade. I had the correct fret wire. I made a couple devices to absorb the hammer blow. I ended up with sprung ends. There just is some technique that is acquired I guess and I got tired of it.

    Now I use: a long aluminum radius beam to sand the fretboard flat

    the fretwire bender

    I chamfer the fret slot before I install frets

    and I use a fret press instead of a hammer. ( I have to use a hammer on

    some ends of acoustic fretboards but I think the chamfered slot takes care of any issues )

    PS...I use 2 feet long fretwire, not the pre cut stuff.

    That was the key for me.

    See my neck build thread for examples of that.


    Let's make a neck! | Telecaster Guitar Forum (tdpri.com)
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2021
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  3. darkforce

    darkforce Tele-Meister

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    Bending the frets a bit tighter helps. Also check that your slots are deep enough at the edges, otherwise even a fret press will not help.
     
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  4. oldunc

    oldunc Tele-Afflicted

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    My experience is that frets are a huge pain in the neck- I wonder sometimes what they were using for fretwire 200 years ago and how they ever got it installed. A deadblow hammer helps a little. Fret presses are tempting, but as with so many guitar making tools are really expensive and hard to justify if you're not going into serious production
     
  5. bunjamin

    bunjamin TDPRI Member

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    To my untrained eye, the slots look good. This is what I see for the entire neck. The ends also 'flex' when I push down on them.
    https://ibb.co/qgRzYsV[​IMG]
     
  6. Jim_in_PA

    Jim_in_PA Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    If you have a DP, you have the option of a fret press device you can put in the chuck. It's a nice solution for a part-time builder over a dedicated press that's simply an arbor press that's been modified to take the same attachment that works in a DP. :) "Elmer" brand on that big auction site is the equivalent of the SM version and also works with the SM inserts if you need additional radius for your work.

    The comment about the fret slot depth at the end is also sound...if you cut them by hand with a saw and then radiused the fretboard, you may have the necessary 2mm in the middle but at the edges...nope. (I cut mine on the CNC and it follows the radius contour so the depth remains constant)
     
  7. tomasz

    tomasz Tele-Meister

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    What you want while hammering in is to put the fret at the slot and gently hammer in one end, while holding the other down, then reverse and hold the hammered in end in place and tap in the other end. You will end up with a fret slightly high in the middle. Now you tap in the middle, which will also expand the fret and move the sharp bumps on the tang sideways in the slot, which helps with the grip.

    If you want to be super safe, use a dab of superglue in the slot (along the whole end), tap the fret in and clamp it down with a radius caul for 10-15 seconds. I usually progress like that, loose the clamp and move the caul fret by fret.

    Edit: those where hammered in as described above. The board radius is 12", fretwire was prebend to a roughly 10" radius. I used super glue and a caul to keep them in place
    IMG_20211123_132931-01.jpeg
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2021
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  8. tomasz

    tomasz Tele-Meister

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    There is an easy thing you can do if cutting by hand: I'm just gluing on a straight wooden slat with two daps of cyanoacrylate to the saw blade. That works as a depth stop. With that you can have a nice curved fret slot, that follows the radius and is consistent in depth
     
  9. bunjamin

    bunjamin TDPRI Member

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    This approach seems worth trying with a fresh set of pre-cut frets before splurging on a tool. Would you recommend having one end of the fret close to the fingerboard, roughly equal overhang, or no overhang?
     
  10. guitarbuilder

    guitarbuilder Telefied Ad Free Member

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    I'd say the last 4 slot ends on the right look wide. Also, I use a couple of rods and a caul to press the ends down and add a bit of superglue to the ends. This is after the installation. I don't glue my frets down before hand.


    fret end press and glue.jpg
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2021
  11. tomasz

    tomasz Tele-Meister

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    I always do overhang, just to be able to then trim consistently. Usually it is 3 mm (1/8th of an inch). They will stick out a bit more when hammered in, but that also allows for a nice close trim, without slipping. While cutting fretwire, you always want to cut from side to side, never go vertical and squash the tang, even on installed frets.
     
  12. tomasz

    tomasz Tele-Meister

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    @bunjamin , looking at the picture again, you probably don't have to reinstall. The fret sit nice flat on top of the fretboard. The reason you get some spring is, that you have rolled edges for one, and probably a tad of a wider slot than the tang is.

    I would drop a caul on the frets and fix the ends with superglue. Otherwise the fretwire looks decently straight and not bent at the ends. You will need some dressing to be done on the ends, as you have a rolled fretboard and you don't want the fret ends to poke out. Other than that it looks good. If the slots seem to be a tad wider, you can sprinkle some fine maple dust in the slot ends, before going with the superglue, or do that later after you trimmed the ends. Good luck!
     
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  13. schmee

    schmee Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    Make sure the slot is clean.
    Make sure the slot id deep enough.
    The board has no debris at the slots from old glue etc.
    Fret radius tighter than the board a bit.

    Looking at your pic, I would probably try nipping off one fret to width, then float a drop of thick CA glue in the end and press the fret down for a minute using a wooden block by hand. See if it stays down.

    Beware that the CA glues goes right through and will destroy finish in seconds! Tape off all the surrounding wood.
     
  14. Ronkirn

    Ronkirn Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    ya don't need the 300.00 Press from StewMac.. but it IS handy

    getcha one of these..

    https://www.harborfreight.com/1-ton-arbor-press-3552.html?_br_psugg_q=small+press

    and a Fret press caul and whatever insert ya need.. be careful here. there are cheepos available but the caul inserts are only about 1/16 wide.... you want the meaty one that has ⅛ inch wide inserts.. but all together should get ya there for about 150 bux.. an little fiddling around with the press to get the caul to fit may be necessary, but none of us are afraid oi=of a little shop innovation are we..

    r
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2021
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  15. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Poster Extraordinaire

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    I do both hammered and pressed frets. When I have a choice (new neck, refretting a screw on neck) I always use the correct sized caul in the StewMac holder. Currently seventy five bucks. For many years I used the SM caul in my drill press with a block of wood under the table. Knowing that I could damage the quill or snap the table off I finally bought a Harbor Freight arbor press and had it modified to take the SM caul.

    When I can't use the press and caul I hammer frets in (mostly refrets). I back up the fretboard with a small piece of metal thru the sound hole on acoustics and with a shaped caul on the necks itself. I slightly over radius the fretwire with the SM device (again, I used a home made one for years, finally bought the real deal). I very carefully clean the slots and use a piece of the same fretwire to check the depth (file the barbs off). I tap the ends in first, then go to the center and tap out to each end seating the fret. I use glue in the slot, usually medium CA but I've also used HHG and Titebond. As much as anything the glue helps lubricate the slot. Once the fret is in place I hold the press hard against the wire for a count of 30 and I wait until the next day before I trim the ends. I like to leave the board clamped under a curved caul overnight if I can.

    One other little trick is just as soon as I've hammered/pressed the fret in I run around the edge of the crown with the thinnest feeler blade I have (0.0015). If it slides under the crown the fret isn't seated and I figure out why - does it need more hammering or pressing, is there some sort of crap in the slot. I don't like to force a fret down, if it doesn't want to go I pull it and find out why.
     
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  16. PhredE

    PhredE Tele-Afflicted

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    For a re-fret on an unbound maple neck..

    I bought the inexpensive cheap Amazon set of (3) fret press cauls (about $15 IIRC), and used pre-cut, pre-radiused (9.5") Fender OEM frets ($11). I put the cauls in the drill press and pressed them in without much of a problem (I cleaned out the slots super good to minimize the potential for frets not going/staying down fully seated). So far, it's worked like a charm.. on a budget too.
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2021
  17. old wrench

    old wrench Friend of Leo's

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    It's entirely possible to overwork a piece of fret wire and end up with a stiff and springy piece of fret wire that is more or less a piece of junk ;).

    I'm not talking about some sort of fret voo-doo, it's simply a metal characteristic known as "work hardening" :)

    It happens with any metal fret wire - nickel/silver, stainless, or copper alloy Evo



    When you receive a length of factory-fresh fret wire, it's in an annealed and workable state - any work done to wire from that point forward will just make it stiffer and springier and more resistant to conform to any particular shape.

    So it's best to pre-radius your wire with one single trip through your fret radius roller because each trip through the rollers will make the wire stiffer and more resistant to conform to any further change in radius.



    Same thing goes for hammering on frets - each time you hammer the wire it stiffens up a little more - that's how you can get to the point where it seems that no matter how much you tap on the wire it just continues to spring back up and frustrate you ;)

    So it's best to use the fewest hammer taps and place them where they do the most good - that's why a fret press and caul works so well - it can seat the entire fret in one motion :).




    Prep work -

    Don't over-work the wire - just form it to a slightly tighter radius than the fret board so the ends of the tang want to engage the fret slot first - and then use the least amount of mechanical action to fully seat the fret to the entire depth of the tang.



    Putting a slight chamfer on the edges of fret slot not only helps to guide the tang into the slot, it also helps in another way - if you look very closely at a fret, you'll see that the tang doesn't come out of the fret bottom at a perfectly sharp ninety-degree angle, instead the junction has a little bit of a radius to it, so that little bit of relief that you provide with the chamfer also allows the fret to fully seat instead of getting slightly hung-up - just enough to cause problems ;)

    That little chamfer might also help you or someone else down the road in the future - if you need to pull the fret (for a re-fret or whatever), it will also help reduce splintering or chipping the fret board when the tang comes out


    .
     
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  18. Boreas

    Boreas Poster Extraordinaire

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    Looking at your image of the frets, I suspect there is something else going on. It looks to me (can't tell for sure) like your fingerboard is rolled off at the edge. In other words, the radius gets tighter at the edge of the fingerboard. This is common on a worn neck or one that wasn't radiused properly. Have you checked the radius of the neck all the way to the edge with a radius gauge? For this fingerboard, you may need to bend the frets a tad more at the edges. Ideally, using a fret hammer, they should still bend down and seat, but if the slot is a tad loose they can pop up and not seat. I think this may be what is going on. For this particular fretboard, you may need a thicker tang on the fret. And you may need to pre-bend more at the fret ends than in the middle.

    A fret press, while nice, is a constant radius all the way across. If your fretboard is rolled, the fret ends still won't seat without a hammer.

    And as @old wrench noted above, chamfering helps get the wood up into the armpit of the fret.
     
  19. hopdybob

    hopdybob Friend of Leo's

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    i solved it with a little blow of my frethamer on de far ends of the frets.
    it gets a little bend on the end and stays that way.

    but i do something else to.
    i don't make the ends like this / but file them like the far end of an old alu caravan like this
    [​IMG]
     
  20. epizootics

    epizootics Tele-Meister

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    Being on the side of those who "do everything right yet everything goes wrong" (probably due to my hammering technique), I ended up devising this little gizmo for stubborn frets:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    You may ask yourself "why does this idiot hammer frets in when he has a pressing caul?", but I don't have an arbor press in my shop. I didn't need one until recently and it is on my purchase list. I got the caul from GuitarFamily on Aliexpress and the quality is really decent. I can't use it with my drill stand because I can't get enough downward force without the frame creaking and buckling.

    This rudimentary setup allows me to really clamp down each fret after dripping in three or four drops or CA glue from the gap under the tang. I'm sure there are ways to alter it to work with a profiled neck. I could probably press the frets in from the start with it, but it's usually only a couple of them that need convincing to stay in their slot :)
     
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