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The Search for Economical Nut Files I'm going to preface this by saying I'm cheap. At the moment I am balancing college, two part-ti...

The Search for Cheap Nut Files

The Search for Economical Nut Files

I'm going to preface this by saying I'm cheap. At the moment I am balancing college, two part-time jobs, and this hobby so I'm always looking for a way to save a buck that could be used to buy gas (or more accurately) the next cool guitar. This is probably one of the biggest hurdles that people face when they try to get into guitar work (I know I did) and is the subject of thousands of forum threads. I have no ties to any of these products, I just enjoy making lists.

A properly cut nut from bone or synthetic is essential for tuning ease and stability and seems like a fairly straight forward process but is actually really involved. I've made at least a hundred nuts in the past few years and I'm only now getting to the point where they look like someone knew what they were doing when they made it. Part of that is having the right file. 

This is the ideal file pattern.
Rounded, toothed edges with safe sides
Image Credit: Grobet USA Catalog


Old Guitar Strings



This comes up frequently when the topic of economical nut files is discussed and is probably the most accessible solution. I've seen strings rigged into coping saws and glued into blocks of wood. You save money but you'll end up spending a lot of time devising your string holder, cleaning the debris from the strings, and slowly filing.

Just buy the welding torch tip cleaners... They'll perform similarly and you'll waste less time since you won't have to make a tool.

Welding Torch Tip Cleaners

These are hot garbage and I used them for at least half a dozen nuts when I first began working on guitars. The super cheap price is alluring but you learn quickly why these have not been adopted by professionals. These are designed to dislodge debris inside a welding torch nozzle so they're not exactly profiled to make deep cuts. In my experience I found them to cut very slowly (similar to a guitar string), clog frequently, and be prone to breaking.

The best way I found to use them was to use a saw to start your lines, a triangle or "knife" file to open up the slot to get near your desired depth, and then use these to finalize and round the bottom of the slots. It was inefficient and ugly. I would also highly recommend investing in a set of calipers or a micrometer to double check that each cleaner is the proper diameter.


Welding torch tip cleaners 
Image Credit: Amazon

Aliexpress Special


I was debating purchasing these and reviewing them but they appeared to be mediocre at best from the listing. The edges of the file are square so you'll have to come in with either a diamond bead reamer or a welding tip torch to round the bottom of the slot. Also the files have a triangular cutting profile which isn't great for nut slots as the strings will bind if you don't round it out. 

As for the quality of some Chinese files,  I purchased a copy of the Dragon rasp from AliExpress and I definitely got what I paid for. It was made of unhardened steel (you can bend the rasp at a 90 degree angle and it won't snap) and the steel was wavy down the length so it wouldn't be good for anything you want to be straight or level. 

Cost: $15 after shipping

Retailer: AliExpress

Sizes Available:
  • 1-6, I guess?

Notched Feeler Gauges

My first attempt was making slotting files for
acoustic guitar bridges. They turned out okay.

Feeler gauges come recommended as the cheapest way to get a set of nut files but they are a DIY project. If you have plenty of time and not a lot of money then I would recommend sitting down and making these. You will need a couple tools, however, and a bit of skill with them.

I used a set of old automotive feeler gauges and a Dremel with a No.409 cut off wheel to grind my notches. For those who do not have a cutting tool then you can use a triangle file or a knife edge file given that the metal has not been hardened (if your file cuts the metal, you're golden. If it 'skates' off then you need to use a grinding wheel). As you can see by my crude teeth, I was experimenting with different ways of cutting teeth into the steel and settled on an alternating pattern of notches that are heavier on the left and right sides. It works great for slotting bridges but is prone to chipping when I tried to use them on bone.

To make them easier to hold I cut a notch into some figured maple and epoxied the files into them. The handles are quaint but they are more friendly than the bare metal

Things I learned
  • Use a quality set of feeler gauges, somewhere between $10 and $25. No stainless steel
  • You will have to round over the edges of your gauges, I opted to 'rock' them back and forth on a belt sander.
  • The closer together your teeth are, the better the file will perform
  • Don't cut an L shape into the file like I did, I honestly have no idea what my end goal was there

Hiroshima Uo-Chikyu Files



Image Credit: Grizzly.com

Hiroshima Files is a Japanese-based manufacturer of abrasive tools and appear to be the OEM for some StewMac and Hosco products. They have the largest selection of individual files that I can find and they also provide a couple different sets at a slight discount. The full selection is only available from a Japanese distributor but Grizzly sells a nice set and a few extras and I'm sure there are some other US distributors out there

Cost: $9 - $13 each 

Retailer: PlazaJapan.com (JP), JaParts (CA) or Grizzly.com (USA) for a more limited selection

Sizes Available:
  • 0.009"
  • 0.010"
  • 0.011"
  • 0.012"
  • 0.013"
  • 0.016"
  • 0.017"
  • 0.024"
  • 0.026"
  • 0.032"
  • 0.036"
  • 0.040"
  • 0.042"
  • 0.045"
  • 0.046"
  • 0.050"
  • 0.053"
  • 0.054"
  • 0.056"
  • 0.065"
  • 0.080"
  • 0.085"
  • 0.100"
  • 0.105"
  • 0.135"
 

Hosco Edge Cut File


Cost: $13-$19 each

Retailer: You can find from on Ebay or in a set of 10 for $109 from Philadelphia Luthier Tools

Sizes Available:
  • 0.010"
  • 0.013"
  • 0.016"
  • 0.024"
  • 0.028"
  • 0.032"
  • 0.036"
  • 0.042"
  • 0.046"
  • 0.056"

Music Nomad Diamond Nut Files

These are the newest files on the market at the time of writing and definitely the cheapest diamond nut files available. I have yet to try them out but I will certainly report back once I do

Cost: $16.99 each

Retailer: Any MusicNomad retailer but currently zZounds.com was the only website I found

Sizes Available:
  • 0.010"
  • 0.013"
  • 0.016"
  • 0.020"
  • 0.024"
  • 0.028"
  • 0.032"
  • 0.036"
  • 0.042"
  • 0.046"
  • 0.050"
  • 0.056"
  • 0.065"
  • 0.085"
  • 0.105"
  • 0.130"

End of the Cheap Files

I've reached the end of what a economical person would likely be willing to spend but it wasn't for a lack of trying. I dove deep into the world of files learning terminology and searching professions for a similar product and have not found the Holy Grail of cheap, effective nut files. 

Folks want luthier-quality tools at Harbor Freight prices and I just don't think the market is large enough for that. There aren't a whole lot of manufacturers that produce these edge cut files in such specific widths and the prices of the tools reflect that. Unless a new factory opens up in China where they pay their employees peanuts to produce mediocre nut files that will retail for $5. I don't think people will truly be satisfied

Anyway, here are some common nut files as well as a few alternatives I stumbled across.

Stewmac Gauged Nut Slot Files

StewMac's Gauged Nut Slotting Files

These are probably the most commonly used nut files and the ones that many professional shops use. I purchased a set of 6 for electric guitar after dealing with the welding torch tip cleaners and I've very glad I did so. 

Cost: $17-$19 each

Retailer: StewMac.com, obviously

Sizes Available:
  • 0.010"
  • 0.013"
  • 0.016"
  • 0.020"
  • 0.024"
  • 0.028"
  • 0.032"
  • 0.035"
  • 0.042"
  • 0.046"
  • 0.050"
  • 0.056"
  • 0.065"
  • 0.075"
  • 0.085"
  • 0.095"
  • 0.105"
  • 0.115"
  • 0.125"

Hiroshima Uo-Chikyu Double Sided Files

Image Credit: PlazaJapan.com

These are double sided nut files with a different diameter file on each side which is clever. They would definitely be beefier than your standard nut file which may fit better in one's hand. Their size selection is a little odd and not comprehensive for a standard guitar but they may be a useful tool.

Cost: $21.42 each

Retailer: PlazaJapan.com

Sizes Available:
  • 0.016"/0.042"
  • 0.026"/0.050"
  • 0.036"/0.055"

Grobet Joint Round Edge Files

Image Credit: Metalliferous.com 


These files have been out of production for a few years now but if you search around you may find some stragglers. I have one and it is excellent

Cost: $23.90 each

Retailer: None

Model Numbers = Sizes:
  • 31.169 = 0.016"
  • 31.168 = 0.020"
  • 31.167 = 0.024"
  • 31.166 = 0.028"
  • 31.165 = 0.031"
  • 31.164 = 0.035"
  • 31.163 = 0.039"
  • 31.162 = 0.047"
  • 31.161 = 0.059"

Glardon Vallorbe Files

Image Credit: Ottofrei.com Jewelers Supply

These are Swiss-made joint round edge files with a tapered shank handle (they also produce blue plastic handles  for $4 each). Swiss files have a high reputation and given that these are designed for jewelers I would expect the quality to reflect the price.

Cost: $24 up each to 0.0433" then they are $32 each

Retailer: Ottofrei.com

Available Sizes:
  • 0.0157"
  • 0.0196"
  • 0.0236"
  • 0.0275"
  • 0.0315"
  • 0.0354"
  • 0.0393"
  • 0.0433"
  • 0.0472"
  • 0.0590"

StewMac Double Edge Files


Image Credit: StewMac.com


Cost: $34.57 each

Retailer: StewMac.com

Available Sizes:
  • 0.012"/0.020"
  • 0.026"/0.032"
  • 0.036"/0.042"
  • 0.050"/0.060"
  • 0.075"/0.090"
  • 0.105"/0.120"

StewMac Diamond Nut Files

Image Credit: StewMac

I've only used the 0.010" diamond file and its marvelous, cuts like butter. These are obviously some of the most expensive files on the market but I'm sure for the professional they are worth it

Cost: $66-$82 each

Retailer: StewMac.com

Available Sizes:
  • 0.010"
  • 0.013"
  • 0.016"
  • 0.020"
  • 0.024"
  • 0.028"
  • 0.032"
  • 0.036"
  • 0.042"
  • 0.046"
  • 0.050"
  • 0.056"

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