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Set-Up and Use of the Guitars & Woods (G&W) Fretboard Miter Box 1. Introduction The guide will cover: An overview of how the miter box is used Obtaining a square initial datum (generally needed for first use only) Mounting the unit on a bench or board Setting the blade width (generally needed for first use only, unless a different saw is subsequently used) Setting the height of cut (done for each new blank fretboard) Locking the above settings, ready for fret slotting (done for each new blank fretboard) Preparing the fretboard for use in the miter box Positioning and attaching the fretboard to the Fretscale Template Locating correctly the fretboard / template assembly into the miter box Clamping, or otherwise securing, the fretboard / template assembly in the miter box ready for sawing Indexing the fretboard / template assembly ready for the next slot to be cut Removing the slotted fretboard from the template 2. Parts 3. Overview - Principles of Operation It can sometimes be a little overwhelming diving into the detail before you are familiar with the equipment. So, as a very broad overview – and referring to the Parts photographs in Section 1, this is how it works: The miter box keeps the fretsaw blade square, perpendicular and firmly in position. The saw, when cutting, rides smoothly between eight ball bearings fitted in the Guide Bearing Brackets (3) The fretboard is secured to the Fretscale Template (9) with double-sided tape This fretboard / template assembly is placed into the miter box and the Locating Pin (2) is engaged into a slot on the Fretscale Template (10 &11) note: the G&W Miter Box is available with two different baseplate widths enabling fret slotting on wider fretboards, such as those for 8-string guitars or 6-string basses. Fret scale templates are designed primarily for use with the narrower baseplate and benefit from a shim sized to the gap created by a wider base plate. The fretboard is now in position ready for the fret slot to be cut The fretboard / template assembly is clamped, or otherwise secured, in position and sawing can start When the saw spine reaches the top bearings, the cut is complete and the spine (12) runs smoothly on the top four bearings - the saw cannot go any deeper than it has been set The fretboard clamps (or other methods of securing) are released and the fretboard / template assembly is lifted off the locating pin and slid along until the next Template Locating Slot (10) is reached and the assembly locks down over the locating pin in the next position. The fretboard is now in the correct position for the next slot to be cut A short amount of time trying out the equipment will make the above very quickly and easily understood. It is strongly recommended that you try out the miter box with some scrap wood to familiarise yourself with its operation and features before using it on a piece of fretboard wood intended for use in a guitar or bass build. 4. Setting Up the Miter Box for Use 4.1 Ensuring the miter box is squared up This will usually only need to be done once, before the first use of the miter box Loosen the Side Piece Adjustment Screws (7) with the supplied Allen key just enough to allow the side pieces to slide in their slots when pushed Place the end of the box nearest to the Locating Pin (2) upright on a flat surface: Push the two lower Side Pieces (6) downwards until they are flat and level with the end of the Base Plate (1) While holding the Side Pieces flat against the surface, tighten the six Side Piece Adjustment Screws (7) The Locating Pin side of the miter box is now squared up and you are ready for the next step of the set up 4.2 Setting the fretsaw blade width This will usually only need to be done once, before the first use of the miter box, unless a different saw is subsequently used. As supplied, the Guide Bearing Brackets (3) will be loose. If they do not move at all in their slots, ensure that the Guide Bearing Bracket Locking Screws (5) are slackened - using the supplied smaller Allen key - just sufficiently for the brackets to move Referring to step 4.1 above, you will now be pushing the two remaining loose Side Pieces (6) firmly against the fretsaw blade. Insert the fretsaw between the two sets of bearings. Push each of the loose Side Pieces (6) firmly against the saw blade and tighten the relevant Side Piece Adjustment Screws (7) This operation should be carried out with the fret saw in place; the tool has been omitted for visual clarity Ensure that the saw can move freely between the bearings. The blade will now be both square and perpendicular to the miter box base and sides 5. Using the Miter Box 5.1 Mounting the miter box to workbench or board Although it is possible to use the miter box as it is, it is strongly recommended that the box is securely screwed to the workbench or a flat plank or board using the screw holes (8) provided in the base plate Tip - The miter box can be mounted either way round. Mount it so that the main cutting force of the saw blade is pulling the fretboard and template into the side containing the Locating Pin (2). For a pull blade, that will be having the Locating Pin nearest to you and for a push blade having the Locating Pin away from you: 5.2 Mounting the fretboard blank onto the Scale Template Please Note that the following guidelines assume a rectangular fretboard blank. For a tapered blank, refer also to the Section 7 covering some variations Ensure that one side of the fretboard has a flat and square edge. This will be the side that lines up with the Fret Scale Template (9) Tip – If the Fret Scale Template (9) is attached with the scale length showing at the back, it will be easier to ensure that the correct scale length of the two options is being used: Before adding any double sided tape, lay the Fret Scale Template (9) in the mitre box and engage Locating Pin (2) into the nut-end slot in the template. Lay the fretboard blank onto the Fretscale Template(6) and position the fretboard so that the saw position will be at the required distance from the end of the fretboard. Note the position: Using three or four narrow strips of double sided tape, stick the fretboard blank onto the Fret Scale Template (9) in position and taking care the straight edge of the fretboard is lined up exactly with the Fret Scale Template edge: 5.3 Setting Cut Depth There are a number of methods for doing this. This is one method: Raise the Guide Bearing Brackets (3) using the Adjustment Screws (4) Place the fretboard/template assembly into the miter box and put the saw into the bearing guides, inserting it from the side but taking care not to pass the cutting teeth through the small gap between the bearings. Rest the spine of the saw on the top four bearings: Use the Height Adjustment Screws (4) to lower the blade until it is just touching the fretboard. Ensure that both bearings each side of the fretsaw spine are at the same height. Lift the fretsaw clear of the fretboard and remove it. Remove also the fretboard /template assembly. Using a steel rule or vernier, lower each of the four bearing brackets by the depth of cut required: Reinsert saw - ensuring that the bearings are in contact with the saw blade - and tighten the eight Guide Bearing Bracket Locking Screws (5) with the supplied Allen key to clamp the brackets in place. Do not overtighten! Tip – with slight sidewards pressure against the blade, first tighten the brackets on the left, then push each of the right-hand brackets up to the saw blade and tighten those. This should ensure all four bearings one each side are making contact with the blade Ensure that the saw blade runs freely, that there are no gaps between the blade and the four pairs of bearings. You are now ready to start slotting! 5.4 Clamping and Slotting Remove the saw blade and lift the fretboard / template assembly into place. ENSURE THAT THE EDGE OF THE FRETBOARD / TEMPLATE IS TIGHT AGAINST THE SIDE PIECES (6) AND THAT THE LOCATING PIN IS ENGAGED IN THE TEMPLATE SLOT It is strongly recommended that the fretboard is either clamped - or held tight against the side pieces with some scrap wooden wedge strip - so that the fretboard does not move during cutting: Carefully insert the sawblade and cut the slot until the fret saw's spine is running freely on the top bearings Remove the sawblade, unclamp and lift the fretboard / template assembly a little to disengage the Location Pin Slide the fretboard / template assembly along until the next slot on the template drops over the locating pin Check again that the edge of the fretboard and template are firmly butted up to the side pieces of the miter box Re-clamp or wedge, re-insert sawblade and cut the next slot. When finished, use a thin long knife, thin cabinet scraper or kitchen spatula to gently separate the fretboard from the template. Do not try to pull it off – a slotted fretboard is liable to break! 6. Is this all too much? Fear Not! The above guidance is necessarily detailed. With a decent familiarity of what you are doing and a knowledge of the important steps – which this guide seeks to help you with - the reality is that it should take : Less than ½ hour to do the initial squaring up and setting up – this will not normally need doing again Less than ¼ hour to attach the fretboard to the template and set the cutting height ½ hour to cut 24 accurate fret slots 7. And finally, some variations The fretboard does not have to be rectangular – it could be tapered. The template will still need to closely butt up to the locating pin and miter sides. Here, however, it is even more important to find a way of securely clamping the fretboard to the template to prevent movement while the fretboard is being sawn. The optional wide Base Plate (1) that can be used for wider fretboards. With good clamping, the wide variant can be used for any fretboard. The photographs in this guide are using the wider Base Plate.
The first slotting box I bought was the basic StewMac version, well over a decade ago. It consisted of little more than an aluminium box with a template locating pin and a couple of chunks of brass to guide my blade. In spite of its simplicity and clunkiness, it worked pretty well. Since my box disappeared (long story) I slotted my boards manually, and my fretwork sometimes suffered because of it. After all, that's what the mitre box was for in the first place; manually hand-sawing slots is a slow and tiring task, needing lots of eye-squinting and concentration. Over the years, designers have evolved the original mitre slotting box design into something that works far better than my original box ever did. Time to have a serious look at mitre slotting again! ----==---- Rather than replacing my old box with the newest version from StewMac, I looked towards Guitars and Woods, a company based in Portugal. Established in 2011, G&W serve a worldwide customer base with luthiery tools, jigs, templates and supplies which equal those of the most visible US-based counterparts whilst being more affordable. I've purchased from G&W a few times both via their eBay store and directly via the website, and its saved me a fair penny every time. Despite explosive growth over the last few years, G&W are still hands-on with their customers which makes a big difference in my book. Being "this side of the pond" myself, the G&W slotting box costs about half of what buying one from StewMac or Luthier's Mercantile would. Exchange rates, shipping and import costs makes ordering from the US somewhat prohibitive these days so how hard anything hits the back pocket can be a real deal-maker even if it the product isn't the same as more costly counterparts....so let's get this bit out of the way first. This mitre slotting box is just as good as its equivalents and has a couple of neat tricks up its sleeve if you think outside the box. That joke had to be made, believe me. ----==---- The box arrives fully assembled. The only setup work required is to confirm that the box's fences are set perfectly square so that the saw will cut at a perfect 90°. By inserting the fret saw and examining the reflection of a guaranteed-square reference in the box, the side walls are easily aligned. All tools needed for adjustment of the box (two sizes of Allen key) are included. Something that some sellers neglect with their tools. The format of the box is most similar to the StewMac slotting box, which more or less established itself as the standard. A three-sided aluminium wall enclosure with height and width-adjustable bearing guides. A locating pin within the box engages with acrylic or metal fret slotting templates and is compatible with those available from G&W, StewMac, etc. or you can simply make your own. The intended use is to affix your fingerboard to one of these notched templates using double-sided tape, locate the template notches with the pin, saw the slot and move the template along each successive notch. Very simple and effective, and no different to my original box. The simple set-screw retained brass guide blocks have been replaced with thumbwheel height-adjustable blocks fitted with guide bearings for the blade. The saw moves smoothly through the cut with little resistance, allowing your concentration to be on the cut and not the tool. Depth of cut is precisely determined through the four thumbwheels located on each block; as the saw progresses through the cut, the uppermost bearings contact the spine of the saw when the set depth is reached and cutting stops. The box is compatible with any fret saw with a spine parallel to the cutting edge. I prefer the very traditional PAX fret saws made by British company Thomas Flinn & Co. however the common Japanese-style pull saws for fretting work just as well. Establishing the depth of cut is also a simple procedure. The workpiece is placed into the box and the height adjustment blocks are unlocked with the supplied Allen wrench. The fret saw is mounting in place so that the cutting edge rests on the workpiece surface. Lowering all four guide blocks creates a gap between the spine of the saw and the bearing surface. This gap corresponds exactly to the depth of cut that the saw will be allowed to make. The gap is easily measured with a steel ruler or even against a piece of your fretwire. Very straightforward and intuitive. Once the adjustment has been made and all four bearings are level, the blocks are cinched together against the blade to prevent any lateral movement and re-tightened. Done! Drilled and countersunk holes in the box allow it to be mounted onto your bench or onto a larger base. For my own part, I mounted the box onto a wider support board with a flange for retention by my bench's leg vise. A pair of toggle clamps allow the workpiece to be retained without impeding work visibility. Magnets glued into a spare area on the box allows me to keep the supplied Allen keys with the tool itself. A quick tutorial on how I made this base is available HERE The fit and finish of the slotting box is excellent with no rough edges or burrs anywhere. The box is anodised a very impressive-looking black, making it look a lot less utilitarian than brushed aluminium, plus making it resistant to corrosion and dirt over time. Clearly G&W's intention was a tool that they can be proud of and be a "flagship" for the brand. It's definitely a striking bit of equipment, no doubt about that. The only downside to a black finish is that dust shows up very easily....a good excuse to form the habit of cleaning tools after use! A unique aspect of the G&W mitre slotting box is its capacity; in addition to the standard 3"/75mm mitre box base, G&W opted to produce an optional wider version, increasing its capacity to 4"/100mm; far wider than any other box on the market. For those of us producing large bass or extended range instrument boards, this is a welcome and very much unparalleled feature. The only downside of this additional width is that templates are left with a gap of about 1" or 25mm between the edge and the front wall. No big deal if you clamp your work prior to cutting, and a small 25mm shim added beside your template quickly solves this. Whilst not an intended feature of design, the wide 4" capacity base allows fingerboards to be skewed at an angle within the box which enables slotting multiscale boards. This ability will come as a welcome bonus for many given the explosion of popularity in multiscale instrument making. I'll demonstrate how this is done accurately and without using templates in an upcoming tutorial (pending link).... The one negative point I picked up from this slotting box is that it cannot slot a single-piece Fender-style neck, however neither can any other slotting box on the market. This said, it is not difficult to work around and only requires a simple reconfiguration of the slotting box to enable. This is another aspect where the wider base shines, allowing workpieces of headstock width to be secured within the box. Again, I'll detail this in a future tutorial (pending link). ----==---- Having been manually slotting my boards for too many years, I am excited to have brought back in this vital addition to any workshop, especially one that is of great quality and has flexible working options beyond its design remit. For the beginner wanting to step up their game a little, or a small shop needing a reliable slotting station it's an affordable and highly recommended purchase. Buying pre-slotted boards is a costly premium to pay and often still requires a little adjustment of the depth and internal slot radius. Slotting your own boards quickly pays for itself, and you have freedom of choice in material selection, odd scale lengths, etc. Overall, I don't dread the thought of fret slotting any more. My grip strength has become poorer as the years have gone on. Slotting just one board often needs me to take a couple of breaks because of simple fatigue. I should have gotten a mitre slotting box sooner for all of these reasons. Slotting boards should be part of the joy and not a labourious chore....this box certainly brings back that bit of joy. ----==---- Current list price on the Guitars and Woods Miter Fret Slotting box is €129 (just shy of USD$150 at the time of writing) with the wider base being a €10 package upgrade or available as a separate item. Check G&W's site at https://guitarsandwoods.com for more information and current pricing. https://guitarsandwoods.com/index.php?route=product/search&search=miter