If you’re into maintaining, repairing, or modding guitars, odds are you already have a decent collection of tools. In addition to various screwdrivers and nut drivers, your toolkit will likely contain specialized files, precision rulers, truss rod wrenches, a power drill, and a soldering kit—the usual suspects.
But you know you’re hardcore when you have a Dremel rotary tool. (Okay, a rolling metal tool chest qualifies as hardcore, too.) An invaluable piece of equipment for any shop, a Dremel lets you accomplish many tasks, including engraving, routing, grinding, and polishing.
Dremel makes several different models of rotary tools. Mine is the variable-speed Moto-Tool 395 (Photo 1). With a top speed of 30,000 rpm, it’s a little workhorse with five different speed settings to handle any project. (Dremel has updated this model with the 3000 series.)
Let’s look at five ways to use a Dremel on a guitar. If you have a rotary tool, these projects may inspire you to haul it out and get busy. If you don’t, perhaps you’ll consider acquiring one. Most home improvement stores sell Dremels, and they’re often bundled in a kit with attachments—pads, wheels, and bits—that cover a multitude of guitar-oriented tasks. In addition, there are specialized attachments that are only available through such luthier suppliers as Stewart-McDonald or Luthiers Mercantile.
If you’re working on guitars, the Flex-Shaft (Photo 2) is a crucial Dremel accessory. It allows you to maneuver into positions that are difficult or impossible to reach with just the Dremel itself.
Okay, here are the five projects we’ll cover; they each require different attachments.
• Polishing frets on a maple fretboard.
• Removing burrs from tuning keys.
• Shortening height adjustments screws in Fender-style bridge saddles.
• Cutting string slots in an acoustic bridge.
• Grinding off sharp edges on an acoustic bridge saddle.
Tip: Before you fire up a Dremel—or any other power tool—always don safety glasses!
Polishing frets on a maple fretboard. You never want to use sandpaper or emery cloth—even if it’s ultra fine—to clean and polish the frets by hand on a maple fretboard with a glossy finish. It’s too easy to scratch or damage the surrounding finish.
But a small buffing wheel mounted on a Dremel tool is ideal for the job (Photo 3). Just put a few drops of buffing compound on the wheel (I use Planet Waves Restore), and set the tool to a medium speed.
Gently glide the buffing wheel along the length of the fret. Don’t use a lot of pressure when buffing. If you force the wheel onto the fret, it can slip off and possibly burn the finish on the fretboard. A slow, steady, light touch will do it right.
After you’ve buffed all the frets, wipe down the fretboard with a clean polishing cloth.