A couple of beginner question....

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Forum topic by nakmuay posted 04-17-2015 02:13 PM 1104 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View nakmuay's profile


82 posts in 1591 days

04-17-2015 02:13 PM

Hi guys, I was wondering how often you guys uses hand files? I come from a sheet metal background, so filling second nature to me, but I’m wondering if it’s bad practice. Sometimes I’m planeing or chiselling I see a rough edge or a high spot that I’m pretty sure I could hit with a file, but I keep going with the technique I’m using. Should I keep going until my skills with planes and chisels are up to scratch, or is using a file a legitimate shortcut?

Last thing, why use biscuits/dominos/floating tenons instead of dowels? Hard wood dowels cost next to nothing, I don’t need special tools, and a drill jig would take no time to make. I feel like there’s a reason but I’m missing it?

Sorry if these questions are a it basic.
Thanks guys

13 replies so far

View barada83's profile


88 posts in 1424 days

#1 posted 04-17-2015 02:28 PM

I only use files when doing curves that need shaping or for sharpening. Getting things straight with a file would probably be impossible. I’m thinking the high spot when planning might be the reverse- a low spot or spot not hit by the plane. The purpose of the plane is to make a flat surface – the longer the plane, the flatter the surface. Filing that spot would not achieve the goal of flattening but it really depends on your goals. If it is just to surface it for appearance, sure. Hit it with sandpaper, file, etc. If to flatten, then no, don’t use a file. My advice is do what makes sense, feels comfortable, and is safe to YOU. As you go, you figure things out. Keep trying new things.

Regarding the second – In my opinion, I would say there really is no difference in any of the techniques you listed aside from the gadgetry employed. I use biscuits most often because 1) they work strengthwise – not bombproof but good enough and if not, then I use another joint type like a tenon 2) I have a plate joiner and have spent the money to get it because I have a need for reproducible and speedy biscuit joints. Biscuits have the added bonus of some give along the cut line to perfect alignment. This is a great benefit for making things perfectly flush for say carcass fronts accepting a face frame butted to the front. Biscuits, like dowels, are dirt cheap. Dowels are notoriously difficult to get perfectly aligned. For any of these methods, do not rely entirely on the insert for the strength. These are just meant to augment and assist glueups for best results.

I don’t use dowels, dominos, or floating tenons. I like my pocket screws, biscuits, and cut joinery, in this order weakest to robust.

-- Mike

View SirIrb's profile


1239 posts in 1468 days

#2 posted 04-17-2015 02:30 PM

I would say use the tool and process that gives the best result.

As far a the second question: Dowels are fine. I have used them for face frame construction and they never failed me. Toss the biskits out the window. A good pocket hole cutter can make face frame construction fast and is strong. It works good in production but you will spend more time than necessary if you dont have a pneumatic clamping table. I have used them at the second cabinet shop I worked in.

-- Don't blame me, I voted for no one.

View CB_Cohick's profile


487 posts in 1489 days

#3 posted 04-17-2015 02:37 PM

I have files available, but I don’t find myself using them much. However, when it is the best tool for the job and you need one there is no substitute.

I bought a doweling jig a while back and really like it. For biscuits I would need the tool to cut the slots and for now I will spend those dollars elsewhere. The doweled joints are stronger than pocket screws. I still need to learn mortise and tenon joinery so I can’t comment on that.

-- Chris - Would work, but I'm too busy reading about woodwork.

View pintodeluxe's profile


5816 posts in 3051 days

#4 posted 04-17-2015 03:43 PM

When used for primary apron-to-leg joints, dowels have the reputation for coming apart. I do like dowels for secondary applications, such as accurately locating corbels so they don’t slide around during glueup.

Biscuits have the advantage of allowing some adjustability in one direction. Biscuits register the joint accurately in one direction, but allow you to slide the joint around as needed in the other direction. This is nice because your biscuit slot layout doesn’t need to be very accurate. Still, I wouldn’t use biscuits for the main furniture frame. For that consider traditional mortise and tenon or large loose tenon joinery.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View OSU55's profile


2026 posts in 2227 days

#5 posted 04-17-2015 06:20 PM

I use files for complex curves and initial blending. They don’t get a lot of use and a square or round piece of hardwood with sandpaper can accomplish the same thing. I do not use them on flat/straight surfaces that can be planed or chiseled due to surface finish.

Joinery is almost as bad as sharpening which is almost as bad as politics and religion – everybody has their opinion and there is some truth in most of them. I found biscuit joinery a giant pita and will never use again. I will use dowels, mortise and tenon, loose tenon, pocket holes, and rabbets, just depending on the item and situation. Tried many ways for panel glue ups – research clamping cauls, make your own out 2×4’s, and use plain old butt joints.

View GregD's profile


788 posts in 3374 days

#6 posted 04-17-2015 06:54 PM

It is my understanding that the strongest glued joint will have the largest area of long grain to long grain contact. Mortise and tenon, loose tenon, lapped or spline joinery provide comparatively large areas of long grain to long grain contact. Doweled joints and round tenons not so much and biscuits probably even less. So for a joint that is going to experience a lot of stress over a long service life, dowels likely aren’t the best choice. A classic example is a wooden chair with the legs and back attached to the seat with round tenons. Almost always these joints get loose eventually.

But in many situations a doweled joint will be more than strong enough. Face frames, for example, usually don’t experience a great deal of stress.

-- Greg D.

View Tim's profile


3812 posts in 2199 days

#7 posted 04-18-2015 12:23 AM

A file is basically cutting at a very high angle to the wood and will do fairly well for knots and some difficult grain areas in hardwood. You can achieve a similar effect with either a card scraper, scraper plane, etc, or by using a plane with a higher angle of attack relative to the wood. Three ways to do that are to get a high angle frog or put a 10 degree back bevel on an extra plane iron or get a low angle plane with a high bevel angle iron. The 10 degree back bevel on a $3 extra blade you can get from home depot is the cheapest and easiest.

The only downside to a file really is the limited amount of wood it will cut per stroke. A plane can take an adjustable shaving from a thousandth to a lot more depending on grain.

View nakmuay's profile


82 posts in 1591 days

#8 posted 04-18-2015 12:30 AM

Thanks for the input gents, it’s good to get some experienced opinions. I think I’m just going to keep working on the basic chisel and plane skills until they are up to scratch, then start adding things that play to my strengths.

I experimenting with different jointing techniques at the moment, that’s the only reason I ask about dowels. I still don’t really trust glues just yet, so every thing I do is mechanical right now, dovetail, mortise and tenon, etc. Its interesting what pinto said about the ability to slide biscuits though, makes sense when somebody points it out!

Thanks for your help fellas

View Picklehead's profile


1053 posts in 2167 days

#9 posted 04-18-2015 12:50 AM

I will add that there are probably at least 100 people on here (myself included) that will readily admit that they wish they had the money in hand that they spent on a biscuit joiner. Not many other tools I would say that about.

-- Quote from ebay tool listing: " Has nicks and dings wear and tear dust and dirt rust and pitting but in good working condition"

View lwllms's profile


555 posts in 3519 days

#10 posted 04-18-2015 01:10 AM

I use files a lot and I also use floats a lot. Some of what I do would go a lot slower without my Swiss pattern files. I really like that I can get the same profile and size in what ever coarseness I want with Swiss pattern files. I don’t think that a lot of wood workers realize that 000 cut Swiss files are as coarse as many of the finer rasps but can be followed with identical finer files for a very good surface. Rasps have one advantage in that some come in either right or left hand. This isn’t about whether the user is left handed or right handed, it about whether one is moving the file to the left or right while also moving the file away from the user. The quality of the finish is very different and this is especially useful when fairing curves. This is easier to demonstrate than explain.

View upchuck's profile


540 posts in 1903 days

#11 posted 04-18-2015 01:39 AM

Files are handy tools. I find that in woodworking there is a surprising amount of metal working involved. My assortment of files get used frequently in the repair and restoration of the tools I use. I also like blending metal and wood. To me rasps are just angry files and are also used often. Your sheet metal background might lead you to solutions for a problem that others might not be aware of or consider. Lucky you.

View BurlyBob's profile


6031 posts in 2503 days

#12 posted 04-18-2015 02:07 AM

I’m willing to use any tool hanging on the wall to get the job. I’ll use a file, rasp, surfoam, plane, spokeshave or whatever will work to solve the problem. I like to think that’s being flexible and creative.

The same goes for dowel joints, biscuits and more traditional joinery. Right now I’m using biscuits, building goofy little step stools for a lady. They sort of look like a concrete pier block. The biscuits allow enough adjustment when I glue and clamp them together. But like a lot of guys will tell you they all have their place and best use.

You mentioned not trusting glues. Again, in some applications a simple glue joint is acceptable. The panel in a raised panel door comes mind. I believe in and try to work outside the box and a lot of what Jocks demonstrate here is just that, showing their incredible creativity.

View Beams37's profile


166 posts in 1428 days

#13 posted 04-18-2015 03:20 PM

I’m new to woodworking too, but my uncle is a master craftsman. I can tell you that he uses things like rasps and files all the time. He and I were building a table last week and we used a set of files to round off the edges of the table. I know it could have been done a hundred ways, but that was the way he wanted this table done.

So, use the tools you want to use. With woodworking, there is no “right way”. So, take your previous skills and meld them with your new skills.

Just my 2 cents …

-- FNG ... On a quest for knowledge.

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