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OK, time for my version of that little trick. Here, the goal is to try out a piece of fret wire to see if it will be a good fit in the slot. Same deal, just bend a dogleg in the end.

This time, I tap the end into the board without filing the tang.

If it taps in without too much effort, and I can pick the instrument up to about this height without it dropping back to the bench, I'm satisfied that the wire will fit tightly enough to do the job well. If I miscalculate, I can go back to look for another choice of fret wire, or I can modify the tang by filing, or using my fret tang expanding pliers.

I've got 29 frets to install, so I'll take my time and try to get each one cut just right. First to length, which I like to be just a hair wider than the outside edges of the binding.

Like so.

Next I'll use the yellow handle Collings fret tang undercutting tool from Stewart MacDonald. They come in three sizes to accommodate the full range of fret crown widths.

I like to cut each fret to overhang the binding, leaving as much tang as possible to grip in the slot.

I like to use a hard faced, lightweight plastic hammer to tap frets in place. I have the neck supported on a leather covered block.

Notice how I'm holding the hammer, with the handle parallel to the fret.

Otherwise, if I were to rotate the head of the hammer, I could kink a fret and make it useless.

But with the hammer oriented this way, I'd have to raise or lower the handle to an extreme before I'd run into a similar problem

I choke up on the handle and snap the head downward sharply, delivering the lightest blow I can manage. Then, as the fret starts to go in, I increase the strength of the hammer blows until it's seated right down. I like to use as many blows as possible, rapidly tapping each fret up to 40 times.

On the cantilever section of the end of the fingerboard, there's little chance of support to withstand my hammer blows. I push in little wedges to help out a bit. After each fret, the wedges need to be pushed back in place.

To make these delicate frets go in easily, I file the tang of each one to a point (in cross section).

That way, they take only a fraction of the effort to seat properly. I may also file the little barbs to make them go in more easily.

After all the frets are in place, I'll go over the entire fingerboard with a 3/32" thick steel plate and tap them hard with a steel hammer, so I can tap down any frets that aren't properly seated. I never hit a fret directly with a steel hammer, for fear of denting or scratching the fret.

I clip off the ends with my flush cutters.

And, to make sure each end is tight against the binding, I give each one a very gentle tap with my lightest brass hammer.

As a matter of insurance, I can use thin viscosity cyanoacrylate to help the frets stay in place. The cyanoacrylate runs in under the fret crowns and down into the fret slots to help hold them in place.

After each drop of cyanoacrylate soaks in, I wipe the excess with a bit of shop towel dampened with acetone. Then, I have virtually no glue cleanup later.

A bit of extra masking tape for protection on the high areas of the top right next to the fingerboard.

I file the edges to even out and bevel the fret ends, using my safe edge mill file.

Holding the file at approximately 45 degrees to the surface of the fingerboard, I get just the right bevel.

On the cantilever section, a 3/8" diameter chainsaw file is just right for making the inside curves

My safe cornered cantsaw file helps me round over the ends of the frets.

I bring back my jack plane body sanding block to level the fret tops with 600 grit waterproof silicon carbide sanding paper.

And, I use the same, slightly worn sheet of sandpaper to start the rounding over process, simply sanding up and down the fingerboard by hand.

Where the frets are very close together, I switch to a Pink Pearl eraser, and bump over them, holding the corner of the eraser down toward the fingerboard.

Final fret polishing is with Micro Mesh cushioned abrasives, against backed with my fingers or with the Pink Pearl. I run through the various grits from 2,400 to 12,000.

After all that abrasive work, I've managed to grind a bunch of silver gray metal particles into the surface of the fingerboard. A bit of naphtha (lighter fluid) is just the ticket for removing that stuff. A quick wipe with some mineral oil, and the fingerboard looks like a million!

All done. Time to tune up and go for a little test drive.


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