Any alternatives to a genuine fret leveling file/device?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Arnie, Dec 22, 2012.


  1. Arnie

    Arnie

    Joined:
    May 14, 2005
    Location:
    Kingston, NY
    It seems as though every time I am about to move on to the next portion of my build, low and behold I HAVE to buy a new tool(s).

    I need to level my frets and I think Stew mac has a nice tool, but i will also need the angle file for my fret edges..

    Any alternatives? I am not sure if I can get enough leverage with just a flat file..
  2. Beej

    Beej

    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2007
    Location:
    Canadia
    I use a 12" whetstone I bought at a camping supply for about 10 bucks. I've used it for over 20 years with no discernible wear. In my "build an acoustic guitar class" in 1988, the instructor/luthier used one and I bought one after the course and have used it ever since...
  3. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Nov 8, 2001
    Location:
    US-NY-NYC
    Hmmm...And I just picked up a 12" stone really cheap a few weeks ago, not knowing what I might use it for...
  4. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic

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    Aug 6, 2005
    Location:
    Southwest Michigan
    Disclosures:
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    You can use anything from a properly surfaced pece of hardwood like maple, to going to home depot and buying a Piece of Marble trim tile, usually 2" or 3" by 12". I use quartz flats I purchased a few years ago, before that I used a length of extruded aluminum with sandpaper.
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  6. gdavis

    gdavis

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2012
    Ya, pretty much anything long enough, flat, straight and abrasive.

    I have this sanding bar for building model airplanes which was very inexpensive and works well:
    http://www.greatplanes.com/accys/gpmr6170.html

    I recently finished building a guitar from scratch and used one of the stew mac radius sanding blocks which also worked out very nicely. Doing they whole radius at once instead of having to go around made it go much quicker and easier.
  7. Dave Higham

    Dave Higham

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    Dec 19, 2005
    Location:
    S.W.France
  8. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2011
    Location:
    Fillmore, CA
    Disclosures:
    Professional Luthier
    I do my fret leveling with an 8" long fine oilstone. I put a few drops of WD-40 on it to keep it clean, and wipe it off frequently. It works quickly and leaves a nice smooth surface on the tops of the frets, which minimizes the final polishing needed. The oilstone works better than anything else that I've tried, and it lasts approximately forever. I use the same stone on Nickel-Silver and stainless frets.

    Years back, I experimented with aluminum bars with adhesive-backed sandpaper stuck to them. In my experience, that didn't work at all. Even top-grade silicone carbide paper would wear out in a few strokes, and it just did a lousy job of leveling.

    I haven't tried any of the diamond-coated leveling bars, but I suspect that they are too coarse. I have several of the Stew-Mac diamond coated crowning files, which I like fairly well, but even the finest grade one still scratches the fretwire a lot. If the leveled tops of the frets get scratched, and you have to sand them and heavily polish them to get the scratches out, then you've defeated the purpose of the leveling. That's why I like the oilstone. It leaves the tops accurately leveled and very smooth.
  9. T-34

    T-34

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2005
    Location:
    France, Paris region
    I glue sanding paper onto a square steel tube with double-face sticky tape. Works well enough for me...
  10. uOpt

    uOpt Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2008
    Location:
    Boston, MA, USA
    The OP asked for (in the post, not the title) fret edge sanding tools. That's a bit more tricky than the top leveling.
  11. Dave Higham

    Dave Higham

    Joined:
    Dec 19, 2005
    Location:
    S.W.France
    He asked for both actually.
  12. T-34

    T-34

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    Aug 11, 2005
    Location:
    France, Paris region
    I dress fret edges with the same tool, freehand...
  13. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

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    Nov 8, 2001
    Location:
    US-NY-NYC
    For fret edges I used a file, freehand.
  14. Arnie

    Arnie

    Joined:
    May 14, 2005
    Location:
    Kingston, NY
    Thanks all.. my challenge here is I bought Stainless Steel and that is so tough Mo Fo!

    I think / hope the wet stone trick will work. If I need to get a file bevel, so be it..

    However, I think I could use the wet stone also to dress the edges like T-34 mentioned.
  15. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2011
    Location:
    Fillmore, CA
    Disclosures:
    Professional Luthier
    The oilstone will work great for smoothing off the beveled ends, but it will be slow going for trimming off the ends to the bevel. A fine grade oilstone that works well for leveling takes off material slowly. You'll probably end up beveling the ends with a file, then smoothing them with the oilstone.

    The best tool for filing the bevels is a large, flat, fine single-cut file which has been "safe ground". You grind the file down to smooth metal on either side, leaving the teeth just down the center. That allows you to file the ends of the frets without the edges cutting notches in the fingerboard. I have a 10" file ground like that which I use just for doing fretwork.

    I actually grind the bevels on the frets on my bass necks on a sanding machine called a Knife Belt Sander. It's a vertical belt sander with a 2" wide 180 grit belt. I caution you about trying to use a belt sander to grind fret ends, until you've had some practice. It's real easy to gouge the side of the neck. Or get the fret hot enough that the fingerboard scorches......I've done that... But I've learned my technique, and it's very fast. I clip off the ends with a pair of Starrett nippers, grind the bevels on the belt sander, then smooth the ends with the safed file and the oilstone.
  16. T-34

    T-34

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2005
    Location:
    France, Paris region
    "safe ground" file is one great idea, Bruce! I will include this in my toolbox asap :)
  17. Arnie

    Arnie

    Joined:
    May 14, 2005
    Location:
    Kingston, NY
    Woot the wet stone works great and for $5.00 at Home Depot ya can't go wrong...
  18. Markpotato

    Markpotato

    Joined:
    Jul 19, 2012
    Location:
    Eureka Springs, AR
    Disclosures:
    Luthier, Sorrentino Guitars
    Make sure your fretboard is as flat as the earth before Magellan. Press them in using the drill press method, maybe even try pressing the whole neck down onto a flat surface after they're all in to try to get them all level, then check how you did and if you're super super close to being absolutely flat, stop there.

    Otherwise, I use skateboard grip tape on square metal stock or on a flat surface like granite. Haven't tried it on SS frets but it will grind EVO gold down very quickly (less hard than SS but harder than standard frets).

    Really though your best bet is to get it right the first time, which may or may not be realistic. Stainless steel is very, very hard. Even the evo stuff ate through my fret end nippers after about 6 frets.

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