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In order to do a professional refret, certain tools are required. Among these, a fretting hammer, specialized pliers, and radius block matched to the neck being done are essential. Other tools which may be needed are a fine saw, dremel tool w/ cutoff disk or nipping pliers. Add to this almost every refret involves making a new nut, so those tools/skills are also needed.

First, lets start with pulling the frets. This is easiest to do w/ a pair of nipping pliers.

These are modified by grinding the face so the edges are flush, and sharper than original. The small ones are used for pulling, the large ones for cutting the ends and undercutting the tangs on bound necks. The large ones are kept very sharp. (care must be taken in grinding not to overheat them as they will loose their hardness)

The frets are pulled by pinching the cutting edge of the small pliers under the fret edges.

The larger pliers do not work as well here due to the curvature of the fretboard/frets. Once the pliers are started they are "walked" along. Best results are obtained by moving the pliers to the side and re-pinching. The slope of the inner face lifts the fret, and the flat outer face helps hold the wood down against chipping. It is also a good idea to heat the frets w/ a soldering iron prior to pulling it to loosen any glue (quite hot, but not hot enough to burn the fretboard) which might have been used previously. If the work is being done on a maple fretboard, a razor knife is used to cut along the edges of the frets to assist in separating the fret from the finish, the heat helps here as well.

Once all the frets are removed, the fretboard itself needs prepped. This neck had several minor issues. A couple areas of wear, a couple large chips (the work was begun by the owner prior to my finishing it, The pieces were there so it was an easy repair), and several smaller chipouts along the fret slots. There were heavy glue lines/ridges where it appeared a few frets had been "glued down" at some point. This neck uses a zero fret, but the slot for it was very wide.

The first thing to do was sand the fretboard using a radius block starting w/ 150 grit to remove the major issues, and finishing w/ whatever grit makes you happy, 320 minimum. This neck should have been around 7-9 1/2" radius, but most closely matched my 12" radius block. I chose to keep it close to the same so I used the 12" block. I could as easily have returned it to what it "should" have been by using that block. (I happen to like a 12" radius best, and no request was made to alter the radius from existing)

Before beginning the sanding get the neck as straight as possible w/ the trussrod and a straight edge. This neck still had a slight backbow even w/ the truss rod fully slack.

In order to fill some of the smaller chips and wear spots which were too deep to remove w/ sanding, I soaked the spots w/ thin superglue and filled w/ dust, then soaking more superglue into the top of the dust. These are then sanded smooth with the final grits. When sanding the fretboard I "ramp" the heel end from the end up to about the 10th fret. This will eliminate 85% of fret buzz issues w/ very low actions. If the fretboard is finished maple this step is either skipped, or the fretboard gets refinished.

(note the removed nut)

Next I use a fretting saw (actually an x-axto razor saw) to clean out the slots and make sire the slots are deep enough. An x-acto razor knife can also be used by grinding away the sharpened edge.

The slots may curve w/ the fretboard radius and care should be taken to keep it that way if they are.

Now it's ready for the new frets.

The frets are bent into a radius using the nipping pliers to help prevent any sharp bends.

If you buy the fretwire in one length, it is easier to bend it all at once by coiling it.

The fret is bent into a smaller radius than the fretboard. The smaller radius causes extra pressure at the ends to help keep them from lifting.

The fret is then driven in. I use a 10 oz deadblow "thumper", and a small plastic face hammer. Starting at one end I drive the fret in and work my way across, usually in a couple passes. Excessive hammering in the center will raise the ends.

Using frets wider than original will hide minor chipout and finish lines as on a maple fretboard, but isn't absolutely necessary.

I find it better to let the fret overhang at both ends. I can then overbend the overhanging ends to ensure the fret ends are down. This does result in having more trimming to do. The fret ends are then either nipped or cut w/ a dremel. I used the dremel, it's a bit slower, but nipping can deform the ends and cause them to lift slightly.

As previously mentioned, the zero fret slot was huge, This required me to overbend the fret tang. Care must be taken as it is easy to deform the fret doing this. Special pliers can be purchased for bending the tang, but I don't use them.

(sorry about the pic quality)

The next step is to bevel the ends and file them flush along the edges. Bore doing this I ensure all the frets are still fully seated and then seep a drop of superglue into each end of every fret.

To bevel the fret end, I use a special tool I made.

(another crappy pic)

This is a machinist's block which I added a wooden sole and a modified file. A similar device can be made w/ a file and a block of wood, or purchased from a specialty supplier like Stew Mac. The beveling can also be done freehand. The nicest thing about the block, besides making a consistent angle easy, is that it exposes only enough file to bevel the ends, allowing the file to miss the guitar body and headstock.

(picture of beveled fret ends too poor to even use, sheese...)

The frets are now checked for straightness by using a long straight edge, and then a shorter one. (keeping in mind the heel ramp) If there are any issues the frets are leveled and recrowned as necessary. Due to the remaining backbow, I had to do this as well (I normally don't). Leveling and recrowning was covered HERE.

The next thing to do is ease all the fret ends and buff them down w/ 600-800grit paper. The edges are eased using a crowning file, and the corners are knocked off using a fine file (this is covered on the fret leveling pages) I finish by using 800 grit crocus cloth wrapped around my fingers to give the edges a "broken in" feeling.

And the results of several hours work.....