Working with Phenolic boards

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by rojo412, Jun 7, 2017.

  1. rojo412

    rojo412 Sit down, Danny... Supporting Member

    Feb 26, 2000
    Cleveland, OH.
    I've been working (slowly) on a project for a while now. For it, I decided to try a phenolic fingerboard, as I've been a fan of them forever. But this was the first time I tried it.

    People had mentioned that you need to take your time and be patient with it, as it's a fairly tough material. And when I was cutting fret slots and doing a radius, I actually found it quite nice. It was very easy to shape and you can get a great looking finish on it with very little effort.
    Add to that, it's strong as hell!

    Yesterday, it was time to fret it. So I tapped in the first fret with no issue. However, the second fret wasn't going in. So I tried the fret press with no avail. Basically, I had to hammer it in a little harder than I thought I would... but it held very well.

    So I make my way through the majority of the board when I start to notice that the fingerboard is lifting off of the neck.
    As it turns out, the added pressure of the tight fitting frets was causing the board to "back bow". And hammering on it wasn't helping.
    Add to that, I used Titebond to attach it to the neck and figured that was fine... but it really wasn't.

    So I guess my point is, if you plan on working with phenolic boards, you should be aware of the fact that you:
    a) need to use a slightly wider blade for fret slots
    b) should have an epoxy or some other type of adhesive that it better suited for it
    c) will be working with a very durable material which can fight you.

    If anyone has any tips on how to avoid these things in the future, please feel free to add them.

    Leiria likes this.
  2. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Vancouver Island
    Thanks for sharing that - I don't use them, but never say never. :)

    On a side note, do you use that router freehand like that with that massive shaper bit on there? :D
    rojo412 likes this.
  3. rojo412

    rojo412 Sit down, Danny... Supporting Member

    Feb 26, 2000
    Cleveland, OH.
    No, but that would be somethin'!
    I made a bootleg overarm router setup for the drill press. It also does fret press duty, thus why the router was pulled from it.
    And FWIW, that bit isn't as cool as I'd hoped for a neck shaper bit. (Handrail shaper)
  4. GMC

    GMC Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2006
    Wiltshire, UK
    Basically, the fret tang isn't compressing into the side walls of the fret slots. Which is why the frets aren't going in well and causing a back bow. Some luthiers say they glue the board to the neck and deliberately cause a slight back bow to off set the string pull (later when strung up)...but I say that's cobblers. Because no one makes thin tang fret wire, you have two choices, one cut the fret slots slightly wider...or two use a Stewmac fret tang file and file down the fret wire to suit the slot. Which is what I do when I'm working with wide Ebony or Wenge fingerboards.
    Gilmourisgod and rojo412 like this.
  5. I'm using something called Rocklite Ebano in my current build, which I'm guessing is something like phenolic, they're not particularly forthcoming in exactly how its made. But I had very similar issues with getting the frets in, it was hard work.

    GMC, just to follow up on your comment, you can get fretwire with different tang widths. Sintoms wire is made in Belarus but sold in Europe and the UK. I bought mine from Rall Guitars in Germany but I think Tonetech in the UK also stock it. Their tang widths range from 0.42 to 0.63mm. I've only used it once but if the amount of care in manufacturing is reflected by how much grease is left on for the customer to wipe of before installation, they beat Stewmac hands down.

    I realise the OP is in the USA so this may be of limited value. Though these days virtually everyone will send anything anywhere.
  6. rojo412

    rojo412 Sit down, Danny... Supporting Member

    Feb 26, 2000
    Cleveland, OH.
    Well, I can easily just get a wider kerf blade for working with these in the future. .025 or .028 are both available.
    Or, if I wanted to get really saucy, I could try and find the ones that have no tangs, as Parker used to use on their guitars. Then they could just be glued onto the board directly.

    Of course, I still need to make sure that the board stays glued to the neck. We'll see how the epoxy held when I start messing with it after a week of curing.