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Help create an FAQ for nut files

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Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Charlie Schultz » Mon Mar 05, 2012 10:01 am

As you may know, Deb has been processing the thousands (10,000+) messages and she notes:
One other thing you should do: by far the topic that got rehashed the most, to my surprise, was nut files, their use, and their alternatives. This needs a FAQ. Badly.


So add your input here and help us add an FAQ to our collection here: viewforum.php?f=19

Thanks!
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Darrel Friesen » Thu Mar 15, 2012 7:12 pm

I guess someone has to start this.

Question: Do I really need (expensive) nut files or are there other tools that will work?

Answer: Commercially manufactured nut files will make this a simple and accurate task if you plan on building more than one guitar or replacing instrument nuts for repair or restoration. Most people report that once you have used dedicated nut files, that you will ask how you ever considered doing this type of work without them.

Question: What tools can be used to prepare nut slots if I don't have commercial nut files?

Answer: A tapered rat tail needle file, a set of welding torch tip cleaners, short pieces of guitar string glued to a thin wood strip to smooth starter cuts made with a saw, feeler gauges "toothed" using a dremel or wrapped with sandpaper are some of the methods used in lieu of commercially available nut files.
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Tim Allen » Fri Mar 16, 2012 2:17 am

I think Darrel's answer is excellent. I'd put some things a little differently. Here's my version, building on Darrel's. You're welcome to use any or none of this.

Question: Do I really need (expensive) nut files or are there other tools that will work?

Answer [version 2]: If you are setting up guitars for a living, you really need commercially manufactured nut files. With a little practice these will make accurately slotting nuts a simple task and will save you more than enough time to justify the cost. If you are only making a few nuts a year, you can get by with a miscellaneous collection of other tools. Most people report that once they have used dedicated nut files they wonder how they ever considered doing this type of work without them. On the other hand, if you are starting out with a limited budget and need many other tools as well, you may decide to postpone buying "real" nut files.

Question: What tools can be used to prepare nut slots if I don't have commercial nut files?

Answer [version 2]: A partial list includes needle files, saws that cut slots of various widths, a set of welding torch tip cleaners, short pieces of wound guitar string glued to a thin wood strip to smooth starter cuts made with a saw, short pieces of guitar string tightly stretched on metal frames, feeler gauges "toothed" using a dremel or wrapped with sandpaper.
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Darrel Friesen » Fri Mar 16, 2012 9:26 am

Good additions Tim. I definitely agree that any input needs to be refined and added to in order to put forth the best possible Q & A in the end.
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Bryan Bear » Fri Mar 16, 2012 10:49 am

I don't know how exactly to fit this into an FAQ, but a discussion about nut files alternative ought to at least mention the zero fret as an option for new builds. . .
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Joel Byron » Sun Mar 18, 2012 8:31 pm

It should be noted that the Allparts & Stew-Mac double edged files have a diagonal cross section on each side. If you are making a nut and your blank is too tall, you run out of tooth and can't cut any deeper. I believe the single gauge files don't have this problem. I still use the Stew-Mac files, but when I was starting out I ran into this problem often. It looks like the prices for the two different types are more or less the same, so that isn't an issue.

Also, no one has mentioned that you don't need files for every single string gauge. You can get by with gauges that are close to the string sizes by slightly enlarging the nut slot with a smaller file.

Bryan, don't you still need pretty accurate slots with a zero fret? In my experience, if the slots are too big the strings skate across the zero fret when you bend in the first position. Of course, this is only an issue for instruments one would bend strings on.
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Bryan Bear » Mon Mar 19, 2012 9:07 am

You do need accurate nut slots with a zero fret to define string spacing, but depth and shape of the bottom of the slot are much less critical. You can achieve the goal with regular needle files.
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Darrel Friesen » Mon Mar 19, 2012 9:15 am

Joel Byron wrote:It should be noted that the Allparts & Stew-Mac double edged files have a diagonal cross section on each side. If you are making a nut and your blank is too tall, you run out of tooth and can't cut any deeper. I believe the single gauge files don't have this problem. I still use the Stew-Mac files, but when I was starting out I ran into this problem often. It looks like the prices for the two different types are more or less the same, so that isn't an issue.

Also, no one has mentioned that you don't need files for every single string gauge. You can get by with gauges that are close to the string sizes by slightly enlarging the nut slot with a smaller file.

Bryan, don't you still need pretty accurate slots with a zero fret? In my experience, if the slots are too big the strings skate across the zero fret when you bend in the first position. Of course, this is only an issue for instruments one would bend strings on.


You can also enlarge the slot by carefully "rocking" a smaller nut file in the slot to make it wider.
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Matthew Lau » Mon Mar 19, 2012 10:37 pm

I use a very inexpensive setup:

1.) Mark depth with carbon/pencil.
2.) Grind nut to ~2-3 mm above depth
3.) Japanese Saw file. Cut slots to depth.
4.) Widen with needle files. Mine are cheap chinese files.

I think that the principle is far more important than the tools used.
That being said, a good set of files would be very useful.
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Arnt Rian » Tue Mar 20, 2012 6:35 am

Not all commercial nut files are created equal. For example the Stewmac double-edge files give you slots that have tapered sides and flat bottom. I have a full set of these, but I use the oval "Pippin file" from LMI to shape the bottoms of the E and A-string slots, to seat these strings better. I also have some dental cavity burs that are incredibly sharp and will cut really smooth and accurately. Unfortunately the sizes I have fit only a couple of string gauges, and they are quite short, so not that easy to use. For the unwound strings, I find it easiest to use the "gauged saws", sold by Stewmac. They cut very quickly, so it is easy to go far; a steady hand is required.
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Steve Senseney » Tue Mar 20, 2012 6:48 pm

I have the Stew Mac files, and use them (along with a lot of other needle files rifflers, etc.) I wish they had a straight side instead of the angle in the middle of their side.
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Michael Lewis » Fri Mar 23, 2012 1:45 am

For several years I got by using a couple triangular files. One with sharp corners and one with rounded corners. The sharp corners were for the smaller strings. I have been using the factory files for years and I agree you can get by with other means but the factory made nut files are far easier to use, far easier to get a professional appearance and function.

You have to remember to file some break angle into the slot so the string is supported at the edge of the fingerboard or you will have intonation problems and probably buzzing too. It is best to compromise between the level of the fingerboard and the angle of the headstock so the strings are supported the full width along the nut slot. The full support helps reduce the wear of the nut. A smooth and polished contact surface on the bottom of the slots aids the strings to glide rather than to jerk and skip, and a little graphite here helps too.
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Gerry Gruber » Fri Mar 30, 2012 10:21 am

I read on the forum a few years back about someone repairing a nut slot that was cut too deep by putting some nut powder back into the slot and then applying some CA to it. (Sorry I can't remember who posted the idea.) I've never had to do this myself, and so i don't know how useful it is. But, I can imagine that some first time builders might go a bit too deep and then think that the only alternative at that point is to start over with a new nut blank. Anyone tried the nut powder plus CA glue repair, or remember who originally offered this tip?
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri Mar 30, 2012 1:31 pm

Sure, that is a common repair short-cut. It works but the fret slot will be a little sticky. Better to make a new nut.
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Rodger Knox » Fri Mar 30, 2012 3:20 pm

+1 on the zero fret, especially for inexperienced builders with limited resources. It's pretty easy to get the width of the slot close enough with saws, files, and sandpaper. Getting the bottom of the slot round and at exactly the correct depth is much more difficult.
I don't have any specialized nut files, so factor that into my opinion.
The only drawback to the zero fret is that you cannot leave the action a little high at the nut. That's not usually a problem with steel strings, but it would have been better on the one nylon string guitar I've constructed.
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Michael Lewis » Sun Apr 01, 2012 2:10 am

To repair a nut slot that has been cut too deep it is best to make a new nut but sometimes it is better to retain the original nut, so it must be repaired. Cut the slot even deeper and make a piece of bone or whatever material the nut is made of the exact thickness of the slot, and glue it into the slot with CA. When the glue is cured proceed to trim the new filler flush with the surfaces, polish, and recut the slot. This time pay more attention!
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Tim Allen » Wed Apr 25, 2012 7:30 pm

This thread seems to have morphed into yet another discussion of nut files. It's not yet an FAQ. I suppose someone can incorporate some of the later comments into a FAQ format, using the first two FAQ drafts. It's a judgment call how much detail to add. Charlie, it's up to you! If you'd like, I'll try editing this into an FAQ, or you may want Forum staff to do it. -Tim
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Douglas Ingram » Mon Apr 30, 2012 10:00 am

Not only do alternatives to commercial nut files need to addressed, but a comparison of the different commercial sets that are available and by extension, fret files. There are so many alternatives all claiming to be the best that is paralytic to the buyer. I've been using alternatives, I'd like to invest in something better, but which ones? I am not wealthy enough to experiment and develop my own empirical set of data on the topic.
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Michael Lewis » Thu May 03, 2012 12:53 am

Using tools in general, and cutting nut slots in particular, takes a while to really get good at it. Once you understand the process and know what needs to be done you will have a much better idea of what would be the best tool for the job. Not everyone uses tools exactly the same due to differences in skeletal structure etc. so your choice might not be the same as mine. Some people have strong preferences toward certain tools or techniques and there others that will hold opposite views, you need to find out what works for YOU. Just because someone says they like a certain tool doesn't mean that you will like it too. Different configurations of fret crowning files are a good example of this.
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Re: Help create an FAQ for nut files

Postby Douglas Ingram » Fri May 04, 2012 9:20 am

Yes, but user reviews establishing whether or not advertised tools actually perform as claimed is useful. All of those tools claim to be the best ever for the task.
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