I thought I'd document my method for cutting fret slots. Disclaimer: This is how I do it. BE SAFE. Follow your tools' directions. I'm not responsible for your accidents or bad decisions. In fact, DON'T DO THIS. 

Are we good now?

SoI started with a shopmade miter box and a Harbor Freight pull saw, as shown above. I actually like that other saw better as the back is reinforced. Anyhow, what you can't really see in that miter box is that there's the spine of a utility knife blade sticking up there. It's the same thickness as the saw kerf and registers the kerfs cut into the templates, above. Two of the templates I laid out with 12" digital calipers; one I made using an actual Martin fretboard and the method below, using the fretboard as the template and the template material as the workpiece. I hope that makes sense. 

To make a fretboard I'd affix the fretboard blank to the BACK of the appropriate template, then slide the template down onto the knife blade, then make my cut with the saw. No depth stop, meaning some trial and error and tweaking to get the depths somewhere in the neighborhood of right.

Not ideal. So recently I ordered a Stewmac tablesaw blade ground to the right thickness for fretwire. It was expensive, but using the templates I made and a dedicated table saw sled, I can cut a fretboard relatively quickly. 

That's the bottom of the sled. I used a couple of those Microjig runners I had. They're great, but you don't need them. That saw blade's only 6" in diameter, as you can see, and it burns readily. 

There's the sled, shown from the far side of the table saw. As you can see, I went with the utility knife again to register the template. It works a lot like a box joint jig, but you need to pay attention to your zero fret location. I used the end of the template when I made mine, but you'd be better off making it a slot and either using a zero fret (I've never done this) or cutting it off at that point. You'll figure it out. 

In this configuration I glue the template on its side to the back of the fretboard blank. The knife is raised up in the registration slot so that the fretboard material sits under it. 

Here's the view from the user's perspective. The template is taped to the walnut fretboard. To cut, you line the kerf in the template up with the utility knife blade (it's in the little slot to the left in the greenish poplar piece; the slot next to it is where the blade actually cuts. So you just work your way from one end of the template to the other, and it goes very quickly. Just remember that the slot depth equals the height of the blade sticking up past the bed of the sled (I used 1/4" tempered hardboard). Also remember that the blade is going to come out the back of your sled ... BE CAREFUL. All the slots are uniform, you only have to measure once, and you're moving on in minutes.

I hope this helps somebody. I didn't invent any of this; at most I adapted it from the video on the Stewmac site since I wanted to use my own templates and not pay for theirs, which are surely more accurate than my handmade ones. 

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Comment by Darryl Tuttle on January 11, 2018 at 8:33pm

I was lucky enough to buy a used stew Mac blade for table saw at garage sale...this luthier was retiring due to Parkinson's disease...guy had an amazing shop...his jigs were perfect. Just picked up a stew Mac hand fret saw..but no chance to use it...I like the table saw blade...but I kicked up a piece of wood and it put a hole in tv I had mounted on wall...don't mount TVs on wall directly behind radial arm saw

Comment by Joe Caruso on January 11, 2018 at 6:20pm

Thanks Jim - the idea of using the utility knife blade to ensure the kerf thickness is a great idea. Thanks for sharing.

Comment by Jim Brown on January 9, 2018 at 7:33pm

Thank you Rose ... my interpretation of other people's innovations.

Comment by Rose Ericson on January 9, 2018 at 6:32pm

Hey Jim that's really good .......no it Genius!!!! Thanks for sharing I might try this. It would really be much easier on my wrists. 

Comment by Jim Brown on January 8, 2018 at 1:26pm

Jerry and Chris, I'm definitely going to check into the blades you mention. I'm sure they'd do the same job as this one. Taffy, thanks for the feedback. I'd have done the templates differently had I not designed them for manual miter box use. I don't think I could do tandem fretboards with my current setup unless I used a wider workpiece and then ripped it, BUT the templates I have would be easy enough to copy. You've got me thinking ... 

Comment by Chris "Fingerz" Zaferes on January 8, 2018 at 10:46am

Jerry, I bought a jewelers slotting saw blade for $19 off of Amazon.....works GREAT!

Comment by Jerry Jordan on January 8, 2018 at 7:44am

very nice but that stew-mac blade is out of my price range.,,.I hear a jeweler's circular saw blade can be had for less than $10 with the right kerf.,.,kudos on a great setup.,.,thanks for the tutorial.,.

Comment by Taffy Evans on January 7, 2018 at 2:24am

Nice one Jim, I use the same set up ( different templates) for my fret slotting. I can also fit two 3 string fingerboards to my templates and slot them at the same time, for even faster fretting.


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