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Fretboard finishing

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How do you finish your fretboards?

The problem seems to be wood movement. Once I am happy with the fret work I use fretboard oil and that is all I do. Like a lot of other places, It is very humid in the summer and super dry in the winter. I always get fret ends sticking out in the winter, even on guitars that I dressed last winter. Let me add that this occurs on builds from scratch that are kept in the house. I have an old epiphone that sits out in my shop, which does not have constant temp control, and deals with all the temperature swings fine. I have used ipe a lot, but also maple and rosewood. Any suggestions would be very helpful.

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Like you alluded to, it is the exchange of moisture in the wood that causes it to move. The boards swell with humidity and shrink when they dry out. Odds are the booard you dressed last winter got even dryer this winter......

To reduce fret sprouting in the dry winter months you have to completely block the moisture exchange, which typically means a heavy film finish like urethane. But most think that feels like crap and don't like to do that. Most finishes retard moisture exchange to varying degrees but few completely stop it. And unless you seal up every surface, which would mean the insides of your slot surfaces odds are you are not going to completely stop the movement. I use Danish oil and dress the fret ends whenever needed. Storing your guitars in a case will greatly reduce the changes in humidity it is exposed to, and will greatly reduce fret sprout.


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Dress your fret ends in winter. Either that or when you fret, cut the tang back so it doesn't reach the end of the slot. No finish will completely block moisture exchange with the atmosphere unless it is completely encased. Acrylising, sure. Urethane? Moisture will still exchange itself through the neck wood to the fingerboard. Seasonal movement is just a fact of life. The traditional cabin windows I was learning to make a few weeks back were completely painted with a natural oil-based paint, however a small section was left unpainted to allow for free-r moisture exchange. Trying to block it can be detrimental. Wood needs to live.

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