Fret Board Removal
by Kevan Geier
It is a project you can do if you're familiar with wood, glue and plastic and how steam/heat interacts with them. I do NOT have a full wood shop here (contrary to Rachel's thoughts that the kitchen is actually my shop...LOL), but I make due with the tools and facilities I have. The results are, so far, great.
No- this does NOT take 5 minutes to do. A fretboard can take me up to 2 hours. It's not speedy, but it works great. If it takes you an hour to go 5 frets, you're doing great.
Prep: •Remove ALL hardware except for the nut. Locking nuts can be removed, but I like to leave standard nuts on so I don't have to re-measure when I attach the new board on. Lazy? Maybe. Smart? Yup. :-) •Leave the frets in. Your board will curl if you take them out. You can do fretwork once the board is on it's new neck.
Tools I use:
1. Regular household iron. It must have the "steam" option. It'll save you some time if it has the "steam full on" button.
2. 2.5" or 3" putty knife/paint scraper. Use your Dremel to make that edge sharper than Dennis Miller taking apart GWBush. :-) Possible substitute: Steak knife. NOT the one with the serrated edge; make sure the edge is straight and sharp. I still use this one on occasion. It's pretty damn sturdy.
3. Razor blade. Preferably the rectangular kind, but it doesn't really matter as long as it's SHARP.
4. T-shirts. You'll need at least 3. Make sure they're either old, or not yours.
5. Ball-peen hammer. Doesn't have to be a 12lb. sledge...just something small you can use force with.
6. Extra bucket of patience. This is the most important thing you can bring with you.
NEVER EVER EVER NEVER EVER NEVER start at the nut-end of the fretboard. This is far too visible to the public and usually contains wood you'll need later on. Don't start here. Go to the other end.
Get the iron. Set it on "WOOL" if it has such a setting. The middle of the "steam" settings is fine...maybe a touch hotter. Let the iron warm up. Now, with rosewood/ebony/darker woods, I set the iron on the fretboard bare (no shirt). On maple/lighter wood boards, I like to slide the neck into the T-shirt, as if it's wearing it (i.e. only one layer of cloth). There is no flame that touches the wood, but I like to be careful. You can put the T-shirt on any board. It's just a personal preference. Put the other shirts under the neck to support it's head and to keep it from getting dinged.
Start at the very butt-end of the neck. Look for the joint where the fretboard meets the neck. Put the razor and hammer away; we won't be touching them for a LONG time.
Set the iron on the end of the neck...right on top of the frets (hot side down for all you Harmony Central writers). Make sure the steam is going. Leave the iron there for about 5 minutes, or until the steam runs out on the iron. NEVER EVER EVER NEVER let it out of your sight!!!!! Keep a watchful eye on the neck and the iron. When the steam is done, it's time to get that razor in there.
Insert the razor at the seam of the neck and board directly at the back of the butt end. Push (with your hand at first) very firmly. You want that razor to get between the glue and the board. Be careful- don't carve any wood away from the neck or board. This is probably the toughest part. Move the razor from the center, to the sides..opening up the first 1mm of the board. This is VERY tedious and takes some time. It may require more heat. If so, put more water in the iron and hit it again with the hot steam. You'll be a pro at ironing when you're done with this. :-)
Now that the razor is in there, we need a little more "umph" to lift that board off the neck. This is where your scraper/knife comes in handy. Once the razor is in the neck (stuck fairly good), insert the scraper UNDERNEATH the board, but above the razor. This should put you right at Glue Level, and point the scraper towards the neck instead of the fretboard. Give it a VERY LIGHT tap with the hammer to seat it in the gap. You may have to work it a little left-to-right. That's fine, but make sure you've given the board PLENTY of steam heat. Keep water in that iron and keep it on the board when you're not tapping on the paint scraper.
NEVER EVER NEVER EVER EVER "lift up" on the scraper/knife. Let it work for you. ALWAYS keep it angled down...towards the wood of the neck. NEVER lift up on the scraper/knife.
Now that your scraper is seated, grab the iron again. Set it on the next 8 or so frets. Let it ride that neck (remember- steam full on!) for another 5 minutes or so. Check it with a LIGHT TAP from the hammer to see if the scraper can move a little. If it moves, give it a few more taps...get another 5mm of board off (maybe more, maybe less). ONLY TAP UNTIL THE BOARD IS STRUGGLING. If you feel resistance, STOP. Apply heat/steam and come back and do another 3mm.
Even if you keep good heat/steam on the board and point that scraper/knife blade towards the neck (away from the fretboard), you will probably have a few tiny chunks of fret board that just plain don't want to come unglued. Don't worry about those; no one will ever see them. If it's a big chunk (the size of your pinky), try to chisel it off the neck later, and glue it back into place on the back of the board. Pain in the ass, but glued wood is stronger than regular wood, and we want a strong fretboard, don't we? :-)
When you reach the last few frets (5 thru 1), you'll want to be very careful- JEM inlays are big, and don't flex as much as wood does. Plus, you need to be careful of that wood that's under the nut. It already has two holes in it; we don't want any more.
Go VERY slow. Take your time. Use LOTS of steam/heat. If you're impatient, don't do anything above.
Now that your fretboard is off, and your neck is bare, you'll be able to see your truss rod and other stuff- bits of wood, glue stuff..all that needs to be touch-sanded off the neck. Only use 400 grit or above on that. JEM and Wizard necks are thin enough. :-) Also, as tempting as it may be, DO NOT flatten out your fretboard on the coffee table. It will have a slight upward arc to it. That's completely normal. You should really just park the board in a safe place until it comes time to attach it to the new neck.
If you have any doubts as to doing this by yourself, do what I did my first time: I bought a $5 POS neck from a local shop (I think it was a Hondo neck).
I practiced on a few of them before attempting my Novax fretboard. I'm sure glad I did.
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