Do you use a Fret Hammer?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by AndyPanda, Aug 3, 2020.

  1. I was looking thru a series of pictures showing basses being built at Fodera and was surprised to see the hammer they use to install frets.
  2. GMC


    Jan 1, 2006
    Wiltshire, UK
    To be frank, there's a lot of B/S with fret hammering. If the kerf on fret saw is right and matches the fretwire, then even a wooden mallet will do the job more than adequately. Most people struggle with getting the frets in due to a mis match between the fret wire thickness (inc the tangs), the hardnessof the fret board (maple is quite soft compared to Wenge) and the kerf on the fret saw. Some people use Japanses back saws as a fret saw. Personally, I find their kerf way too thin and then need to resaw with a thicker blade or use a fret wire file / arbour and thin down the fret wire. The frets don't need a lot of adhesion to stay put. So hammering in mis-matched fret wire all day long mashes up the fret wire and doesn't seat them into the slots evenly. The fretboard wood can only compress so much before it stops letting the fret wire into the slot. Keep hammering and it's the wire that suffers. Then people oddly go and look for a better fret hammer instead of looking at the thickness of the fret slots or the thickness of the fret wire.
  3. Smilodon

    Smilodon Supporting Member

    Feb 18, 2012
    On my later builds with ebony fretboards i have used a fairly large recoil-less plastic hammer. Using a steel hammer wouldn't be my first choice, but that is more a matter of me not being skilled enough to not damage anything.

    As long as the hammer head doesn't have a "waffle pattern" a steel hammer shouldn't be much of a problem as long as you don't miss the fret or hit a fret with the hammer at an angle.

    I have some sheet metal hammers (For car bodywork) they are also normal, polished steel that doesn't damage sheetmetal.
    AndyPanda likes this.
  4. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    I have a block of white polyproplyene plastic that I rest on top of the fret, then I hit the block with a small ball peen hammer. That ensures that I won't make dents in the fret.

    GMC is right. If the slots are cut correctly for the width of the fret tangs, it should only take a light tap with a hammer, or a gentle push with a fret press, to seat the frets. You should not be beating them in like nails.
  5. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    I was shopping around for a fret hammer and suddenly remembered I had a nice little gunsmith hammer with one plastic and one brass face I had forgotten I even owned. It was relatively cheap because the package didn't say "Luthiery" on it. That word alone seems to double the price of many commonly available tools. Done! It's a nice weight and balance, and seems to drive frets home nicely. I have a radius caul I can Chuck in my drill press that I use, but it never seems to get the fret ends all the way home, so I tap them with the hammer. I don't think I'd use a carpenter's claw hammer like that guy, but if it works for him.......
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2020
  6. T_Bone_TL


    Jan 10, 2013
    SW VT
    ...or "Hey, we're taking some pictures for the public - let's gas them a bit with this hammer."

    It's not unheard of. Likely didn't have a sledgehammer handy for the photo op.
    Beej, AndyPanda and dwizum like this.
  7. Smilodon

    Smilodon Supporting Member

    Feb 18, 2012
    Funny you should say that. Just before I made my previous post in this thread i did a picture search for "Fret hammer" as I was unsure what a "real" fret hammer looked like. Most of the pictures I got was of hammers like these:
    I have one just like that. I got mine at a local hardware store and I can guarantee that they didn't specify it as a "fret hammer". I can't remember why I bought it, and I can't remember using it for frets (Although I may have at some point...). So I guess I have a fret hammer now. :D
  8. rudy4444


    Mar 13, 2012
    Central Illinois
    Fretting by hammer is all about feel and not brute force. The real danger in using a larger hammer such as the claw hammer shown is it's all too easy to hammer at a slight angle, with the edge of the hammer producing a lovely dent in your fret board that you've worked so hard on.

    I use a small brass faced hammer given to me by my father-in-law many years ago; it makes me smile whenever I'm using it.

    I also have a bag filled with play sand wrapped in soft cotton that goes under the neck so there's a firm and bounce-free surface to hammer against without fear of damaging the neck's rear surface.

  9. 5tring


    Sep 16, 2018
    I just did a successful fret installation using the handle of a screwdriver! And I had a huge selection to choose from to get just the right hardness of plastic
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  10. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    My hammer looks a lot like this one, though I didn't get the extra heads, just brass or plastic. It came in a Brownells Gunsmith Tool Kit, some punches, a screwdriver set, and the hammer. Actually cheaper overall as part of the kit rather than bought separately. I havent used them on a gun in years, love it when I can re-purpose something for bass building! It's like a sport for me now, whenever I'm in a hardware store, I try to see what I can find that would work for Luthiery at half the cost.

    21-Piece Gunsmithing Tools Gunsmithing Hammer and Brass 21-Piece Punch Tool Set | eBay
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  11. funkifiedsoul

    funkifiedsoul Supporting Member

    Mar 22, 2007
    Not a luthier here, but have done my first 2 fret jobs recently. While learning I saw someone installing frets by sliding them into the slots horizontally, which seemed to work perfectly. No hammering, then a used a squeeze clamp tool to seat them fully.
    Be interesting to hear if anyone here has experience with this method.
    AndyPanda likes this.
  12. Arie X

    Arie X

    Oct 19, 2015
    i use a small double ended dead-blow/brass hammer to seat the ends of the frets before i install them with a press.

    i wouldn't assume that a claw hammer is sop over there but imo, that hammer pic is something that i would never let happen if i owned a prestigious company like Fodera. and he's wasting too much fret wire. and he has his armpit on the fingerboard. :woot:
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2020
    BenTheBassGuy, AndyPanda and Beej like this.
  13. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Vancouver Island
    Ha! I don't want to judge Fodera but the extra wire is the first thing I noticed too. For every three of four frets, he's using another fret's worth of wire. :D

    Plus, no hearing or eye protection... tsk tsk :smug:
    stuntbass77 and AndyPanda like this.
  14. Marhmol

    Marhmol Supporting Member

    Nov 6, 2016
    Bay Area Ca

    Attached Files:

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  15. arbiterusa


    Sep 24, 2015
    I use a hammer to install frets, if that's what you're asking. It's not a specialized tool.
    AndyPanda likes this.
  16. nilorius

    nilorius Inactive

    Oct 27, 2016
    Riga - Latvia
    Hand job - every luthier uses the best tools for him to do the job.
    AndyPanda likes this.
  17. Arie X

    Arie X

    Oct 19, 2015
    he has at least "hearing avoidance" in the form of a viking dirge going through those ear bids at vol 11.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2020
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  18. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    Some people use an oyster hammer for crabs. And shouldn't that guy have goggles? Insurance premiums just went up at Fodera.
    AndyPanda likes this.
  19. Arie X

    Arie X

    Oct 19, 2015
    in all seriousness, that guy represents Fodera and as such conveys the reputation of the company with that image -even if it was in jest. people will jump to conclusions about their craft and impart a lesser image of the company into their brains.
    Beej and AndyPanda like this.
  20. iiipopes

    iiipopes Supporting Member

    May 4, 2009
    Not to mention a possible OSHA citation.
    AndyPanda likes this.
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