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 Joel's Blog at Tools for Working Wood

Using Rasps in the Woodshop Can Add Flourishes to Basic Work.  


A few weeks back I did a talk at the monthly meeting of the NYC Woodworkers which was held at Makeville Studio. I'm in sales and I spend far too much time talking about features of tools. Far too many furniture designs are linear and for this talk I wanted to show people the potential of what you can do with rasps to introduce curved and sculpted elements into your work.
I spent a little bit of time on technique. In three sentences or less. Hold the rasp by the handle and the tip - you want to use the entire rasp so you get the fastest, most controlled stroke, and so you wear out the teeth evenly and the rasp will last longer. You also want to cut uphill with the grain. It's like using a saw in that sense (see here for the uphill saw explanation).

Auriou makes left and right handed rasps for maximum efficiency in cutting. I'm no longer sure how important that is. Gramercy Tools rasps are unhanded. We stock both Auriou and Gramercy Tools and both are hand cut. The slight random spacing of the teeth caused by a human cutting the teeth means for far smoother, faster cutting action because the rasp teeth don't run lock step into the proceeding tooth's cut as they would with a machine cut rasp.

Then I took a piece of wood and cut a simple chamfer on it in 30 seconds. About the same time it would take to look for a router wrench. Then 30 more seconds and I had a scalloped chamfer which I don't know how to cut with a router. Then a stopped chamfer which would add a lot of interest on a normally square pit of wood. I wrote about stopped chamfers a long time ago. Than a scalloped edge. This would look really cool on the underside of a table. And finally a scallop with a "V" between the scallops. The "V" was done with the edge of a rasp.
As I told everyone, I wasn't trying to do the perfect design, and even with the very smooth finish left by the rasps, a follow-up with a scraper would be needed to really get a final finish surface. But what I wanted to show is how fast one hand tool could take a rectilinear design and turn it into something special. And something special is what makes custom furniture worthwhile. It's like a restaurant. Serve a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce it's $9.95. Add two anchovies and a sprig of basil, you can charge $14.95. I'm just an iron monger and this demo just showed the basics. It's your job as craftspeople to make beautiful interesting stuff. Go for it!

PS. Please pardon any inconsistencies in the sample photographs. All the samples were made live in front of the club while I was talking and in thirty seconds or less. At the very least layout lines would make everything more regular if I was working on real stuff.
Tags:Woodworking Tools and Techniques
Comments: 5
01/17/2012Mitch Wilson 
So, what are your go-to rasps, the ones that you make the most use of? 9, 12, 15, big, little, etc.? You've picqued my curiosity. Real nice blog, Joel. (Again.)
01/17/2012Troy Bonte 
Hi Joel,

Thank you for all your posts. I enjoy reading your blog. Please think about video recording your next presentation on rasps. There is still very little content online about them, and I would love to see that information.

01/17/2012Joe McGlynn
Nice post, I like the details.

Like Mitch mentioned, what are the essential rasps? It's a bit overwhelming with the different sizes, grains and shapes. I remember reading that the grain size has different meanings depending on length -- so a 12 grain in a 12" rasp is a different finish than a 12 grain in a 6". Is that right?

01/17/2012Jim Thompson 
Thanks for the tips. Videos would be great! I use your Gramercy rasps and couldn't be more pleased with the outcome. Very easy to control which allows much more precision than I had ever expected. I'm always finding new uses for them and surprising myself at the time savings and great look.
01/19/2012Iain White 
I also use the Gramercy Rasps, and am very satisfied.

For info, I ordered the following as a "starter set"

CMRASP.C1 Cabinetmaker's Rasp - 9 1/4" x 11 tpi
MRASP.MR-150-10 Hand Cut Modeller's Rasp - 6"
MRASP.RT-150-10 Hand Cut Rat-tail Rasp - 6"
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