Ever wonder how the frets get inlayed in your guitar's fretboard or what tool is used to do it? Well, there are generally two different types of processes and tools used to inlay guitar frets. The first process simply uses a hammer to hammer the frets into place. The second slightly more sophisticated process uses a small arbor press to physically press the frets into their slots. You can either use a fretting hammer or a fretting press. Both of these tools work fine and most builders/ repairmen use a mixture of both tools. In this article I will talk about the fretting hammer.
A fretting hammer is a traditional luthier tool used to install guitar frets. It's much cheaper than a complete fretting press setup and with a little technique it works just a good. A fretting hammer is a special hammer designed for guitar fret work. It has two different ends: one brass and one plastic. The two different ends help prevent denting the frets when hammering them into place. Using a fretting hammer to install guitar frets is pretty simple. Once the fretboard is shaped and the fret slots are cut, you can place the neck into a fretting fixture. Take your cut and bent fret wire and place them squarely in the fret slots with a small amount of glue. Then you just hammer them into place. There are a few things to watch out for however. You have to make sure you don't hammer the frets too hard. The hammer could dent the frets. Also, you need to keep an eye on the bottom of the fret bead. This should be flush with the fretboard when the fret is installed. If there is a space in between the fret bead and the fretboard, you need to hammer more. If fretting an entire guitar with a fretting hammer is too much work for you, you may want to get a fret press. For more information about fret presses, please see my fret press page.
Both fretting tools are simple and easy to use. If you are first starting out, I would suggest just to buy a fretting hammer. You don't need a fretting press unless you do a lot of fretting. Keep in mind even if you do get a fret press, you will still want to get a fretting hammer to hammer down loose frets and do other fret repairs. If you would like more information about how to refret your guitar, please see my how to refret a guitar article.