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  #1  
Old 02-08-2021, 01:54 PM
Red Dog Red Dog is offline
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Default Need advice on installing frets

I'm building a Stewart MacDonald OM-18 kit and am to the point of installing frets and am making a mess of it. I thought this would be the easy part of the build.

For your info, the fretboard is slotted and radiused and fret wire is pre-radiused, which seems like should be pretty easy but I've still managed to bungle it! A few of the frets seated properly, but most only seated in the middle while the ends stay up regardless of how gently or firmly I tap them. I'm using a Stewart MacDonald fret hammer and am installing them dry...no glue.

The kit instructions suggest setting the fret with one firm tap at each end and then tapping back and forth until firmly seated. It's not working for me.

There's something that doesn't seem right with the material that came with the kit. The slots are a full 1/8" deep but the tang on the fret wire is only about 1/32", leaving a full 3/32" of space below the tang. Logic tells me that the tangs should go deeper into the slots.

I've read forums and watched various YouTube videos and, like other tasks, there are plenty of ways to do this one thing. Some do it dry, some use Titebond and others, CA, at least on the ends. But it seems that for the CA to be effective, the tangs would have to extend further into the slot.

I pulled those frets that didn't seat at all and got some tearout at the slot but have cobbled the chips together using CA glue and ebony dust.

According to reviews I read before ordering the kit, Stewart MacDonald offered great support. But after ordering, I find that, since Covid, the only source of support is via email, and it usually takes a week or so to get an answer to a question. And if I need clarification, it's another email and another week.

I've considered getting a new fretboard and fret wire and starting over, but thought I solicit some advice before I do that. Any opinions or help would be greatly appreciated.
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  #2  
Old 02-08-2021, 02:15 PM
redir redir is offline
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Couple of things.

1) Take a triangle file and file off the edges of the fret slot, rounding them off slightly, this will prevent chip out on a refret

2) You need a good dead blow backing when hammering in the frets. I use a beanbag that Stew Mac sells. Others will use a bag of buck shot or even a bag of cat litter if that is all you can find.

I believe it was Sloane who recommended that you add a few drops of water to the fret slot then hammer the frets in. I used to do that and it seemed to help. I use hide glue now but you don't need glue. I think you just need to really hit hard with the hammer. Don't worry about the space under the fret. You can just fill in the fret ends once you are done with black CA or epoxy or something.

For the slots over hanging the body of the guitar I always widen those out and use glue so that they tap nice and easy in. You don't want to crack the top of the guitar you just built. Taylor makes a nice device for this job but it's expensive. Others will hold a piece of metal inside the guitar to take the dead blow.

Of course you could just widen the slots too with a back saw. But if that's the case then you would probably want to glue in the frets too.
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Old 02-08-2021, 02:34 PM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is offline
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Installing frets is "easy" only after one has "perfected" the method one uses. There are lots of variables that need to be addressed before it is "easy".

Fret wire is pretty standard. It isn't likely that StewMac has sent you customized fret wire that differs from standard wires. It is important that the fret slots be sufficiently deep that they fully accommodate the depth of the fret's tang and don't prevent the fret crown from fully seating. Generally, that means making the slots deeper than the tang.

Generally, the harder the fret wire, the more resistant it is to taking on a different shape. With a radiused fretboard, the fret wire needs to be of an "appropriate" radius prior to installation. Generally, that means a smaller radius than the fingerboard. If you use the same size - or larger - radius as the fretboard, the ends generally won't stay seated: you push/hammer them down, they pop back up.

Having a smaller radius fret than fretboard allows the ends to contact first, and be pressed/hammered home first. Hammering/pressing the centers in afterwards keeps the pressure downward on the fret ends. The opposite happens if the fret radius is too large for the fretboard radius. If the fret board radius changes along the length of the fretboard, that means the fret radius might need to also.

Although tedious, you can bend/radius frets with two pairs of pliers. A better/easier method is to use a roller arrangement. Doing so will go a long way towards getting frets to seat properly.

I usually end up having to CA glue down some stubborn fret ends. I always enjoy working with the soft fret wire I use on classical guitars, where wear isn't an issue. The stuff goes in so easily as it has no mind of its own and requires very little technique to install. In my geographical area, it used to be commonly used by all of the local builders on steel string guitars, but these days harder fret wires are the norm.
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Old 02-08-2021, 02:52 PM
Red Dog Red Dog is offline
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The triangular file sounds like great advice.

As to the hammer...I first used a deadblow hammer. I have two of them, both plastic faced. I only switched to the fretting hammer because it seemed to make sense to use a tool made for that purpose and a friend loaned me his.

I've tried various amounts of force with the hammer and have noticed the brass faced hammer dents the frets even when I'm careful about hitting the frets squarely so I switched back to the plastic face.

It also seems that force isn't the whole answer. Following the StewMac instructions, I firmly tap once on each end and they seem to stay in place. Then I work my way across the middle. Even after just a few taps, one end or both pop back out and once that happens, no amount of tapping will seat it again.
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Old 02-08-2021, 03:12 PM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Red Dog View Post
Even after just a few taps, one end or both pop back out and once that happens, no amount of tapping will seat it again.
Wrong radius.

Over-bend the radius and try again. Trial and error teaches you what radius you need to start with to keep the ends in.
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Old 02-08-2021, 05:09 PM
John Arnold John Arnold is offline
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A matching radius on the frets works if you press them in, but as you have found out, doesn't work when hammering them in. I overbend the fret with pliers, so that the fret is at least 1/32" higher than the fingerboard in the center.
I have often said that it took me about 100 fret jobs before I was proficient. Because I primarily gained my chops in the repair realm, it was sink or swim.
One of the things I learned early on is to use a flat faced hammer. A crowned face just exacerbates the problem of flattening the fret, causing the fret ends to pop up. You also must learn to limit the number of hammer blows.
If it makes you feel better, I see sprung fret ends all the time on vintage Martins with original frets. Until recently, Martin always hammered the frets in. The remedy consists of removing the fret, rebending it, and hammering it right back into place. A good pair of fret pullers is essential.
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Old 02-08-2021, 06:41 PM
runamuck runamuck is offline
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I'm guessing that the frets are not actually prebent but are slightly curved because they come off a roll. You still need to bend them to a tighter radius than the fretboard.
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Old 02-08-2021, 08:44 PM
Red Dog Red Dog is offline
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Actually, the fret wire IS pre-bent at a radius slightly tighter than the fretboard. When I lay the wire across the board, the middle of the curve is more than1/32" higher than the board, depending on where on the board I lay it. The wider the board, the higher the wire is above it.

The fret slots are plenty deep...way more than 1/16" of dead air below the tang.

Wish I knew how to post photos...would be easier than trying to explain verbally.

Charles, what you say about seating the ends of the curved fret is perfectly logical to me, so it's a mystery why they don't stay put.

Before I toss the whole thing, I'll try holding the ends down and using CA glue. If course, I don't have enough wire left to finish, so will have to order more. No suppliers in my area.
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Old 02-08-2021, 09:38 PM
charles Tauber charles Tauber is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Red Dog View Post
Wish I knew how to post photos...would be easier than trying to explain verbally.
There are instructions on the main forum for posting photos. Basically, use Taptalk or host the photos on a third-party location and link from your post here to the third-party location.

Quote:
Charles, what you say about seating the ends of the curved fret is perfectly logical to me, so it's a mystery why they don't stay put.
As John indicated, it isn't about brute force: hitting them harder or more times isn't usually the answer. There is a feel to doing it and technique. It took me a long time to figure out how to do it successfully. In those days there was no option of CA glue to keep the ends down.

Now there are a bunch of specialized tools to help with specific aspects/problems in fretting. Some of those are worthwhile if one is going to do enough fret work.

Quote:
Before I toss the whole thing, I'll try holding the ends down and using CA glue.
Just to be clear, the CA glue can be used in two ways. One way is as a preventative measure for fully seated frets. The other is for slightly lifted ends - rather than grossly mismatched frets to fingerboard - where you apply the glue, hold the fret end so that it is seated until the glue has hardened. (CA glue accelerator speeds the process.) It isn't used to hold the ends down prior to seating the middle.



Quote:
If course, I don't have enough wire left to finish, so will have to order more. No suppliers in my area.
Unless you've tied the frets in knots - or slugged so heavily with a hammer that they are damaged - you can re-use the frets. (If you are denting the frets with your hammer, you are using way too much force.)

If you are going to order more fret wire, I suggest ordering a soft wire. (Not brass.) It is much, much easier to install. If you are hard on frets while playing, they won't last quite as long, but it is much easier to get a good fret job with them, rather than a bad fret job that lasts much longer. The soft wire that I use on classical guitars I bought in large quantity from Germany a long time ago. I'm not sure what similar hardness wires there are available from North American suppliers.
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Old 02-08-2021, 11:53 PM
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rick-slo rick-slo is offline
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I am betting the tang depth is around one and a half to two times the 1/32" you measured. Make sure you tap them in all the way. However the fret slots were already cut in the fretboard when you received it so if the fretwire they supplied fits loosely I would put that on them. Hopefully you will get an email back before too much longer.
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Old 02-09-2021, 12:57 AM
mirwa mirwa is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Red Dog View Post
Actually, the fret wire IS pre-bent at a radius slightly tighter than the fretboard. When I lay the wire across the board, the middle of the curve is more than1/32" higher than the board, depending on where on the board I lay it. The wider the board, the higher the wire is above it.
Everything is easy in theory, First may I confirm you are working with an ebony board.

Fretting an ebony board is harder than fretting a rosewood board.

If you hammer a fret a couple of things occur, first you locally deform the fret crown ever so slightly at the point of impact, you also end up bending the fret at this point as you are forcing the fret in and the sides are free.

Knowing this, a trick when hammering frets is to seat the ends first down below the barb not fret flush to the surface, then work inwards from each side and then repeat and seat the fret home, this way you are using the fact the fret bends to your advantage.

The other concern is sometimes ebony does not like being deformed by the barb pressing into the wood, well maybe not sometimes more like all ways, so we make the fret slot on an ebony board ever so slightly wider than a rosewood board, or we gently file the barbs down so they are not penetrating as deeply

I like to hit a brass fret caul personally when I hand hammer a fret in, it supports the shape of the fret whilst its being forced in place

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Old 02-10-2021, 07:08 AM
Monts Monts is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Red Dog View Post
The slots are a full 1/8" deep but the tang on the fret wire is only about 1/32", leaving a full 3/32" of space below the tang. Logic tells me that the tangs should go deeper into the slots.
I've done several of the same fretboards, the frets do not go deeper. There is is a gap even if they are seated properly. Actually, there is a clip in the instructional video where the gaps you are talking about get filled with dust after the neck is completed. I never filled mine and they are fine either way.
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