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Fretting a finger board - what tools do you use?

Total Topics: 13
Total Posts: 71
OK, I'm thinking ahead here a bit. I have to order some stuff from StewMac and only want to pay s/h once. So I'm looking at the fingerboard and fretting. I didn't realize there were so many options.

What size fret wire are you using? What tools are you using to get the fret wire into the finger board? What tools are you using to trip the fret wire (I have some clippers from a tile job I did and they look similar to the tools I've seen referrenced)? What are you using to level the frets? Shouldn't that be done after set up? Do you bother shaping the frets?

Thx for any input, as always!

Sep 27, 06 | 5:30 am

Total Topics: 38
Total Posts: 76
I too am wondering about the same thing. I know that I can go broke buying all the tools that people use. What are the cheapest but needed tools to get the job of fretting, shaping the nut and saddle done? I don't want to waste money but I don't also want to make my life hell by trying to use the wrong tools.

Sep 27, 06 | 8:52 am
Bill Cory

Total Topics: 158
Total Posts: 3584
You can get a plastic-tipped hammer at Home Depot. There is a HowTo on Stewmac's Free Info link on fretting. Get some good end-cut wire-cutters -- they're called "Fret Nippers" on Stewmac but they're more expensive. If you're putting in a fretboard binding, you'll need "Fret Tang Nippers," which aren't available from regular tool places. (Or you could very carefully file or grind them... very carefully.)

Medium fretwire seems to be what comes in most kits.

After your put in the frets, very rarely can they be used without levelling, etc. Read up on it in some of the books.

Always round the edges of the frets to avoid cut hands.

Basically -- minimum tools:
1) Hammer to put the frets in. (NOt a steel hammer; frets are too soft.)
2) possible need for CA glue
3) Tang Nippers or equivalent if binding fretboard
4) Fret leveling file; fret dressing file (can get these at tool places; read up on it)
5) Steel wool to polish frets

Shaping the nut and saddle can be done with basic tools. Look on at the Free Info listing; Dan Erlewine has a thing there on making the nut.

Sep 27, 06 | 10:48 am

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Total Posts: 58
I've done some fret repairs and finally decided it was worth the while and the minimal expense to have 'dedicated' fretting tools - mainly specific cutters marked as 'fret pulling only' and 'fret cutting only' which I have segregated from other cutters and use only for fret work. This way I'm certain they get fairly minimal use and no abuse (like cutting things I know not to use them for - but they were with-in reach...)


Sep 29, 06 | 7:51 pm

Total Topics: 13
Total Posts: 71
Bill, you mentioned needing fret leveling file, but no mention of a shaping file. Have you found that they are not really necessary?

Sep 30, 06 | 10:39 am
Ken Cierp

Total Topics: 58
Total Posts: 2262
For a professional looking job --- in one tenth the time the Gruan fret crowing file is a must. I worked for years without it (what was I thinking!) Also, the little tool Don Teeter illustrates in his book works great for final crowing and polishing --- uses regular sand paper, takes about 30 minutes to make. Its a personal preference but I always use a razor saw instead of nippers. As the saying goes "time is money" if I jerk out a fret ---- I am doing it again for free.


Sep 30, 06 | 11:39 am
Bill Cory

Total Topics: 158
Total Posts: 3584
Hi Brandon -- The fret dressing file was the term I was using for a shaping file. I also use emery cloth wrapped around the thin edge of a regular flat file. The fret dressing file they sell at Stewmac, etc., has one side with no teeth. You can accomplish the same effect by putting tape over the teeth of a small triangular file. No matter what you use, there's no substitute for lots of patience; if it takes awhile and avoids nicks, it's worth the extra time.

Ken has a point, too, on fret nippers. However, you should have no problem using them (if yo choose to) if you cut with the blade edges perpendicular to the fretboard, not parallel to it. This eliminates the tendency to pull up. I tried Ken's approach and quickly abandoned it and went back to nippers. To each his own, as they say --


Sep 30, 06 | 12:28 pm
Phlytyer (Keith)

Total Topics: 37
Total Posts: 273
"Its a personal preference but I always use a razor saw instead of nippers."

Thank you Ken... I was wondering if my X-acto razor saw would do the trick.

Sep 30, 06 | 1:28 pm

Total Topics: 9
Total Posts: 58
Stewmac and I'm sure others have a polishing wheel for a dremel tool which makes the 'finish' on frets a real joy to play - silky smooth. It's also easy to use and the wheels seem to last very well.


Sep 30, 06 | 3:23 pm

Total Topics: 4
Total Posts: 42
You can make your own "polishing wheel" with stuff from WalMart- just a grinding wheel (the blue ones) with a groove in it- spin it up on the Dremel and groove it with a round file. Jeweler's rouge (the red stuff, get it at Sears) on a cloth polishing wheel leaves a nice finish on the frets, too.
For cutting frets I use a cheap set of end nippers and plan on replaceing them every 3 or 4 fret jobs. The old ones go in the "kitchen" tool box, new ones go in the "building" tool box. "Flush cuts" are nice but a mill file works as well for me.
Stew Mac sells a nice triangular file with safe edges which is great for doing the fret ends. 3 or 4 strokes and it's really comfortable to play. Looks good, too.
Fret wire? Medium/medium is the usual choice. And bevel the fret slots and put a drop of water in them first- seems to make the frets go in easier and the bevel reduces chipping if you have to pull the fret later.

Oct 01, 06 | 7:50 am

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