File making

I’m very found of making things from steel and sometimes I just have to ask.. how did they do that? Our rich human history of creation is an infinite pool of knowledge to wade through for inspiration. The wealth of research available is engrossing. I’ve found myself wondering about digital copies of books. Their scans seem dusty and to smell of musk like walking through a damp, gray tomb of knowledge.. Admittedly it could be my imagination. Or more likely the lack of a good shower wafting about. =)
I digress. I’m very thankful to live in an age where knowledge is abundant.

One of mans oldest tools is the file. A cutting tool like the saw. The two are nearly as ancient as the knife and it’s cousin with a little more leverage, the ax. Rocks, gems, bones and fish spines can be used to remove material for crafting. Modern files and rasp are easily recognized as the descendant’s of these ancient tools. Metal working files were known around the world in some form of another. 14th century Europe had a change in architecture and culture lead to more ironwork being refined cold with file work becoming abundant. By the 17th century file making would have been a full-time endeavor for some. A file cutter would take a shaped piece of annealed steel ground smooth with a stone or file. He’d strap it firmly to a work block or anvil with a softer metal between the file blank and anvil. Then teeth were cut into the file by hand on both sides. As many as 60 to 80 blows per minute could be delivered by an experience cutter. The angle of the chisel was dependent on the aggressiveness of the file desired but it could be between 40-65 degrees. Next the file was carefully hardened and tempered depending on the type of steel and file.

The file in history by Henry Disston & Sons, Inc
For more information on files check these out:

The File In History
The Manufacturer and builder, Volume 26 (page 280) 1894
File-Making by Hand and Machinery from “The Manufacturer and Builder” November, 1889
The legend of the knife from a file
update – This is a really nice blog entree about file making)

On a personal note. The studio has been organized, an office arranged and we’ve switched Internet service providers. A faster network has finally reached our neck of the woods here Clayton, NC.
Most recently a lot of my time has been spent organizing photos and a bit of modern file work. I do most of my reading, writing and photo work on a faithful ol’ laptop running Ubuntu; occasionally I migrate toward the desktop as I familiarize myself with google sketch-up so the two are not far from one another.


4 thoughts on “File making

  1. I was thinking about this just the other day. I have been lamenting the fact that now most files you buy are not fully hardened, only case hardened. This means that when you try to file hot metal, they go soft and lose all their cutting teeth. I thought, why don’t I just normalize and fully harden them myself. I could then temper the tang and have a fully hardened tool that won’t crap out in three strokes on a hot project. You have reignited my desire, lol!


    1. Would a case hardened file be made out of a lower carbon steel core? I use a great big file for hot work so it takes a bit more time to get hot. Sounds like a fun project though!


  2. Pingback: What is a blacksmith, gaining skill and some new tools | The Pirate Blacksmith of NC

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