​​​​Cutting Fret Slots

     The luthier work accomplished in May included beginning the process of fretboard construction. Some of the set up is pictured below.

     The first requirement is to keep the fret slots exactly perpendicular to the center line of the fretboard. The fretboard stock is not always perfectly square. Often the board is wider at one end than the other.  So, be diligent and mark the center of each end of the fretboard. Masking tape helps keep the line visible.  Then connect the center marks on each end with a line down the center of the board, also on masking tape.  

     If the edges of the board are not parallel to the center line, it is necessary to make them so.  This ensures that a line, or saw kerf, perpendicular to the edge of the board will also be perpendicular to the centerline. Also, check the nut end of the stock to ensure that it is cut perpendicular to the center line. If it is not, make it so.

      To layout the frets I tape or clamp a fret scale rule down the center of the board so it can't move while I am marking the fret positions. I use an X-acto knife to mark the fret layout at the very center of each fret marker on the rule... just a short, firm scratch in the center of the board. The scratches need to be deep enough and in the very center of the board so that they won't be sanded away as the board is sanded to a radius (or mark the fret layout after sanding the radius).

May, 2016   


Shaping the Fretboard

     Cutting Fret Slots

     Finally, summer is here.  The challenge now is to find time to write in this journal.  

    Fretboard construction began in May. The past six weeks, however, have mostly been dedicated to constructing the shop addition pictured below.  As explained previously, the WoodyShop addition will be used to separate the lacquer finishing process from the dust and tools of the guitar construction process (and my bedroom ventilation system). 

​​    There are a variety of tools available to radius the fretboard. I use a 12" radius sanding block but not until I have rough-sanded the edges on the drum sander. The aluminum sanding block shown here is available from Stew Mac but, I have to warn you, it takes a lot of shoulder and tricep strength to muscle-sand an ebony or rosewood fretboard from flat to a 12" radius. That's why I begin with the fretboard stock on a slanted workboard that I send under the Pro Max drum sander (one pass bass side, one pass treble side).  This makes a somewhat trapezoidal cross section in the fretboard, but all that's left to do by hand (shoulders) is to sand the top corners of the trapezoid (much easier).

​​​     Next, I have built a miter box specifically for cutting the fret slots... square to the center line with equal slot depths. The back saw makes a 0.024" kerf. Wider frets take a wider kerf, i.e. different backsaw.  With the layout etched onto the board by the X-acto knife, the positioning of the board under the saw is done manually by hand, eye and feel of the saw in the etched mark.  The X-acto-etched layout also helps keep the first stroke of the back saw exactly on layout. 

   As the edge of the fretboard stock is still parallel to the center line, the miter box keeps the fret slot square and stops the cut at a fixed depth. Not in the photo, but very important to cutting slots by hand, are the wedges that I use between the fretboard and the opposite miter box wall to hold the fretboard firmly in place. Smooth, even strokes with the saw are important to achieve satisfactory results. 

     Next comes the inlay of the position markers, the pressing in of the frets, and the final carving and sanding of the neck and fingerboard .  We are now getting down to the sensitive work of luthiery where woodcraftsman meets the musician. This is the part where the skill of the craftsman not only goes on display visually, but is also felt by the player in the final set up and playability of the instrument. I will have to wait until next month to explain some to the concerns with the inlaying, fretting  and carving by hand.

     Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins for winning the Stanley Cup.  It took six, but the best team won.