Why You Need a Good Set of Files

In the past when you had to depend on hand tools, files were very important.  They were used to sharpen everything from your shovels to your axes.  Our tools had too last and a sharp tool makes the work easier.  Today most of us just buy new largely junk tools and throw them out when they are damaged.  You never see anyone make and install a new handle on a shove or ax today.

In the past, any good workman had a good set of files to help maintain his tools.  Good files can be used to sharpen almost any tools and have many other uses. If you have to improvise repairs, they can be used to shape metal.  Get a good set of files and learn how to maintain them.  I have found many good older US made files for next to nothing in garage sales.  If you can stay with US or European made files.

Types of Files

A file is a metalworking, woodworking and plastic working tool used to remove fine amounts of material from your project.  Metal files are a hand tool, which takes the form of a steel bar with a case hardened surface and a series of sharp, parallel teeth.  Most files have a narrow, pointed tang at one end to which a handle can be fitted.

Another form is the rasp.  This has simpler teeth set further apart.  A rasp is used for wood or other soft materials like plastics.

The cut of metal file refers to how fine its teeth are.  They are defined as (from roughest to smoothest): rough, middle, bastard, second cut, smooth, and dead smooth.  A single-cut file has one set of parallel teeth while a cross-cut or double-cut file has a second set of cuts forming diamond shaped teeth.  The following chart shows most common types of files and their uses.


File Types and Uses




Mill files

Mill files are the most common shape; they are rectangular in cross section and taper slightly in both width and thickness from tang to end. They are all single-cut.[2]

Joint round edge files

Joint round edge files are parallel in width and thickness, with rounded edges. The flats are safe (no teeth) and cut on the rounded edges only. Used for making joints and hinges.

Hand files

Hand files are parallel in width and tapered in thickness; they are used for general work.

Half round ring files

Half round ring files taper in width and thickness, coming to a point, and are narrower than a standard half round. Used for filing inside of rings.

Checkering files

Checkering files are parallel in width and gently tapered in thickness. They have teeth cut in a precise grid pattern, and are used for making serrations and doing checkering work, as on gunstocks.

Barrette files

Barrette files are tapered in width and thickness, coming to a rounded point at the end. Only the flat side is cut, and the other sides are all safe. For doing flat work.


File maintenance

File cards

Breaking in a new file should be done on brass, bronze, or smooth cast iron.  Because just a few of the teeth will cut at first, use a light pressure to prevent tooth breakage.

File should be cleaned occasionally by brushing with a file card.  These are small short-wired brushes which are used to clean metal shavings from the file.

Do not use a file for prying or pounding.  The tang is soft and bends easily while the body is hard and extremely brittle.

Hang your files in a rack to protect the file teeth when they are not in use, or place them in drawers with wooden partitions. Protect your files from rust by keeping them away from water and moisture.  Do not get oil on your files.  Oily files slide across the work and it prevents fast, clean cutting.

Files are like everything else they need to be taken care of an used to get the most out of them.


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