Nut files and alternatives

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by mindwave_21, Aug 29, 2008.

  1. mindwave_21

    mindwave_21 Member

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    Hey all,
    I'm looking to make my first nut from a blank. Tools I have: hacksaw, and elmers white glue.

    I'm looking at nut files, and sets seem to range from $100 or so at stewmac to about $65 at warmoth. I can't help but think these might be glorified versions of some standard tools that I can find elsewhere for much cheaper.

    Any insights on decent nut files or alternatives? I'm not a guitar tech, and only plan to cut new nuts for the 3 guitars I own in the coming years.

    I want tools that won't be janky and also won't be overkill for what I need to do. I consider myself pretty competent when it comes to making stuff, and I just want something that is decent to work with.
     
  2. bluesjunior

    bluesjunior Member

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    Unless you are either a pro repair guy/luthier or someone with more money than sense don't buy the expensive stuff at Stewmac etc.

    Go to your local hardware store and ask for a set of Needlefiles. This set will contain more than you will ever need for working on set ups,new nuts saddles etc. If you want an even smaller set of roundfiles make a visit to a welding equipment supplier and ask for a set of cutting torch nozzle cleaners. I doubt very much if you will pay more than $25 in total for both these sets. If you want to progress to fret jobs you may need a specialist fretfile which you can buy. I made my own by taking a small box file and used my grinder with a cutting blade attachment to make a slot in this which I find excellent for reshaping the top of frets. In all this type of work the secret is take your time and don't try to rush it. It is easy to take it off but you can't put it back on again. Good luck.
     
  3. mindwave_21

    mindwave_21 Member

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    Have the fret file. Paid $$$ for the fret repair set, so that's taken care of. I did see a set of needle files at the local store. Thanks for the tips.

    I figured since I was only in it to fix my own gear, I wouldn't overkill it in the gear dept.

    Thanks.
     
  4. Bob V

    Bob V Member

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    There is no substitute for the proper tools, and I'm sorry to disagree so vehemently but "needle files" are not the correct way to make a nut. There are no needle files small enough to cut an .010" or .013" slot for the high E and B strings, and it's just as hard to make a properly cut, round bottomed slot for the other strings without proper nut files.

    If you were going to open up the slots on an existing nut, it's possible to use torch tip cleaners (they're actually as cheap as $5 a set) but these are actually just pieces of wire with some barbed grooves in them. While they might cut a little bit, they will not cut fast enough to make the full slot unless you've got all day and you don't care how accurate the results are.

    Unless you equip yourself with the right tools and you have a few guitars to practice on, it's probably a better idea to buy a preslotted nut or have it done by a professional.

    By the way I do have more money than sense and given the choice I would go through life no other way.
     
  5. jamison162

    jamison162 Supporting Member

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    When are you looking to do this? And is this a one-off, one time thing? If so, I could "rent" you mine for a small fee, if you return them in like condition.
     
  6. mindwave_21

    mindwave_21 Member

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    Thanks jamison, but not looking to rent or anything. I want some tools around so I can do some of my own repairs on a need-to-do basis.

    Bob, I should clarify my situation. I have a guitar in the mail that is a "project guitar", so the nut is there but the slots aren't cut. I figure it's a good opportunity to learn something so I can apply it later to my other guitars.

    I do agree with the "right" tools, but I don't want to get something that's unnecessary or hyped and overly specialized. I know StewMac has obscene markups on their items...I bought the expensive fret tool kit and only 2-3 items were things I couldn't get at my local hardware store for cheaper. I guess if I'm going to get the right tools, I want to know the right place to buy them and not get a trip through suckerville.
     
  7. khromo231

    khromo231 Guest

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    I have to agree with Bob. If you have a lot of time and probably luck you might get comparable results with something else, but most efforts I've seen that were cut with needle files or anything else won't tune (or stay in tune) nearly as well as a nut cut (in a fraction of the time) with the StewMac files. They work very well, and they are easy to use effectively.

    You might check out AllParts for a less expensive dedicated nut file set.
     
  8. bluesjunior

    bluesjunior Member

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    b*****ks.
     
  9. Tone_Terrific

    Tone_Terrific Member

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    I will verify that (in my experience..) the torch cleaners are not suitable as they are neither sharp nor rigid enough. OK as light smoothers, only. ( there might be other kinds?)
     
  10. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

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    you can get by with a few x-acto saws in the thinner widths for the plain strings,maybe a hacksaw blade for the big E, and maybe those torch tip cleaners to round out the flat bottoms those saws will leave. it won't be great (or quick) but you can get by. even the thinnest needle file will leave big v-shaped valleys around each string.

    a properly cut nut is the difference between a guitar that's easy to play and stays in tune, and a guitar that doesn't. trying to cheat this step will make the rest of the project a waste of your time.
     
  11. JimLamme

    JimLamme Member

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  12. Bob V

    Bob V Member

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    Some of my tools are from Stew Mac, and some are from Luthier's Mercantile International. Others are from jeweler's catalogs like Otto Frei. Everything else is either already in my toolbox or it was modified from regular tools. I'm glad I made the investment for nut slot files and fret crowning files.

    For nut slot files, there's an eight-piece set (.010, .013, .017, .024, .032, .036, .046, and .056) that LMII says is used by or made for the Ibanez factory. That set is expensive, but well made. It lacks an .028" file which is needed if your strings have an .026 (for instance an electric light .010 set, an electric 12 string set starting with .009's, or an acoustic .013 medium set) but you can buy that one file open-stock from Stew Mac. For bass guitars you should think about the double-sided files at Stew Mac - pricey but each one gives you two sizes: .075/.090 and .105.120 gets you most bass guitar string sizes, and lets face it when you get up to the size of a small rope, you've got some wiggle room (figuratively, anyway).

    You'll also need some files, but the Nicholson set at Lowe's or Home Depot has nice little wooden handles. Take a good sized triangular single cut file (like a chainsaw sharpening file) and grind the teeth off the long edges so you have a safe-edged file so you can dress fret ends and shape the top of a nut.

    There's no substitute for a proper fret dressing file if you're doing a level-and-crown, and of course frets come in different sizes. For fret crowning, the three-in-one file at Stew Mac is the best value since it comes with three files and one handle. For leveling the frets, I use either a woodworking plane iron body with 320 or 400 grit sandpaper stuck to the bottom, or for light dressing I use a diamond whetstone plate (DMT).

    For frets I ground the face of a small pair of end nippers, and got a small brass-faced deadblow hammer from a woodworking catalog. You can make your own bushing puller with a socket and a bolt with some washers and nuts, but I think you'd go nuts trying to make your own gadget for compressing the retainer spring on a Telecaster jack cup. So, while the Stew Mac tools can be pricey, they often are worth the money for someone who does not want to spend the time trying to reinvent the wheel with their own gadgets. Some of them are ingenious, like the Dremel router base that's much much more precise than the Dremel braned piece, or the Foredom handpiece that fits in it. You could take a regular handpiece to a machine shop and get the threads cut on the nose, but given the limited production volume I don't see the Stew Mac stuff as being too overpriced. Except for that tuneomatic bridge jack thing -- the price for that one is nuts; they're pretty much pricing theirs so that if you want one you'll just cut the ends off of a small prybar and glue some leather on the tip.
     
  13. khromo231

    khromo231 Guest

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    That's pretty much how it has worked out for me. The specialized tools are especially worthwhile for someone like me, who is not trained, experienced, or talented. Some of the single use tools have made it possible for me to get professional results the first time I tried a job, in spite of all my limitations. If I were a talented machinist or tool-and-die maker I could probably make do with less expensive tools, but it would take someone like me a lot longer to practice my way up to an acceptable skill level. With patience, care, patience, care, and the AllParts nut file set, a rookie can get acceptable results on his maiden voyage. Cost is probably less than paying a pro to do it twice.

    That bridge jack is sure a strange one, though! A $32 solution to a problem that barely exists. My thumb and forefinger, which I got for free, have served me well enough up to now.
     
  14. 9fingers

    9fingers Supporting Member

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    I made a few OK nuts with razor saws & needle files. Then I got the Stew Mac files & have made some really nice nuts. I really couldn't do it properly without the sized files. If I had it to do over I think I might get the Ibanez set from LMI. I tried to "cheap out" on fret crowning files too- got the Stew Mac steel one, then the 3 in 1, then I used the $90 Stew Mac Diamond double edge crowning file at a workshop and realized I should have just bit the bullet and bought that to begin with. It is many levels better than the steel files, so now I have the price of 2 different steel files PLUS the price of the diamond file. Heck of a way to save money! Moral is, bite the bullet one time & get the best tool(s). Otherwise you will spend on the cheap ones, do less than excellent work and end up buying the good one in the long run anyway.
     
  15. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

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    over on PSW sound & pa forum, the saying is, "Buy once, cry once."
     
  16. khromo231

    khromo231 Guest

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    This is especially true of any tool with a cutting edge!
     
  17. seafoamtele

    seafoamtele Member

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    when you think about how essential the proper nut slots are to the sound & functionality of your instrument . . .I started to do it with needle files and realized what a mess it was going to be. I ordered some files from stew mac, because I wanted to do it right. It came out great - I just took my time and read as much info as I could on the details of how to do it.

    If you don't want to spend the dough I think there are precut nuts of synthetic material you can get. If you want to learn how to do it, do yourself a favor and get the right tools!:)
     
  18. AlexK

    AlexK Member

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    I'm really interested in getting a set of files too, mainly to enlarge existing slots, or ones that have been only rough cut. When everyone mentions the Stew Mac files, are we talking about the "[FONT=Arial,Helvetica,sans]Gauged Nut Slotting Files" or the "Double-Edge Nut Files"? It looks like the available sizes are different for each type and the double edged files have a more "V" shape to them. I don't mind spending the money on a good set, but as someone mentioned, I want to just buy once. Thanks.
    [/FONT]
     

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