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Category: Tools

To the uninitiated, hand files and wood rasps may seem like very similar tools – they are both used to smooth and shape a given material right?

Well yes, you are absolutely correct, they are both used for this purpose but one is for timber, the other for metal and other materials such as plastic and acrylic.

Lets take a close look at each one, what they can be used for, the different types and shapes and how each should be used.

The Wood Rasp

Also known as a woodworking file, the rasp’s primary use is to cut shapes into timber.

Cabinet rasp for woodwork - Hand files and Wood Rasps

Cabinet rasp for shaping and smoothing wood and timber

To help with creating any shape you could imagine, the rasp is available in a range of different sizes and shapes such as:

  • Round – For carving out and smoothing round and oval shapes
  • Square – For creating and smoothing notches and angular shapes
  • Triangular (or Threesquare) – Much the same as the above, mainly used for cutting and creating angles and notches
  • Knife – Available in a range of sizes, knife rasps are used primarily for cutting and creating fine details and for creating narrow slots in timber
  • Needle – As you may have guessed from the name, these are essentially miniature versions of standard rasps. Normally available in sets of 6 or more, each set should include flat, half round, round, square, triangular and a knife rasp, these are ideal for model makers and those working on fine details
  • Cranked or Bent Neck – These tend to be very specialist items and only used by those that work with timber on a daily basis. Their primary use is help with working in tight and confined spaces
  • Rifflers or Rifile Rasp – Again, quite a specialist item, their main use is for cutting and creating detail and fine shaping

Difference Between Hand Files and Wood Rasps?

The main defining feature of a rasp are the teeth. Unlike a hand file, the teeth on a rasp can be much courser (as seen on the most common type of rasp, the cabinet rasp).

The teeth on a standard rasp are designed to allow the user to quickly remove material and create shapes and curves.

Once the shape has been cut, it can then be further smoothed and finished using fine grade sandpaper and even finer grade rasps.

If you would like to know more and also how to use a rasp for shaping and smoothing, check out our project here.

The Hand File

When it comes to the hand file, this is pretty similar to the rasp but with a few subtle differences that come in the form of the teeth.

The teeth of a rasp are cut (by hand or machine) individually across the body of the blade but with a file, the teeth are cut in rows across the full width of the blade.

Hand file for metal work - Hand files and Wood Rasps

Hand file for smoothing and shaping metal and plastics

It is also true what they say; you get what you pay for – and this is also the case when it comes to files (and rasps for that matter). With the cheaper tools found in most DIY sheds, the metal used to form the file tends to be a little soft, so the teeth damage and blunt quite easily.

When you spend a little more on tools of a higher quality, the metal is better quality and harder and the teeth are cut slightly more randomly which leads to a better and smoother finish. Due to the quality of materials used they also last a lot longer.

Moving on to usage, the hand file is quite a universal tool. It can be used to shape and smooth metal, plastic, acrylic and even timber (although they are not really suitable for the quick removal of material as a rasp is).

Types of Hand File

As with the rasp, there are quite a few iterations of the hand file, each being suited to a particular application:

  • Standard Hand File – The traditional looking file; about 10 inches in length and rectangular in shape, this file normally has teeth cut on both sides
  • Half Round – Looks similar to the above file type only this time you have one flat side and the other is rounded allowing you to cut and smooth shapes
  • Triangular – Looks as it sounds, this file is three sided and triangular in shape. Ideal for getting into tight corners and cutting and smoothing acute angles
  • Square File – Very similar to the above file only this time we have an extra side that forms a square or box. Like the above, it is great for getting into holes, tight areas and angles
  • Round File – These are fully circular in shape but generally tend to be quite small. Their size allows them to be used for filing out holes and making circular cuts
  • Knife File – As the name suggests these files run down to a very fine point letting the user cut and smooth very tight spaces. Very useful for model making and crafts

As with the rasp, in the right application, the file is a hugely useful tool and an essential for any tools box. If you would like to know more about hand files, including how to use them, see our project page here.

Did you find our quick guide to hand files and wood rasps useful? are there other quick guides you would like to see, please let us know.




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