Fret crowning tips/tricks/do's/don'ts

voodoochili12

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
679
I am taking a stab at fretwork for the first time. I bought the Stew Mac 3 corner medium fret dressing file, and the original Z File.

Z file: I find the Z file a little hard to control, where the wrong angle and pressure will kill the landing strip with 1 wrong stroke.

3 corner file (medium): I had the most success with the 3 corner file when 'anchoring' it to the fretboard and using the file angle to shape the fret sides. The problem is that creating a thin landing strip on the top requires me to lift the file up off of the fretboard, which greatly increases the chances of errant strokes that hit the landing strip or hog off a big chunk the fret.

I had better luck when using a metal fretboard protector to lift up the file to get a better filing angle while still being able to anchor the file on the fretboard.

So I'm wondering:
1.) Is the illustration below a decent way to go about getting acceptable results with a 3 corner file?
2.) What are your tips/tricks/do's/don'ts for fret crowning?

 

larry1096

Member
Messages
1,350
With a triangle file, I typically 'roll' the file from nearly vertical to nearly horizontal as it runs down the fret. Hard to explain, but the goal is to file a rounded corner on each side of the crown. I think the method shown above would 'waste' too much fret mass, to be honest.

Larry
 

bojocatkite

Member
Messages
613
That's the problem with the 3 corners file, I learn with that but I found you tend to get this triangular shape and you need practice and to be attentive if you want to round the fret correctly.
Which Z File do you have ? The centered one seems to avoid the problem of hitting the top of the fret I would have thought...
 

walterw

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
38,019
So I'm wondering:
1.) Is the illustration below a decent way to go about getting acceptable results with a 3 corner file?
2.) What are your tips/tricks/do's/don'ts for fret crowning?
the right idea but i think too steep of an angle, forcing you to grind the entire fret down to a triangle. think more like 30° off of horizontal, enough to narrow the top without removing too much of the body of the fret.
 

voodoochili12

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
679
With a triangle file, I typically 'roll' the file from nearly vertical to nearly horizontal as it runs down the fret. Hard to explain, but the goal is to file a rounded corner on each side of the crown.
This is the trouble I have:
How do you make a stroke that takes an even amount of material off the ENTIRE fret in a single stroke?

As you're 'rolling', how do you ensure that you don't hit the landing strip and ruin the top of the fret?
 

jvin248

Member
Messages
5,292
.

It's technique of doing a lot of frets. You'll get good at it.

Rather than the StewMac triangle file I bought a $3 Harbor Freight set of rat tailed files and ground/polished the narrow sides and tip of the flat one in the kit. Then I whittled a scrap piece of wood to be a handle for it. If you are doing a few guitars a month/year this is quite good.
I still use this file to round and contour the ends of the frets.

If you are doing more guitars... I bought one of the $15 radiused crown tools off ebay. Both sides are the same, and worked well for tall new frets but I needed to grind one side shorter for older rework frets to avoid gouging the fretboard. A couple of strokes and both sides of the fret are crowned now.

.
 

Dan40

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,340
It just takes practice and a few crowning jobs to get good with a triangle file. I use a very fine cut file so that each stroke only takes off a tiny bit of material. My first stroke is at the base of the fret and each successive stroke moves up a bit higher on the fret until I reach the top. Usually only takes 4 or 5 strokes per side.

This diamond file from Chris Alsop guitar is very affordable and easy to use also. I have started using this recently and have had very good results. Just need to get the correct width for your fret size.

https://www.chrisalsopguitar.co.uk/shop/guitar-tools/fret-crowning-diamond-file-TF081
 

Timtam

Member
Messages
2,329
I have the original Z-file like yours. What do you mean by 'angle'. You don't angle/roll it like a 3-corner file. You do a few passes with one side of the file, then flip it over and do a few with the other side. With the file vertical for every pass. Each side has two different angled edges, an acute and a more gentle one (the 'centred' and 'safe' versions are different). And those angles are opposite on the two sides. So one side of the file puts an acute angle on one side of the fret, and a gentle one on the other side of the fret. After that first few passes with one side, you should still have a relatively wide untouched line one top; that's expected. Then you flip the file and it adds the other angle to each side of the fret, also thinning the line on top. So you end up with two gradual, near-rounded angles on each side of the fret, and a final thin, untouched line on top.

It's way easier than a 3-corner or other files. I am a big fan. But since it's only been available for a few years, most people who had already worked out other crowning methods that work for them won't have tried it.


As long as your frets are high enough, some people use it without fretboard protection, as it should not be deep enough to touch the board, and the bottom edges are 'safe'. But I always tape the board to be safe(r).
 
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Khromo

Member
Messages
1,003
I see crowning a fret as blending the base dimension smoothly up the side, into a nice tight apex. I aim to do it without removing more material than is necessary, and without leaving deep scratches on the fret or leaving any effect on the board.

I think lighter pressure on the file is the key when you're blending something like that, kissing off the areas that need to be removed, and blending a nice tight apex

If I have a diamond or steel tool with a concave cutting edge that fits the fret well enough, I take a couple of light passes to start blending the side. The files bob-I linked in #5 are the ones I reach for first. The 300 gets most of the use, as it leaves a smooth, rounder profile than a flat file would. I had convinced myself that the #150 was too coarse to put on a fret until I ran into a few jobs where it was a big time saver. It leaves deep scratches, so I try not to use it.

If I don't have a file or burr to start, I love the medium triangular files I got from StewMac. I liked the first one so much I had to buy one or two more, in case. Some of them might need a little polishing on the safe edges before you run them across any polished ebony! No problem. Make them like glass, use a light touch, and that is one beautiful tool to use!

I start at the bottom of the fret and work my way up toward the apex, as Dan described in #8. I don't roll the file as I go from bass side to treble, which leaves tiny facets and edges that I polish out later. That file can be pretty fine or it can hog off metal if I want it to.

Getting comfortable with rolling the file to control where it is cutting is just a matter of practicing "feeling" the file cut the fret. I like to keep it quiet so I can hear as well as feel the tool shearing off metal. It's like this transcendental experience sometimes. Keeping that light fingertip touch removes all the material I need in a reasonable number of controlled strokes.
 
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Hoodoo Man

Member
Messages
59
With a 3 corner file I find it easier to file the right-hand side of the frets (I'm right-handed) and then turn the guitar / neck around to do the other side. This way I get a more consistent result as I'm using the same file stroke all the time rather than alternating on each side or using my left hand.

I register the (ground and polished) corner of my file to the (masked off) fingerboard, following the radius as I file.

I start filing at 30 degrees, so the face of the file away from the fret is vertical, sticking out my index finger along the vertical side of the file / touching the fingerboard to help keep it steady. I keep going at 30 degrees until my Sharpie line is down to about 1mm thick along the centre of the fret.

I then move to a 60 degree cut, by holding the file so the top face is horizontal, just to break the corner I created at 30 degrees. After that I use some 240 (then 400) grit silicon-carbide paper stuck to a lollipop stick to round off the facets, remove the file scratches and narrow the Sharpie mark to around 0.5mm. Finally, I wrap a piece of the 400 grit paper around my finger a do the up and down the fingerboard thing. I'm using Mirka Caret which is that soft powdery grey sandpaper, if you're using a different abrasive you may have to use higher grits.

Don't start at 60 degrees as you'll end up removing too much from the sides trying to narrow down your Sharpie mark (been there, done that!) and that rolling the file technique people talk about is a sure way to make an uneven mess of things.
 

larry1096

Member
Messages
1,350
This is the trouble I have:
How do you make a stroke that takes an even amount of material off the ENTIRE fret in a single stroke?

As you're 'rolling', how do you ensure that you don't hit the landing strip and ruin the top of the fret?
In my case, you adjust it by varying the starting point on the fret, and the rate at which it 'rolls' while filing. If you're using marker on the fret (which I find an absolute necessity), that will show you where you've touched and where you have not.


Larry
 

Timtam

Member
Messages
2,329
Here's a pro tip ;) ... get a marker with a chisel / spade tip to mark your frets ... it's much easier to do thoroughly and without marking the fretboard than with a regular pointed marker tip. Also, red and blue and green are good visible colours.
 
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bootsypratt

Member
Messages
308
I just got the original Z and love. I had a cheap $20 diamond file I bought to do my first attempt at leveling, it worked but the Z file took a quarter of the time. I too use the knife sharpeners for leveling, buy those off of Amazon a save a good bit.

The part I'm trying to get better at is sanding after crowning. I got some micro mesh and would think going up and the length of the neck would be the best, but I still had small groves that I would feel when I would bend strings. So I now sand the frets the width of the neck to get out the grooves from the leveling process.
What do you guys do after crowning?
 

RLD

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
7,857
I'm relatively new to re-frets having done two with SS.
After leveling I found the medium 3 corner dressing file to be all I needed before sanding and polishing.
 

Dan40

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,340
The part I'm trying to get better at is sanding after crowning. I got some micro mesh and would think going up and the length of the neck would be the best, but I still had small groves that I would feel when I would bend strings. So I now sand the frets the width of the neck to get out the grooves from the leveling process.
What do you guys do after crowning?
After I sand up and down the neck, I then switch to sanding the length of the fret to remove those scratches you mentioned. I usually stop at 1500 when sanding up and down and then use the 1500 and 2000 to sand the length of the fret. From there I use several grits of micromesh and then lastly a dremel with a cloth wheel and metal polish. It is time consuming but the super slick and shiny frets afterward are worth the time. I usually do a quick touch up with the micromesh at every other string change.
 




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