Fret levelling, crowning and polishing.

Kenni

Member
Messages
200
Hi there.

Happy holidays :)

For the last year or so I've started on setting up and doing some fret work to my guitars.
It's fun and it's nice to be able to fix or adjust any problems you can run into when playing or getting a new guitar.
I've done a fret level on a couple of my guitars by now, also crowning and polishing, and the way I've learned it is by using the fret rocker to check for high spots, level them with a diamond file, crown them and polish them with some micro mesh pads at last. It's a great way to do it and the results have been very fine!
Lately I've been considering trying a sanding beam for the level process, to be able to level the frets all at once. I plan on getting a good and long sanding beam, but I want to ask if there're anything to be aware of by doing a fret level this way??
I know that if you have very uneven frets, then you end up taking a lot of material off the frets, but other than that??

Also, I thought of using a dremel tool to really polish up the frets after the crowning.
Some say a dremel tool is a great tool for the job, others say it messes up the fret/wood, etc...
I've seen some luthiers use a dremel tool to polish frets.. What's your take on this??
Will it cause any problems or so??

I'm aware that guitar work and everything associated with it requires time, and I follow that mindset.
That's also why I want to make sure, before I go into this, that I've heard some opinions :)

Looking forward to see what happens!
 

VaughnC

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
19,047
There are more than one way to accomplish the leveling goal. Personally, I prefer the radius beam approach.

As far as polishing after crowning, I prefer a Dremel felt wheel with appropriate polishing compound. But you have to use low speed to keep from overheating the frets.
 

9fingers

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
8,559
Make real sure none of the frets are loose or lifting before you start. A long beam will help a lot to get everything onto the same plane. I use a precision ground stone beam but the eBay guy is no longer around with them. Some people use a chunk of Corian or marble threshold. You can buy all manner of steel leveling beams/files. A nice old jack or smoothing plane bed with stickit paper can work well. A single cut flat mill file was how it was done for a long time.
A Dremel can get away from you pretty quick. Like Vaughn said, use low speed. I finish up with gray, then white Scotchbrite by hand.
Lots of ways to "skin this cat".
 

ahhlou

Member
Messages
777
There are many many approaches to fret leveling. Do some research on the web, talk to people who do this type of work (like you are doing now), experiment, and find out what works best for you. There is no wrong way as long as you achieve the results you desire.

For polishing, same advice. Personally, I tape off the fretboard with painters masking tape, use 600 then 1000 grit to get rid of file marks and finish off with polishing compound on a Dremel cotton wheel.
 

Steve_U1S

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
964
After levelling, my personal method is to go through sanding grits as follows:
320 (gently)
400
600
1000
1,200
1,500
2,000
2,500
... and finish with 0000 steel wool (I have things heavily taped/covered/isolated to keep the wool bits from becoming an issue after)
Works out to be plus of 11,000 strokes of polishing.
Makes for a nice smooth fret polish.
 

KGWagner

Member
Messages
3,243
I do pretty much the same thing as Steve, but no steel wool. I don't even own any steel wool. When I get to that point in the process, I burnish it off with Maas Metal Polish.

Incidentally, just for reference, here are some equivalencies for steel wool vs. sandpaper...

4/0 steel wool = 400 grit sandpaper
3/0 steel wool = 280 grit
2/0 steel wool = 180 grit
2/0 steel wool = 120 grit
1 steel wool = 100 grit
2 steel wool = 60 grit
3 steel wool = 50 grit
4 steel wool = 36 grit

It's not a direct equivalency performance-wise, as they cut differently. But, that'll give you some idea of what kind of finish they'll leave. Also shows why after polishing something to a 2500 grit or better is no time to take steel wool to it.

As for levelling beams, I use a machined part specific for the task with self-adhesive sandpaper. But, that's only because I couldn't get the more common material which is a healthy chunk of finished Corian or marble, which you can often get for free or very little. The machined beam costs more, but was easier for me to get. I also occasionally use a series of diamond bench sharpening stones such as these. I epoxy a drawer pull on the smooth side to handle the things with. Works well, and leaves a much smoother top on the frets that needs less cleanup work later.
 

Kenni

Member
Messages
200
Thanks for all your great inputs! I'll look a bit more into it and try a few things out! :)

Very good information to be found here!

Cheers!
 

buddyboy69

Member
Messages
5,075
Marble/corian threshold from home depot. $5-10. 220 grit sanpaper on a roll. I used the sticky sided type but sometimes the sticky stjff stuck to beam. Spray adhesive and non sticky tape is easier to clean up and change out. Diamond fret crown from stu mac. Anything not diamond bit always left chatter marks on top that were hard to get out. 300 grit. 600, 1000, dremel. I found doing 10 different grits tedious and not necessary.
 

markszabo

Member
Messages
452
I've had good luck with the beam as well. I actually level with sticky 320. I start by straightening the neck with the truss rod. Then, blue Sharpie on each fret and level until I see the sharpie gone on every fret top.

Crown with a crowning file, then sand with a stick using 400 and 600 grit. Then on to polishing - I use the micro mesh pads on a taped-up fretboard. After I'm done they shine like mirrors.
 

Kenni

Member
Messages
200
Again, thanks for great inputs! :)

Another thing... For removing the file marks and scratches from levelling and crowning, would it be good to use different grits of sandpaper?
Such as 400, 600, 800 and then 1000? And from there move onto a couple of micro mesh pads and then, at last, some fine polishing sauce?
 

VaughnC

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
19,047
I use a diamond crowning file so it doesn't leave bad file marks so I can go directly to my Dremel with fiber wheel and proper polishing compound. The diamond crowning file is more expensive up front but pays off with less needed polishing time. http://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tool...g/StewMac_Double-edge_Diamond_Fret_Files.html

For me, the most difficult part of the recrowning operation is to be very careful to not mess up your leveling when you do the recrown. I use the magic marker technique and go very slow with the crowning file. This is where you need to develop a feel for the technique. One mistake on one fret and you have to go back and relevel.

Another important tool is this non-marring fret end dressing file. It removes the sharp corners on the fret ends that can form from recrowning or refretting without marring the surrounding wood: http://www.stewmac.com/Luthier_Tools/Tools_by_Job/Tools_for_Fretting/Fret_End_Dressing_File.html

Here's one of my Strats I refretted with EVO gold wire...and I like to make polished brass nuts too...and top it off with Optima gold strings:
7gbrassnutj
 
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Steve_U1S

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
964
I've put EVO wire onto two of my good friend's guitars - fantastic stuff. Very very hard, but not as hard on the tools as Stainless would be.
(Apparently it lands right in the mid-point between standard nickel/silver and stainless wires' hardnesses.)
Polishes up nice.

That equivalency above; fascinating.
I have to say that the reality of what I experience versus those numbers seems very different; it does give me pause, and makes me want to do some testing.
When I'm going whole hog, I don't do the steel wool, instead going to the micro-mesh pads mentioned elsewhere here.
... that adds thousands of polishing strokes to the process, but works its way to quite the mirror-like finish.
 

KGWagner

Member
Messages
3,243
That equivalency above; fascinating. I have to say that the reality of what I experience versus those numbers seems very different; it does give me pause, and makes me want to do some testing. When I'm going whole hog, I don't do the steel wool, instead going to the micro-mesh pads mentioned elsewhere here... that adds thousands of polishing strokes to the process, but works its way to quite the mirror-like finish.

I agree - those equivalencies don't seem to bear up to the results you get. But, I suspect when you're working with frets, the steel wool is not really cutting, per se. It's too soft. You're more likely cleaning/burnishing the frets, which would give the appearance of polishing. Steel wool is more for cleaning up softer materials. You want silicon carbide or the like for chewing on metal surfaces.

The micromesh pads and cloths work very well at the end - I use them a lot. They will cut stainless to a very fine surface. They're even used to polish optically clear materials. Pricey stuff, but properly used it generally has a good life expectancy. "Polish" is the operative word there, though. You're not going to remove file marks with it, unless you have a LOT of time, energy and money. You're better off with what they call polishing papers to remove file marks, then go to the micromesh to get that mirror finish.
 
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walterw

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
40,988
Incidentally, just for reference, here are some equivalencies for steel wool vs. sandpaper...

4/0 steel wool = 400 grit sandpaper
yeah no way.

400 grit rounds off corners, removes fret file scratches and leaves a very rough satin-finished fret. it'll even remove height if you back it with something hard. 4x0 steel wool won't do anything close to that, it's the polishing step after 800 for a smooth fret and is routinely used to just clean a board and shine up the frets.
 

KGWagner

Member
Messages
3,243
I know. I use a 400/600/800/etc. grit paper for exactly that, and don't use steel wool on a guitar.

As I mentioned earlier, abrasive papers cut differently than steel wool does. You can't go by grit size alone - that's just the cutter density. Steel wool vs. aluminum oxide vs. garnet vs. silicon carbide vs. emery, etc. all come in similar grits but are used for different things depending on their hardness, cutting edges, cutter shapes, friability, type of adhesive, type of backing, etc.
 

Mike9

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
10,983
The first thing I do is get my fretboard level. You can buy a notched straight edge for a lot of money, or you can make one like Dan Erlewine suggests. Get a Staedtler Mars drafting square - plastic edges with a stable wood core. Cut it off the length of your fretboard, mark the fret spacing with a sharpie and file notches with a chainsaw file. Leave the other edge alone as a straight edge. I have one for every scale length oh and mark which one it's for with a sharpie. After that a set of feeler gauges, a fret rocker, sanding beam, paper(s), crowning files, safety file, fret protectors, painter's tape, polishing rouge and practice, practice, practice.

I don't use a Dremel - too much heat - not friendly to glued in frets IME.
 




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