View Full Version : How to finish a fretboard

04-20-2016, 07:40 PM
On the dozens of various instruments I've ever built, I have never put finish on a fretboard. The beauty of ebony and rosewood is that they don't need anything...or at the least nothing more than a bit of oil after fretting is finished. Right now, though, I'm refinishing a few banjo ukes and ukuleles and have come across a curious question.
I'm refretting the maple neck of a bargain banjo uke from the 20's. I planed the fretboard level ( there is no overlay...the frets were let right into the maple ), re-sawed the fret slots to the modern .023" tang width, and now it is apparent that I can't leave the maple unfinished. Sorry for the lengthy prelude, but here's the question.
Do I put in the frets, then finish the fingerboard? Or varnish it first, then put in the frets? I have to think varnish first, then fret. Otherwise I would have to finish the varnish across the grain and there would be varnish buildup along the frets.
It seems obvious, but the riddle took me by surprise and I wanted to tap the group wisdom. Many thanks, Russ

04-21-2016, 06:53 PM
Leo Fender varnished his fretboards and it was an iconic look. Personally I never got the idea behind this. I mean the varnish immediately wears and creates those ditches. I think the reason was that it was easier to mass produce guitars without the extra work of masking off the fretboard. Just spray the whole thing all at once. Time is money. In a hand-built situation why do this? Just mask it off and oil it later... Interesting product I've tried is "Old English Scratch Remover". You might want to try the stuff for "light woods". Now I just use a little mineral oil. Seems to hide the "human oil" discoloration.

04-22-2016, 08:19 PM
Thanks for the comment and the data point. Yes, the problem is the maple demans something. I actually do a considerable amount of unfinished furniture. I have James Krenov to thank for that. I guess it's a little affected, but I've been doing it for 40 years. Anyway, perhaps just oiling the maple would be good enough. Agreed about the varnish ditches. Then somebody else is stuck with a finishing problem on down the line.

little timber
04-23-2016, 07:52 AM
the last maple fretboard I did, I used truoil and was pretty pleased with the result, right over the frets. I did however level and crown the frets after the truoil cured which took it off of them of course.

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
04-23-2016, 08:12 AM
I dont like the look of white/light coloured fretboards so ive never done/used or even worked on one but Perhaps you could use a penetrating epoxy?

04-23-2016, 10:15 AM
Mya-moe does maple fretboards. Just checked their "birth of a Mya-moe" video series.
They use Tru-Oil.