Trade Secrets!

Using a utility knife blade as a saddle shaper


Issue 118 July 22, 2010

Photo: utility knife bladeTip from my pal Freddie
I thought these were utility knife blades, but now I know better: They’re saddle shapers!
Dan Erlewine, July 22, 2010
Photo: Dan Erlewine
Photo: Feddie Cisneros Freddie Cisneros, who runs the Mercy Guitar Hospital in Prescott, Arizona, e-mailed me this great tip for roughing-in the rounded shape on top of bone saddle blanks. It’s one of those “Now why didn’t I think of that?" ideas.
Photo: saddle shaping Here’s what Freddie wrote:
“I shape the tops of saddle blanks by scraping with the rounded notch on a utility blade. I clamp Stew-Mac’s saddle vise into my repair vise to hold the saddle. That repair vise is the most-used tool in the shop, and it’s the center of my work area.”
Nut and Saddle Vise
Photo: saddle filing After reading Freddie’s tip, I tried it out in my shop. I cut a saddle blank to size, with a radius on top to match my fingerboard. I roughly thickness-sanded it on a belt sander, then removed the last few thousandths by stroking them on coarse, then smooth, fret leveling files.
Fret/Fingerboard Leveling Files
Photo: caliper When you do this, measure your progress often with calipers so you don’t go past your target thickness.
Luthier's Digital Caliper
Photo: scraping Hey! This utility blade scraper/shaper idea really works! In about a jiffy, I’ve got a rounded shape on this saddle. (Be careful not to scratch the sides of the saddle with the edge of the blade, though.)
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Photo: Freddie Cisneros
This is my favorite photo of Freddie Cisneros from back in the day.
That’s him on the right, with the Les Paul Custom. —Dan
Photo: filing I smoothed the top with a 300-grit diamond fret rounding file. This only took a moment, since I had the rounded shape to start from.
Diamond Fret File
Photo: polishing Then a few licks with 3M Polishing Papers, and I’ve got a gleaming rounded top. I used the green, grey, blue, and pink papers, wrapped around the same diamond file I used above.
3M Flexible Polishing Papers
Photo: radius check That’s it! A quick check with a radius gauge tells me my radius is still good after the final shaping. This saddle’s ready to go!
Radius Gauges
Problem-solving products for this kind of work:
Vintage Bone Saddle Blank
Unbleached super-hard cow bone with mottled cream color resembling fossilized ivory. Shaped or unshaped.
Diamond Fret File
The best way to recrown your frets! Unlike traditional fret files, these cut in both directions, don't chatter, and leave the fret smooth after crowning.
Nut and Saddle Vise
A better way to hold nuts and saddles for easier, faster shaping. With jaws designed to give you room for angle-filing.
More More More
3M Flexible Polishing Papers
Strong micro-grit finishing papers, so flexible you can use them like cloth--wet or dry!
Luthier's Digital Caliper
Measures fret height before AND after the fretwire has been installed.
Fret/Fingerboard Leveling Files
These custom-made files give you a handle on your fret work! 3" or 6" length.
More More More

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