Shop Skills #1: Cabinet Scrapers Exposed!

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Blog entry by Todd A. Clippinger posted 12-18-2008 04:55 AM 29256 reads 39 times favorited 52 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Shop Skills series Part 2: Card Scrapers the Video! »

The buzz about scrapers…

Lately, talk of the cabinet scraper and the frustration that this little tool inflicts on a character has created some buzz in the LJ community. This simple, inexpensive, and very effective tool also frustrates me, but for a different reason. I see many people missing out on the joy of using this tool because they are fed too much information that clouds the simple truth.

On the other hand…

On one hand I appreciate the histories and detailed accounts of filing, honing, burnishing, and turning the burr. On the other hand, the cabinet or card scraper is made overly complicated.

When I share my method of sharpening a cabinet scraper with other woodworkers, I am most often discounted and pooh-poohed. It’s near heresy because it is not mystical and complicated enough. It does not support the shroud of mystery around some lost art of the craftsman which elevates him to the level of mythical proportions.

Pulling down the shroud of mystery…

There is always more than one way to perform tasks in the shop, but here is how I sharpen my scrapers. This post may look long but it is more photos than text.

Here is a look at the collection of scrapers that I use almost everyday that I work in the shop. I use them quite often in my remodeling as well.

Cabinet Scraper Collection

I have no preference of any of them. They are different sizes but they are all basically the same thickness, about 1/32” thick.

Cabinet Scraper Thickness

There is one card that is thinner which gets used the least. I have enough control of the thick scrapers to perform some of the finest work on veneer and inlays. Here I display the difference in the thickness of the scrapers.

Various Thicknesses

Workflow and sharpening…

When I am working at the bench and need to use my scrapers, I leave my mill file clamped in the bench vise just like this.

Sharpening File

I will scrape my project on one bench and then turn around to the other bench to stroke the card a few times to whip it back into shape. I do not use a jig, I simply hold it by hand at a 90 degree angle on the file. To sharpen I stroke it the full length of the file 3 to 4 times, that is all that is needed. Then I flip it and do the other side. This is exactly how I hold it.

Sharpening The Card Scraper

Here is a tip…
One thing I find important is keeping the file clean from the file shavings. I keep compressed air handy to blow off the file. You can feel if the shavings roll under the scraper, this is a sign that it needs to be blown off.

What’s your angle?

The easiest way to find the working angle is to hold the card at 45 degrees to the surface. Then stand it back up toward vertical a little more, no more than 1/4 to 1/3 the distance. I don’t get hung up on the angle in degrees, it is really by feel. You will get the feel of it as you vary the angle and pressure until it starts to produce fine shavings.

Place your thumbs in the center towards the bottom of the scraper. You can use different areas of the cutting edge by moving the location of your thumbs, thereby applying pressure where you want. You may also pull the scraper applying pressure to the back with your fingers.

This is basically what it will look like.

Scraper Angle

Here is another view showing some real cabinet scraper action on a piece of reclaimed doug fir flooring.

Flooring Sample

Here is the flooring with a good bit of scraping done. This piece of wood flooring had a finish on it and sheetrock mud from a remodel project. The cabinet scraper was sharp enough to cut through all of this and make some of the finest shavings.

Doug Fir Flooring

Here is the result of my sharpening method on a piece of curly maple. This is a difficult piece of wood to plane by hand or machine, but look at the finish and the fine curly shavings.

Curly Maple Sample

The next photo shows the scraper results on a piece of Brazilian cherry with a difficult grain pattern. Notice that once again I get consistently fine “angel hair” shavings.

Brazilian Cherry Flooring Sample

My last photo shows a piece of baltic birch ply that has a maple veneer that I applied. I have total control to scrape the veneer without cutting through it and yet get some nice shavings.

Maple Veneered Plywood

The proof is in the pudding…

Well, there you have it. I sharpen my cabinet scraper with a few strokes on the file and nothing more. I sharpened the scraper between each piece of wood but these are true results for each.

I have no preference as to which cabinet scraper that I use. The cheap Stanley scrapers work just as well as the more expensive Sandvik scrapers.

A balanced point of view…

I will let you know that the cabinet scraper is followed by a random orbital sander in my workflow. I never use the scraper with the intention of the wood surface going straight to finish.

This level of sharpening is very easy to master and then you may find yourself wanting to precede to the next level. I am very satisfied with the performance of my scraper at this level and do not desire to go any further. If you look at my portfolio you can be sure that the cabinet scraper was used in every project and the results speak for themselves so I can stand by my method.

May the shroud of mystery be pulled back and the great Oz be exposed…it is that simple.

Peace, Love, and Woodworking

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

52 comments so far

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 3812 days

#1 posted 12-18-2008 05:22 AM

Wow. All this talk of burnishing, oil, bending the burr over, but you can’t dispute those feathery shavings you’re getting there. I’ll have to give that a try! Thanks for the post and great pics.

-- Eric at

View Karson's profile


35125 posts in 4429 days

#2 posted 12-18-2008 05:23 AM

Todd great series of photos. I tell people that if you get dust then you are holding the scraper at the wrong angle. You need to vary your hold until the shavings appear.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View jim1953's profile


2735 posts in 3870 days

#3 posted 12-18-2008 05:32 AM

Thanks alot Again for the Info

-- Jim, Kentucky

View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1288 posts in 3765 days

#4 posted 12-18-2008 05:33 AM

Todd, I agree with you 100%. I have been doing the same thing for many years. I have all kinds of different scrapers, including a set of bridge city titanium coated ones. They can only be sharpened in this fashion. Thanks for taking some of the mystery out of this tool. John

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

View lazyfiremaninTN's profile


528 posts in 3981 days

#5 posted 12-18-2008 05:45 AM

DOH! I threw my scrapers in a bin and forgot about them because I couldn’t get a stupid burr that would give more than dust…...DOH!!!!!!!!!!

Falls back to my mantra…..KISS (Keep it stupid simple)

-- Adrian ..... The 11th Commandment...."Thou Shalt Not Buy A Wobble Dado"

View lew's profile


12102 posts in 3783 days

#6 posted 12-18-2008 05:46 AM

Thanks, Todd!

I have been trying all of the same things as Eric pointed out and with dismal results. I am going try it your way, now!

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4128 days

#7 posted 12-18-2008 05:59 AM

I will have to do a video for you guys. But don’t hold your breathe – it could be a while.

I am confident that with the given information you guys should be able to figure it out.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Bob42's profile


456 posts in 3818 days

#8 posted 12-18-2008 06:36 AM

Thanks for the post Todd. Santa just delivered my new set of scrapers. I had an old cheap scraper but it didn’t work very well, maybe now I can try this method. It sound easy enough.

-- Bob K. East Northport, NY

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 3903 days

#9 posted 12-18-2008 07:26 AM

Todd, this is exactly how I do it. If I’ve misplaced my file (again) I just throw some 150 grit paper on the chunk of granite I use for a honing plate and sharpen my scrapers there. And I completely agree … every time I mention this method, someone starts in about some obscure difference between two types of burnishers.

-- -- --

View gbear's profile


512 posts in 4127 days

#10 posted 12-18-2008 07:33 AM

what if you only have one bench?

-- gbear, Carmichael, CA

View Callum Kendall's profile

Callum Kendall

1918 posts in 3731 days

#11 posted 12-18-2008 12:32 PM

Great job Todd, alot of useful info

Thanks for the post


-- For wood working podcasts with a twist check out

View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 3967 days

#12 posted 12-18-2008 01:33 PM

Todd I can understand the desire to pull back the shroud of mystery … BUT … with that you destroy one of the mystiques of woodworking. These secret practices are necessary to maintain the illusion of superiority. If you continue to expose the simplicity of some of these things then people like myself will be forced to fall back on the quality of our work for the ooohs and ahhhhs. I’m not sure I’m up to that. ;-)

Yet, it’s a good explanation and I may even pull out my card scrapers and give it another try.

-- Working at Woodworking

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4034 days

#13 posted 12-18-2008 01:47 PM

Great post Todd. I sometimes use simple scrap pieces of dsb glass that also makes a fine scraper. No sharpening. Just cut you another one and try not to cut yourself!

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3850 days

#14 posted 12-18-2008 02:21 PM

Nice post, Todd. I have always assumed that burnishing was a part of the sharpening process. I will try just putting an edge on with the mill file and see how it comes out.

By the way I am curious how so you sharpen the curved scrapers. I have used set at times, reluctently, since I can’t see a way to easily sharpen them, as you can the straight scrapers.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Greg Wurst's profile

Greg Wurst

794 posts in 3860 days

#15 posted 12-18-2008 03:30 PM

Shhhh! You’re ruining it for scraper Nazis everywhere!

“No shavings for you!”

That’s how I sharpen mine, but I use a screwdriver to create a slight burr. I’ll have to try it now straight from the file and see if that works just as good. Always looking to save a step when I can!

-- You're a unique and special person, just like everyone else.

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