Guide written by:
Joan, Young art-school graduate, Cardiff
Files, triangular files, rasps, sanding sponges, sanding blocks, hand planers, wood chisels: all have a place in our toolbox. To even out a door, to sharpen your saw, or to install a built-in lock, each will help you. Follow the grain and follow the guide.
- Wood chisel
Which finishing tool should I use?
The use of a planer easily fixes a problematic door while a rasp makes quick work of any piece of wood. Chisels are perfect for installing a new mortise lock. This guide is a spotlight on woodworking finishing tools.
Rasps are used when working with soft materials, most commonly wood. Certain specialized models can also be used with softer metals such as tin, lead, and aluminium.
Files are mainly used for metal and come in different profiles adapted to different working angles, such as flat, round, square, or half-round.
Triangular files are, as the name suggests, triangular and used for the sharpening of saw teeth. Their shape makes it easy to work in the grooves. They are ideal for any kind of acute angles, such as resizing a screw.
Planers are used to smoothand shave wood. They are designed to remove a consistent strip of material. It's a simple tool consisting of three main parts; a sole which houses the blade, a blade called an iron and the handles. The iron protrudes slightly from the bottom of the sole.
The more the iron protrudes from the foot, the thicker the chip of woodit cuts away. Other models of planers exist for specific tasks or for working with different materials such as plastic or plaster, but they operate on the same principle. If you’re willing to spend a bit more money, you can purchase an electric planer, which works much more quickly than a hand operated model.
Wood chisels are used to carve, notch, or mortise and can be used in coarse and fine work alike. They can be tapped with a mallet to draw out a larger chip or operated gently with your hands for finer work. The carpenter’s gouges, a variety of wooden chisel, have a concave blade and allow you to engrave and create rounded shapes.
They look a bit like a hook. Cape chisels, thicker than other wood chisels, are mainly used for cutting mortises.
The sanding sponge is flexible and makes grinding round surfaces easier. It is used more for smoothing and sanding than for removing large amounts of material. An ergonomic shape affords a certain amount of working comfort.
Sanding blocks are used to sand large, flat surfaces. They offer a good grip and can be used with different grits of sandpaper.
How to choose a rasp
A rasp removes material and is mainly used on wood. Depending on the teeth, it removes more or less material.
Three types of teeth exist:
- Fine—removes less material, used for smoothing and finishing.
- Medium—commonly used, a good all-purpose rasp. Not ideal for removing a lot of material or for finishing work, but acceptable at both.
- Coarse—use with caution because coarse teeth remove a lot of material and can create deep grooves in the wood.
The teeth define the quality of the finish, so your next choice is the profile:
- Flat—designed for flat surfaces and sharp corners.
- Round--also called ‘rat tail’. For creating or expanding notches and rounded shapes.
- Half-round—sometimes called a ‘bastard’. One side is flat, the other is rounded.
The handle is made of wood or acomposite material.
How to choose a file
A file, unlike a rasp, has grooves instead of teeth. Like teeth, these remove more or less material depending on their size and spacing.
- Up to 1 mm—removes a lot of material. Should be chosen to roughen the surface and for removing a lot of material. This is why they are sometimes called a coarse file.
- From 0.3 to 0.5 mm— an all-purpose file by definition. Best for everyday use, known as a medium file.
- ≤ .2mm—best used exclusively for finishing, called soft file.
After choosing the type of grooves you'll be working with, choose the profile. The profile is selected according to the shape of the surface you're working on:
- Flat—designed to flatten and make sharp angles
- Round—called a ‘rat tail’, intended to retouch notches and round shapes
- Half round—called a ‘bastard’, has a flat profile on one side and a round profile on other
- Square—to adjust an angle, a notch, or a groove
- Triangular--for sharpening saw teeth or sharp angles
- Diamond—for sharpening the saw blades as well
Files have similar handles to rasps. They are made of wood and composite materials. The latter is more ergonomic.
How to choose a plane
Depending on the work you have to carry out you will need a certain type of plane. There are many different types of planes that make up the family of hand planes. Your ultimate choice is mainly based on what you will be using one for.
Hand scraper or jack planer
A jack planer is a plane with a slightly rounded iron that is used for the first passes. It is the most common, standard planer used to plane a door, to smooth a ridge, to thin boards or on a flat surface.
The bench planer has a wooden sole and is designed to flatten long pieces of wood. It has a wide iron and a large sole.
A rabbet is a plane made of wood or metal with a very narrow iron. It is used, among other things, for carving a groove. These planers are the precursors to the router, or even a chisel, which you might use if you have outstanding dexterity.
Drawknife or two-handed knife
This plane allows you to remove the bark remaining on raw wood and lumber. It allows you to work with irregular pieces and to quickly reduce the size or change their shape.
The spokeshave is also designed for irregular pieces, but in smaller sizes and when working with finer materials. It is used in cabinet making, furniture making and even in sculpture making.
A jointer planer is the most common type of planer. A knob adjusts the depth of the iron, which affects the amount of material the tool removes. It has a wide iron that is designed for working on flat surfaces. There are also half-jointers which remove thinner widths from the work surface.
How to choose a pair of scissors
What differentiates a good cabinet-makers chisel from a bad one is the quality of the steel.
Composed of a wooden or composite handle, the cutting edge of the chisel is sharpenable. The blade is maintained by sharpening it regularly. You can return its cutting edge with a sharpening stone made of silicon carbide or with a natural stone. Higher quality steel requires less frequent sharpening which extends the longevity of the chisel.
The most damaged blades may need to be sharpened on a grinding wheel to create bevel of about 25°.
The size of these blades varies from between 5 and 35 mm.
The widest wooden chisels, called cape chisels, are used for creating mortises and may have an integral handle. That is to say, that the handle and blade are made from a single piece of steel. They are also called carpenter’schisels.
Gouges are used to create rounded shapes thanks to their convex blade. Rather than tapping on the handle as you would with most chisels, you use a digging motion to remove material instead.
To help you sort this out, choose your chisels based on these criteria:
- Your work—whether it’s grooving, mortising, sculpture, or something else.
- The frequency of use—are you an amateur or a professional, a novice or a master?
- Size of the blade—are you working over a large space or carving a shallow groove?
- Steel of the blade-- hardened steel is a must, but different alloys have different benefits, chrome, vanadium, or high carbon.
- Handle Material—made of wood for comfort and shock absorption (and charm), or a composite material for better ergonomics and durability.
How to choose your sandpaper
Sandpaper and other abrasives all have the same use. They are used to smooth and are offered in sheets or rolls.
Their use determines the granulometry (number of grains). Depending on the number of grains, certain abrasives are better suited to roughing, smoothing, or finishing. A coarse grain number (80) indicates a highly abrasive paper used for roughing, while a fine grain (400) is used for finishing such as auto-body sanding.
Remember that the higher the number, the finer the grain.
Type of abrasive
Crystallized aluminum oxide, corundum is used to sand hardwoods and remove old paint. Paints, varnishes, and mastics can be sanded easily. Synthetic corundum is more resistant and intensive.
The emery cloth is a mixture of minerals glued on canvas and used for sanding and stripping metals, especially rust. Compatible with intensive use.
The flint has replaced crushed glass, but is still called "sandpaper" and is ideal for sanding varnishes, softwoods, or plaster.
The abrasive grains are glued on different substrates, they are chosen according to use.
Essential on the self-gripping sheets for sanding blocks.
The abrasive cloth is ideal for corners and reliefs because it is more resistant to wear and tear.
Too thick and the paper breaks. Too thin and it tears. The grains often fall off. The paper is used dry on new wood. It can be used with sanding blocks.
Hand sanding or sandblasting?
Unlike sanding with a power sander, hand sanding is laborious. It is possible to sand a flat surface or one with some sort of relief. The sheet of abrasive paper is not always easy to hold. Fold it in 3 or 4 to give yourself a better grip and use the faces one after the other.
For large projects with flat surfaces, try using a sanding pad. Made of wood, cork, foam, or rubber. Available with or without a fastening system, the sanding pad adapts to your sanding jobs.
Foam wedges tend to wear out prematurely at the corners.
People who can’t stand the dust generated by sanding can use a suction pad or a protective mask
How to sand a wood or metal surface
Protective gloves are required to maximize your sanding ability and protect your hands from blisters or splinters during long-term or large-scale projects.
The wood is sanded in thedirection of the grain to avoid unsightly scratches.
Any sanding project should be started with sandpaper with the coarsest gritand finished with the finest.
The dust can be removed with a vacuum cleaner for dry sanding and with a sponge for water sanding (bodywork).
Bodybuilding paper can also be used in dry sanding.
The same principles apply when choosing abrasive sponges.
Some of the tools listed do not require maintenance, while others definitely do. If a file or a rasp gets old it should just be replaced. If your chisel is dull, it can be resharpened again and again, until is nearly down to the handle.
A plane should work fine unless the iron is chipped or broken which would leave a mark on the wood that it touches. Conclusion: Protect the cutting edge of your tools and sharpen them periodically.
Sanding should be done with respiratory protection and protective gloves are recommended as well. Sanding with a power sander is efficient and often offers better results.
The chips formed by planers and/or wood chisels are a matter for a vacuum cleaner, which would be very practical in your workshop and will quickly become indispensable.
Investing in a carpenter’s bench for wood working is recommended. Metalworkers will prefer a metal bench which is more resistant than wood.
Woodwork requires skill and a healthy working environment, make sure that you’re working safely and maintaining your tools. Metalwork is equally dangerous, gloves and protective goggles are indispensable.
To read more about the finishing tools, consult the guides of our editors:
Guide written by:
Joan, Young art-school graduate, Cardiff, 5 guides
I realize many of my works, fed by my taste and my passion for DIY, might be called “made up. My projects are born from reflections (more-or-less logical to others but they always make sense to me.) This process has culminated in the realization of a mobile greenhouse so I can walk my plants, an effervescent aspirin, a dispenser built from canned foods. I consider DIY to be a way of moving at your own pace. We live in a world where the uncomfortable idea remains that our failings often teach us more than the projects themselves would. My wisdom is useful to me, whether it’s re-machine screws, reel a reel from camera springs, or using a torch. I am delighted to use my experience and finally be able to share it.