A comprehensive article presenting hand-stitched wood rasp

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Forum topic by Liogier posted 01-03-2014 05:46 PM 3115 views 0 times favorited 1 reply Add to Favorites Watch
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01-03-2014 05:46 PM

originally published is the issue #115 of the highly respected magazine “American Lutherie”, written by Todd Brotherton.

Although this article is appreciative towards my work and therefore education should forbid me to share it here, I dare to do it because it expresses better than I ever could do with my poor English what I try to explain year-round about rasps to many community of woodworkers around the world.

” In the course of our lutherie or woodworking lives, most of us have had occasion to use a rasp. The typical scenario looks something like purchasing a Nicholson 49 or 50 at the local hardware store or finding an old four-way rasp somewhere. Images of beautiful, shaped pieces float through our head, then we use it. Ugh. The grand images quickly fade as we find ourselves left with the sad reality of coarsely cut wood fibers torn every which way, and deep, ugly scratches that require serious effort to remove and even more effort to follow up with satisfactory shaping. Sound familiar?

Sometime in the mid-1980s I had the good fortune to find my way to a lovely hand-stitched rasp. Of course, the supplier highly lauded its virtues, but then isn’t that the way most tools are marketed? Little did I know I would be in woodworking heaven from the second it touched the wood. You mean one can actually control wood removal, accurately shape, and have a near-finished surface with a rasp!? Over the years I have acquired a variety of hand-stitched rasps from various parts of the world. I even had the good fortune some years back to purchase through one of our members a limited edition set of ten very high-quality, hand-stitched rasps (five pair of 10- and 15-grain) in shapes specifically chosen for various aspects of lutherie. How fortunate! They all get perennial usage in my shop.

I was recently provided a rasp by the French maker Noel Liogier for review. The occasion offers the opportunity to speak to some aspects of these useful tools along with providing an opinion of their rasp. So much of the woodworking in lutherie is shaping irregular concave and convex surfaces, we should all have a quality “working” set of these basic tools.

Rasps are an ancient tool form dating back to at least 1200–1000BCE in Egypt. Until the Industrial Revolution, they were, of course, handmade. The process of raising teeth on an iron blank is referred to as stitching. It is accomplished with skilled hands and eyes with a punch and hammer, one tooth at a time. “Grain” describes the size and density of teeth, and the consequent coarseness and fineness of the tool. The foremost makers typically use a scale of 1 through 15 to identify the grain, from coarse to fine, respectively.

In the mid-1800s rasps inevitably began to be made by machine. In addition to the lesser general quality of most machine-made rasps, there are two qualities they lack that are significant. The first is that the teeth are not cut out to the edge of the tool, limiting one’s ability to work into corners and creases. The second is that the teeth are typically arranged in a strictly symmetrical pattern as a function of the mechanized punching that does not lend itself to the fineness of cut possible with a handmade pattern. While symmetrical in general, the handmade pattern carries with it a variance that can naturally occur in any hand work. This variance creates a pattern of teeth that are not lined up directly behind one another. Consequently, the quality of cut is much finer than with precisely aligned teeth. This point is often stressed in the sales pitch made for hand stitching. I suppose one can intellectually argue how this might not be so important depending on the varying angles and path of travel one might use. As we know, the proof is always in the results. With machine-made rasps the norm is coarse, deep scratches that are uneven, and they are difficult to control in the most rudimentary shaping, let alone sensitive shaping. With a well-made, hand-stitched tool, one can quickly remove a lot of wood with excellent control of the shape. The coarsest tool one would typically start with will leave scratches 1/3–1/2 the depth of a “common” rasp and, depending on the species, one can move to scrapers or to 120- or 150-grit abrasives from a second finer rasp of a 13- or 15-grain. It is quite like other well-sharpened edge tools we use; efficient, clean wood removal and shaping. We love it.

It is true that there are now machine-made rasps, notably made with CNC machines, that are much higher quality than what I have referred to above. They offer nonlinear tooth patterns that can be achieved through programming. They even claim to exceed the qualities of handmade tools due to the accuracy of their manufacturing process. And yes, they have teeth raised out to the edge. Not having used them, I cannot speak to their qualities from firsthand experience.

Once even a modest degree of skill is developed with rasps (which is not difficult to accomplish), the usual advantages of using hand tools comes quickly to the luthier’s life. One is the intimate relationship with the wood itself that many of us enjoy and wish to increase in our work. Another is the flexibility of being able to make subtle changes in shape and design as we create our visions. We don’t have to make another machine setup to accomplish this, only think it and do it. The removed wood is far less dusty than other abrasive systems and the shape can be more refined than when using a chisel or spokeshave. If one chooses to use the latter in a system, these rasps provide the perfect complement to refine the shape in the next step. What will truly astound anyone who has not worked with a high-quality rasp is how quickly it will remove wood and the quality of the surface remaining. It is at once fast and clean. They are a true pleasure to use and, like all quality hand tools, endlessly satisfying to use. They will fit into the category of tools described as “I wish I had purchased these twenty years ago.”

So, what is out there? It is likely that what you have seen offered or would initially turn up in researching the matter are hand-stitched rasps from France, where there is a long history of producing these fine tools. Enter Liogier. They have been making rasps for wood and stone cutting for nearly a century. They offered to send my choice of tool for review and I chose a size, style, and grain that could typically be used in lutherie as well as many aspects of woodworking. It would be identified as a 250mm/10” cabinetmaker’s rasp, 9-grain, and I chose to specify it with their handle. They offer a Traditional (standard) line and their proprietary Sapphire line. The latter are specially hardened tools the maker states will retain their sharpness much longer than a conventional rasp and has increased “bite.” It will come as no surprise that they have a dark blue color from the hardening process. This style of rasp is priced at $91 in their Traditional line and at $135 in the Sapphire line.

In general, this has a half-round cross section with a tapered shape near the tip. Half-rounds, cabinetmaker’s, and modeller’s rasps are similar, but differ in the ratios of width and cross section height to length. The tool tested would be a common tool to use in the initial shaping of a guitar neck. It could be followed up with a similar tool with a 13- or 15-grain cut. Violin makers often find the modeller’s style a better choice because their more delicate sizing fits a smaller area to work. Of course, the flat side provides an excellent surface for working the main shaft of the neck and the tapered, convex surface gives all the variety needed to shape all the curved surfaces around the heel and transition into the headstock. Another good choice is the sage-leaf style which offers a mid-round profile on each face, but of different radii.

The rasp came well protected in an acrylic tube. Upon removal, one immediately senses the quality. The rasp has good weight and a substantial handle that balances the tool well and feels comfortable in my medium-sized hands. It is well-formed in its shape, flat/straight with both faces tapering towards the center slightly near the tip. As one would expect, the stitching is excellent with the stabs producing extremely sharp teeth in a manner and pattern that has all the hallmarks of a handmade tool: subtle differences from one spot to another, but clearly handled by high-level craftsmen. And it is these subtle differences in spacing (that I spoke of above) that produce a rasp that cuts so beautifully.

No sense in wasting time: Does it work? Indeed, it shapes the wood just as my anticipation and expectation wished. Beautiful balance, excellent control, and fast, efficient removal of wood well-finished in spite of medium coarseness. Nice! One of the subtle qualities in these tools is they respond well to varying techniques in usage. A simple example is the rasp will cut well whether used aggressively or delicately. The cuts are smooth and precise either way; slow or fast, low or medium pressure. I say medium pressure because these tools are not meant to be used with high pressure. The bite, or the rasp’s ability to remove wood is crucial to the task at hand and how it feels in the action. The bite of the teeth is controlled by their size, angle, height, orientation, and sharpness; all controlled by the sensitive touch of the craftsman. An excellent tool will feel just right whether working aggressively or gently. Like many other fine hand tools in our shops, these rasps actually accomplish the intended task deftly. Their lack of wide use is only because many only know their inferior, less expensive counterparts in the commercial world. We only need to tune our hands and eyes to learn to guide high-level tools, and a satisfying learning it is.

This rasp is easily as high quality as any I have ever used or seen. There are other makers in the French tradition. There are also handmade rasps from a few other areas of the world that show a wide range of quality, price, and availability. In the past, anyone who has sought to purchase French rasps in this country from other makers has found them periodically unavailable. Logier appears to have made an effort to move more into the “world market” recently, hence we are hearing about them. They do not use a US distributor, but sell directly from their website at From the home page, choose the English version of their website which is thorough as well as easy to navigate and purchase from.

Liogier tools are typically made to order within two weeks. The shipping fee from France is a flat rate of 12€ (approximately $16) and arrives promptly in five days after completion. Such a deal, and it gets better. Their array of standard tools numbers 810 rasps and rifflers (comprising an amazing sixty styles in approximately fifteen stitches each) and they will gladly create any mix of size and grain not in their standard offerings and provide either right- or left-handed tools at standard, noncustom price. I may certainly be countered on this, but my research and general knowledge of what is available supports their claim to have the broadest range of rasps and rifflers in the world. Additionally, they are happy to consult about producing any custom tool one desires.

With regards to pricing, Liogier appears to offer a significant value. Their prices average about 25% below their closest competitor, Auriou. For comparison, the Nicholson #49 and #50 10” patternmaker’s rasps retail for approximately $50 each. Though difficult to relate their pricing, the limited range of better CNC-made rasps from Corradi, for example, come in at roughly 25% below that of Liogier. In my opinion, the vast superiority of these handmade rasps make the Liogier tools an excellent value and investment.

One point that can be promoted in the support of traditional handmade tools is they have generations of craftsmen making and using their tools that worked to perfect their tool-making techniques. There is a refined expertise that is developed and acquired in this process. While this is not an exclusive matter or reason to ditch new technologies, is it a reason to see why high quality tools of this type have been used by craftsmen and women for centuries.

Here we have very high-quality tools that are essential to our craft, easily accessed, at a cost below the competition. Add to that a range of styles not easily available to us before, and we have no clear reason to not be using these fine tools. Do so. You will not be disappointed. ——”

-- Noël Liogier,

1 reply so far

View planeBill's profile


506 posts in 2647 days

#1 posted 01-04-2014 03:31 PM

Hey everybody, I have touted Noel’s tools here a time or two and just as the above states, they are tools that you have to use to believe, the value offered by his rasps is unmatched, and not mentioned above, he is just simply a super nice guy and a great businessman. I have used his rasps for about a year and a half and a really big smile forms on my face every time I use it. Hell, it happens just when I pick it up. I know there is that other company out there that sells a similar product and I have used one of their rasps so I can say a little about both. The other guys do offer a fine tool and they do every thing they say will do for sure so you are not going to be disappointed by buying one but Noel offers a tool that is on par with theirs but at a much better price and it has a more comfortable handle, the quality is tops. What really did it for me though was when I contacted the “company” to find out a bit more and ended up corresponding with the owner and having him to personally construct my rasp and get it out to me personally and then actually following through and doing exactly what he said he would do to the letter.
Most importantly, the tool. His product line is far more extensive than his competition offering a wide array of shapes, sizes and “grits”. He also offers a specialty coating to those who want to go that route. The fit and finish is what I would expect from a tool that was made by the hand of a true craftsman. Attention to detail is the order of the day. His tools exude quality. The teeth are randomly punched into the working portion of the tool as they should be and are razor sharp. I know we are talking about a pretty basic tool here but after using store-bought rasps of poor quality for a long time and thinking they were the norm (and unfortunately they were the norm) and then using a tool like Noels’, I found out what a rasp should be. They cut white oak and Angelique and silver-bali like butter but more important is the surface they leave behind, its almost finish ready. I was blown away. If he charged twice as much as he does, you would still only be paying half of what they are worth. Also, they come in a great square plastic tube that’s as tough as the teeth on his rasps to keep your new jewel in top condition while not in use.
Now the man. Though Ive have obviously never met Noel, he treated me like an old friend and that should illuminate the care he has for the folks who may choose his tools, us, woodworkers. He has done his part to ensure that we get a world class rasp, the rest is up to us.
Yes, Ive have waxed eloquent here about both the tools and the man and they both deserve it. I hope more people here will give him the patronage he deserves.
Should this be in the review section? ;)

How could I forget, Noel, welcome to our forum. I hope you hang around a while.

-- I was born at a very young age, as I grew up, I got older.

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