F is for Files

There was a time when I didn't care about files. I had one old file that I'd gotten from somewhere - rusty, dull, no handle. It was useless, really, but I kept it in my toolbox because I figured every well-equipped toolbox should have a file. It's no wonder I had no respect for it. That thing sucked.

I'm not sure when I acquired my first proper file, but the difference was night and day. One doesn't think of files as something that need to be cleaned or sharpened or maintained. They just ARE. However, just like any tool, files have a proper method of use and many, many improper methods of use.

Do you have access to a file? I mean right now... right this very moment? Even the little file on a pair of nail trimmers will do.

Run your finger along the file in one direction, then run in back the other way. Do you feel a difference? Files have directionality, which means they cut in one direction but not in the other. If you apply force to a file when pushing it the wrong direction, you not only don't take a million little bites out of the piece you're working on, you bend back the tiny ridges on the file. This makes it less able to cut in the proper direction.

Hang on... those of you who got out the nail trimmers might not have felt any difference. Take a look at the file. See how the little lines are cross-hatched? The cutting surfaces on each set of microgrooves are oriented 180 degrees from each other. That means it does NOT have directionality, and will cut no matter which way you draw it. This kind of thing severely reduces the mechanical strength of the cutting grooves, but for cutting something soft like human fingernails, it doesn't matter. Even cheap steel will hold a cutting edge for a long time.

Some shaping rasps (I've got a couple) have the same double-check pattern. For one thing, they're made of high-grade carbon steel, so they won't dull despite the loss of strength on the cutting surfaces. For another, mine are only used in woodcarving, for making light passes that don't remove much material.

Looking at the files in that picture, you can see a mix of old and new. Some I bought online or in a store, some I got at garage sales. I forget what all I have. Round file, half-round file, taper file, rat-tail file (VERY useful for sharpening chainsaw blades), block file, rasps in heavy, medium and light, etc., etc. Probably the most interesting thing about these files are the handles.

Some have plain wood handles, others have plastic. A number of them, though, have handles I made from blueberry canes. For some reason, many files that you get at garage sales lack handles. I've never been able to figure out why. Do they rot? Do they crack off for some reason? Were they improperly stored? Whatever the reason, I found it necessary to fashion new handles for these.

I used thick old canes from one of my blueberry bushes, perhaps 7/8" in diameter. The blueberry canes are straight and hard (plus, I had a bunch saved in my wood storage from a major trim out I gave the bushes a few years prior). After stripping the bark, I sanded off the worst of the irregularities, then tapped an undersized hole in the center heartwood. A firm, confident whack with a mallet drove the tang end of the file into the hole and there it stays, held in place by friction with the wood.

The irregular nature of those blueberry cane handles is a bit goofy, but they each have an natural orientation in which they are most comfortable to hold and use. They give each file a certain personality of its own, which I like.

For my other posts about woodworking tools, follow this link.

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  1. It scares me that you have that many files available to you on a single wall.

    1. Those are just the ones large enough to hang. I have more in drawers of one my toolboxes.

  2. Wouldn't a groove rotated 180 degrees from the next groove just wind up parallel to it?

    1. The grooves would be parallel, but the cutting surfaces are 180 degrees. Each groove has a sharp side and a dull side. It's like holding two knives identical knives on top of each other, one pointing one way, the other pointing the other. Run you hand in one direction, A shows you the dull side while B cuts your finger off. Run your hand the other direction and you'll feel the dull side of B while being sliced by the sharp side of A.

  3. Somehow I never considered blueberries to have such sturdy bushes.

    Also . . . you have lots of tools. Lots and lots. You do a lot of DIY projects?

    1. Lowbush blueberries have thin, low-creeping stems. These are highbush blueberries, which have heavy, wooden stems. It's interesting, whippety wood.

      Yes, I do lots and lots of DIY projects. Here's an example of a bathroom remodel I did not long ago.

    2. I remember the bathroom remodel! I was impressed than. Still am (especially considering the sheer number of tools you got! and actually know how to use.)

  4. I agree, the blueberry cane handles have tons of character!

  5. The handles are lovely. So much better than plastic!

    Ruby recently posted http://rubywilbur.com/the-frog-prince/ for #atozchallenge

  6. I feel a bit clever because I actually knew this!

    Loving this series.


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