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Replacing a Banjo Fretboard


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Lyon and Healy Tenor Banjo Neck vintage banjo neck with very thin dyed fruitwood fretboard
1. A Lyon and Healy Tenor Banjo.  As a result of about 100 years of ware and maintenance, the frets on this neck are pretty short and the original dyed fruitwood fretboard is cracked and separating from the neck. 2. Replacing the Fretboard and refretting the banjo is in order.  First, I’ll have to make the neck thinner so it can accommodate a thicker, modern fretboard.  I don’t know much about banjos, but this kind of woodworking is right up my alley.
flattening ebony fretboard on granite slab thickness sanding granite slab
3. Sanding the Fretboard with 80 grit sandpaper on a flat granite slab marks the high spots on the concave face of the fretboard.  I’ll alternate between spot planing and sanding on the granite slab to get a flat surface. 4. Thickness Sanding the fretboard with the luthier’s friend sanding station on the oscillating spindle sander is quick and easy.
plane ebony with #605 bedrock scribe neck with marking gauge
5.Hand Planing the fretboard gets rid of the spindle sander marks and brings the fretboard to it’s final pre-assembly thickness of 3/16”. 6. A Marking Gauge scores both sides of the neck 3/16” below the surface of the de-fretted fretboard.  The neck is very slightly twisted.
crosscut neck with Japanese pull saw  chisel neck to scribed line at angle
7. Hand Sawing the neck at the faceplate to the scribed lines on the side of the neck is pretty quick with a Japanese pull-saw. 8. Chiseling to the scribed line on both sides of the neck for the first 3” or so from the faceplate.  I’m cutting at approximately a 45 degree angle across the grain until I meet the scribed line.
chisel neck across the grain to thickness plane neck flat with block plane
9. More Chiseling across the grain until most of the waste is gone for the first 3”.  I’m working in from each side to about the middle of the width of the neck.  Next I will remove most of the wood above the scribed line from the rest of the neck with a block plane. 10. Final Flattening of the Neck is pretty quick.  First, I lightly sanded the neck on the granite slab to mark the twist, now I am using a block plane to knock down the high spots that were marked by the sandpaper.  Near the faceplate I will use a scraper to knock down the high spots that the block plane can’t reach.
band saw ebony fretboard plane fretboard to rough width
11. Band Sawing the fretboard.  I marked the center of both the neck and the fretboard and traced the outline of the neck onto the back of the fretboard. 12. Hand Planing the fretboard to the pencil lines with a jack plane.
shape end of fretboard drill fretboard for locator pins
13. Shaping the End of the fretboard on the oscillating spindle sander. 14. Drilling the Neck and fretboard for locator pins at both the first and last fret will make it easier to keep the parts aligned during gluing.  The pins are narrower than the crown width of the new frets.
glue neck with hot hide glue and clamp with quick grip bar clamps plane fretboard flush to neck with lie-nielsen block plane set up with a 55 degree cutting angle
15. Gluing and Clamping the fretboard with hot hide glue and a bunch of small bar clamps.  I heated the parts with a heat gun to give the glue a longer working time.  I will let the glue cure for 24 hours before removing the clamps. 16. Planing and Scraping the sides of the fretboard flush with the sides of the neck.  I’m using a block plane set up with a cutting angle of 55 degrees.
scuff sanding finish with 220 grit french polishing finish
17. Scuff Sanding the neck with 220 grit sandpaper prepares the old finish for French polishing. 18. French Polishing is an old fashioned way of hand applying shellac.  This will both rejuvenate the worn-old finish and help hide the repairs.
install pearl dots sand pearl dots flush
19. Pearl Dots.  I’m marking the center of each relevant fret position by scribing a line at the middle of both diagonals.  Next I’ll use an awl, an electric drill and a 6mm brad point bit to prepare the fretboard for gluing the pearl dots in with super glue. 20. Sanding the Dots flush to the fretboard with 80 grit sandpaper on the granite slab.  Next I’ll sand the fretboard up to 600 grit then install the new .040” x .039” stainless steel frets in the usual fashion.
buff new frets new fretboard is thicker
21. Buffing the New Frets. 22. A Thicker Fretboard will be conducive to future repair and fretwork.  In order to preserve the original geometry of the banjo, I was very careful to maintain the overall thickness of the combined fretboard and neck at both the nut and heel.
new stainless steel banjo frets polished stainless steel jescar banjo frets
23. New Frets are a vintage size but much taller than the old, worn out frets.  This will make the banjo feel easier to play. 24. Hopefully this old banjo will be around for another 100 years.