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Fret bender and fret caul

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Fret bender and fret caul

Postby Steve Sawyer » Fri Apr 14, 2017 8:17 pm

Seems a lot of folks end up making these two fretting tools instead of buying them.

Here are mine.

Both made primarily of .400" phenolic, only because I have a ton of the stuff. On the fret bender, I don't know why so many incorporate a crank, other than the fact that StewMac puts a crank on theirs. The five-point star-knob I used works fine as you don't need much leverage. The two fender washers that form the "driving" mechanism are separated by a "wavy" spring washer. This seems to be perfect, as it's flexible, allowing the wheel to accommodate a wide range of tang widths simply by changing how tight the nylock nut is. If you use this method, I suggest that you use a fender washer with a 3/16" bore, and drill it out to 1/4". These were 1/4" but had plenty of play around the threaded bolt, and I had a heck of a time getting it centered before securing the inner washer and jam nut behind it with a drop of CA glue.

The fret pressing cauls are also phenolic, fit into a 1 1/4" dia dowel. I center-drilled the dowel on the lathe and threaded it for a 3/8-16 bolt with the head cut off, and secured it with epoxy. I have a stock of 1/8" stainless-steel dowel pins, and used one for the pivot. The cauls are faced with suede to protect the frets from getting marred. I made the two you see in the pic plus two more in 10 and 12 inch radii.

Holler if anyone has any questions.

Fretting Tools1s.jpg


Fretting Tools2s.jpg


Fretting Tools3s.jpg
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Re: Fret bender and fret caul

Postby Dan Smith » Fri Apr 14, 2017 10:30 pm

Nice work Steve!
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Them kids was fast as light-nin.
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Re: Fret bender and fret caul

Postby Steve Sawyer » Sat Apr 15, 2017 10:31 am

Dan Smith wrote:Nice work Steve!


Thanks, Dan - frets are getting installed this week!!
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Re: Fret bender and fret caul

Postby Barry Daniels » Sat Apr 15, 2017 11:09 am

I am not sure the suede fret caul lining was necessary as the phenolic should cause no damage to the frets. But my concern is the soft layer you are placing between the fret and the caul may allow some areas of the fret to not get seated well. You might go ahead and try it as is, but then inspect the frets closely and make whatever adjustments are necessary.
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Re: Fret bender and fret caul

Postby Bryan Bear » Sat Apr 15, 2017 1:42 pm

Nice! I have thought about making a press and cauls. I hadn't considered phenolic (until now). How did you cut the radii? I was thinking of making a swing arm for my bandsaw and move the fulcrum in a half inch each time to make cauls in all the half inch increments. But I'd love to hear a better way.
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Re: Fret bender and fret caul

Postby Steve Sawyer » Sat Apr 15, 2017 7:52 pm

Barry Daniels wrote:I am not sure the suede fret caul lining was necessary as the phenolic should cause no damage to the frets. But my concern is the soft layer you are placing between the fret and the caul may allow some areas of the fret to not get seated well. You might go ahead and try it as is, but then inspect the frets closely and make whatever adjustments are necessary.


Thanks, Barry. Phenolic is EXTREMELY hard, and the suede is pretty thin, so I think this should work well, but I'll report back on my results.
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Re: Fret bender and fret caul

Postby Steve Sawyer » Sat Apr 15, 2017 8:15 pm

Bryan Bear wrote:Nice! I have thought about making a press and cauls. I hadn't considered phenolic (until now). How did you cut the radii? I was thinking of making a swing arm for my bandsaw and move the fulcrum in a half inch each time to make cauls in all the half inch increments. But I'd love to hear a better way.


Bryan - phenolic is really nice to work with. It cuts, machines and files really well. You can drill & tap easily, and it's very durable as long as you keep in mind how hard & brittle it is. All edges need to be chamfered, otherwise they're guaranteed to chip. I haven't done that yet on the fret bender (except for the center slide for adjusting the radius) but it only takes a few strokes with a mill file. The one downside to phenolic is that I understand that it takes its toll on your woodworking tool edges. Also, note that there are different "fillers" used in phenolic, and the only kind I've encountered uses paper laminate. There are other kinds that use glass powder, linen and canvas, and those may have different properties, but it seems that the paper-laminate variety is the most common.

To cut the cauls, I just made a quick-and-dirty trammel out of a thin piece of scrap - about a 1/8" thickness that had been cut off of a 3/4" poplar board. I'm a pack-rat and save that kind of stuff.

I marked and drilled a 1/8" center point and marked off the four radii that I wanted to cut, and drilled a 3/32" hole at each which was the same diameter as the tip on my carbide scriber. I sliced off two 2 1/2" wide strips of phenolic, drilled a 1/8" hole centered across the width and very close to one end of each, then affixed the trammel to the phenolic strip at the center point using a piece of 1/8" dowel pin. With the trammel and a carbide scriber I marked the arc for each radius.

I cross-cut each phenolic strip yielding the individual cauls, leaving about 1 1/4" of "meat" behind each scribed arc. I cut very close to the scribed arc line on the band saw, and then sanded right up to the line using an oscillating spindle sander. Easy peasy.
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Re: Fret bender and fret caul

Postby Steve Sawyer » Fri May 05, 2017 8:59 pm

Barry - installed the frets the other day, and the suede worked just fine. All the frets were firmly seated with no issues, and obviously, no marring of the fret crown.

Not sure these were needed, but they didn't hurt a bit.
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Re: Fret bender and fret caul

Postby Barry Daniels » Fri May 05, 2017 9:47 pm

Glad it worked out.
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