This fingerboard is made of West African Ebony. West African is known for its consistent black color and is a little more brittle than Madagascar Ebony. My first step is to flatten one edge using the jointer and then reduce the thickness to 7/32″ on the drum sander. This goes pretty quickly.

The first photo is a simple indexing jig I made which I clamp to a sled atop my table saw. This can be done by hand but this is one of those situations where power tools simply do a far better job than hand tools. Of course, you need a good table saw and a sled to do this operation so nothing is for free, I guess.

indexing jig naugler-1447.jpg naugler-1451.jpg position markers fretting

I cut the fingerboard to size using a band saw to cut a wedge off of each size in preparation for smoothing on the shooting board (photo 2).  The ebony is brittle so I cut it on the band saw frets up (so chips come off the back which won’t be seen in most cases) and give it a little excess (maybe 1/16″) which them comes off quickly on the shooting board.

The next photo shows a little binding jig I devised using the same principle (and same clamps and wedges) as the system I use for joining tops and backs.  I routed shallow depressions in the jig which allow the binding to drop below the bottom of the fingerboard (maybe 1/32″) which I then plane flush with a sharp scraper.  This ensures a flush joint between the neck and the fingerboard.

This is one of the only tools I didn’t swipe from another luthier so I’m a little proud of it.  (Just a little since it’s less than a major milestone in luthiery development.)  So much of what we do is passed from one luthier to another.  Most of what differentiates one builder from another is the sum of the little decisions that are made during the building process.  To a non-player I would suspect many of the differences are not noticeable; to the player the differences are profound and are what give each guitar its character and feel.

Building tools and jigs is a lot of fun.  It’s a very creative process, one that I think most of us enjoy very much.  I think some of us actually enjoy the process of problem-solving and tool development as much or more than the actual instrument construction.  Jim Olson and Kevin Ryan both come to mind.  You should check out the workshop sections of their sites if you have some time.

The fourth photo shows the dot markers drying.  I’ve used a simple pattern on this guitar, using a forstner bit to drill shallow holes and inlaying paua abalone shell dot markers.  They’re then flooded with CA glue which is then sanded flush during the radiusing process which is what comes next.

 After radiusing the last step is to install the frets.  I use a fret press and install the frets before the fingerboard is attached to the neck.  While some purists may be groaning, this system allows for the most consistency.  It’s fast and does a beautiful job. 

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