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View Full Version : Fret slots by hand, or on a table saw



Chris_H
02-07-2012, 05:55 AM
I am about to begin my first builds, a few at once. I recognize that setup and jigs are essential to all of this. Looking at cutting fret slots I see thast some do it by hand, and some by power tool. I am comfortable with a table saw, and hand saw. It seems like using a sled on a table saw with a template for fret location is the way to go, better than a hand saw.

For those who have done many fretboards, what do you think? Table saw or hand saw?

resoman
02-07-2012, 06:12 AM
The only thing I regret about the table saw is that I didn't switch over sooner. The setup time is minimal and you can do a bunch of fret boards at one time. I can do quite a few in the time it took me to do one with the hand saw.

ukebuilder
02-07-2012, 06:52 AM
I started out with the table saw and admit that is is faster, I am now buying one of the new hand saw jigs that lmi sells. If you convert the templates that comes with it to be used on the table saw then you might have the best of both worlds. I have also found that your slde has to be exact or you get slop in it the slots will be a little big and you will have to glue the frets in. Plus the blades dull and need replaced after time and they are much more costly than the hand saw.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-07-2012, 06:56 AM
I think most builders start cutting by hand but as resoman mentioned as soon as you cut your first board on the table saw, you'll never look back. If you already have the table saw, the blade will be your major expense and the sled is pretty simple to make. (A good blade will slot 300 or 400 blades before getting too dull to use.) I also think you'll do a better, faster and more accurate job with the table saw. I saw recently where Stewmac has come out with a new hand cutting jig that has roller bearings but it's almost $200. It would make cutting by hand easier but you're still better off with the table saw.

Steve vanPelt
02-07-2012, 07:06 AM
I did slot my first with a table saw. And every one since. I use the LMI table saw rig, but found I prefer the StewMac blade, because the unthreaded portion of my arbor is too short to utilize the stiffners properly.

I applaud those who measure or print and cut by hand. Where the frets go is too important for me to eye it.

Steve

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-07-2012, 07:29 AM
I applaud those who measure or print and cut by hand.

You may be the only one. I know customers don't appreciate it!

Chris_H
02-07-2012, 08:01 AM
Thank you for the replies, looks like the table saw wins...


Cheers!

Rick Turner
02-07-2012, 08:20 AM
Table saw.

Liam Ryan
02-07-2012, 08:32 AM
I will never cut by hand again.

ukebuilder
02-07-2012, 08:34 AM
Having both and starting out with the table saw I guess I like the feel of doing it by hand. I don't make many so I would see when you make a bunch then the table saw is the best way to go. I just hate swapping out my blade. Maybe I need to have a saw set up all the time with it on it. My shop is small and having two table saws set up would be hard. I do use templates so no need to measure each one. I would also never trust a printer for the correct spacing ever.

Allen
02-07-2012, 09:02 AM
Tablesaw. You will never go back.

Rick Turner
02-07-2012, 09:11 AM
All this said, re. table saw... If you want to be a good luthier, you should have the skill level required to do accurate fret slotting by hand. It's just not that hard to do if you've got chops. I'm a strong advocate of having the skills to truly build by hand...and then using the best tools and technology that is appropriate for your chosen level of output whether that's one uke a year or five hundred or whatever. Hand tools, hand held power tools, air tools, major traditional shop power tools, CNC machine, laser, whatever; but it's good to have the training in your muscle memory and eyes.

ukebuilder
02-07-2012, 09:37 AM
All this said, re. table saw... If you want to be a good luthier, you should have the skill level required to do accurate fret slotting by hand. It's just not that hard to do if you've got chops. I'm a strong advocate of having the skills to truly build by hand...and then using the best tools and technology that is appropriate for your chosen level of output whether that's one uke a year or five hundred or whatever. Hand tools, hand held power tools, air tools, major traditional shop power tools, CNC machine, laser, whatever; but it's good to have the training in your muscle memory and eyes.

Well said, This is why I went to fretting by hand. I was given the saw blade when I first started building and then realized there was more to it then making a cut. A hand saw or table saw will make the same cut. its where they cut that is more important. Being a machinist I thought I could just use a caliper and measure off each slot and with a good marking knife make a mark and move on. I was wrong and learned the hard way. Templates are worth there weight in gold to me. Makes life easier and takes out all the guessing for me. I have seen people use them with the table saw and that has to be the best of both worlds. I will get back there someday. For me its a love of working with the wood and feeling it as I go. I don't make many so its time well spent. I saw Petes jig he made with a hand saw and it is even a totally different way to go all together. Thanks Rick I was feeling like I was in the dark ages for a minute. I guess when I try to do this for a living, if ever, then I will rethink this all together. Check out Petes vid on his saw.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-07-2012, 09:52 AM
You could also build a house out of toothpicks too, given you had enough time and enough toothpicks. I just don't see the point though.
Yes it's important to know how to do all of this stuff by hand in order to understand the process. But I'm not talking about just the time involved but quality as well. The quality of a cut made by hand will never match the precision of a slot made with good power equipment.

Flyfish57
02-07-2012, 10:01 AM
I cut my first 15 fretboards by hand and the intonation just fine. All I used was a fret saw, machinist square, and a template I drew up in AutoCAD. I then found an old Rockwell (I think it is a "Home time")table saw on Craig’s list for 50.00 and bought the Stewmac blade. I now have a dedicated fret saw that doesn’t take up much room at all. Also the quality of the saw is so much better than anything I can find at Home Cheapo.

I will say that while I think I can cut fret slots just as good as my table saw, I do sleep better at night without the nagging feeling I cut one of them slightly off.

Chris_H
02-07-2012, 11:35 AM
I did build a house with toothpics, or 1 x 6 tongue and groove at least, and lap siding 3" to the weather, t&g cathedral cielings with equal span dormers, all cut with a Japanese handsaw. I had no power. It took 18 years to finish. I would never build a house like that again.. Yes, I love the feel of cutting a precisipon cut with a hand tool. I have several nice Japanese saws for specific tasks in my shop for building turntable plinths. I still use power tools when possible. I used to suffer from romanticism, badly, now I just appreciate it...

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-07-2012, 11:47 AM
I used to suffer from romanticism

I suffer from rheumatism, hence my affection for power slotting! :)

Pete Howlett
02-07-2012, 12:10 PM
I enjoy using my fretmaster slotting machine and I loathed using that screaming table saw. I've said it before and it is worth repeating: there is an unusual but not peverse attraction to the table saw in North America. I am amazed at the ingenuity of NA woodworkers who exploit this tool beyond what I what is often humanly possible and yet, despite my admiration and awe, I won't have one in my workshop. It's why I designed the quiter option...

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-07-2012, 12:52 PM
I've said it before...

....and over and over and over. We get it Pete. And I'm glad to be a "North American" with perverse attractions.

PelicanUkuleles
02-07-2012, 12:54 PM
I suffer from rheumatism, hence my affection for power slotting! :)

HaHa.:D That's the best reason so far or at least it's one I can relate to.

dave g
02-07-2012, 01:10 PM
Well, as a North American table saw kinda guy :p I think I'll stick with doing fret boards by hand. :)

Pete Howlett
02-07-2012, 01:27 PM
Needs repeating - I take my hat off to you guys for real. I wish I could have that affinity. Uive me a router any day :) They really can scream!

Used to be Shop Smiths everywhere but the table saw has proved to be king...

Rick Turner
02-07-2012, 02:13 PM
The table saw is the center of my shop. How else does one build benches, cut shelving, bust up sheets of plywood, etc. to make jigs and fixtures, rip 8/4" x 15" x 10' pieces of mahogany, etc.? Having been a cabinet maker, I consider a table saw to be right there next to a good band saw, jointer, drill press, planer, and at least a drum sander, (to say nothing of my wonderful pin router), as essential to my craft...and living.

BlackBearUkes
02-07-2012, 03:38 PM
Table saw for me, although I have the tools to do it both ways. I love my 9", 1940's Rockwell/Delta saw, built like a battle ship.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
02-07-2012, 04:01 PM
For that matter, how can you make clean bindings and kerfing without a table saw? But we've been down this road before.......:deadhorse:

Steve vanPelt
02-07-2012, 04:10 PM
by hand. power tools are for nitpic,perfectionistic elitists

like me:o

78910

Michael Smith
02-07-2012, 04:11 PM
I'm a tablesaw guy coming form a cabinetmaker background. I don't want a ukulele factory but the table or radial arm saw seems like the right tool for this job. There is plenty of individual craftsmanship and artistic design on a ukulele. Using the best power tool for the job does not reduce the satisfaction for me.

The first thing I did was to buy 12 inch digital caliper 33313 on amazon for 27 something dollars with free shipping. I used it to make this jig. I put a couple of small spots of hot glue on the back of the fretboard to hold them in place while sawing my fret slots. Disregard the drilled holes. I was trying a round pin registration but id didn't work well. This setup has worked very well for me. I have a lot of tablesaw miters I get them at the local flea market for a few dollars. A sled would work even better and I will make one soonhttp://i1134.photobucket.com/albums/m610/mamos53/fretslot.jpg

Chris_H
02-07-2012, 04:14 PM
There is something potentially really cool about hand work. I have a friend who builds boats. He 'machined' by hand, the pintles (? (sp) for the tiller out of pretty massive blocks of bronze he found at the scrap yard. Months later when they were finished, they had that hand wrought finish, gorgeous, and precision enough. Power tools are a game changer, but I personally like it that way.


weerpool, I like your tagline... I like to build things too...

weerpool
02-07-2012, 04:24 PM
Amen. Same here. i paint with brushes too..by hand

Well, as a North American table saw kinda guy :p I think I'll stick with doing fret boards by hand. :)

Rick Turner
02-07-2012, 04:39 PM
And some of us do this for a living!

Chris_H
02-07-2012, 04:41 PM
I paint too, with a brush, the brush is essential, but.... in the end, you will have to pry that spraygun from my cold dead fingers....

ukebuilder
02-07-2012, 04:44 PM
I can see that we are all a little different and some more than others but no one is right or wrong as long as the end product is the same. Its when one is saying that their way is better, that's the problem. I know most on here is far beyond me but I feel what I do is best for me. That's what you have to find for yourself. What works best for you and that is what you stick with. As you can see some feel there way is the only way it should be done. If so why is a Stradivarius so prized and not one made today with the new tools and power everything. Just saying...Or why would someone want to saw up large lumber by hand when it could be done in minutes on a table saw. I use my table saw everyday but I still like cutting frets by hand. Go figure...

Steve vanPelt
02-07-2012, 04:57 PM
I can see that we are all a little different and some more than others but no one is right or wrong as long as the end product is the same. Its when one is saying that their way is better, that's the problem. I know most on here is far beyond me but I feel what I do is best for me. That's what you have to find for yourself. What works best for you and that is what you stick with. As you can see some feel there way is the only way it should be done. If so why is a Stradivarius so prized and not one made today with the new tools and power everything. Just saying...Or why would someone want to saw up large lumber by hand when it could be done in minutes on a table saw. I use my table saw everyday but I still like cutting frets by hand. Go figure...

+1. I couldn't agree with you more, But I'll keep using the table saw for fretboards.

BlackBearUkes
02-07-2012, 05:06 PM
I can gaurantee you that is power tools were available to Stradivarius in his day, he would have had a shop full of them. Stradivarius violins are prized because they are VERY OLD and people like them. I personally think Guarani violins sound better, plus there are luthiers today making as good a violin as a Strad. Strads are popular partly because....we just got to have our hero worship. If we had to choose by sound alone, the Strads wouldn't be any more popular than other fine luthiers then and now.

Flyfish57
02-07-2012, 06:29 PM
I don’t always cut my fret slots by hand, but when I do, I cut them by candle light...Stay thirsty my friends!

Liam Ryan
02-07-2012, 08:01 PM
I don't even own a table saw and I still won't cut by hand.

Allen
02-07-2012, 08:43 PM
Liam just did about 13 fret boards at my place a couple weeks ago. Never did them on the table saw before and it was down to about 1 minute 20 from attaching it to the template to getting the next one by the 4th fret board. Gave us plenty of time to get a couple of beers into us afterward. It's mid summer here everyone and cutting fret slots it hot work. :)

Pete Howlett
02-07-2012, 11:18 PM
Strads sound like they do because they have been heavily worked. Strad would be using CNC, it's the only sensible solution to carving. Tuning afterwards would be where the skill would be... a hand skill :)

0011000011001
02-07-2012, 11:48 PM
I just completed a concert build a few weeks ago, cut the fret slots by hand, with a junior hacksaw lol. It took a while but it turned out great:D If I had money to throw around, I definitely invest in the proper setup!

Timbuck
02-08-2012, 01:44 AM
I dug this video out from a couple of years ago..I made this setup with an old black & Decker drill in a horizontal stand..and a table from a scrapped cheap bandsaw..a 4" X .025" slitting saw blade off E-bay..and a load of bits lying around in my scrap box..up to today it's slotted a couple of hundred fretboards and still going strong...just click on the pic to view :) The original thread is here http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/showthread.php?23793-Slotting-the-Fretboards-(Video)&highlight=slotting
http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/th_fingerboards.jpg (http://s219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/?action=view&current=fingerboards.mp4)

Michael N.
02-08-2012, 02:32 AM
Actually sawing frets using a hand saw is pretty easy. You just need the right approach and the right tools. A few years ago I thought of buying the LMI hand slotting jig - until I saw the Youtube video of it in action. Seemed to me that it was a lot of operations and messing around just to cut a few shallow slots in a board.
It is then that I developed a simple system that works - or at least it does for me.
It's based around a wooden 'rule' with the fret divisions not just marked but cut with the finest Zona saw. That makes marking the positions quick and foolproof. It's just a case of engaging a knife into the 'slot' and leaving a knife mark on the board, no squinting or using magnifiers. In fact you can do it with your eyes closed.
The knife is then positioned in the mark on the board, a square butted up against the knife, the saw then replaces the knife which is also guided by the square.
The description sounds a lot more complex than the reality. It may not be as quick as a table saw but it's still pretty fast.
The actual saw is also important. Many of them sold for fret slotting are hopeless. I just cut up a blade sold for hand mitre saws and glued it into an old Gents saw.

As for Strad using CNC? Maybe, maybe not. Actually this came up recently on one of the Fiddle making forums. Someone who had worked in one of the larger workshops said that everyone ignored the CNC machine because they could carve the plates faster using a gouge.
It's surprising how fast some people can work with hand tools. There is the story (apparently true) told by Rene Morel, who made Violins in Mirecourt. Each worker was required to make two violins per week (without varnish). One of the makers was especially fast and could produce 3 in a week. However there was one chap who was allowed to make just 1 instrument per week. He was given special dispensation. . . . . but only because he had lost an arm in the war.

Tarhead
02-08-2012, 04:06 AM
Check this guy at the Hoffner factory hand sawing fret slots at ~8:49. Then he uses a hand held drill to drill the holes for the Pearl dots!:worship:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCOycca1ezo

Rick Turner
02-08-2012, 04:57 AM
As has been pointed out here, that Hofner video is from 1981. I was using a table saw for fret slots in 1981...

The thing about CNC machines is NOT how fast they are, it's how accurate they are, how safe they are, and that you can leave one unattended to carve away for hours and hours. My Techno Isel CNC has a 48" x 96" bed. If I set it up for the task, I could have dozens of violin top or back blanks vacuum chucked to it and run a program that would go all day without needing attention for a cost of less than $100.00 a day for the machine lease, tools, and electricity. It's not about how fast it is; it's about how much it costs per part. I gave up thinking the CNC had to be fast; the point is that it runs itself a lot cheaper than any of my employees cost or what I have to make myself.

I can make one of my Renaissance guitar bridges in about 30 minutes on the pin router and milling machine...and it's a pretty complicated shape. The CNC machine does them in about 20 minutes. So I'm fast; it's a little faster; but it's making bridges without my standing over it while I'm doing other stuff. It does them better than I do, and each one is exactly what I designed.

ksquine
02-08-2012, 07:42 AM
I cut by hand using a template printed with Wfret... http://www.davidbeede.com/FretCalcGraphic18rule.htm
I love the table saw idea but I only do a few instruments per year with different scale lengths. All the time making templates would be mostly wasted.
Cutting by hand with a japanese pull saw is faster for me. Maybe 15min for a uke fingerboard. Setting up the table saw would take me longer than that.
Someday when I make hundreds per year I'll probably take the table saw plunge

Pete Howlett
02-08-2012, 08:23 AM
Rick is correct - CNC is not about speed but about repeatability and accuracy. Plus leaving it to work 24/7. And besides my note focuses on the carving of ther plates, not tuning them...

Rick Turner
02-08-2012, 12:09 PM
And Pete is correct. You can get carving in the ballpark with a CNC, a carving duplicator, etc., and then "hand tune". I suspect that that's what Strad's apprentices did...get parts roughed out for ol' Antonio to finish off...and keep the fire lit and the floor swept.

Pete Howlett
02-08-2012, 01:43 PM
Blimey! We agree :)

Michael N.
02-09-2012, 02:39 AM
And Pete is correct. You can get carving in the ballpark with a CNC, a carving duplicator, etc., and then "hand tune". I suspect that that's what Strad's apprentices did...get parts roughed out for ol' Antonio to finish off...and keep the fire lit and the floor swept.

May be so but that's still not how the big boys do it. From my knowledge and what I've read on various forums most of them are still hogging it out with a gouge. Then again if you can get 10K + for an instrument, what's the rush?

Pete Howlett
02-09-2012, 03:10 AM
Archtop builders and mandolin makers are quick to use copy carvers/CNC. Violin makers who attach a huge amount of importance to tradition and like the kudos of an almost entirely driven hand process n aturally resist the march of progress. Were it not for Bob Taylor, Bill Collings, others like Rick and Dana Bourgoise, Olsen, engineering concepts would be absent from high end building. It's only because of people like this that there has been any real advance away from the bending iron and hand rasp. It is also why many boutique builder's instruments look and feel souless and sound very brittle.

BobL
02-17-2012, 10:17 AM
I am about to begin my first builds, a few at once. I recognize that setup and jigs are essential to all of this. Looking at cutting fret slots I see thast some do it by hand, and some by power tool. I am comfortable with a table saw, and hand saw. It seems like using a sled on a table saw with a template for fret location is the way to go, better than a hand saw.

For those who have done many fretboards, what do you think? Table saw or hand saw?

I had a "full time" shop for 30+ yrs. in Tn. I did it by hand but finally worked out a table saw and would never go back. I bought an inexpensive sliding table saw for less than $500, and made my own templets(sp?), since I built several kinds of acoustic instruments, and it was suprisingly accurate. It was a Ryobi, aluminum, sliding table saw using a 6 inch fine cut blade.

WOBster
02-19-2012, 08:27 AM
As an amateur machinist (as well as woodworker...it all helps in my Old Car hobby!) I own a milling machine which would allow very precise positioning...has anyone ever used a mill (or the closest alternative I guess, would be a router and a jig) to slot fretboards? I don't know if there are router bits small enough...but I suspect that between router bits and end mills there would be something that would work well...Or is this too far out of the box to be a reasonable approach?

Allen
02-19-2012, 08:45 AM
Far too slow to be a viable alternative for me. What my mate who has a Bridgeport style mill did was to use the digital scale to accurately mill a set of fretting templates for me in every conceivable scale that I would want. Then I use them on my table saw.

Rick Turner
02-20-2012, 12:42 PM
Precise Bits makes fret slotting end mills, but they're really for CNC use. They're fantastic.

ukebuilder
02-20-2012, 05:42 PM
Rick, do they cut clean? I would think that they would not cut as clean on a mill. I have run wood on a CNC lathe but not a mill yet.

Rick Turner
02-20-2012, 07:49 PM
Hah! Do they cut clean? Is the pope Catholic? Do bears sh.. in the woods?

Well, I ran the bits at 20,000 rpm, and they'd do better at 40 K, and I doubt your mill can do that, but they cut clean as can be. Four passes, and in the future, I'll follow up with a "V" bit to cut a slight chamfer to make inserting the frets just a bit easier. Also you can do closed ended slots for pseudo binding so you see no fret slot at the edge of an unbound 'board. And you can follow the surface contour of a radiused fingerboard if you like.

The geometry of the bits is a "fishtail" and is designed specifically for rosewood or ebony hardness woods. Not cheap, but if you've got a CNC machine, not much is but you can get fantastic productivity, and that's what counts.

ukebuilder
02-20-2012, 08:10 PM
No not 40,000 but we do have a Makino D500 5 Axis Vertical Machining Center that will do 30,000. I will have to set up one of the Mills and try it out. I have been doing some programing with master cam and once you have a fixture and the program it is simple to set up and get going. What brand of tooling did you use? Oh and YES to all the before questions. I was just not sure how fibers reacted to the speed of a mill. I know a face mill can cause some tear out. I have backed it with other wood to eliminate it before but I have never cut a slot in wood on a mill. Thanks now I have more to think about.

Rick Turner
02-20-2012, 08:15 PM
Tooling? What tooling? We make our own vacuum holding fixtures and use router bits from Precise Bits and Ekstrom Carlson. I'm running a large Techno-Isel machine with a six tool changer and a 5 hp spindle. It's got a six zone vacuum table that can handle a 48" x 96" x 11", X, Y, Z cutting area. A bit larger, in fact, with the X Y .

ukebuilder
02-21-2012, 05:48 AM
Got ya. We have a CNC router over in plastic fab but I know nothing about it. When you said mill I just figured it was a mill not a router table. Tooling is what you call the bits. I come from a machine shop background and nothing is called bits. Not even twist drills are called bits. I guess its just machine shop lingo. I will talk to our tool rep and see what he has for that size tooling.