Hi guys , Ive been refretting an ebony board and it"s flaking and chipping like crazy . The job is done now , but Ive been wondering if a smaller barb on the tang might reduce the chipping when removing them ?

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One of the many things that we teach our Fretting Class students is to use the nippers correctly to reduce chipping.  You may be doing this already so I'll mention it for others who may not.

The flat face of the nippers are intended to be flush with the board while the jaws are closed and the bevels gently lift the fret.  Because the flat face of the nippers is flat on the board chipping is dramatically reduced.  The beveled jaws are not just to create a cutting edge but originally intended to gently lift the fret when the jaws are closed.

If you look at older iterations of the Stew-Mac nippers such as what they sold 10 - 15 years ago the bevels are more pronounced than they are these days....  It seems that somewhere along the way how the nippers were intended, originally... to work got lost in time.

Nonetheless the newer ones work very well too just not as well as the older ones.

Never, never.... "pull" frets.  Instead simply close the nippers with the flat faces flush on the board and the flat faces hold chips down to a minimum.

Heating with a soldering gun with a grove to ride the frets filed in an old tip helps greatly reduce chipping as it breaks the glue bond.

For really lousy, chippy ebony boards I like to also put down a bead of water next to the fret.  If a chip does "lift" it won't disconnect all the way and go flying across the room.  This affords us an opportunity to glue that sucker right back down with thin CA and something to hold it in place like an old screw driver tip.

Ebony although very common is not a great fret board material come refret time and the older the ebony the more chip prone it tends to be.  But.... with a bit of a methodology and some preventative measures ebony can be refretted with very little if any.... chipping.  We do it all of the time with this approach.

Lastly the tangs have a purpose and I'm keen to let them do their job.  Sure we could make refrets easier by addressing tangs but we also could make a board more prone to loose frets too.

Thanks Hesh , I do all that stuff except the water trick , might try it next time .

All the above, but a chip stopper like the one sold by stewmac is a valuable addition. I use water, heat from a soldering gun and the chip stopper together with the fret puller. I seldom have problems with the fretboard chipping.

If you struggle with ebony, wait until you try pulling frets from the notorious 'ebonized' fb .. yikes, they sometimes literally explode into pieces .. chunks, really, necessitating a new fingerboard.  These boards are usually found on the cheaper 'factory' guitars from pre-WWII.  

I use the above techniques, sans the H2O, and have also taken a fresh single-edge razor and scored along each side of the fret, so that, knowing it will chip regardless, the score line keeps the damage under the fret (hopefully).

One question from the above info, Hesh and others in the know .. were frets pre WWII glued?  I've not noticed.   I assumed the purpose for using heat made an expansion difference, thereby freeing up the tangs a bit for ease of removal rather than melting glue.  Of course, if you're doing a refret on a guitar that was already refretted, you're possibly softening glue.


Yes, the ebonized fretboards are bad. Not only do the chip, they are almost "dead" when you tap on a loose one. The best thing to do is to replace them. If the glue is strong under the fretboard, you need a chisel to remove it in small pieces...

I don't think they were glued, maybe with some hot hide glue.

i don't think it's any kind of expansion thing, rather the heat serves to unstick the fret metal from the wood, which might be grabbing it whether glue was used or not.

the same method is used to dislodge stuck screws, which certainly weren't glued in

I just finished an old Taylor with a very brittle ebony board. It's definitely a pain in the behind. One tip I have heard as well is to adjust the neck for some back bow. Theoretically this takes some pressure off of the frets. Makes sense but I have yet to try it. After this last one I will definitely try it next time with ebony.

As far as removing the frets, I've used water in extreme situations. Normally I just heat the fret until it's screaming hot and then use my pullers(you must be very careful when dealing with binding). On overly brittle ebony fretboards, I've painted thin superglue along the edges of each fret with a q-tip before doing my final sanding. This helps prevent any errant chips from exposing themselves when hammering or pressing. I've worked on some ebony boards that seemed as brittle as glass. Definitely a pain. 

"If you struggle with ebony, wait until you try pulling frets from the notorious 'ebonized' fb .. yikes, they sometimes literally explode into pieces"

Damn, If I'd only used a chip stopper :)

Great image, Dave.   That is what I would call an ebonized fret board using an acid based dye with heat and maybe pressure.  None of the 1800s fret boards made by Martin will do that because they used real ebony.  At least after 30-35 very vintage Martin guitar resets, I have never experienced this.  So my guess is an acid based dye makes the fb wood fall apart like that.  

Have fun replacing the board.  


i've always gone on the theory that those ubiquitous turn of last century bowl-back mandolins weren't really repairable and are mostly suited to hanging on the walls of italian restaurants

i think this confirms it 


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