Part 1: Adding Binding to a fret board

Adding binding to your builds does more than just add to the look. If done right it adds greatly to the feel and playability of your instrument. For those that have expressed an interest, below is my method for adding this traditional touch to the fret board.

It all starts with milling up the rough stock. I use 1/4" wide binding material from Stew-Mac which is 5 thousandths over. This means that I need to cut the fret boards to a finish thickness of 1/4" or just slightly under. Today's project is going to use leopard wood. While decorative, it is going to need much more work to prevent tear out and sealing the grain.

I start with rough wood. It is far cheaper than purchasing already milled material. For those that do not have the gear, just select the thickness appropriate to the binding material you are using.

I'll run this board through the jointer planer on one wide and narrow edge first and then re-saw into boards just over 1/4". Then I run them through the surface planer to finish thickness.

Here are three blanks for this series of builds.

The picture below shows these fret boards cut to the neck stock width. In order to accommodate the added width of the binding, these will have to be cut.

I measure up the thickness of the binding and cut off just slightly under this thickness.

I like to run through the jointer plane taking off just the minimum till I have just a slight over hang with the binding.

Before gluing up the binding to the fret board, it is necessary to cut the fret slots. Otherwise you'll end up having to cut the slots into the binding thus defeating the whole purpose of adding it in the first place. So I lay it out first.

Then cut the slots. I like to use a drill press vice to hold the material. In fact this vice is probably my most used shop tool.

One small tip that helps to reduce tear outs is to use a little piece of scrap at the back end of the cut.

This one is almost ready for glue up. The options are to cut the bottom of the fret board round (my favorite because it is easier) or to miter cut the board and then do the same with the binding.

In part two, I'll show how to glue, trim and create a professional finish to the binding.

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Comment by Mister Scott on October 9, 2010 at 7:21pm
Aaaaaah! I misinterpreted what you wrote; I thought you meant the backside of the fretboard. Looking forward to part 2!
Comment by Don Goguen on October 9, 2010 at 7:17pm
I'll cover more of this in part two but here is a picture showing what I'm talking about.

The idea of what I'm talking about has to do with needing to either cut or form the binding around bends or angles. When you have a 90 degree cut to bend around it is best to also miter cut the binding which is a bit more difficult to make look seamless. Around turns like in this picture, I use a heat gun to form the binding before gluing.
Comment by Mister Scott on October 9, 2010 at 5:54pm
Did I miss something? Why cut the bottom of the fret board round?
Comment by Grizz on October 9, 2010 at 3:57pm
Great instructional post. Learning some new stuff here. Looking forward to part two.
Comment by Naz Nomad on October 9, 2010 at 7:39am
That's a great tutorial, superb pics and tips there ... and I never saw leopard-wood before, stunning.
Comment by Michael R Cossey on October 9, 2010 at 2:59am

Thanks for the tutorial, it will come in handy when I reach that level..........Mike

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