I've been using a 6in. file for leveling jobs, and i'm getting a little tired of it.  I'm feeling like it doesn't cover enough span, it chatters when it hits a spot that's really out of level and needs to bite more, and of course it leaves a lot of destruction in its path.  I remove all of the filing marks with a triangle file, come back and check for level, only to need to go over them again or spot level.  I always deliver a completely level board with fully crowned polished frets with no filing marks, but i'd like to speed up the process.  I'm considering grabbing a few rolls of stikit paper and a leveling beam, maybe the middle length offered by Stumac.

I went to diamond crowning files years ago and they changed everything for the better.  How are the diamond fret levelers from Stumac that are basically knife sharpeners?

What are your preferred methods? 

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No flat means very flat.  We flatten our leveling beams on a calibrated surface plate and then recheck them annually or so.  The stock that we purchase definitely needs to be flattened.

Something to consider - in a decent fret dress we are shooting for tolerances of .001" and less.  So if your stock for your beams is .02 you can see that it's no where near as flat as we want it.

To flatten we stick sand paper in progressively finer grits on the plate and use magic marker ink on the beams.  The goal is the clean removal of all of the ink from the entire beam.

That's flat. ;)

Thanks. I don't have a surface plate, but my counter top is pretty flat. So I might just use that as a surface plate.

What grit of sandpaper do you start with and what do you finish with? Do you do anything else to the metal after that? Like polishing or something?

Sure thing. We start with 120 and move through the various grits to about 600. We bought a special lapping paper that is similar to 600 grit but in hindsight I don't see this as critical or important. You likely will be fine with 120 and 220.

Be sure to safe any sharp edges and the ends as well.

One beam can have 120 and 220 on it. I typically like 120 for leveling followed by 220 to get rid of the 120 scratches. I'll also use 80 at times to level boards and for tough jobs where a lot of fret material needs to be removed.

Using the beams is a bit of an art if you will but the learning curve is pretty fast. You quickly learn to read the bluing (magic marker) and tweek the rod to get to the most problematic frets. Fall-away is your friend too in that high extension frets need to be knocked down first before the long beam can address say frets 1 through 12. This is what the shorter beams are for.

No prices?

Seems like you need to have an account to see the prices. To have an account you need to be have a company name, etc.

Wow, an old topic really blew up again.  Since the post I just sucked it up and bought the StewMac medium length beam and have used it for a few jobs already.  Very happy with the results.  I did some research on cheaper options, but work kept coming in and time was of the essence.  

An old topic, indeed, but always interesting.  As with any technique, it's more the operator than the tool, but we do have our favorites.  Personally, I think this is another that's kind of easy to over-study, but I really do believe in having a flat beam or other leveling device. I've used the same one for all my fret work for 45 years now, and it would take some doing to get me to part with it:

It's the classic Stanley #5 jack plane with all the guts removed, and custom handles added (duct tape, nyuk nyuk).    I checked the flatness and it's pretty good.  In fact, I've acquired a number of these things over the years and they've all been pretty good, without any attention needed.  We actually  use several in our busy shop, and I've given a number away to friends.  No, they aren't "perfect" within a thousandth, but the fact is they really don't need to be that straight.  

Because of the way they are used, sliding up and down the board, they tend to level things just as well as if they were absolutely flat.   

Oh, and I DON'T use the "stick-on" sandpaper.  In fact, I don't like that stuff for anything.  I simply fold and hold sheets of paper on all my sanding blocks.  Why?  Mostly because I don't like it when I try to peel an old sheet off and a bunch stays behind and I have a mess to clean to put on the new paper.  Mostly because It's quicker and I have a greater variety of regular sheets.  Mostly because the stick-um goes bad if you keep the stuff around too long.  And, mostly because I'm cheap.

In our shop with three Luthiers someone is always trying to get out of removing the old paper from the beams, getting out the naphtha and cleaning up the adhesive before replacing the paper.  Seems I get stuck with the task a bit more than I like.... :(

And I'm cheap too and proud of it!  ;)

Learned the value of a heat gun a long time ago.  Any stuck PSA sandpaper, price sticker, UPS labels, etc comes off with most of the adhesive if you heat it up as you pull.

No one is cheaper than I.  Why waste money?  How much do those beams cost anyway?  I would simply get an aluminum spirit level at Home Depot and put double stick tape to it.  If it's too long (24"), cut it into pieces and each one costs very little.  And the paper removes completely because you throw away the tape also.

Purchasing stock if you already have a surface plate and making these beams yourself, ,like we do, is cheaper than purchasing a level.  And the level still would need to be flattened to get the degree of precision that the beams are capable of.

The level is only one size too so you would need a couple of them to make the shorter beams (also very important).

So Phil, hate to tell you this but I may be even cheaper than You! ;)

Cheap is cool provided that it never compromises the quality of the work.

Touche' Hesh!  I am a small time luthier who only does a dozen or so guitars a year.  I guess I got stuck in an old habit.


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