Stainless Fret tang-cutting, Cheap Fast and Easy!

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by walterw, Apr 2, 2020.

  1. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    36,704
    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    i loves me some stainless steel frets, to the point where i need to see a good reason not to recommend them!

    the procedures for installing them are all not so different from regular fretwire, maybe just with a little more elbow grease involved, except for dealing with undercutting the tangs like for bound frertboards.

    regular tang-nippers will quickly fail while specialty tang-nippers for ss wire are rare and expensive. LMI makes an expensive jig-thing that involves laboriously "installing" the fret in a fixture and then grinding the entire tang away by hand with a file, no thanks

    for years now i've been grinding off the tangs on the corner of a 6" bench grinder wheel; it's tedious, hard to control, kinda risky (i have to look closely at the work as i do it) and that corner of the wheel wants to quickly round over, leaving me with a less than clean cutout.

    i recently discovered these neat diamond lapping discs that jewelry people use, i figured out that with its 1/2" hole i could fit one on my bench grinder up against the regular wheel. that was a big improvement, it allowed for much cleaner and sharper cutting and didn't round over. i use the 100 grit version, it's not even $20 and it's not wearing out so far.

    [​IMG]
    it still involved a whole bunch of close eyeballing to hold the fret just right against the disc, it was hard to get consistent results especially when going slow meant the fret end quickly got hot. i had to use those special stewmac fret bender pliers to hold the fret while i worked, a PITA and those aren't cheap either.

    well no longer! i finally figured out a simple little guide thing to clamp onto the grinder that lets me lay the fret right where it needs to go and quickly grind the tang off, confident that it will stop right at the bead.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    it's just a little block of some kind of fancy tropical hardwood i had lying around; i bandsawed a rough 6" radius into one end, cleaned it up on a beltsander then cut a slot through the middle just wide enough for the fret tang to fit in.

    i then carefully positioned it on the grinder so that it was dead-flush with the diamond disc and clamped it in place.

    now i could just lay the fret into that slot, push the end against the diamond disc and it would "zing" the tang away without touching the actual fret bead!

    [​IMG]

    nice and clean

    [​IMG]

    ideally i want the next version of the guide to be machined out of aluminum or something for better wear and precision, but even this rough wooden prototype makes the job way faster, cleaner and easier than usual.

    somebody please steal this idea and improve it so i can steal the improvements back :D
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2020
    JBG, HERSCHEL, Jose Eduardo and 31 others like this.
  2. Terry McInturff

    Terry McInturff 40th Anniversary of guitar building! Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    6,743
    Joined:
    Nov 4, 2003
    Location:
    Pittsboro NC
    SWEET
     
  3. wox

    wox Supporting Member

    Messages:
    2,225
    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2015
    Very nice. Looking forward to buying the $149 StewMac version :)
     
    JLee, ScottR, SnidelyWhiplash and 8 others like this.
  4. jackaroo

    jackaroo Member

    Messages:
    4,294
    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2003
    Location:
    NYC
    Awesome. Looks great...I’d love to refret my 335s with SS.

    I love my local tech...but he’s just so set in his ways. I wish I could find a local repairman with an inventive/curious streak.
     
  5. Timtam

    Timtam Member

    Messages:
    1,628
    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2017
    Location:
    Melbourne
    Baxtercat likes this.
  6. Moby Dick

    Moby Dick Member

    Messages:
    2,196
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2014
    Location:
    The Motorcity

    Great tip, thanks for posting.
    Are you undercutting stainless frets for fingerboards WITHOUT binding?

    What are the dimensions of your jig?
    Fret slot, radius?

    Thanks.
     
  7. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    36,704
    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    sometimes? it's a nice look when the fret and fret tang totally fill the end of the slot, but i don't like having to file away finish or even wood on the sides to get the tangs flush and smooth, and come wintertime they can poke out anyway. not such a big deal on a new neck where you're doing all this before the finish even goes on but more of an issue with a refret.

    now that i've got a quick and easy way to undercut ss i'll likely do so all the time, just enough that the tang is below the level of the wood on the sides and i don't have to file it flush. then it's just a matter of filling the little hole, CA seems fine for that.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2020
    JBG and Moby Dick like this.
  8. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    36,704
    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    you mean the little block of wood?

    i dunno, maybe 3/4" thick. like i said, i rounded the business end to about a 6" radius, so a little rounder than any fret i would be putting in it; that lets me fit the fret into the groove further back and roll it up into the wheel, all the while having most of the fret tang in the groove to keep things guided and square.

    i cut the groove with a .030" wide x-acto saw. i could probably have gone with .025" wide, in wood the result seems to come out a little wider than the saw blade. i wanted it to clear the fret barbs but still have a solid shelf for the fret bead to bear against.
     
    Moby Dick likes this.
  9. The Pup

    The Pup Supporting Member

    Messages:
    3,116
    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2005
    Brilliant!

    Just keep the heat down.
     
    jturner likes this.
  10. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    36,704
    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    Right!

    the guide lets me get the fret in and out fast, the very end gets hot but not so hot it changes color or anything. I also keep an old computer CPU heat sink on the bench with some water spritzed on it; I use it to quickly cool off hot parts.

    towards the end of this job I tried getting the fret wet first, on the theory that the half-second it takes for a droplet of water on the end of the fret to go “ffft” while I’m grinding is a half-second where the fret itself stays cooler.
     
  11. GuitarInnovations

    GuitarInnovations Member

    Messages:
    1,366
    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2004
  12. DarrenD

    DarrenD Member

    Messages:
    47
    Joined:
    Dec 20, 2009
    Location:
    Wisconsin
    Try a piano wire cutter. A few luthiers have used this for SS wire. Get a used one for around $50-75 (they are $400 new).

    I fretted 5-6 guitars already with them and seem to hold up. You can also replace the nipper ends if they do wear out. They work far better than any other guitar nippers I've tried.
     
  13. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    36,704
    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    you're talking about those crazy high-leverage starrett nippers aren't you?

    [​IMG]

    i tried a couple sets of those with high hopes (and yeah they're like $350 new and $40 on ebay) but i found that i couldn't use them for anything!

    as cutters or end-nippers for fretwire they didn't have enough travel, if i adjusted them to open wide enough to fit a fret into they wouldn't close all the way. even just as string-cutters, i could feel the jaws mashing into each other (risking shattering) while still not cleanly cutting a guitar string.

    they seem to be good mostly for crunching ceramic tile and maybe for cutting actual piano wire, applications where you need massive cutting power over like 1/16" of jaw travel and it's not critical that the jaws close perfectly.

    man though, if starrett or somebody designed some actual fret tang undercutting jaws for these i bet they'd be fantastic
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2020
    Ayrton and The_Whale like this.
  14. DarrenD

    DarrenD Member

    Messages:
    47
    Joined:
    Dec 20, 2009
    Location:
    Wisconsin
    Indeed, they require more finessing and are difficult to get into certain areas on the fretboard when the tangs are hanging out. The jaws on mine open up just enough to fit the frets, but yes, I understand what you mean. Mine is a 7.5 inch version (which has more clamping power) and seems to be setup well enough to make me prefer it over other nipper options.

    It lacks travel spacing, but I just end up cutting the fret a few more times when I get to the higher frets. It also doesn't cut as cleanly as you said and requires more filing. I still prefer them over other nippers. I occasionally use a regular nippers with it for the higher frets (but use is sparingly).

    In the end, there doesn't really seem to be a reliable nippers for stainless. The starret nippers have its drawbacks. They won't be ideal if you're doing high volume fretting, but if the company could modify it with wider openings, it would be nifty. That being said, no one will be pay $400 for a fret nipper.
     
  15. Mark Robinson

    Mark Robinson Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    8,175
    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2002
    Location:
    Redondo Beach, California
    Very nice Walter, while you have the camera out, how about a pic of your face, so we know who it is we are thanking so often around here?
     
    Bob Pollock likes this.
  16. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    36,704
    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    A little OT but not at all, for regular cutters/nippers the mini-bolt cutters from McMaster Carr work great and are not even all that expensive!

    I’ve been using the same set for many years now; you want to grind them almost flush but then they do the trick and without even much hand stress

    [​IMG]

    to be fair i use these strictly for the nipping part once they're on the neck, for initial cutting i have a nicer pair, the fancy knipex ones
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2020
    The_Whale and smithguitars like this.
  17. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    36,704
    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    that would reveal my secret, that i'm not human at all but actually an organized conglomeration of field mice that has somehow gained sentience
     
  18. Baxtercat

    Baxtercat Member

    Messages:
    12,500
    Joined:
    May 11, 2009
    Location:
    just west of Monterey, CA
    ^ Evolution, man.
    Protoplasm just wants to exist, to BE [then sand fretboards for hours].
     
    walterw likes this.
  19. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    36,704
    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2006
    circling back to this point, now that i've used this rig-up for a second refret i can report that by really going "fast and confident" i can knock out the tang before the end even gets too hot to touch, thus preserving the metal and making it easy to handle the fretwire.

    i've been watching some great youtubes about machining and lathes and whatnot by one "this old tony" (who's just hilarious, seriously go watch some) and he explained that the problem with machining stainless and also titanium apparently is that while you're grinding or drilling or whatever, if the material gets too hot it toughens up and destroys your cutter or drill bit. you have to really arrange things so you can cut or drill without slowing down so as to stay ahead of the material heating up and creating a problem.

    in this application it means grinding off the fret tangs fast, and so far that seems to be working out well. makes me wonder if i wouldn't even be better off using the 80 grit diamond disc instead of the 100 grit
     
  20. The Pup

    The Pup Supporting Member

    Messages:
    3,116
    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2005
    High speed -- high feed?
     

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice