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Thread: Fret Files and Other luthier tools?

  1. #26
    Teacher, luthier
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    Default Re: Fret Files and Other luthier tools?

    I made my first set of pullers by grinding down a hardware store nipper. It had poor temper, and the jaws kept chipping. I re-ground it several times and used it for years, but I'm not sorry that I replaced it with the more durable Stew-mac cutter, which works both as a puller and an end cutter.

    I still use Grobet round edge joint files and a couple of X-acto needle files for nut slots, but the Stew-mac double edge slotting files cut faster, are more durable, and have a nice taper. If I replace mine, I will probably buy the Stew-mac files. Warmouth sells what appears to be a similar file for a few dollars less, but I haven't seen them and can't vouch for the quality.

    I suppose I could have made my own bridge clamps, but without a bandsaw it would have taken many hours of work.

    Several saws are available from various woodwork supply houses. The ones that are suitable for cutting fret slots aren't cheap anywhere, and often they don't provide sufficient info on the width of the cut. The old Blitz saw with replaceable blades that I got from a luthiers' supply house for about $8 about 35 years ago is no longer available. If anyone knows where I can get a couple of replacement blades, I would appreciate it. I don't know how to sharpen mine. Or if anyone knows a sharpening technique that will work on a thin blade with very small teeth, I'd like to hear about it.

    For many years, I refretted a large number of antique instruments. The tang cutters and the tang crimpers were expensive, but they paid for themselves many times over in the amount of labor time they saved. But they are not essential tools for a hobbyist.

    I don't like buying tools twice, and I don't like coughing up a lot of money for specialty tools. Sometimes I've had to balance the amount of labor involved in making or restoring a tool against the cost of a new one. And the durability and efficiency of the tools are other factors. My 35 year old Dremel has broken down on me twice in the last year. I repaired it both times, but if it breaks down again I'll probably replace it with a new one. I'll frown for a couple of days and move on. With a little luck, by the time the new one breaks down, I'll be too old to be doing much shop work.
    Last edited by rcc56; May-19-2020 at 1:58pm.

  2. #27
    Adrian Minarovic
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    Default Re: Fret Files and Other luthier tools?

    I use my pullers just for pulling frets so they will last me a lifetime of use. They are small and can work on any radius of fretboard. I don't use end nippers for cutting wire but diagonal cutters with he side ground level with the very cutting edge. When I'm cutting fretwire to length I cut one side and hold wire against board in its place and hold the pliers against the edge of fingerboardand lightly clamp the wire with the pliers and then cut them. There is hardly any need for further end nipping of the wire, just few strokes with file to get angled ends. When I undercut the fretwire I do it with the same diagonal cutters, I just hold the edge right gainst the crownand cut 1/16" into the wire, next cut is perpendicular and the tiny rectangular piece of tang just shoots away leaving minimal material for small fine file to smooth out. Quick and effective way.
    Adrian

  3. #28
    Registered User crooksj's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fret Files and Other luthier tools?

    For a fret tang nipper I recommend the tool below...$10 vs $55 StewMac tool. Sold as an electronics tool.


    Nickel Plated Nibbling Tool
    Brand Parts-Express.com part Number360-022

  4. #29
    I really look like that soliver's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fret Files and Other luthier tools?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Mando View Post
    ... The curved design of the file teeth will first file the edges before the top is in danger of being filed. Then you can take 400 sandpaper and remove the file marks...
    Thanks Jeff!... I am aware of the process as I have done it before, but not with a crowning file... this was the bit that I wasn't sure about.

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    The absolute essentials for me were a set of fret lifters, a crowning file, a slotting saw, a set of deep throated bridge clamps for flat-top guitar bridges, and a set of nut files. That's all.
    Thanks rcc56, this really gets at the heart of what I was wanting to know, and I do LOVE your list above, it is VERY helpful.
    Last edited by soliver; May-19-2020 at 6:08pm.
    aka: Spencer
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  5. #30

    Default Re: Fret Files and Other luthier tools?

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    Here’s a selection of things that cut hard materials. The ‘electronics nibbler’ upper left, is generic and I just tested on 0.020 type 302 stainless sheet, no problems. However, it doesn’t have a slot like the S-M dedicated tool, so will cut the “t” shape at an angle. Have used these for many years, mostly on chassis cutouts. The upper right is the larger Starrett hard material cutter. There are or were, two sizes, but the jaws are so fiercely hardened that I haven’t had one that didn’t shatter - and probably expensive. The lower rightis a Utica 470-S, not a flush cutter, but a bypass die. A really good wire cutter. The lower left is something I’d call a wire tool, Sargent, with parallel jaws for twisting wire and the crescent on the side a very strong nipper. Don’t know if some of these no longer exist, or what they cost. Somehow, anything I start doing requires one tool I don’t have.
    I very much appreciate Adrian’s modus - craft, skill, experience and basic tools, but I’ve been forced by work and hobbies into a vastly different realm.

  6. #31
    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fret Files and Other luthier tools?

    Starrett piano wire cutters- a very nice one for the obscure tools pile! Those look like the larger set with the adjustable cutter insert. I have one that came from a Steinway repair shop years ago. Have you seen the price they cost now? Something around $300!

    When you pull back the plastic shrink wrap on the Stew Mac "fret nibbler" it is just a basic Klein brand nibbler that you can find at any Home Depot in the nation for $15 that has a simple modifcation you can do with a Dremel tool or small file. You can get all the fret cutting shortcut tools you want but GREAT fret work still requires a good amount of hand filing to get it perfect.

  7. #32

    Default Re: Fret Files and Other luthier tools?

    re: fret files? I started out with the Gurian fret file. I find it takes a good bit of finger strength and leaves a fairly rough surface. Because I'm a builder and occasionally do fretwork for others, I invested in diamond crowning files and will never go back. I only use 300 grit and find that they take less physical effort, making it easier to control. They also produce a consistent crown and leave a much smoother finish and eliminate 1 grit of sandpaper in the smoothing/polishing process.

    If you do use a crowning file, it's important to match the file to the width of the wire, especially if you're using the small traditional (0.053" wide) wire. All this said, if you plan on only doing this one instrument, a safe-edge 3 corner file will get it done. It's what the guys at Gibson used for decades.

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  9. #33

    Default Re: Fret Files and Other luthier tools?

    Agreed, you match the size of the crowning file to the fret size, but for smaller size frets you can still finesse the tool to work fine by pushing in toward one side of the fret and then doing the same on the other side. Sounds complicated, but really is just common sense and just a few strokes are needed per fret.

  10. #34
    I really look like that soliver's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fret Files and Other luthier tools?

    I have been considering the triangle fret dressing file... just the medium sized one:

    https://www.stewmac.com/luthier-tool...ing-files.html

    Seems like a sightly more versatile tool than the more specialty ones...

    If you guys were to choose between the 2, which would you prefer a Triangle file like above, or a Gurian
    aka: Spencer
    Silverangel Econo A #429
    Jacobson Nautilus Oval Hole Prototype

    Hand Crafted Mandolin Armrests
    Check them out here

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  11. #35
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    Default Re: Fret Files and Other luthier tools?

    You can make a triangle file yourself by buying a decent one at any hardware store and grinding the corners safe on a grinding wheel or belt sander. It only takes about 5 minutes, and you'll save a ton of money.

    Between a Gurian and a triangle file, I prefer the Gurian.
    But these days, I find myself preferring the old fashioned 2 sided fret file most of the time.

    I've used all three types, plus the quarter round, which hasn't been discussed and I do not recommend.

  12. #36
    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fret Files and Other luthier tools?

    What a wealth of information is in this thread! Spence, thanks for initiating it, and thanks to all who are being so generous with their hard-won experience.
    New to mando? Click this link -->Newbies to join us at the Newbies Social Group.

    Just send an email to rob.meldrum@gmail.com with "mandolin setup" in the subject line and he will email you a copy of his ebook for free (free to all mandolincafe members).

    My website and blog: honketyhank.com

  13. #37
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    Default Re: Fret Files and Other luthier tools?

    I have the diamond, Gurian, and two sided files. Mostly I use the Gurian. The diamond files are nice for spot leveling, but I don't think the ones I have, early from stu mac, are the best. They have a curve at tip that is useful. Maybe their new ones are improved. If I had to only have one it would be the Gurian.
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