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

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