I have refretted a couple of guitars & mandos using the hammer method but am no expert at it (yet!). Then I watched the Stew Mac video on using a fret press and they sure made it look easier and more accurate than hammering. It's probably my lack of experience, but I always have loose frets and usually need to dress the frets after hammering them in.

For you expert fretters out there, what are the pros & cons of each method? If you were to buy the fret press tools, what would you buy? I will be refretting acoustic and electric guitars, some with through necks, some with bolt-ons, some with dovetails. Also mandos, banjos ... just about anything with frets.

Thanks for your input!


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Lots of folks get good results with either or both methods.  We bought the StewMac fret pressing system for the shop, but as far as I know, after two years, nobody has yet tried it out.

No matter what tools or system you use, the real key to accurate, repeatable, and profitable fret work is the same:


After you've done 100 refret jobs, those pesky little problems will seem more of a memory than an annoyance.

I've been refretting for years and my trusty hammer never fails me. After a while you get to where you can feel the fret seating (using the same hammer helps with "feel") and I need to dress only slightly if at all after completion. I'm with Frank on the practice makes perfect thing.

I'm of the same opinion: either method works well.

One thing not mentioned so far is a vitally important step that many beginners overlook: fretboard prep after you've removed the old frets and before installing new ones.  All those steps/issues are sufficiently addressed on Frank's site. I cannot overstate its importance.

Also, on my bench, if it has a removable (bolt-on) neck, I always remove it for a refret.  It's just soooooo much easier(:

And keep's the ONLY way to learn to do it with consistent results.

VERY BEST of luck,


Either/both pressing and tapping in frets for me.

Some years ago I had the opportunity to purchase a 27 piece set of radius press cauls ranging from flat to 6" radi.  These were CNC produced and introduced as a product by CNC Guitar Parts.  As such I tooled up for pressing with two of the Stew-Mac pressing devices and a few other jigs and tricks that I learned from David Collins.

When possible I prefer to press frets for two reasons, 1) with such an array of radius cauls I can pretty much select a proper caul for any need including a slightly over radiused caul when I wish to concentrate on the fret ends.  Second, I glue my frets wicking in very thin CA on one side until I see it wick up the other side and then I clamp with the appropriate radiused caul in the fret press (Jaws) and hit the fret with accelerator.  This is also done in a systematic manner so as to not contaminate the board with accelerator where I will be clamping the frets next.

Sometimes though it's easier and quicker to just tap them in too and when this is the case I'm happy to do so but... I may also use the Jaws tool to clamp the sucker in place as I accelerate the glue.

I just refretted a 1964 Gibson L-4 (yep, the ones with heavily scalloped fret board edges resulting from the former Gibson (Parsons Street) practice of using a wire wheel on the fret board) and where the frets ride on plateaus near the edges of the fret board.  The vast majority of frets were pressed but several were carefully tapped as well.

Pressing or hammering (tapping for me...) are like different clubs in the golf bag - I'm happy to have both methods available to me!  Now we only need 12 more methods.... kidding of course... ;)

It's funny... I do both but, over the years, actually prefer to hammer. Something about the feel of solid seating and somehow "knowing" when a fret is driven-home right.   If a neck has been somewhat troublesome, or it's on the "n-th" refret, the caul-in-a-press seems to be more controlled.  They both have their plusses, but a hammer seems to be a bit more workmanlike, old-fashioned and reliable.

I own a Jaws tool, an arbor press with cauls, Jaws II for over the body, and a small dead blow mallet. I use the hammer 75% of the time, and always coupled with a Taylor Fret Buck on acoustics. I use Jaws the remaining 25%; I never use the Jaws II. As with most any hand tool, feel is paramount and it takes lots of practice. Practice makes almost perfect.

Guys, thanks for all your input. I understand how having the right tool for the job can make or break you. I guess the press is one of those things I'll add to my tools when I get enough money. But for now, I'll keep working with my hammer .. practice, practice, practice.

Mark brought up another question ... the fret buck. Is there another solution for supporting the top when hammering in those last frets? I've used a block of wood held up against the top inside the soundhole. Seemed to work ok but maybe I got lucky. The fret buck is really expensive.

Yes you deduced correctly in that there are many ways to fret in locations such as the fretboard extension on an acoustic.  Here are a few thoughts:

1)  Fret buck as mentioned

2)  Although the block of wood held under the extension is the right idea something with far more mass such as a cut-off of steel from a steel supplier bargain bin offers far more mass and as such is a better "anvil" to resist the fret hammer.

3)  The Jaws II press, the only one that I use, comes with cauls and specifically a caul with a cut-out for the upper transverse brace.  Although one size rarely fits all these cauls are easy to make as needed.

4)  Although I am not a fan of the practice... on a new build many builders fret the board off the neck precluding the need to fret the extension on the guitar at all.

5)  Someone has a plan out there to make a fret buck and I just can't remember who at the moment.  Although I have not used a shop-made, wooden fret buck I have a hunch that wood having far less mass than metal which is what the Taylor fret buck is made of may not work as well.  Again this is speculation on my part but a huge part of what makes the Taylor fret buck work very well is it's mass.  Make one out of wood and it may not be as effective.

When I was learning to build guitars my second shop was in a carpeted extra bedroom in my condo.  For the life of me I could not understand why my fret hammer strikes did not produce the expected results.  One day by accident I just happened to be hammering frets very near one of the bench legs that added far more support to resist the hammer blows...  The frets went in nicely.  Sheesh.... although my language at the time of my discovery won't be repeated here I did not feel like a very bright guy that day.... ;)

This is also why many builders will support the neck when fretting with a heavy bag of shotgun shot - mass is your friend when tapping in frets was my lesson that day....

In the case of new boards, I've been fretting before mounting to the neck for a while now and prefer this method. The secret is slot width to fret tang tolerances, too tight and the board bows excessively, too loose and the frets wont hold. Practice practice practice. The reason I enjoy this method goes to Hesh's point though. I hammer over a piece of rock maple clamped into my 100 pound bench vice and I can not only feel the fret seat, but I can hear it even with my terrible ears. It's the weight and density of my work surface that makes the difference. 

Almost forgot, on a refret I make a caul fit to the guitar, usually three pieces, two fit to the braces to a balanced height and one block to cover them both, and then double tape a 1/4" thick steel plate to the whole thing. It's worked so far.

Maybe part of my problem is my work surface. Like Hesh stated, my workbench is on padded carpet. And I've been using a home-made wooden neck rest to support the neck when hammering. Can I buy a bag of buckshot at a sporting goods store or is something that needs to be made? Open a bunch of shotgun shells and dump the contents into a bag???

btw - I do not build, just repair, so my only opportunity to refret with the neck off is in the case of a bolt-on.

Look for a gun shop in  your area that caters to reloaders. They should have bags of shot available. 


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