How to get frets smoooooooth?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by Lavely, Dec 30, 2017.


  1. Khromo

    Khromo Supporting Member

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    Getting a no-drag, mirror finish is a lot easier and much faster if you don't get deep scratches to begin with.

    Take a little extra time using finer grits in the leveling and crowning processes, and you should find that getting that fine polish is much easier. It only takes a few extra passes when using 400- or 600-grit on your leveling beam to get the tops perfectly level, and you don't get deep scratches that take forever to polish out with a finer grit, and can actually ruin that level plane.

    Likewise with the crowning process. I think I used my nice 150-grit diamond crowning file once! It was way too coarse! Three hundred grit is even more aggressive than I really need, and if I am working on small, delicate frets I won't even use something like that to crown. I will rather use a fine, triangular file by Waverly, so I leave behind a fairly smooth surface that is much easier to clean up.

    One of these inspection scopes can make the process a lot less mysterious, until you get a feel for a really effective and efficient polishing schedule:





    It takes a little practice to get them focused on the work plane, but they give you an extremely detailed picture of what all those different grits and media are doing. I found I started using less steps after I could actually see what the surface looked like. It saved time and money, and got me to a surgical-grade surface.

    Final polishing can be done with a felt wheel on a Dremel, but you want to shield the board well, and move up and down the neck several times, because those soft little innocent-looking wheels can generate brutal heat, quickly!

    Here's a quick-and-dirty polishing medium, for the very experienced hand who is in a hurry.

    https://www.brownells.com/gunsmith-.../rubber-abrasive-wheels/wheels-prod41793.aspx

    https://www.brownells.com/gunsmith-...ints/replacement-bullet-points-prod41792.aspx

    https://www.brownells.com/gunsmith-...rasive-accessories/abrasive-kit-prod5180.aspx

    Practice on scrap with these babies! You can cut through railroad rails with these things if you are not careful, but if you feel the need to remove material in a hurry, this is one way to do it. They are typically used on steel, so...

    I probably shouldn't have even mentioned the Cratex.
     
  2. jvin248

    jvin248 Member

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    Jan 13, 2016
    .

    240 emery on the leveling beam (granite countertop strip) longitudinal.
    The rest is cross-wise of the neck or along each fret.
    Crown, either hand rat file for control or the crown file for speed
    hand rat file the fret ends
    400 paper wrapped maple block (block is important! This gets rid of the beam grooves)
    600 paper wrapped maple block (block is important!)
    800 paper with finger (smooths out any edges on the sides of the frets)
    1500 paper with finger
    Maybe one more step using the Crimson rubber or 2000 paper.

    .
     
  3. Jim DaddyO

    Jim DaddyO Member

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    Ontario, Canada
    400 gets the little divots out and tunes up the crown. Then 600, 800, 1000, 1500, 2000 then buffing compound with a felt Dremel wheel, then Nev-R-Dull. High grit sandpaper can be had at your local NAPA or auto parts place. NAPA here carries Norton paper.
     
  4. Lavely

    Lavely Silver Supporting Member Supporting Member

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    Minneapolis
    Really helpful, guys! I was missing the "medium grade" sandpapers - duh - and just need to expect to spend some extensive TIME on each neck. For great playing, smooth frets, it's totally worth it to me!
     
  5. KGWagner

    KGWagner Member

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    Time is the thing. Very little about frets is actually hard or tricky, it just requires a lotta patience because it's tedious work. I charge less for fretwork than anybody I've heard of on this side of the planet, yet I'll still get a little pushback once in a while because it looks like an easy job that shouldn't cost much, but the amount of time involved is substantial.
     
    Ayrton and Jerry like this.
  6. Guitarworks

    Guitarworks Member

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    You get a mirror-like, smooth-as-glass finish on frets the same way you do on lacquer - you have to sand out all the scratches, working your way through grades of regular sandpaper, wet/dry, steel wool, then buff out. All my builds and refrets get the Dremel buffing wheel with Flitz buffing compound. Customers love it. They tell me the frets feel and look like fresh chrome.
     
  7. Mike9

    Mike9 Supporting Member

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    After I crown fine I use the StewMac polishing compounds on a piece of old T-shirt and just polish it by hand medium then fine - job done. Hey - it ain't rocket surgery after all. One mistake people make IMHO is the use of a Dremel. Too high a speed and you create heat and heat make thin metals do funny things. Well not so funny if your fret job just went wonky.
     
  8. KGWagner

    KGWagner Member

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    That's something Khromo pointed out earlier in the thread, and has been my experience as well. Chuck one of those little abrasive rubber polishing wheels into a [insert high-speed electric spinning thingy here] and go after your frets with it, and it's really quite surprising how fast and how hot the little rascals can get. I could easily see any glue that might have been used softening and letting go, or even just warping the wire itself, either way perhaps leading to pop-ups you didn't think you were going to have to deal with. It's a fast way to polish if you're adept in their use, but it's kinda like using one of those .22 caliber Ramsets instead of a hammer. Too much tool, sometimes.
     
    Mike9 and 9fingers like this.

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