Curious about other builders building sequence. ie., when to install frets.


I always suspect that most builders put the frets in after the fretboard is glued to the neck.  I make the fretboard, cut the fret slots, and hammer in the frets on the bench.  I generally put the fretboard in temporarily with double backed tape just to make sure everything is good.  Then I string it up and play it a bit .  After that I will cut the sound hole, glue the fretboard and string it up again.  When I clamp the fretboard for glue, I consider this operation the final fret seating process.  I have plenty of clamp pressure across all the frets.  Also, I have a special board that I put on top, which is a little narrower than the fretboard so that I can see the alignment of the fb on the neck.  I won't even check for high frets until the fb is glued in.  If I were to hammer the frets in after the fb is glued, I would have to make a jig to support the neck.


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I am one of the "most" as you suspect - for the fretboards I made, I sawed the slots, tapered it, then glued, then fretted.  But no hammering, I use a vise to press them in with softer wood behind the neck and a small hard block over the fret.  If any are high I gave them another squeeze in the vise before filing.  It gets a little tricky along the foot but an extra block lets each fret press in ok.  I would be curious about matching the fretboard and neck - do you make them match exactly then glue, or leave the neck a bit oversized a little for fine tuning?  I have tried matching before gluing or leaving one or the other big, each has pros and cons for me.

Thanks for the response.  My fretboards and necks are pretty close to the same width, but not identical.  I usually have to sand a touch off the neck sides.  My fretboards are pretty consistent because I use a jig to saw the slots and the fb has to be able to fit into the jig (fairly tight).  I have always hammered the frets in, but am not dogmatic about it.  I now have a drill press and I could make a hardwood press for it.  On my last fb, I had an awful time getting the frets started.  I don't understand why.  Same saw, same frets, Walnut fb which I use a lot.  Go figure.  Some of them I had to get started with a clamp.

Also, I add a few grains of salt to the glue to prevent the fb slipping around.  I use Hide glue in case I ever have to remove the fb.  It has happened.  

Thanks for the response, Wayfinder.  I used screw clamps on some of the balky frets on my most recent build.  I use a hardwood pad which spans 3 or 4 frets to keep things even.

I've done it both ways, but now I cut fret slots, drill and glue inlay dots, and then glue to the neck.  The fretboards are 1/6" or so wider than the neck, after gluing, the whole thing goes on the belt sander until flush.

THEN I install the frets, and use the belt sander to dress the frets...  The results?

Thanks, John.  Beautiful neck

Oops. 1/16" wider....

I make fancy art covered fretboards so I have stopped trimming the frets on the board. I have a jig to cut the frets first to size, then bevel and polish them with my dremel . After the fretboards are slotted then I put the frets in. It has saved a lot of time not taping all the boards  to protect them.

I mount the fretboard last. This also allows one more little adjustment for intonation.

Except for the one neck that I put the frets directly into instead of using a fretboard, I cut the slots and add the frets. Once all the frets are in place and set, I glue it to the neck. 

My latest build has a maple neck which I painted white. The fretboard is Peruvian Walnut, which I stained black, so it was easier for me to tape everything off and glue it after the fact.

I cut my fretboards to the same size as my neck, so there's little sanding needed after they are glued on. The frets themselves I file down till smooth along the sides. If I have a high fret, I file it after I string it up. Loosen the strings, put a block of wood under them, and file the fret down until I get the height right.

Good topic! I do the same as you as far as completing the fretboard before gluing it to the neck. I shape the  necks after gluing the fretboards on.I want to make a fret slotting jig with skateboard bearings to guide the saw, before I build again. I think it will make the process go smoother.

I just looked above, I do pretty much the same order as John Sawyer. I also use the belt sander.

Where in your process do you apply a finish to the fret board? I apply the finish first using tung oil. Then I cut the slots and install the frets. The final step is to glue the fret board to the finished neck. I would prefer to glue the fret board to the neck before I apply any finish to get a good final sanding but I don't like the idea of working around the frets to apply a finish. Interested in other approaches. Good discussion! Thanks.

I apply oil last, kind of the opposite order as Cigar Man Mike. I glue the fret board, shape and finish sand the neck, redress the ends of the frets if they need it, then apply the oil liberally. I rub the neck and especially the fret board several times with a inside out sock. It doesn't dry or harden on the frets, if that's your concern. 

I am sort of close for this part- stain (if any), glue, oil, ease the saw thru the slots then fret. After finishing the frets I do a final light wipe of oil. I think it is great to hear the different ways to do it, and not one hint of "mine is the best and only way...". I'll probably try several of these sooner or later.


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