Files and rasps - as necessary as chisels for fine work

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Forum topic by Loren posted 07-15-2011 05:30 AM 6489 views 1 time favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Loren's profile


10390 posts in 3646 days

07-15-2011 05:30 AM

The use of metal working files in fine woodworking isn’t often mentioned,
but I’ve found files and fine rasps essential to my work.

There are usually a lot of sharp edges that need to be cut back on a piece
prior to finishing. While you can do this with sandpaper, the crisp geometry
of saw and chisel cuts is easily lost.

Still, the edges will feel unfriendly to inquisitive fingers if left un-beveled, and
for these many tiny bevels I use files quite a lot.

This is something nobody mentions much, but the treatment of sharp
edges on hardwoods is fundamental not only to nice work, but to the
adhesion of film finishes, even shellac.

I encourage folks here to explore the use of files and fine rasps.

I recently got some iwasaki files from Japan and I’m finding the flat
file very useful. I thought I would use them for carving, but the flat
file is a godsend for refining joints.

14 replies so far

View devann's profile


2246 posts in 2690 days

#1 posted 07-15-2011 05:51 AM

Well stated Loren. I had several small files given to me this last year to use on some of my projects and I’m very thankful for receiving them. Some of the larger files I had were just too big for making smaller more intricate cuts and pieces.

-- Darrell, making more sawdust than I know what to do with

View Woodwrecker's profile


4148 posts in 3573 days

#2 posted 07-15-2011 06:09 AM

Good point Loren.
I have a bunch of nice files inherited from my dad, and I bought some Nicholson rasps (#49 & 50) that I use a lot.
I have tried the french rasp made by Ariou and can’t justify the much higher price.
You are right that nice pieces beg to be touched, and by softening the edge a little, it becomes even more pleasant an experience.
Also, your point about finishes is true. Shellac, for example magnifies the effect of fine edge treatment.

-- Eric, central Florida / Utor praemia operibus duris

View Dave2D2's profile


17 posts in 2506 days

#3 posted 07-15-2011 05:18 PM

I had bought a set of rifflers, actually 3 sets from grizzly last year, coarse medium and fine. The coarse and medium are horrible, but the fine is like my full set of needle files, only with all the different shapes. I use the needle files and rifflers nearly everyday on my projects. For some hard to reach places, the lowly exacto knife is an often overlooked tool. I used them like scrapers, approaching the wood at close to 90 degrees, and always scraping with the grain. On my detailed work that I’ve used rotary tungsten burrs to shape, the exacto takes it from what looks like 36 grit up to 220 or more if used right.

View wingate_52's profile


224 posts in 2567 days

#4 posted 07-15-2011 06:00 PM

I use Iwasaki Japanese wood rasps. Really great tools,

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4125 days

#5 posted 07-15-2011 06:04 PM

The excellent Iwasaki carving files can also be purchased from Lee Valley.

-- 温故知新

View TheDane's profile


5423 posts in 3661 days

#6 posted 07-15-2011 10:45 PM

My go-to tool for shaping and blending work is a Japanese Shinto Rasp ( ). I have the planer type with a detachable handle.


-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View Loren's profile


10390 posts in 3646 days

#7 posted 07-15-2011 11:10 PM

I like the Shinto rasps too, for fairly aggressive work. It’s a really great
tool for the money and seems to stay sharper than things like the
microplane rasps.

I have the entry-level small, bastard Iwasaki files – I want to get one
or two finer-cut ones and I wonder if anyone has tried the different
grades and has comments on the different grades.

View ChuckM's profile


608 posts in 3664 days

#8 posted 07-17-2011 02:58 AM

This seems to be a good topic for the new hand tools forum, too.

Not every one mentions or knows that when we use the files or rasps, push only. I have seen many woodworkers including some on vids who push and pull the file on the wood. That will dull a file quicker than otherwise. It does take a while to get used to the “pushing only” mode of working. If you use handplanes and tilt or lift up the planes on return strokes, then just do the same when using a file.

The mill file is also useful for jointing the card scrapers and cabinet scraper blade/iron.

-- The time I enjoy wasting is not time wasted

View Loren's profile


10390 posts in 3646 days

#9 posted 07-17-2011 03:13 AM

Everybody knows how to “draw file”, right?

Well, of course not.

Draw filing is where you hold the file more or less at a right angle
to the work with a hand at either end and push it away from you.

I guess you can pull it too – you can vary the angle of the file
to the cut and achieve different relationships between fineness
of cut, speed or material removal, and straightness of the cut.

In my experience draw filing doesn’t work very well with rasps,
which prefer to be used in linear fashion and always pushed to
cut and lifted to return to the start position.

View Ripthorn's profile


1458 posts in 2983 days

#10 posted 07-17-2011 03:44 AM

I shape my guitar necks with rasps, but have been wanting to get one of the Iwasaki files to try, they sound very interesting. I have found that on certain grain orientations, the draw filing will work with a rasp, but that is typically when a straight stroke leaves massive grooves or tearout or something. I have also used the single cut files for woodworking tasks, but not really frequently. Totally agree with the technique and sentiment, though.

-- Brian T. - Exact science is not an exact science

View wingate_52's profile


224 posts in 2567 days

#11 posted 07-17-2011 10:27 AM

I have the small “extream fine cut” and the 200mm “fine cut” rasps in both flat and half round. They leave a very smooth finish, but can take an aggressive cut. I pass with the Iwasaki is worth 8 of a handcut english quality rasp that I have. They are better than my Microplanes and Surforms. I use them for Guitar necks and body work, and recently making rear totes for my planes in Bubinga. Excellent tools. The range is limited here in the U.K.

View Bertha's profile


13528 posts in 2691 days

#12 posted 07-17-2011 02:01 PM

I’m glad this was posted. Admittedly, I don’t use rasps/files as frequently as I should. When I do, I usually turn to microplane for availability or shinto for aggressiveness. I should probably invest in a nice set of rasps.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4125 days

#13 posted 07-17-2011 03:23 PM

Here’s how I wrap the handles, Japanese style, on my Iwasaki files. The loop on the end is for hanging on a nail.

Note: Woodcraft also carries these files. My local Woodcraft store is having a sale next weekend. It will be worth the 50 mile trip from my studio.

-- 温故知新

View ChuckM's profile


608 posts in 3664 days

#14 posted 07-18-2011 01:24 AM

Tips on using rasps can be found at the above site. The holding of a Nicholson rasp, e.g. and that of an Auriou rasp are different.

-- The time I enjoy wasting is not time wasted

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