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Choosing and Caring For Files for Metal and Woodwork in Miniature


Round and pillar profile needle files beside a small tri square or three square (triangular) file.

Round and pillar profile needle files beside a small tri square or three square (triangular) file.

Photo copyright 2010 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

Main Types of Files For Metal and Wood Miniatures

Files come in a range of styles for particular uses.

  • Rasps are very course files with individual teeth. These files cut away rough wood very quickly, but are usually to coarse and too large for may uses with miniatures.
  • Needle Files are small files most commonly used with miniatures. They can come with a permanent tungsten or diamond grit and be used in any direction on metal, ceramic, glass or wood miniatures, or they can be 'Swiss Pattern' files which have single or double rows of fine cutting teeth made of a hardened steel for cutting wood or metals. Swiss pattern files are more precise than are diamond or tungsten grit files which can be used in any direction, but which may not file evenly across a surface.
  • Riffler Files are steel 'Swiss Pattern' files with odd shapes, many with loops or curves, designed to fit into small crevices in wood or metal miniatures. They are useful for shaping curved carvings and mouldings.

Choosing the Right Files

Like most tools, cost is at least an indicator of quality. It is better to buy one or two quality files which will last for a long time, than buy a set of inexpensive files which may not work as expected. Inexpensive files from China and India are generally not made of the same quality steel as Swiss jewellers files and are not as precisely machined. They will need to be replaced more often. Their brittle steel often breaks and rusts easily. Most quality needle files are sold via jeweller's supply shops (rock hound shops) online or locally. The various needle files come in many standard shapes, some with a blank side, which can be very useful where you want to file one side of a piece without filing an adjacent side at at the same time. Swiss pattern files are available from companies such as Grobet and Vallorbe. Depending on the grade or cut (fineness of cut) and the size, these files range in price from $10 each up. For miniature work, the most commonly used shapes are the round and half round files and a flat or pillar file, followed by the three square (triangle) oval, and square shapes. If you will be making detailed miniature furniture, miniature riffler files are also very useful. Files are sold in grades or cuts with the larger numbers being finer grades. For miniature woodwork, grades or cuts between 2 - 4 are best. You may want some finer files (4-6) for metal work.

Using Files

Files are used similar to sandpaper, to shape metal and wood. Although most needle and riffler files are sold with a knurled handle, they are far easier to control if you add a wooden handle or hold the file in a pin vise. Files cut on the push, not the draw stroke. You should use a file by putting light pressure on it as you push it away from you, and releasing the pressure as you pull the file back across the work. For miniatures, files are usually used to work in small spaces where sanding blocks cannot be used (the inside edges of miniature dovetails for example, or the inner curves of carved areas (riffler files).

Care of Files

  • Keep files stored where they will not rub against other materials (stored individually or in pockets in a file holder. They easily become dulled by rubbing on each other or other metal surfaces
  • Clean files by gently tapping them after use, cleaning them with a 'file card' when the file becomes clogged. A useful file card has nylon bristles on one side and metal bristles (usually steel) on the other side. To use the file card stroke it parallel to the file's teeth.
  • Do not oil files, use them dry. You can dust them with chalk before use to help them cut without sticking.
  • Use a separate set of files on metals and wood. Metal files become dulled with use on hard metals, and will clog with particles from soft metals (brass). Files used with metal can carry small particles over to wood surfaces if they are not kept for separate purposes

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