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LMI Fret Tang Filer, Tool Review

2/4/14

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1. LMI’s Fret Tang Filer.  After a little pestering, I was able to get my hands on a prototype of Luthiers Mercantile International’s new fret tang filing tool.  It’s a unique design that’s made up of two main components; a base which holds a modified mill file and a carrier (called a slider) that holds the fret.  After putting it through its paces in my shop for a few months I’ve gotten to know this tool pretty well. 2. The Fret Crown is the part of the fret that we see and use when we play the guitar.  The tang is the subsurface part of the fret that keeps the crown secured to the fretboard.
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3.  The Fret Tang.  LMI’s tool is designed to file away the tang from the very ends of the frets during a refret.  I just about always remove the last little bit of fret tang when I prepare new frets for installation. 4. A Bound Fretboard necessitates removing some fret tang at the end of the frets.  This allows the crown to extend over the binding to the side of the neck.
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5.  An Unbound Fretboard can also benefit from fret-tang removal.  When installing fret ends without first cutting back the tang, the fret ends must be cut with the end nippers held sideways which can deform the crown (giving the fret ends the “vampire teeth” look), and the tang must be filed flush with the side of the fretboard which can strip the finish and damage the wood. 6. Clipping the Fret Ends flush with the side of the fretboard won’t deform the tang if the cutter is used with the opening of the jaws running parallel to the playing surface of the fretboard.  Cutting the fretwire in this fashion is not possible unless the fret-tang is removed.
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7. No Vampire Teeth here.  Filing the tang back and clipping the fret ends parallel to the grain of the fretboard makes clean looking fret ends possible. 8. The Slider is the part of the tool that holds the fret.  It can be adjusted to accommodate any tang width via the set screws on the slot adjuster plate although I’ve found that most of the jescar sizes fit fine without having to adjust the slider.  The toggle clamp holds the fret securely in place during use and can be adjusted to accommodate any crown height.  The slider is pulled while the fret end is held firmly against the file.
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9. In Use, the slider just misses contacting the file.  This makes it easy to eyeball the length of fret that needs to protrude from the adjuster plate.  The slider has a sloped shoulder which allows the user to maintain contact with the file block during each pull.  This reduces chatter and gives you control over the depth of cut and feed rate. 10. The Slider’s Base is made from high density polyethylene, a slippery material that slides easily against the file block and across the file block base.  The slider occasionally requires some adjustments.  With practice, the adjustments are quick and easy to make.
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11. Filing the Tang is done from the end of the fret, not the bottom.  The top edge of the file has no teeth.  The safe edge of the file simply rides against the bottom of the crown as the tang is removed with the face of the file. 12. A Cleanly Filed Tang.  This tool can be used with any size of fretwire made from any of the three common materials: evo-gold, nickel silver or stainless steel.  The beefy tang of this jumbo Jescar FW57110-S stainless fretwire is easily removed with the LMI tool.
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13. Jumbo Stainless fretwire can break conventional nibbler-tool tang-nippers rendering them useless, whereas the LMI tool files stainless in stride. 14. The Base of the LMI tool is made from phenolic plywood which is ware resistant but does mar quickly under regular use in a repair shop.  The plywood serves as the base for the slider and holds the file block.  After a while, I found it necessary to wax the base in order to keep the slider gilding with ease.  The version of this tool that LMI is currently selling has added recesses in the base to catch fret-filings.  I’m guessing that this slows the ware of the base.
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15. The File Block has two set screws on the side of the block.  These screws hold the file firmly in place.  Adjusting the file is a bit time consuming at first but very straight-forward.  The file block requires some set-up each time a different size or radius of fretwire is used.  Most of the time, I leave the side set screws alone and make my micro-adjustments with a mallet. 16. The Depth of Cut is adjusted by two hex-driven set screws on the bottom of the file block which are accessed through the bottom of the base.  With a little practice, this adjustment is quick and easy.  In most cases, a light tap with a mallet on the top of the file or the back of the base along with a slight loosening or tightening of the lower set screws is all that’s necessary to micro-adjust the tool for excellent results.
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17. The Competition.  Stew Mac’s “Fret Tang Nipper” is a modified version of a sheet-metal worker’s tool called the Kline Tools “nibbler tool”.  The face of the nippers are ground to accept a fret crown.  There are two versions, one for medium and one for jumbo fretwire.  I only use the medium version as the milled groove for the crown is less likely to break from the increased stress of working with stainless steel fretwire. 18. Tang-Nippers work great with some sizes of nickel silver and EVO-gold colored fretwire.  When used with care and a fresh replacement cutter, the medium version can safely work with some medium and medium-jumbo sizes of stainless steel fretwire.
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19. Tang Nippers.  I still occasionally use my tang nippers but they just don’t work well with all sizes of fretwire.  This stainless steel .080” x .037” has a crown height that is too short for the tang-nippers. 20. A Burr.  Because the crown of the .080” x .037” is too short for the notch in the face of the nippers, the crown rolls a little during the cut which allows the cutter to dig into the bottom of the crown.  The end result is a noticeable burr on the side of the crown that requires some cleaning up.
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21. A Nub of Tang is par for the course when using conventional tang nippers on frets with a tall crown.  Also, with a crown height of .050” or taller, the nippers will usually take a small bite out of the side of the crown as the tall fret rolls a little in the tang-nipper’s notch.  Installing this stainless 6105 sized fret as-is would be a real eye-sore. 22. LMI.  The fret tang filer leaves no burrs or nubs of tang.  This is an indispensable addition to the tool arsenal of anyone who does lots of refrets.  Especially for those of us who work with stainless steel.
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23. The LMI tool takes some getting used to.  It took me a while to transition to this tool; at first I used it in tandem with my conventional tang-nippers; using the LMI tool to clean up problematic frets that the tang nippers couldn’t handle. 24. Experience is Key. Now that I’ve used it as designed to refret about 20 guitars, I’m getting great results in fretting situations where my tang-nippers gave a lackluster performance.  I do still use my old tang nippers, but only with a few sizes of mostly nickel silver frets.