Harbor Freight Japanese Flush Cut Saw as a fret saw (plus jig)

Guys, I have seen so many folks use God knows what to cut fret slots. Hacksaw blades, coping saw blades, knives. Well, if you want to cut them right, you have to use a decent saw. First, let me say that if you use Stewart MacDonald fretwire (or any fretwire that is .024"tang), the BEST tool is their fretsaw. Make no mistake, that is the tool to use. BUT if you are not inclined to buy a $30 saw, try this saw:
Japanese Flush Cut Saw from
Harbor Freight. No, its not a fret saw and NO its not the StewMac version. But it is the closest thing I have ever seen to the Stew Mac saw. Stew Mac fretwire has a tang that is .024" and this saw is rated at .023". Not exact, but damn close. I even built a jig that might come in handy, plus I added a stop bar to the saw like the StewMac saw.

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Comment by Wes "I'm Baaaaack" Yates on February 17, 2011 at 5:33pm
On a new note, StewMac is selling roughly the same setup for $109. Same kerf and all.
Comment by Wes "I'm Baaaaack" Yates on August 5, 2010 at 7:06am
I hear you Bear. I too get nicked by the saw so I have to be VERY careful! And yes, it's kinda like using a chainsaw to make dovetails. It almost feels like you can fell trees with the saw.

DO be REALLY careful with this saw as it has a tendency to jump out of the slot and either mar the surface -- badly or if you have to recut the slot, you will inevitably make the slot wider. This is why I use a jig.

Comment by Bear on August 3, 2010 at 10:38pm
After making a depth-stop for this little Harbor Freight saw, I stand corrected on my earlier comment that this saw is not as sharp as Stew-Mac's big Japanese fret saw... It IS dang sharp, as my pricked-up fingers will attest. I think the larger saw cuts faster and with somewhat more control simply because of its size and weight. With it, you hardly have to press down at all; with the little one, you do. But it does work pretty well!
Comment by Bear on August 2, 2010 at 4:20pm
I'm on my third Stew-Mac fret saw after about a decade of guitar-making (they do get dull eventually), most recently the Japanese one. I just had to try one of these Harbor Freight jobs, thinking maybe I could save some $$$ next time around. Here's a quick review of the Harbor Freight flush cut saw:

It works! The width of cut was about perfect for Stew-Mac fretwire (BTW, you got it backwards: fretwire tang is .023" and this saw is .024") and it felt pretty much the same hammering fretwire in as when using the Stew-Mac saw; the barbs do grab the slot sides as they should. The biggest difference (besides the size; Stew-Mac saw is twice as big, and therefore may be easier to handle) is that the Harbor Freight saw isn't nearly as sharp, so it takes a bit longer to make a cut. But that said, I think this little saw is very usable, especially if you're not making a lot of instruments. I even think I'd rather use it than the original Stew-Mac version (no longer offered) which was a PUSH saw. That one was horrible, always hanging up.

Making the depth-stop would be a necessity for me, but I think I'd use plexiglas. Think I'll go do that right now!

Wes, you're right that the Stew-Mac saw is the best tool for the job (especially their $45 Japanese one), but as a cost-effective alternative, this little Harbor Freight saw, I believe, will get the job done. AND you can always use it as a flush-cut saw! Thanks for posting this tip.
Comment by Wes "I'm Baaaaack" Yates on July 15, 2010 at 10:16am
Lately I've been using one that fits on top of the fretboard once the fretboard is attached. Doesn't have to be but I'm doing more of a radius fretboard and the fboard is slightly scooped (bowed downward).
Comment by christian pearson on July 14, 2010 at 11:25pm
that is the type of i am talking about. great work. my friend
Comment by Wes "I'm Baaaaack" Yates on June 13, 2010 at 9:52pm
sure. I drilled two holes in the blade and attached a 1/4" thick piece of oak strip to it with wing screws. I made a slot where the screws go so the 'stop' would be adjustable.

One word of caution -- the blade is TOUGH. Use oil as a lube and a drill bit you don't mind messing up. Might want a tungsten carbide bit made for hard metals.

Comment by Craig Cox on June 13, 2010 at 7:51pm
Wes, could you describe how you modified this saw with a depth stop?
Comment by Delmer Blake II on May 12, 2010 at 2:35am
Thank God for Harbor Freight
Comment by Wes "I'm Baaaaack" Yates on January 31, 2010 at 5:44pm
You got it guys. I had posted this about a month and a half ago. Wichita Sam also uses this and a few others if I recall.

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