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Fret Press Build (version 2)


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I guess this is fret press version two, except this will be Project Guitar's affordable version.


Now that I have so much experience copying the Stumac Jaws :D I figure I should try something more affordable. I have been looking at locking pliers for month's now weighing the pros and cons of each and the amount of work needed to make a fret press conversion. About a week ago I noticed the Harbor Freight Pittsburgh brand, my eyes lit up "perfect clamp" I said. Like its been hiding under a rock for the last few month's. I wasn't planning another conversion but the clamp called out to me "convert me it kept saying". How could I refuse? Rather than order the clamp through the mail I decided to wait and head to my local store and see it close up. They were in stock. I was hoping to convert the 10" size but decided the 12" size would be a better choice.

This is the clamp.


I think this is going to ruin my limited lifetime warranty, LOL

Ok why do I like these pliers and why would they make a good candidate to convert to a fret press.

1. The lower jaw is pinned - #1 reason

2. The lower jaw is stationary which is everything you can ask for

3. Its cheap $13-- a Project Guitar requirement for a successful mod.

4. I like the padded handle hides the cheap clamp underneath

5. Readily available here in the US.

6.The jaws have swivel pads, gives us a hole to use for the press caul (I have been calling this the arbor in recent posts)

Because the lower jaw is pinned it is easy to remove, drill out and remove the two pins and no lower jaw. Since we need to replace this jaw this is perfect. No grinding no drilling holes in hardened metal. You can also reattach the new pieces using the existing holes. Now the lower jaw is stationary just what we need. In a twist of fate the Stumac jaws needed to be used upside down because the upper jaw was stationary. I like the fact that it will be used in a normal position. In some respects this is a better clamp for this conversion.

Well there is always a negative aspect to these pliers so here goes.

1. It is certainly not as good a clamp as the Stumac Jaws, Facom (manufacturer of the clamp).

2. I have not removed the upper swivel pad and wonder how big the hole is?

3. Its slightly larger than I would have liked, the 10" version had a very small handle but the jaw spacing was more suited to this mod. However I am opting for more leverage. The 12" handle is almost the same size as my Jaws Facom clone. So with more leverage it will be easier to provide the force needed to seat the fret.

4. The 12" clamp will protrude out more than I would like (guessing an additional 2") so I will have to add more material to stiffen the lower rail. Hopefully the two pin holes will keep the rail stiff and in place

5. The pliers have a weird release near the lower jaw, I have to get used to this new feature or gimmick.

These are not major issues just observations. This clamp has more positive aspects than negative and that's why I have chosen to convert this clamp over better made brand name pliers. lets just say the clamps construction compelled me when I was perfectly happy with my last Fret Press conversion.

Now I am being a bit vague here about whats going to happen, but it is an intro. You can look at the pinned Post on my Jaws Fret Press conversion to get a better idea of how the mod will go. But I want to try and keep the assembly within reason for the PG masses so I will forgo all the bells and whistles and make it easy for the novice builder to hobble together a conversion in no time., for little money. Now this conversion will not include making the radius inserts, as they are available for under $5 each at Stumac.

I have a working Idea of what I need and a rough plan, I will scrounge around and see what materials I have. Maybe a trip to my local dump will put me in a Project Guitar frame of mind. :D

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Onward and upward.


This is where you change everything you know about your plans. I have a better understanding of the tool now that it has been disassembled. before I get ahead of myself lets take it apart and discuss our tools construction a bit more.

First we need to remove the lower jaw and the upper swivel pad. This requires the removal of three pins shown here.


As you can probably make out I started drilling the pins.

First I recommend a center punch of some sort to dimple the center of each pin so your drill bit does not wander. Then find a sharp drill bit as these pins are hardened but not so much as to take forever to drill. The swivel pad pin is a big one and a large drill bit should be used. As we are not saving this pad you can go to town on the pin. Drill out the smaller of the two sides of the pin. Even a grinder will work on this pin. Remember we are saving the upper jaw so don't bend it.

The two lower jaw pins are a bit more work to remove, again a center punch and a drill bit which will not enlarge the hole too much. I used a 5/32" drill bit. Now this is where the fun began. The two pins helped to hold the large center pivot pin of the pliers in place. So while trying to knock out the two pins with a pin punch (you could use a nail) the center pin also poped out. I am not sure of the mechanics involved in this pin arrangement but it was holding together. So to make it easier on myself I drilled the two pins out from both sides. If the center pin pops out of it's hole like mine, just hammer it back together. We will be securing the lower jaw later so this should not happen again as we make our conversion.

The dissembled Pliers.


This is the point at which some of your ideas either will work or will not work. The upper pivot pad did have a large pin so this will require a modification of the Caul design. Also the flat area below the pin poses another design challenge as the caul must easily pivot when we are done. I could grind the flat edges off and make a round profile but I am trying to make this simple. Since we have to build the caul lets just try and modify the caul instead.

The lower jaw has two thicknesses at each pin. At the first pin closer to the pads the jaw is 1/4" thick as is the full length of both jaws. At the second pin close to the middle of the handle the space opens up to 7/16. At first glance I thought I saw two loose washers, but after removing the jaws they looked to be welded on. In the picture above it looks like its part of the jaw and forged into that shape. That was a dissipointment, but I gave it a second look and with a screw driver I attempted to pry one up. I was able to get them both off (not shown). Seems like they were just spot welded on one edge so they would not fall off while they assembled the pliers. This makes it easier for us. Pop off or grind down the weld and remove the two washers. Don't loose them.

So we are at the beginning of our conversion and back to the drawing board to make some modifications to the design. next we will make and install the lower rail.

But in the meantime I was able to find a really dirty piece of 1/4" aluminum in some scrap metal box in my shop. It didnt cost me anything so I will just say it was from the dump to make everyone feel better. Because I am using scrap I have to do some additional work. I will provide only the dimensions of the design so you can purchase your materials to fit. This mod should not cost too much and I will provide prices as we move along, even though they will be todays prices.

My scrap metal find.


Feeling the PG love on this one. LOL

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Time to start making parts.

Lower Rail:

Now its time to build. What we will need for this part is a piece of aluminum 1/4" thick, and 1 1/2" wide and 6 1/4" long. Looking at Onlinemetals.com a 1 foot piece of 1/4" x 1 1/2" T6061 aluminum rectangle is running $2.41, not so bad.

Woodworking tools lend themselves to cutting aluminum, I suggest a band saw if you have one, a jigsaw will also work but clamp the material down and use a block of wood as a guide. last but yes least is a hacksaw or a coping saw.

Once you have your piece cut to length or down to size lets mark out the shape we will be using. You can see in the picture below we are removing the lower portion. Mark in from the right side as pictured 1". Mark down from the top 1". You will be removing the 1/2" by 5 1/4" strip on the bottom left. Again use the tools mentioned above to make these cuts.


Ok now that we have this piece marked lets cut the rail.


Now that you have blindly followed my instructions lets look at what we are trying to do.

The rail must pass through the counterpoint of where the caul will be attached. In this case the big hole in the upper jaws. I added 2 3/8' past this point on the rail just enough to hold the wood support block without it siding off the rails edge. 1" deep piece of aluminum 1/4" thick should be enough material suppot pressing in a fret. The cut we made in the aluminum will be where we will place the pin for the wood support block so it is able to side freely along the rail but never fall off the finished tool.

Looking at the two pin holes where we will attach the rail the optimum position seems to be parallel as shown in the picture. That is the top of the rail will ride along the top edge of where the lower jaw was pinned. (note: later on I realized you can angle the rail up a bit, possibly 10 deg, but read everything before you start)

At some point we will need to clean up the rails pointy edges and make it look nice. You could make a fancy pattern or just file away untill your happy. As long as you keep the top flat, 1" depth and the stop intact for the support bock intact the skys the limit.

Next we will pin the rail to the pliers. In the meantime I am going to start shaping the edges round and remove any rough spots.

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One more today lets finish up the rail.

Attaching the Lower Rail:

Whatever method you decide to use just make sure the the rail is secure. First I cleaned up the rail with a RO sander and a file. Rounded off the corners and made it pretty.

Now you have to decide how you are going to pin the rail in place. Your pin must fit snug in the outer pin hole as well as in the hole you drill in the rail. The pin holes are the same so one solution will work for both. I thought about looking for a nail to hammer into a pin and decided to look for a machine screw and nut. Since I knew the pins drilled out with a 5/32" bit the next size up would be 3/16' and a compatible screw is 10-24.

I put the rail into place and aligned the rail so it was parallel and got ready to mark the holes using the existing pin holes (don't measure this one). The 1/4" aluminum is a snug fit. I could use a marking punch or the 5/32" drill bit but I opted for a Vix bit which is used to center holes in hinges. Then I removed the marked rail and went to my drill press and drilled the two 3/16" holes. You can also use a hand drill.

My first thought was drill out the pins holes on the pliers and slide the screw through. Probably the easiest solution, but I decided I had a 10-24" tap and the original pin holes were a perfect size to add threads too and eliminate using a nut. So I tapped both holes so my new pins screwed in. A simple solution but not the only one. If you use this method make sure you only tap one side as you want the pieces pulled together. If you mess this up just drill the holes bigger and use a nut. Do not tap the rail.

Ok work is done. hey don't forget about the two washers we were saving they must go back on the inner pin.


Now the side with no nut, much neater.


I probably have some pretty black screws somewhere but we are on a low cost quest on this build. These screws are available at all hardware stores. In fact I used one 3/4" long screw and one 1/2" long screw, perfect fit since the pliers are only 1/8" thick.

Its very tight and I can see that this rail is not going to move while we are pressing frets.

Next we will tackle the hardest part of this project making the caul.

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Hi George! I wonder why no one commented. I am very interested reading your threads, having no experience with tools I try to absorb as much as I can, hehe. Thanks for taking the time to do this.


I was waiting until he was finished. This is one of the most useful threads I've seen.

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OK this is a quick morning update.

Attaching the Rail Update:

I found my black screws, actually Cap head screws and decided that the hex key would give me a better system to tork the bar tight.


A bit nicer and not really a splurge to the cost.


I hope everyone is waiting till I'm finished first before you start. I can already see the lines at Harbor Freight and the manager wondering why this clamp was sold out.LOL

OK the dreaded Caul assembly coming up shortly.

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Now the hard part.

Making the Caul:

The thing I want to say is you can make this caul on a table saw using a sold block and a blade made for cutting metal. This will take less time but cost more.

I decided to keep our costs down and do it the hard way, or easier if you have a limited amount of tools. We will be using the same 1/4 x 1 1/2" aluminum stock we purchased (or found). If you bought the 1/4" stock buy 2 ft. for this project. In addition we will also need another 1 ft aluminum piece 1/8 x 1 1/2". Looking at my aluminum price it is $1.10 per ft.

In order to keep my fingers intact I want to use an over size piece for the caul. In fact I will make two. The finished length of the caul is 2 1/2" so I will cut two pieces from each thickness 5 1/8" long. The additional 1/8" is so we can cut it in half without loosing our 2 1/2" dimension.

So now we have a lovely pile of aluminum, Not really looking like a caul is it. We have two 1/4" thick pieces and two 1/8" think pieces


OK now its time to get to work. We need to mark one piece. Use the thicker 1/4" pieces. Draw one line 1/4" from the bottom. a second line 3/8" above the first or 5/8 from the bottom. Next to locate holes we will divide the space between those two lines in half and draw a third line. We now have a line which we will use to drill for machine screws. I divided the piece in half, you can clearly see the 1/8" gap I left. You need to mark in 1/2" to locate the holes for our screws ( for each caul) . It just seemed like where it should go.


OK we have our blank marked and you are still scratching your head. Here is a hint.


OK thats enough hints for now. We now need to drill out the four holes we marked in every piece. A drill press is ideal and a drill press vice, you can drill them all together. Or you can use a hand drill, in this case I would drill the marked 1/4" piece and use that as a guide to drill all the others. Now I am sticking with 10-24" screws so I will be using the same 3/16" drill bit.

Ok now drill the holes. Your finished you say, not really. we need to take one of the 1/8" strips and flip it over and drill a second set of holes. HUH?

Your finished stack should look like this.


OK now you are even more confused, so lets make it worse. Take both 1/8" plates and mark them as follows. The first line is 5/8" up from the bottom on both plates. The double drilled plate needs to marked so that the second set of holes creates a 3/8" plate. I just measured 3/16" out from the center of the second line of holes and drew a line on both sides. Your 1/8" plates should look like this. Remember this is not rocket science and tolerances are loose for the whole project. If your off a bit no big deal. This cauls sole purpose it to hold an insert.


Now take the plates to a bandsaw or whatever you are using and cut out the pieces. The final result should look like this.


Its finished we just have to assemble the caul. Maybe this will give you a better idea if what we are doing. It is assembled in the bookmatched order shown above.


Have you figured it out yet?


Hey its alive! Ugly as sin but its a caul. Now that I have some nuts on the end I am going to cut the 5" long block into 2 cauls. I will also remove the pieces and clean up the edges and reassemble. I need to grind off the extra screw sticking out.

My holes were tight and I needed to use a block of wood to tap the pieces together. Once you have each caul down to two screws it should not be so tight. Resist the temptation to force the pieces together or enlarge the holes too much. Also since we are not being so exact your holes will only line up one way. If they are way off flip the pieces over.

On a design note the larger space on our caul is 3/8". The reason I did not use two 1/8 plates is, symmetry and I want the caul to clear the upper jaw which again is 1/4" thick, so when its mounted it will swing cleanly.

I was going to add some epoxy to the assembly but I don't think that is necessary. It is possible to use epoxy and then remove the screws. I would add some paste wax to the threads so they don't get locked into place. But since we still have to add a set screw to hold the insert and drill and mount the caul to the upper jaw I may change my mind and use glue. You could also glue the screws in place and grind off both ends.

The rough caul next to the Pliers.


I am going to take it apart and make it look nice probaly taper the outer edges towards the insert as well as remove some of the extra screw sticking out. Next installment mounting the caul and adding a set screw to hold an insert.

The worst is over

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Were getting close.

Finishing and Mounting the Caul:

Again the worst is over, its all down hill from here. I finished shaping the Caul and found that the slot for the insert was a bit tight, so this needs to be addressed. The insert is stamped with the radius and this stamp makes the insert a bit wider than 1/8".

I was going to take the caul apart and shape it but realized I better drill a hole for a set screw. Not to get into too much detail but we need something to hold the insert in place, friction does not work. The 10-24" screws will work and you may even have a tap handy. Unfortunately this job requires a tap which can be had for around $3.50 or less. I used a smaller set screw that I have just because thats what I had handy. As long as the screw fits well within the 1/4" gap we made for the insert you'll be OK.

Here is the shaped caul and set screw for the insert. Looking good.


Another angle.


As I said before The insert was a bit tight. So I located a piece of 220 grit sand paper and made shims. You would be hard pressed to see the gap. Probably a good idea not to use glue until everything is fitted. It was easier to take apart with only two screws just as i had said, just make sure you put the pieces down in the order they came off. The glue was not really necessary so I scraped the idea. But if you don't like the look of the screw thats an option.

We are all set to mount the Caul to the Pliers. I did some measuring and checking and this is what we have. First the hole must be metric as a 10-24 screw is too small and a 1/4" screw is too large (great for everyone living in the metric world). Well 1/4" it was. So off to the drill pres to open up the hole a bit.

Next finding the proper location to make the hole. I did some measuring on the tool and our caul and determined that 3/8" down from the top is a perfect location. So off to the drill pres to drill out the 1/4" hole in the caul.

OK everything is together. I found another black cap screw just for effect. We also need two 1/4" washers and a 1/4" nut. All of this is standard 1/4-20.


Now lets fit it together. Screw,Caul, washer, pliers, washer, caul, and nut. LOL

Here is a picture


My first attempt at assembly I found everything too loose. Rather than try and tighten it with the nut I took one washer out a gently made a bend down the center using a vice and a hammer. It was soft so no problems. I reassembled and tightened the Assembly until it just fit snug and also pivoted easily. probably some instant glue on the threads around the nut may be in order or locktite. Or not.

The finished caul.


But wait I'm not really happy with that, but you can stop here I wanted that tapered caul look.


Chop it off

The finished caul again.


For some reason the taper makes it look 20 lbs lighter. Anyway we are almost done now.

The last part is making the wood support block. make sure you have a piece of hardwood scrap handy so we can finish off this conversion and get to work. The wood should be hard, not like Poplar, even though yes Poplar is a hard wood.

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Last part

Building and Installing the Support Block:

Back to wood my favorite material. Now we have the tool assembled and a caul to hold our radius insert we need to make a support block to place under the neck. It should be pinned so it does not fall off the tool. It has to be strong enough to hold the neck but also not damage the finish or a raw wood surface. I am sure you can make this out of any material I choose wood as it is easily available and easy to work with and plenty strong enough. A good place to use that small piece of exotic wood you couldn't find a use for but still can't throw away.

The finished support block dimensions are 2 1/4" H x 3" L and 1 1/4" Wide. Because it is so large I am going to make it out of three pieces of wood. I need two pieces 1/2" thick and 2 1/4" tall. I also need one piece of wood that is just a hair wider than my rail which is 1/4" . the piece should be 3/4" tall.

I found some ash and a small piece of maple to use, all shop scrap.


The dowel I will use to pin the Support block to the Rail, you can also use a screw but this was just as easy for me as I always have a few around the shop. This is 1/4" diameter dowel, 1/4 inch is the size you will need for the pin using any material or screw. These wood pieces are 12" long only because I like to have all my fingers intact at the end of my projects.

Now time to glue up the Support block. I am using plain old Titebond II. Any yellow glue will work fine. I suggest yellow glue only because it will set up in a hour and we can be back at work.

The glue up.


Exciting isn't it. Now once the glue sets up I will clean up the edges and cut the block to it's 3" length.

Now we have to locate the hole for the pin. Lets see I want the support block to to just contact the outside edge of the rail as it slides to the right. I want the block secure but not tight. So in from the front edge I will mark 1 1/8" and from the top I will mark down 1 1/8" and also add another 1/16" for clearance, or 1 5/16" down. In all honesty I just eyeballed the hole. I have several pieces from my long block so if I make a mistake I can use another piece. I did say this is not rocket science.

Checking the hole. Whew it works.


Now we have to mark out the Block for the curve which will fit on the back of the neck.


What I did here is again eyeball a 1/8' line above the center of the Support block and transfer it around to the front. Then using a spray paint can or can of lube I marked the cutout for the neck. I actually determined that this is the correct curve from my last fret press project. You also want to try and center the curve.

Once its marked it's off to remove the wood. make sure the curve is not bumpy but smooth as you don't want anything digging into your guitar or bass.

The finished block.


Again I am going to remove the lower corners and any sharp edges and make it look nice. Then add some finish so the wood does not absorb moisture. If it does it may swell against the rail and make it impossible to slide freely. Hopefully you have used dry wood in the first place. If the wood is too wet it will dry out and flop around. Yes Plywood is a fine substitute or even MDF.

I want to note that I did have to do a bit of filing on my slot as it was tight in spots. I did remove any glue squeeze out on the inside where the support block slide on the rail.

Ok we do have to cover this curve with some soft material to protect the neck. I choose a furniture pad kit I had laying around, it's a felt pad for keeping legs of furniture from scratching your wood floor. It is self stick as well. Any other protective solution is fine. This cost me few dollars since it was on sale. A single pad would be a similar price $2-$4 depending on where you shop. I cut up one of the larger pads in the back of the package.


I put on the pad cut the dowel to size and installed the Support block. Actualli left the dowel a tad long , I liked the look.


Our finished tool. Yeah.

I am going to try it out and take a few more pictures then compare it to my last fret press.

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Well I took a few moments to try this out.

Bottom line it is a working Fret Press no doubt about it.

Not owning the Stumac Jaws, I have to compare it to the clone I made using the same Facom clamp. You can see the two side by side actually holding onto a fret they just pressed it. They are clamped tight so I can take the picture. Yes there is a neck underneath, LOL.


The clamp we just converted looks a bit smaller here only because it is further back in the picture. They are practically identical in size except for the extra long jaws on our clamp.

Initially I found our Fret Press a bit harder to position then the other clone. It took me a few second to figure out most people would not be holding a neck in one hand and positioning the clamp with the other. You have to slide the support block a greater distance on our version to center the neck. Until you center the neck the insert will not make contact along the entire fret. I had thought at first the rail angle was off as the insert was not flush to the full fret, but I had not centered the block.

Using two hands with a fret press while your neck is secured is a necessity for both clamps.

As far as the handles go I felt no difference between the two. It did not take extreme pressure to set the fret. The additional padding on our conversion did not seem to matter except ours wasn't so cold to the touch.

Besides the necessity to move the support block a bit more to center the neck, the only other obvious difference is the angle at which the tools press in frets. Look at the picture, the clone angles in from above and our conversion from below, I can see that in some situations this may be less convenient a position to use. But this really depends our your needs.

I looked our clamp over and we cannot reverse the rail to the other side as the pins go under the handle on that side, so screws will not work. I did notice that you could change the angle somewhat on the rail. The clamp has plenty of movement left in the caul and its possible to change the angle by about 10 deg (just a guess here) toward center. This would make the angle the tool enters the neck a bit straighter. Again this is just an observation and for most people; and me; this will make no difference to using the tool.

The two pressed in frets from each tool, identical results.


That about wraps up our build. I am guessing it took me 3 hours of work to make the conversion and about $15-20 in materials. Including the clamp thats about $33 total cost (the high end of my estimate). Not too bad. Even though its not the most beautiful tool we could have made it is a practical solution saving you about $170 on the cost of a commercial Fret Press.

Hope you have enjoyed my post.

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Awesome. I was wondering what happened to these threads, and then I saw they were pinned at the top! I guess I'm so used to just skipping by the pinned threads as I browse.

This is great though. I'm a big fan of making things yourself, as I think we all are - otherwise, why would we be *here*? Now I have a new project to have a go at.

Thanks for sharing all this info in such depth.

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Yes cheaper but not easy the jaws dont have pins. I have a 20% off coupon good for a few days which knocks the price from $13 to Just over $10.

20% off coupon till 3/2 on one item at harbor Freight


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Wow, great how-to Spoke! Thanks for sharing your ideas. I actually bought one of the Vise Grip types of this clamp over a year ago, thinking I could make a fret press out of it. And technically I could have, as it turns out :D . Now my lazy butt has it all laid out for me so there's no more excuses.

I also have a fret bender to make now. Heck, if I keep accumulating all of these tools, sooner or later a guitar may result!

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  • 2 months later...
  • 3 years later...
  • 4 months later...



These locking c-clamp pliers are perfect for securing materials and work pieces tight! An ergonomic quick-release handle makes clamping easier, quicker and more convenient with single-hand operation. With plenty of throat capacity for even unusually shaped objects, these locking c-clamp pliers are ready to accommodate a variety of applications in any shop, garage or warehouse!

  • Oil-resistant nonslip comfort grip
  • Safety latch in the handle for security
  • Swivel pads for maximum clamping

3-1/2" throat depth 2-13/32" jaw opening Overall dimensions: 11-5/8" L x 6-3/4" W x 1-3/8" H Shipping Weight: 1.70 lb.

Specifications Name 12" Quick Release Locking C-Clamp Pliers SKU 96721 Brand Pittsburgh Professional Throat Depth 2.45 Pad Type Metal Max Opening 3.5 Shipping Volume 0.041 Manufacturer Warranty Detail Lifetime Warranty. We guarantee this Tool to be free from defects in material and workmanship for the life of the product. Limitations apply.

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  • 8 years later...
  • 10 months later...

i dunno if this is like the one described here... but figured I'd chime in on the off chance it helps.  

I built mine using a cheaper vise at first... not advised as it skewed.  2nd time I built using a milwaukee c vise which has been rock solid.

bought the caul from philli luthier but I suspect they are all pretty much the sm... just wanted to "know" i could continue to get decen inserts so bought it there.  some of the cheaper chinese inserts are horrible and will leave indentations on your fretboard so be advised!

just popped the rivets out of the c clamp...and had to grind it a bit on my drum sander so that the caul could more freely to wherever it needed to be.

piece of walnut - I just took my router with a 1/8" bit and routed a channel in it.  then marked the old rivet hole on the wood and used drill press to put a hole thru.  

on both pieces I use a number of thin washers to get rid of any play between the piece and the c clamp... but I could have just bent the caul.

old bandsaw tire and some gorilla glue for the soft protective edge.  I've used this design on everything but my first guitar and this specific one on my last 3 or 4.

very nice because if you want to use some glue you can just set the vise just right, clamp down and leave it sit for a few mins.  



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