Installing the frets and binding

There are two common approaches to installing frets and binding.  One approach is to put the binding on first, file it flush to the fingerboard, and then put the frets in.  In this case the ends of the frets overlap the binding.  This is the method used on Stelling banjos.  The other approach is to put the frets in first, file their ends flush to the edge of the fingerboard, and then install the binding.  Once the binding is installed it must be filed flush to the fingerboard between the frets.  Additionally, the binding must be filed in such away that it effectively forms the end of the fret.  This is the method used on Gibson banjos.  I have chosen to use the second method as I like the appearance better than that of the first.  In experiments that I did with both methods on a test fingerboard it is probably a coin flip as to which is more difficult.  They both are very tricky to get exactly right.  In the first case you spend alot of time filing the fret ends to get them right, and in the second you spend alot of time filing the binding and the frets to get it right.  (Both methods are described in the Roger Siminoff books listed on the luthier references page.)

Prior to gluing the binding on I shaped the neck to the get the binding channel down to the exact size that was needed for the binding (.060). 

To glue the binding on I used Weld-on Cement from Stewart-MacDonald.  This stuff sets up pretty quick so you have to work relatively fast.  I did the straight side of the neck first gluing the binding, taping it down good and letting it sit overnight.  To do the side with the fifth string I pre-shaped the binding by heating it in hot water to get an exact fit.  I then glued and taped it and let it sit overnight.

The next steps are to file and scrape the binding down to the fingerboard and work it around the ends of the frets.  Here is a picture of the binding installed and filed\scraped down to the level of the fingerboard between the frets.  On the first pass thru I have left the binding at the original height at the frets.  You have to be very careful not to nick the fingerboard.  I file down until I almost reach the fingerboard and then switch to scraping.  Due to the tight space, for a scraper I use a razor blade that I have drawn across my bandsaw table to create a little burr on the edge.  I try to get the binding scraped as close as I can to the edge of the fret.

Next, I use a small triangular file that has two edges ground smooth to take the binding right down to the fret on both the top and the sides as illustrated below.

Once this step is complete I check the level of the frets with a precise straight edge.  I use a large mill file to level all the frets and then begin the process of working the ends into the binding and dressing them using a fret dressing file (#1603 from Stewart-MacDonald.)  Once all the frets are leveled, dressed, and the ends are worked into the binding, I use a fret dressing stick and fingerboard guards (from Stew-Mac) to clean up any filing marks.  When this is complete I use a buffing wheel on my Dremel with some buffing compound (and the fingerboard guards) to polish the frets.  After this I go over the whole board with the razor scraper looking for any irregularities (like binding glue at the fret ends.)  Once it all looks good I go over the whole board with #0000 steel wool to clean everything up nice.  A portion of the finished job is pictured below.


I have also installed the lag screws and shaped the nut.  Other than gluing in the nut and final sanding the neck is now complete.

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