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"Boutique" tools you can make yourself


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Every now and then there's talk about dedicated tools for certain tasks. They can be bought from special luthiery shops for stellar prices. Sometimes you can find similar (looking) ones from Chinese online shops, sometimes not. Here's a few that I've made and a couple that I could have made if someone hadn't given me a bought one. So...

A neck rest is often useful. There's several designs but they all have at least one padded groove for the neck. I made mine out of a neck offcut and a piece of foam rubber laying around, and four rubber bumpons for anti-slip feet:


A sanding beam is one of the most versatile tools. It can be used for leveling the fingerboard and frets (and fret ends), shaping and sizing the nut, shaping the neck, anything you can imagine and some more. One option is to use a spirit level and they can be really inexpensive. I went to a local metal store and bought a length of aluminium beam, 2 x 4 cm. I let them cut it into 28 cm pieces since that's the length of the longer edge of sandpaper sheets. Some sanding was required to get rid of dings and scratches but it only took a few minutes a piece to get rid of any roughness. The cutting was €5 and the beam about a tenner or so. I negotiated an offer for "supporting handicraft" and got a dozen beams for a tenner. Masking tape and super glue will attach any sort of sandpaper, wet, dry or emery. Easy to rip off and replace with a new strip or another grit:


This small palm file should have been a bit longer and wider but that was the size I had. It's pretty nice for leveling fret ends and quite convenient for some other delicate tasks as well. The file is a cheap yet well made Finnish one from which I cut off the stem and the somewhat wedge shaped end. I then flushed the edges and rounded the ends with a bench grinder so they won't scratch anything. At first I used double sided tape to attach it to the piece of scrap wood but as it seemed to creep I used some epoxy glue for a permanent fix:


Sanding blocks are essential. As there's all kind of curves in an electric guitar several shapes may be needed. These are the ones I've saved, the one on the left being my first one:


Fret slotting files can be very expensive. Mine cost about €5 (yes, it's a feeler gauge bought at an automotive shop) and I'm sure there's a fitting thickness for most strings. Of course they needed some coarsing on the edges. I've tried files, sanding beams and whatever has been at hand. The last time I clamped a metal saw to the workbench and slid the edges diagonally over the blade at a moderate angle. For some reason cleaning and deepening the fret slots blunted the blade pretty fast:


A triangular fret crowning file and a fret end file with polished edges aren't too difficult to modify from regular hardware store files. These are presents so I'm only showing the hardware as the handles would reveal the maker:


And last but not least the awl I made for my budding luthier friend out of a dart, a bolt and a piece of firewood:





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Good idea for a thread! Here's a few of mine.

Fret end beveling file made from an old fine cut file with the last quarter and handle cut off with the grinder. The angled handle contraption that keeps the file at a fixed angle of 30 degrees off vertical is made up of several pieces of timber and a few offcuts from a 60 degree profile strip commonly used to add decorative tapers to windowframes. Pretty sure I bought the file from the local recycling depot for about a dollar. Stewmac version will set me back about $80:


End view perhaps illustrates best how all the various timber pieces are glued together to make up the handle:


Neck cradle from a bit of scrap wood and a couple of quarter-round profile strips from an old window ledge. For padding I'll just fold up an old T-shirt and lay it in the valley of the cradle to prevent the back of the neck getting dented up while I'm hammering/pressing in frets:


Fretwire bending crank. The smaller rollers are the wheels that domestic sliding doors roll on, usually sold as spares for a couple of bucks at the hardware store. The bigger wheel was the waste from using a holesaw to cut a 50mm hole in perspex. The notch in the perimeter of the big wheel for the fretwire tang to ride in as it's fed through the jig was made by chucking the wheel up into the drill press and carfully slotting it with a hacksaw. The rest of it is just scrap pespex, nuts and bolts and aluminium offcuts. Total cost maybe $30 including the holesaw to make the central wheel. The Stewmac equivalent, while a lot neater and serious looking, costs over $200:



Fret tang nipper from a $20 nibbling tool from the hardware store. A bit rough around the edges, but works as expected. The slot ground across the top plate allows the fret wire to sit in the jaws so that the blade can undercut the tang off the ends. Stewmac equivalent costs about $75. No good for stainless steel frets, but neither is the Stewmac one either:


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  • 10 months later...

After reading @Dave Higham's post about carving the neck and especially how he sanded it using the "shoeshine" method I remembered that I had made a tool for that! You may ask why bother making a tool but anyone who has done it knows how the abrasive cloth band tends to curl length wise as it stretches around your fingers. To avoid that I simply made a pair of straight handles. Actually several, these are the latest ones made in a hurry. At first glance it may seem just a slot in a piece of wood and basically that's what it is. But:

  • There's a hole drilled at the end of the slot - too little in these - to prevent cracking.
  • And the abrasive band is looped back through the slot - if you're using thinner band then putting the abrasive side inside will add friction and secure the loop. This band is too stiff for that.
  • And there's a stick going through the loop to prevent the band from slipping through the slot - originlly a dyckert nail but for the photo I found a bbq stick right beside me!


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No, I sold most of them to my builder buddies and kept only two. But I do have four different grits on the narrow sides. The broad sides aren't level and having two different grits meet at the corner could cause issues. It's always safer to run a smooth face against something you don't want to scratch or shape.

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above... first post... you say "Fret slotting files can be very expensive. Mine cost about €5 (yes, it's a feeler gauge"... I think you mean nut slotting... and if not I would very much like to see how the hell that works!!  


some great ideas in this thread from all.  I imagine this to be a solid resource to others so... here's small contribution:


for shooting they make these been bag rests... it's the perfect neck rest!  $7.99 and best of all - zero effort!!




sanding beam - well another option is a machined level.  generally $20 from hardware store and decent precision... I still use for lower grits.  That said - I've found an actual precision bar is very much worth it here for the final leveling - ymmv.



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2 minutes ago, mistermikev said:

above... first post... you say "Fret slotting files can be very expensive. Mine cost about €5 (yes, it's a feeler gauge"... I think you mean nut slotting

Three quarters of a year gone and you're the first one to notice that! Unfortunately I can't edit that post any longer. But you're right, nut slotting is what the feeler gauge set is for.

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1 hour ago, Bizman62 said:

Three quarters of a year gone and you're the first one to notice that! Unfortunately I can't edit that post any longer. But you're right, nut slotting is what the feeler gauge set is for.

well... it just struck me when I saw it... was thinking "well I bet that would take a looooong time"!

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