View Single Post
Old 01-15-2020, 08:55 PM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is offline
Registered User
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 6,806

Originally Posted by Peepaw View Post
Charles what would you suggest for a beginner (me), needle files or gauged nut files? I don't have anything yet as I am trying to school myself first before buying anything.
There is no one choice that is right: there are many different methods and tools that can be used to produce a good result. Factors involved in choosing include how often you do this sort of work, how much you want to spend or invest in tools and whether or not you prefer one method over others.

I'll tell you what I currently use, which was adopted over several decades of trying things. What I use is a combination of three tool sets: saws, gauged files and needle files. Which of those I use, depends, in part, on the job in front of me and what I think is best suited to that task. Any one of those tool sets is adequate for the job: I like to have the option to chose between them depending upon the specifics of the job.

For roughing-in all nut slots, I use an X-Acto saw in an X-Acto knife handle, widely available for about $10. I've used the same single blade for decades. It cuts quickly and I find it easier to control than files, allowing me to more easily get the slots in the right place and keep the slots vertical - so they don't "wander" as you cut to full depth. I also use it for making the final slots for first and second strings - I see no need to buy .010 or similar files. I have found no practical difference between flat-bottomed slots and round bottom ones: they don't seem to wear faster or sound different.

About 5 years ago, or so, Stew Mac started selling gauged saws for cutting nut slots. They are available in five sizes: I don't own the .010". I use those for any string diameters for which they are suitable. They cut very fast, which I like. The downside to saws is that they really only produce one slot size equal to their kerf. Unlike files, they can't really be rocked while used to make a range of slot sizes larger than the file.

For the remaining strings, I usually use Stew Mac nut files. (The Japanese Hiroshima files are likely a little less expensive and possible better: I have four or five sizes, adequate for most string diameters. For large diameter bass strings (e.g. 7-string and 10-string guitars) I use my trusty needle files.

I like to use a set of inexpensive feeler gauges. I measure the fret height by placing a short ruler spanning the first and second frets and then stack appropriate thicknesses of feeler gauges. I then use that stack of gauges, usually with an extra few thousandths of an inch placed against the nut parallel to the frets. It acts as a hard stop for filing or sawing nut slots. There is immediate tactile and audible feedback when the file or saw just touches the gauges, telling me that I've reached the desired slot depth. I have found it to be reliable and to eliminate guess work and trial and error. Measure accurately, add to the measurement accordingly, or not, file until I hear and feel the stop: slot done.

The needle file that I use for nut slotting is a tear drop shape, technically the shape is called a "pippin". It doesn't seem to be one of the more common shapes included in a set of needle files, but the $10 set I bought decades ago included two of them, of slightly different shapes.

Tool suppliers have a tool for everything and they want you to buy one of each. Most of the stuff they sell isn't really necessary, and some of it is available at local hardware or automobile parts stores at much lower prices. Specialty items, like gauged saws and nut files aren't as readily available elsewhere. One of the few gimmicky things that Stew Mac sells that I did buy is their string jack allowing tensioned strings to lifted out of the nut slots. I find it helpful in some instances, saving my fingers.

Last edited by charles Tauber; 01-15-2020 at 09:06 PM.
Reply With Quote