File (tool)
Overview
 
A file is a metalworking
Metalworking
Metalworking is the process of working with metals to create individual parts, assemblies, or large scale structures. The term covers a wide range of work from large ships and bridges to precise engine parts and delicate jewelry. It therefore includes a correspondingly wide range of skills,...

 and woodworking
Woodworking
Woodworking is the process of building, making or carving something using wood.-History:Along with stone, mud, and animal parts, wood was one of the first materials worked by early humans. Microwear analysis of the Mousterian stone tools used by the Neanderthals show that many were used to work wood...

 tool
Tool
A tool is a device that can be used to produce an item or achieve a task, but that is not consumed in the process. Informally the word is also used to describe a procedure or process with a specific purpose. Tools that are used in particular fields or activities may have different designations such...

 used to cut
Cutting
Cutting is the separation of a physical object, or a portion of a physical object, into two portions, through the application of an acutely directed force. An implement commonly used for cutting is the knife or in medical cases the scalpel...

 fine amounts of material from a workpiece. It most commonly refers to the hand tool
Hand tool
A hand tool is a device for performing work on a material or a physical system using only hands. The hand tools can be manually used employing force, or electrically powered, using electrical current...

 style, which takes the form of a steel
Steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

 bar with a case hardened surface and a series of sharp, parallel teeth. Most files have a narrow, pointed tang
Tang (weaponry)
A tang or shank is the back portion of a tool where it extends into stock material or is connected to a handle as on a knife, sword, spear, arrowhead, chisel, screwdriver, etc...

 at one end to which a handle can be fitted.

A similar tool is the rasp
Rasp
A rasp is a tool used for shaping wood or other material. It consists of a point or the tip, then a long steel bar or the belly, then the heel or bottom, then the tang. The tang is joined to a handle, usually made of plastic or wood. The bar has sharp teeth...

. This is an older form, with simpler teeth.
Encyclopedia
A file is a metalworking
Metalworking
Metalworking is the process of working with metals to create individual parts, assemblies, or large scale structures. The term covers a wide range of work from large ships and bridges to precise engine parts and delicate jewelry. It therefore includes a correspondingly wide range of skills,...

 and woodworking
Woodworking
Woodworking is the process of building, making or carving something using wood.-History:Along with stone, mud, and animal parts, wood was one of the first materials worked by early humans. Microwear analysis of the Mousterian stone tools used by the Neanderthals show that many were used to work wood...

 tool
Tool
A tool is a device that can be used to produce an item or achieve a task, but that is not consumed in the process. Informally the word is also used to describe a procedure or process with a specific purpose. Tools that are used in particular fields or activities may have different designations such...

 used to cut
Cutting
Cutting is the separation of a physical object, or a portion of a physical object, into two portions, through the application of an acutely directed force. An implement commonly used for cutting is the knife or in medical cases the scalpel...

 fine amounts of material from a workpiece. It most commonly refers to the hand tool
Hand tool
A hand tool is a device for performing work on a material or a physical system using only hands. The hand tools can be manually used employing force, or electrically powered, using electrical current...

 style, which takes the form of a steel
Steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

 bar with a case hardened surface and a series of sharp, parallel teeth. Most files have a narrow, pointed tang
Tang (weaponry)
A tang or shank is the back portion of a tool where it extends into stock material or is connected to a handle as on a knife, sword, spear, arrowhead, chisel, screwdriver, etc...

 at one end to which a handle can be fitted.

A similar tool is the rasp
Rasp
A rasp is a tool used for shaping wood or other material. It consists of a point or the tip, then a long steel bar or the belly, then the heel or bottom, then the tang. The tang is joined to a handle, usually made of plastic or wood. The bar has sharp teeth...

. This is an older form, with simpler teeth. As they have larger clearance between teeth, these are usually used on softer, non-metallic materials.

Related tools have been developed with abrasive surfaces, such as diamond abrasives or silicon carbide
Silicon carbide
Silicon carbide , also known as carborundum, is a compound of silicon and carbon with chemical formula SiC. It occurs in nature as the extremely rare mineral moissanite. Silicon carbide powder has been mass-produced since 1893 for use as an abrasive...

. Because of their similar form and function, these have also been termed 'files'.

History

Archaeologists have discovered rasps made from bronze in Egypt, dating back to the years 1200 - 1000 B.C., Archaeologists have also discovered rasps made of iron used by the Assyrians, dating back to the 7th Century B.C. Among the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance...

 is a sketch of a machine tool
Machine tool
A machine tool is a machine, typically powered other than by human muscle , used to make manufactured parts in various ways that include cutting or certain other kinds of deformation...

 for the cutting of files (the chisel would make one strike, swaging a tooth, then automatically advance into position for the next tooth, and strike again).

Prior to the industrialization of machining
Machining
Conventional machining is a form of subtractive manufacturing, in which a collection of material-working processes utilizing power-driven machine tools, such as saws, lathes, milling machines, and drill presses, are used with a sharp cutting tool to physical remove material to achieve a desired...

 and the development of interchangeable parts
Interchangeable parts
Interchangeable parts are parts that are, for practical purposes, identical. They are made to specifications that ensure that they are so nearly identical that they will fit into any device of the same type. One such part can freely replace another, without any custom fitting...

 during the 19th century, filing was much more important in the construction of mechanism
Mechanism (engineering)
A mechanism is a device designed to transform input forces and movement into a desired set of output forces and movement. Mechanisms generally consist of moving components such as gears and gear trains, belt and chain drives, cam and follower mechanisms, and linkages as well as friction devices...

s. Component parts were roughly shaped by forging
Forging
Forging is a manufacturing process involving the shaping of metal using localized compressive forces. Forging is often classified according to the temperature at which it is performed: '"cold," "warm," or "hot" forging. Forged parts can range in weight from less than a kilogram to 580 metric tons...

, casting
Casting
In metalworking, casting involves pouring liquid metal into a mold, which contains a hollow cavity of the desired shape, and then allowing it to cool and solidify. The solidified part is also known as a casting, which is ejected or broken out of the mold to complete the process...

, and by primitive machining
Machining
Conventional machining is a form of subtractive manufacturing, in which a collection of material-working processes utilizing power-driven machine tools, such as saws, lathes, milling machines, and drill presses, are used with a sharp cutting tool to physical remove material to achieve a desired...

 operations. These components were then individually hand-fit for assembly by careful and deliberate filing. The potential precision of such fitting is much higher than generally assumed, but the components of such hand-fit assemblies are decidedly not interchangeable with those from another assembly. Lock
Lock (device)
A lock is a mechanical or electronic fastening device that is released by a physical object or secret information , or combination of more than one of these....

s, clock
Clock
A clock is an instrument used to indicate, keep, and co-ordinate time. The word clock is derived ultimately from the Celtic words clagan and clocca meaning "bell". A silent instrument missing such a mechanism has traditionally been known as a timepiece...

s, and firearm
Firearm
A firearm is a weapon that launches one, or many, projectile at high velocity through confined burning of a propellant. This subsonic burning process is technically known as deflagration, as opposed to supersonic combustion known as a detonation. In older firearms, the propellant was typically...

s (flintlocks and earlier) were manufactured in this way for centuries before the Industrial Revolution
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

.

Machining
Machining
Conventional machining is a form of subtractive manufacturing, in which a collection of material-working processes utilizing power-driven machine tools, such as saws, lathes, milling machines, and drill presses, are used with a sharp cutting tool to physical remove material to achieve a desired...

 in the mid 19th century was heavily dependent on filing, because milling
Milling machine
A milling machine is a machine tool used to machine solid materials. Milling machines are often classed in two basic forms, horizontal and vertical, which refers to the orientation of the main spindle. Both types range in size from small, bench-mounted devices to room-sized machines...

 practice was slowly evolving out of its infancy. As late as the early 20th century, manufacturing
Manufacturing
Manufacturing is the use of machines, tools and labor to produce goods for use or sale. The term may refer to a range of human activity, from handicraft to high tech, but is most commonly applied to industrial production, in which raw materials are transformed into finished goods on a large scale...

 often involved filing parts to precise shape and size. In today's manufacturing environment, milling and grinding have generally replaced this type of work, and filing (when it occurs at all) usually tends to be for deburring only. Skillful filing to shape and size is still a part of diemaking, moldmaking, toolmaking, etc.
Tool and die maker
Tool and die makers are workers in the manufacturing industry who make jigs, fixtures, dies, molds, machine tools, cutting tools , gauges, and other tools used in manufacturing processes...

, but even in those fields, the goal is usually to avoid handwork when possible.

Types

Files come in a wide variety of materials, sizes, shapes, cuts, and tooth configurations. The cross-section of a file can be flat, round, half-round, triangular, square, knife edge or of a more specialized shape. There is no unitary international standard for file nomenclature; however, there are many generally accepted names for certain kinds of files.

The cut of the file refers to how fine its teeth are. They are defined as (from roughest to smoothest): rough, middle, bastard, second cut, smooth, and dead smooth. A single-cut file has one set of parallel teeth while a cross-cut or double-cut file has a second set of cuts forming diamond teeth. In Swiss-pattern files the teeth are cut at a shallower angle, and are graded by number, with a number 1 file being coarser than a number 2, etc. Most files have teeth on all faces, but some specialty flat files have teeth only on the face or only on the edge, so that the user can come right up to another edge without damaging the finish on it.

Some of the common shapes and their uses:
  • Mill files are the most common shape; they are rectangular in cross section and taper slightly in both width and thickness from tang to end. They are all single-cut., p. 43.
  • Hand files are parallel in width and tapered in thickness; they are used for general work.
  • Joint round edge files are parallel in width and thickness, with rounded edges. The flats are safe (no teeth) and cut on the rounded edges only. Used for making joints and hinges.
  • Half round ring files taper in width and thickness, coming to a point, and are narrower than a standard half round. Used for filing inside of rings.
  • Barrette files are tapered in width and thickness, coming to a rounded point at the end. Only the flat side is cut, and the other sides are all safe. For doing flat work.
  • Checkering files are parallel in width and gently tapered in thickness. They have teeth cut in a precise grid pattern, and are used for making serrations and doing checkering work, as on gunstocks.
  • Crossing files are half round on two sides with one side having a larger radius than the other. Tapered in width and thickness. For filing interior curved surfaces. The double radius makes possible filing at the junction of two curved surfaces or a straight and curved surface.
  • Crochet files are tapered in width and gradually tapered in thickness, with two flats and radiused edges, cut all around. Used in filing junctions between flat and curved surface, and slots with rounded edges.
  • Knife files are tapered in width and thickness, but the knife edge has the same thickness the whole length, with the knife edge having an arc to it. Used for slotting or wedging operations.
  • Pippin files are tapered in width and thickness, generally of a teardrop cross section and having the edge of a knife file. Used for filing the junction of two curved surfaces and making V-shaped slots.
  • Square files are gradually tapered and cut on all four sides. Used for a wide variety of things.
  • Three square files, also called triangular files, have a triangular cross-section, which usually gradually tapers. Some files taper all the way to a point (especially small ones). Three square files are used for many cuts, such as cutting angles less than 90 degrees. They are often employed for sharpening the teeth of wood saws.It has been pointed out that there's no such thing as a "three square". Triangular files have 60 degree angles, whereas "square" is 90 degrees. All this is true, but triangular files are nevertheless commonly called "three square". Natural language
    Natural language
    In the philosophy of language, a natural language is any language which arises in an unpremeditated fashion as the result of the innate facility for language possessed by the human intellect. A natural language is typically used for communication, and may be spoken, signed, or written...

     does not always follow the most apparent logic.
  • Round files, also called rat-tail files, are gradually tapered and are used for many tasks that require a round tool, such as enlarging round holes or cutting a scalloped edge.
  • Round parallel files are similar to round files, except that they do not taper. Shaped like a toothed cylinder.
  • Equalling files are parallel in width and thickness. Used for filing slots and corners.
  • Slitting files are parallel in width with a diamond shaped cross section. Thinner than knife files and use for filing slots.
  • Nut files are fine, precise files in sets of graduated thickness, used by luthiers for dressing the slots at the end of the neck which support the strings of guitars, violins etc., in the correct position.
  • Pillar files are parallel in width and tapered in thickness for perfectly flat filing. Double cut top and bottom with both sides safe, these are long, narrow files for precision work.
  • Warding files are parallel in thickness, tapered in width, and thin. Like a hand or flat file that comes to a point on the end. Used for flat work and slotting.
  • Dreadnought (curved teeth) and millenicut (straight teeth) files both have heavily undercut, sharp but coarse teeth. Both can be used for rapidly removing large quantities of material from thick aluminum alloy, copper or brass. Today, the millenicut and dreadnought have found a new use in removing plastic filler materials such as two-part epoxies or styrenes such as those commonly used in automobile body repairs.
  • Farrier Rasp files are tanged horse rasps used mainly by horseshoers and blacksmiths. They are flat with rasp cut on one side (upstanding teeth arranged in rows with curved cutting edges of generally pyramidal shape and have a cutting face with a positive rake or slope) and a double cut file on the reverse side.


Steel files are made from high carbon steel (1.0 to 1.25% carbon) and case hardened to approximately 80 HR15N. Even historically, files were made from plain carbon steel and case hardened.

Diamond files

Instead of having teeth cut into the file's working surface, diamond files have small particles of industrial diamonds embedded in their surface (or into a softer material that is bonded to the underlying surface of the file). The use of diamonds in this manner allows the file to be used effectively against extremely hard materials, such as stone, glass or very hard metals such as hardened steel or carbide against which a standard steel file is ineffective. Diamond files are also the only type that may be used with a back-and-forth motion without damaging the file.

Needle files

The image to the left shows a selection of needle files in an assortment of cross sectional shapes.

Needle files are small files that are used in applications where the surface finish takes priority over metal removal rates but they are most suited for smaller work pieces. They are often sold in sets, including different shapes.

Riffler files

Riffler files are small to medium sized files in an assortment of cross sectional shapes and profiles. The varying profiles and shapes enable them to be used in hard to reach, or unusually shaped areas. They are often used as an intermediate step in die making where the surface finish of a cavity die may need to be improved. - e.g.; plastic injection moulding
Injection moulding
Injection molding is a manufacturing process for producing parts from both thermoplastic and thermosetting plastic materials. Material is fed into a heated barrel, mixed, and forced into a mold cavity where it cools and hardens to the configuration of the cavity...

 or die casting.

Machine files

The files pictured on the left are designed for use in a filing machine.

A filing machine is similar in appearance to a scroll saw
Scroll saw
A scroll saw is a small electric or pedal-operated saw that is useful for cutting intricate curves in cases where a jigsaw or coping saw is not appropriate. It is capable of creating curves with edges...

 or bandsaw in that the file is mounted vertically in the middle of a table. When in operation the file reciprocates vertically while the workpiece is presented to the file's face and manipulated around the table/file as the shape requires.

The cone point of the pictured, top two files allows the files to center themselves firmly in the bottom file holder. The pictured, lower two files are required to be inserted into the bottom file holder and physically restrained with set screw
Set screw
A set screw is a type of screw generally used to secure an object within or against another object. The most common examples are securing a pulley or gear to a shaft. Set screws are most often headless , meaning that the screw is fully threaded and has no head projecting past the major diameter of...

s, an identical process as for the top holder.

Filing machines are useful tools as they reduce fatigue and improve product accuracy, and although not usually seen in modern production environments, they may be found in older toolrooms or diemaking shops as an aid in the manufacture of specialist tooling.

Use

Files have forward-facing cutting teeth, and cut most effectively when pushed over the workpiece. Pulling a file directly backwards on a workpiece will cause the teeth to bend, permanently damaging the file (especially when an inexperienced user adopts a back-and-forth "sawing" motion). Draw filing involves laying the file sideways on the work, and carefully pushing or pulling it across the work. This catches the teeth of the file sideways instead of head on, and a very fine shaving action is produced. There are also varying strokes that produce a combination of the straight ahead stroke and the drawfiling stroke, and very fine work can be attained in this fashion. Using a combination of strokes, and progressively finer files, a skilled operator can attain a surface that is perfectly flat and near mirror finish.

Pinning refers to the clogging of the file teeth with pins, which are material shavings. These pins cause the file to lose its cutting ability and can scratch the workpiece. A file card, which is a brush with metal bristles, is used to clean the file. (The name, "card", is the same as used for the "raising card
Raising card
A raising card is used to raise cloth. Raising is the technique used to produce the nap of cloth. Originally, only woolen cloth was raised, but now flannelette and other cotton fabrics are also raised. Raising is one of the last steps in the finishing process for cloth...

s" (spiked brushes) used in woolmaking.) Chalk
Chalk
Chalk is a soft, white, porous sedimentary rock, a form of limestone composed of the mineral calcite. Calcite is calcium carbonate or CaCO3. It forms under reasonably deep marine conditions from the gradual accumulation of minute calcite plates shed from micro-organisms called coccolithophores....

can help prevent pinning.
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